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It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this post but rarity makes things more valuable, right? Since my last confession I’ve been out and about; prised out of my nest to visit the mountains, walk my feet off in the city and even go to a concert (Elbow in Leeds this weekend). I’ve been bombarded with sights and sounds and contrasts and it’s taken me over a week to recover!

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I love London. It feels like home but it also feels like another country. My daughter and I spent 4 days in the Barbican , surrounded by “brutalist” architecture and modernist furniture. It’s always fun to exchange the life of a country hermit for that of a city explorer and this time we explored places we’d never been to before; discovering the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey (where we also found the perfect building for a dream business premises- see below), the Book Art Bookshop in Shoreditch and dodging over friendly squirrels Kensington Gardens. The thing that did my head in was Liberty’s…

We’ve been to Liberty’s loads of times and particularly enjoy squeezing the balls of wool and marveling at the outrageous prices but, perhaps because I’ve never been so poor in all my life, this time it just seemed depressing. How can a mug be £150? If it’s made by an artist? By hand out of precious materials? The ceramics were gorgeous but not that gorgeous that a set would cost the same as a small kiln and you’d want to shoot your friends if they chipped one… or is it just me, am I just getting resentful? The contrast between real life for most people and the conspicuous show of excessive luxury just seemed too harsh. The ceramics company is called John Derian if you want to check them out and put me straight (or it’s my birthday next week and I rather like the teapot!…) Anyway, we both managed to survive the temptations of our trip with the only extravagance being some vintage fabric ribbons from the Cloth Shop on Portabello Road and the fact that we were staying in a rather swish flat in the Barbican which feels a bit like a piece of the Overlook Hotel ( a fact that stopped us roaming the corridors alone at night).

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And so home to the moors, where I’ve been rediscovering my love of cyanptype. Combining hand drawn pen and ink transparencies with natural elements such as leaves and flowers to make prints on the rare and precious sunny days. Gradually I’m getting better at it;  realising now that is must be sunny and that I probably need to save up for an exposure unit or move to Mexico. I’ve been using some wonderful, extremely thick Arches watercolour paper…off-cuts donated by my dad.

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And in between rushing about with plates of glass and rinsing prints with bated breath I sit in my new favourite place, the Freecycle greenhouse, where me and the tortoise listen to the radio and keep ourselves to ourselves…he has his dandelions and I’m happy so long as there’s coffee and cake.

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A Voyage Behind the Radiator and Other Stories

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The day began with a drama and a tragedy narrowly averted. Everyone here has become full of the joys of spring and hell bent on escape, so while the tortoise has grown big enough to climb out of his pen and fall flat on his face on the windowsill, the newest chicks have discovered their wings and this morning the little black one dived headfirst down the back of the radiator. Well thank goodness for austerity measures and my decision to stop having the heating on in the mornings! Jake and Beth were able to fashion a chick lasso out of bailer twine and scoop him out of his prison and so a horrible and distressing disaster was avoided.

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This has been such a fast week, is it really Friday again tomorrow? Am I speeding down hill towards my birthday next month? A week ago we collected a pile of bent aluminium, glass sheets and a bag of random nuts and bolts with no instructions other than a photo of when it had once been a greenhouse. Less than a week later and thanks to Freecycle and my son’s genius with things like Meccano and Lego ( never underestimate the power of learning through play!) I have a greenhouse! This has been possibly the top of my wish list for years….along with a job designing things. So THANK YOU Jake, Rupert, Stewart and the man who didn’t want a greenhouse anymore!

Now… back to the design dream…

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I entered a competition at OhhDeer who are a company specialising in products featuring illustration and quirky designs. You only get three goes and it was hard to choose, Jake wanted me to use the wolf but I’d already uploaded my 3 choices. Anyway the idea is that while the competition is in progress the designs are FOR SALE and you can see what they would look like on a variety of garments. I’d love to be able to buy one of each just to put in a portfolio but …. Catch22….unless I start selling some of my designs I won’t be getting any new clothes anytime soon!

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So, the thing is to get as many people as possible to visit your product page and like, share, favourite or better still buy your design and I think the winner gets to work with the company on new designs in the future based on the fact that their popularity has been tested… well you know what I’m going to ask… please take a look and I’d love to know what you think, good or bad. You should be able to click on the images to reach the appropriate page.

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Also this week I visited the wonderful SkyBlueRed Studio in the nearby town of Guisborough. It’s a rare kind of place for around here:independent, crafty, full of vintage charm and really really friendly. They run workshops everyday so when I arrived the cafe was full of people painting and decorating wooden boxes while the studio area was being prepared for a felting class.  The cakes were yummy and the shop was full of treasures…ALL handmade by local designer makers (so refreshing after my recent experiences in retail). A small selection of my framed work is on display now and I’m looking forward to my next visit and a coffee with the charming Nicholas who is responsible for the eclectic interior design style. It’s so important that places like this continue to exist, at the moment most of the staff are voluntary and I couldn’t help thinking that if it were in Bristol or London it would be thriving but Guisborough is a small town in the North East, trapped between Middlesbrough and the North York Moors. If you get a chance pop in or say hello on Facebook, ( may I recommend the caramel shortbread)…

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Maybe I should book myself in for Mother’s Day…

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Little Bessie and the History of March

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I’m listening to some late night 6music and looking back at five years worth of writing in and about March. Patterns emerge and there are constant threads, dreams and hopes. So as this year’s vernal equinox heralds another spring on Witchmountain I can see that March has traditionally been a bit of a monster as well as a thing of great excitement and optimism.Pick me up and shoot me down seems to be the constant refrain! This year I have been told by the estate that my long running fantasy of running a small business from the roadside building (see previous March posts) is “not viable” but today I have also been offered a greenhouse on Freecycle so it seems that the glass is neither half full nor half empty but precariously balanced in an uncomfortable limbo on the edge of the bar.

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Meanwhile I am becoming Charlotte Lucas from “Pride and Prejudice” . My little flock of bantam chicks now includes three new little people… one of whom I had to fashion corrective boots for as it had “spraddle” legs. I cut a bright pink sticking plaster up and made a kind of splint to hold its silly legs in the right position – it worked thank goodness, but the poor thing did spend a couple of days falling flat on its face like a drunk. So, there you are, the perfect Spring thing for Spring Equinox 2014.

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I’m still busy making all sorts of festival things including these feathery, flowery crowns and hair accessories. Some of the fabrics are from a bag of lovely print and dye samples my college friend Carl brought me when we met up earlier in the week. We spent a good few hours drinking green tea in Costa ( sorry but I’m a bit down on independant coffee shops in Northallerton at the moment…the feeling is mutual I’m sure), putting the world to rights and planning our belated takeover of the surface pattern design world….keep your eye on Fold Creative. , Carl is very talented and deserves a break.

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Lyndsay McBean was there too,taking a break from design work to be a mummy to her super cute baby Noah. I feel like an honorary granny, and even dusted off the old baby boot pattern to make him a pair out of a rather posh woolen throw that I’d accidentally felted in the wash! It’s been a good week for keeping in touch with old friends and meeting little new ones.

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So much to write about, but it’s nearly tomorrow and I need to test the apricot jam I just made ( with a hot buttered crumpet) before going to my nest to read and find another dream to replace this one. Oh, before I forget…an artist friend is doing something similar here in the North York Moors. Opening soon, the Lockton Tea Rooms and Gallery looks like it will be wonderful so if you get a chance to visit, pop in and say Hi to Janilaine and Kevin. Good luck with the new venture you two.

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If anyone knows how Little Bessie did it please drop me a line … x

 

 

Faithless the Cockerel and Festival Fever

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The spring sunshine has given me a massive energy boost which means I have been doing too many things at once and forgetting that I should be trying to make a living. The whole garden is now dug over and ready for another attempt at producing food for free…well, the price of a packet of seeds. My back is aching but it has been wonderful to spend days outside, coming in with a dirty face and moss in my hair (visitors are so polite and I usually only notice the earthy moustache when I look at the mad woman in the mirror at bathtime). Being outside has also given me the chance to observe the strange goings on in the bantam family and I have to confess I was more upset than I should have been to see the cockerel flirting with the neighbours and eventually disappearing one night; faithless creature. His two girlfriends went to bed alone, muttering and sobbing a little, while I had to march down the road in  search of the heartless philanderer. In my neighbour’s hen hut I found him, cuddled up like Pimp Daddy, with the Amazonian, Rhode Island Reds and looking smug (but silly as he is half their size). Pah! I gave him a good talking to and trudged back home with him under my arm wondering yet again what my down to earth Yorkshire neighbours make of me.

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Last week, after joking about the good old days of selling painted tins on a blanket at Glastonbury, I decided it might not be such a bad idea to have another go at the festival thing. Willowman Festival in a nearby village,is organised by an old friend and has been going from strength to strength so I have taken a stall for the weekend, along with friends and family so we can hopefully combine a bit of wild, embarrassing dancing with selling our wares. It’s certainly motivated me to make some different things, including this screen printed and dip dyed bunting. I’m also making head dresses and painted boxes  and enjoying using up lots of left over dyes, fabrics and odd bits and pieces. I think a trip to CCAD’s print club will be needed soon.

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This week also brought two exciting bits of news…the first is that I will be blogging for this year’s Festival of Thrift in Darlington in September. I’m hoping to include some tutorials and tips on frugal living(!) although I may be living in the car by September if I don’t find some part time work soon! The second reason to be excited is that I have been getting a really good response to the card designs produced by Natural Partners Ltd. A gallery in York (The Blossom Street Gallery)  is interested in showing some framed pieces as they are stocking my cards and there will soon be a distributor in Australia apparently! Reasons to be cheerful parts 1,2 and …. hopefully 3 will be along soon.

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Meanwhile I’m making plant pots out of last weekend’s paper and hoping for a bumper crop of everything. Three eggs are struggling to hatch as I write and it’s time to stoke up the stove and get on with some work. There are commissions to finish and feathery hats to be made.

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Reading:- “The North Child” Edith Pattou ( spotted on the school bookshelf while in a yoga class!) Listening to:- Howling wind, peeping chicks trapped in eggs and Bjork “Cover Me”

Sunshine and Ice

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The house has been quiet without borrowed puppy but it has been nice to be able to sleep late and leave the door open without danger to the poor chickens’ tails! March arrived with sunshine and light and and an impossible to resist call to go into the garden and get things sorted. Is it Spring yet? The plants are waking up and the birdsong is deafening but the thick disc of ice we fished out of the old “copper” trough is a warning to heed the old saying “In like a lamb out like a lion” ( I think this is a slight corruption but I did enjoy this one “When windows won’t open, and the salt clogs the shaker, The weather will favour the umbrella maker!” )

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Still, the garden saved my life this week. Nothing beats getting carried away, spring cleaning outdoors for lifting the spirits and, at least temporarily, banishing worries about money and work. The chicks had their first taste of fresh air too; now sporting fluffy tails like dandelion clocks and yes, the curlews have returned.

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Last week seemed a bit hectic with preparations for the pop-up gallery in the Golden Lion and an interview for a job in an arts centre where I was asked to do a presentation. Combine this with a cough that made me sound like a Victorian poet dying of consumption and by Friday all I wanted to do was hide under a blanket and listen to murder mysteries. As it turns out the exhibition has been quite a success with a few sales and lots of kind admiration…it feels good to be exhibiting my work in the place where I was a barmaid for 10,000 years and the landlord has certainly been supportive and welcoming. Sadly the art centre “loved me” but didn’t want me, however, I really enjoyed my visit, it was good to test my presentation skills (I had thought of doing a puppet show to calm my nerves… communication is often easier if you can do it through puppets, but I struggle with maturity as it is)  and now I know it’s there I’ll be trying to get to some of their events, nice to have some culture nearby.

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And so it is March again and small pieces of work are slowly coming together even as the year rushes by too fast. Motivation and confidence are the hardest things and I often find myself full of admiration mixed with a hint of misplaced jealously when I look at what others are doing. Truth is, we all struggle with confidence and balance and frustration. Heavily edited excerpts of our lives on blogs and social media tend to miss out the unsightly bits but I’m pretty sure there are millions of people out there who have had the guts to share something they’ve created and put a bit of soul in to, only to have some idiot say it’s too expensive or they’ve seen better, or to be wracked with self doubt. So this post is dedicated to all those artists, craftspeople, poets, writers and oddballs, sitting up late with the shipping forecast or drinking coffee after hours to finish a commission. The world would be a dull old place without Art in all it’s disguises.

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Good grief, that was a bit of a sermon! Here are some images of my cards at Spring Fair , they make me feel hopeful. They were taken by a college friend who went to visit the stand. She lives in Cornwall now and runs Zamsoe , making jewellery and handmade cards. Thank you Karen x

IMG_0274So for some reason, mostly the intermittent internet, this has taken me ages to write and it feels a bit cobbled together, so I apologise. But you see, there’s a Chocolate Kalua cake sitting on the side, next to a bowl of vanilla icing and I promised myself I wouldn’t ice it till this was written! Oh that reminds me, apparently my photo of a cup of coffee has been featured in Oh Comely magazine as part of their “Teacup Rainbow” feature…my name in print at last, fame for my coffee…oh the irony! Bye now…  mmmmmmmm

Reading:- “The Shock of the Fall” by Nathan Filer Listening To:- Birds

The View From Here

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I have been spending a lot of time in the woods; the borrowed dog forcing me to spend more time out doors than I normally would in dismal damp February. The birch trees are decorated with acid yellow/green tassels, bright against the browns and greys; it won’t be long now. Already the days are longer, and it’s getting harder to tell what time it is by the light. I heard a woodpecker the other day and down by the river a heron flew lazily overhead looking prehistoric.

Both eggs are now successfully hatched and they have become “friends”. The first chick is now just over a week old; huge (relatively), with real feathers and a bad attitude, so we were a bit worried it would murder its younger sibling. They squabble a bit about who gets the best position under the PomPom Mother but generally it seems to have worked out ok. Here is Chick2 looking a bit unimpressed by the colour of the tile grouting on the windowsill…4 more eggs went in the incubator today so my Chicken Empire is beginning to take shape!

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Meanwhile, back in the “studio” I have been trying to get sorted out for the “Pop Up in The Pub” event which Jane and I are organizing…

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“Pop Up in The Pub”  @The Golden Lion, OSmotherley.  For One week only, from Friday February 28th. 

Christie, the landlord, has very kindly allowed us to take over part of the ground floor to showcase a small selection of work and we’re hoping to have a meet the artists session at some point during the week (details to be announced).I worked in the The Golden Lion for many, many, many years so I can recommend the chips very highly…it would be lovely to see a few people there (and if no one comes…well at least we can drown our sorrows at the bar!).

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I plucked up the courage to cut my precious fabric last week, when I made a Kindle cover for my lovely daughter’s birthday. I’m quite pleased with the result and lots of people have been very complimentary and even ordered one for themselves… however it brings me up against the thorny issue of pricing again…and the fact that I would say I was a designer rather than a maker. It was really interesting to meet up with Nicola Taylor and Kimberli Werner to talk about these things yesterday. We all work in very different areas but face many of the same problems so I felt as though I learned a lot and came home feeling encouraged and inspired. One thing we agreed on was that it is hard to be both designer and maker when aiming for a wholesale market. I know my work must either be priced much higher in order to make it profitable or the actual making of the product needs to be done cheaply elsewhere; I guess its deciding whether I want to be Liberty or Primark. At the moment I have shed loads of time rather than money to invest so it looks like I’ll be following in my Grandma Jackson’s footsteps for a while and slaving over a hot sewing machine!

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So, it’s time to find some tunes on the radio and maybe have another biscuit or two before threading some needles and getting on with it. The puppy is snoring by the stove, worn to a frazzle after her day of silliness…oh to have the energy and lust for life that a small brown puppy has.

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Reading:-  “Dear Life” Alice Monroe   Listening To:- “New York Morning” Elbow Vote for Kimberli Werner “The Red Corvid” in the Draft and Design Awards here

Real Life

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I’m typing very quietly to avoid waking the kitchen full of sleeping baby animals. It is the most peaceful it’s been all day, even the wind has given up trying to get in under the doors and down the chimney.Yes, my world has been invaded and I’d almost forgotten how exhausting it is caring for small things. These two pictures were both taken before 8am which, if you knew me in real life, would seem very unlikely.

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The weekend began with the miracle of birth; when the egg Jake and I have been carefully turning and keeping warm for the past 21 days started to crack. Within two hours the little monster appeared like a soggy Pokémon and it was so sudden I jumped; as flighty as a mother hen… how it ever fitted in that tiny egg I can’t imagine! It’s a shame that Jake had to go out so he wasn’t here to see it, but due to the joys of technology and hours of sorting out a YouTube channel with snail-speed internet, I can share the moment with you…

So the little creature is now just over two days old ( it’s the Truman Show for chickens) and has fluffed out nicely in its homemade brooder (a wine box with a spotlight bulb). Stricken with the urge to anthropomorphize cute baby animals, but mainly due to the fact that the other egg isn’t meant to hartch until the 19th, we made it a surrogate mum out of a large pompom and attached some tail feathers from “daddy” (see previous post). Several chickeny forums also recommended a mirror and so far these comfort items seem to be doing the trick as it seems pretty contented, singing little songs and doing all those things they do ( eating ,drinking , preening and pooing) as well as some nifty yoga stretches. It will have to toughen up quick though, I don’t want an emotionally needy bantam shadowing my every move…

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In between all the animal excitement I have been sewing some things with my Spoonflower fabrics and thinking again about the possibility of making some kind of small business premises in the outbuilding. Would people come? How much would it cost to do up the building and can I raise that amount by selling chicks and the occasional cushion?!

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I’m tempted to stay up for hours longer as there is so much to do and think about, there are last minute plans to be made for a pop up exhibition at the Golden Lion , Osmotherley next week (and I accidentally drank coffee at 10pm) but it is time for a last quick walk in the hope that Lola sleeps late tomorrow morning!

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Reading:- A Moomin cartoon story collection  Listening To:- Gay Pirates by Cosmo Jarvis on 6Music (annoyingly catchy!) and the gentle peeping of chick.