Swimming in Clouds/Flying in Water

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I’m curled up by the fire with my new favourite mug full of coffee and a stack of mince pies; its been dark since 2 o’clock and wildly windy but here I am, cozy in my nest, just the comfortable sound of the stove chimney moaning slightly and the rain bubbling in the gutters. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about our carefully curated, aesthetically pleasing virtual lives and how we project ourselves to the outside world…a world where people are struggling just to exist, never mind taking pictures of their latest baking triumph or immaculate room decor. Sometimes the world just seems to be so full of  craziness and greed and violence that writing a blog or drawing a bear or trying to sell the last pack of Christmas cards feels totally self-indulgent. Guilt and impotence in the face of world events can be quite paralysing, I want to DO something to help but I haven’t the skills…or the money to salve my conscience. So many of the artists, makers and creative people I’ve “met” online have similar concerns (and I know that a group of people here in Keswick are organising themselves to try and offer practical  help to Syrian refugees) that maybe we all just have to do what we can, try not to let compassion fatigue numb us and hope that small actions of peace and generosity can influence the bigger ones.

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Well, even in the darkest times there has to be a little light and sitting here on the eve of Winter Solstice I’m taking the time to think about the coming year and how to be more positive, wondering what I can actually contribute to this swirly blue planet and also what I would like to achieve for myself in the year I turn 50 (oh good grief how soon that happened!). It is an introspective time, the deepest dark of midwinter-  maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow with a clear idea of what I want to be when I grow up, perhaps I’ll get up early and toast the sunrise at Castlerigg with a flask of hot something…

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Apart from all the worrying about the world this week I’ve been out in the outdoors where I climbed up above the mist and fog to emerge on the top of the highest mountain on the planet (it is a strange thing that it always feels like the highest mountain even when it’s just a tall hill) I felt momentarily dizzy as the whole aspect changed suddenly and different parts of the landscape were revealed like a theatrical set. The mist rose and fell like a living thing and the surface of the cloud lake went from smooth opaque pool to stormy cauldron and back as the sun set. A cloud inversion like another reality where the mountains are islands and distance is impossible to judge. We would all have to live in tall houses above the storm line.

Back down in the thick fog and fading light we decided to have another go at swimming (last week we’d managed a quick dip in Loughrigg Tarn leaping about on the shore like nutters in gimp suits, doing the Floral Dance to warm up our screaming fingers and toes). This felt exciting and reckless but since we had no intention of swimming more than a few metres in the shallows of Rydal Water  it also felt safe… hidden by the fog. I can’t explain how magical it felt to plunge in to milky water that blended into the sky so perfectly there was no horizon; I imagine it would be terrifying if we’d gone too far from shore but the cold drove us back after about 10 seconds to dance a warm up jig before doing it all again. It was pitch dark by the time we trotted back through the wood, the mist so heavy that the water droplets hung in the beams of our head torches and our foggy breath bounced the light back in our eyes. Obviously I didn’t take any pictures but I saw this on Instagram, taken on the same day, and it seemed too beautiful not to share. Its a picture by Paul Scully of Jenny Rice (who is clearly a lot braver and more photogenic than me- in a bikini rather than wetsuit); they were recently featured on the BBC’s Open Country programme about the Lake District and Wordsworth.

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So dear readers, tomorrow the nights will slowly slowly start to get shorter and already I can see snowdrop shoots where the birds have scuffled the fallen leaves away under the feeder. Still I’m hoping for snow and some brighter days before the rush of Spring. Right, it’s time for me to remove my Polar Bear bobble hat and rinse off the henna mud that is plastered on my hair, my one misguided concession to hair styling, also I need to stop getting distracted and do some drawing  (If you follow me on Facebook you’ll know I’ve been posting a bear drawing for every day in December and I’m running out).

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Happy Winter Solstice wherever you are, thank you for reading x

Reading: “Waterlog” ~Roger Deakin and The Barefoot Diaries

 

Alpenglow

hedgehogs by Kim Tillyer

I’m writing this by the stove wearing mittens and several jumpers, facing the big sliding glass doors that replace what would once have been the barn doors to the top floor of a traditional Cumbrian bank barn. The ground rises steeply so that, while the other side of the house looks out on to the tops of trees and it’s like being in a tree house, this view puts me at mole’s-eye-level, watching the birds hopping about in the fallen leaves above my head. A wren like a fat mouse, two woodpeckers, whose scarlet feathers look pretty flashy for a Northern bird, nuthatches, tree creepers and all the usual bird feeder suspects just busy “being”. Meanwhile, inside, the cat has been precariously and unusually (she’s not cuddly) balanced on my leg, perfecting the art of looking casually relaxed in the most uncomfortable situations whilst I sit and wrestle with the meaning of life, a thousand forms of self inflicted angst and the awful guilt of needing to move my leg.

Winter came a couple of days after I wrote the previous post and I think I’m missing the calming effects of swimming because I decided to hand my notice in at work yesterday after reasoning that life is too short for battles over dusters and it wasn’t fair on either of us. Yet again I have cast myself adrift on a sea of ideology and land looks a long way off!

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Perhaps Rupert has made the link between swimming and my emotions because last night he was reading up on cold water acclimatization and pricing up neoprene gloves and hats… maybe I’d better snap out of my blue mood quickly!  Cold water swimming seems to be one of those things that are in vogue at the moment, a bit like the sudden popularity of the term Hygge. The connections with mental health are fairly well documented; I don’t think it’s surprising that various ideas of “self care” and ways of tuning in to, and finding solace in, the natural world are popular at the moment- a time when the world seems particularly precarious and ideological divisions are widening.

Cards by Kim Tillyer

Here in this corner of the Cumbrian mountains the snow came like a gift to a million Instagrammers. Experienced mountain types dashed out to enjoy the alpine conditions from the tops while at lake level the rest of us had trouble getting anything done because there was too much lovliness everywhere you looked…dazzling snow with firey autumn leaves, azure skies, frosted rose hips and pink alpenglow evenings.

sunset, Langdale

If you have been reading this blog for more than one winter you will know that snow and winter are a special time for me – despite the constant moaning about cold fingers and trying to feed a ravenous stove. I’m hoping that inspiration will strike as it often does in the long winter nights; time to reflect and reassess is part of the creative process but it often feels self indulgent and it’s easy to feel guilty when you’re not as busy as those birds outside the window.

Last week I had a huge last minute treat which was a place on a “Quirky Workshop” in Greystoke with Emma Redfern. We spent all day being shown how to make messenger bags, being fed and indulging in the luxury of taking time to make something. I used a half finished embroidery project I hastily took with me as well as some pieces of Spoonflower fabric; luckily Emma and my table neighbour Tara were able to let me use some of their lovely fabrics too as I hadn’t had time to get any myself. A guilty pleasure or a vital reminder of the importance of companionship, craft and simple pleasures? I certainly felt inspired and happy that evening and more than ever aware of the dangers of too much solitude and creative isolation.

embroidered messenger bag by Kim Tillyer

Now it’s getting dark outside and the trees are just silhouettes against an elephant grey sky. Time to close the curtains, stoke up the fire and get busy in the real world instead of this virtual one. Thank you for reading x

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Reading: “Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow” Peter Høeg and “What They Didn’t Teach You in in Art School”  Rosalind Davis & Annabel Tilley

Listening To: I’ve been listening to “Carrie’s War” by Nina Bawden on the radio, in the bath, because nothing quite beats warm bubbly water and a story from your childhood to make life seem proper cozy 🙂

“…good books, and a sleepy conscience”

at Moss Eccles with Millican backpack

November arrived in great style with rustling piles of crispy leaves, the kind you can jump in and throw about, seldom seen in recent soggy years. Autumn colours almost worthy of a New England Fall and blue mirror lakes reflecting impossibly blue skies. It may seem as though I’m constantly swanning about having photogenic adventures in perfect landscapes while the rest of the world knuckles down to an honest day’s work… I can assure you this is mostly down to editing and curating, but recently I have to admit it’s all felt like living in a Disney Autumn scene.Last week we had another emergency visit to the bookshop, a torchlit climb up Wansfell and an atmospheric Halloween night spent in the van on the side of Coniston. The photo above is a before shot; before swimming out to the little island in Moss Eccles Tarn,with icicle fingers, discovering a perfect red and white toadstool in the middle of the fairy kingdom and swimming back feeling smug (for being brave enough to brave it on November 1st) and blissful with the sun in our faces. I don’t think the fairies minded being disturbed but I think I heard them laughing.

Beatrix Potter's House

After the swim we walked around the garden of Beatrix Potter’s house Hill Top. The house was closed for the winter but what a treat to have the garden almost to ourselves… last time we visited it was so busy with groups of people and tour guides that we had to queue in the garden listening to an introductory talk and Sara had a spectacular attack of suppressed giggles so that tears were streaming down her face by the time we got in. What a perfect little house and garden, I could sit and draw there all day.

Hedgehog drawing by Kim Tillyer

Channeling my inner Beatrix (I’m getting to be almost her shape these days too) I’ve been drawing hedgehogs in quiet moments at work and expecting to be told off at any moment.

A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.–Neil Gaiman

Last week I was told I must clean shelves at all times and reading was banned even during the quietest days when everything was sparkling… this week I was told off for cleaning while customers were in. I’m a confused and resentful rebel; the teenager who wouldn’t eat fish pie at school, the child who got in trouble at primary school for putting her hands in a tray of seed compost because she wanted to see how it felt, the frustrated artist disguised as a middle aged shop assistant! I’ve mused a lot about work in this blog and of course I’m aware that potential employers may read this and give the naughty troublemaker a wide berth but actually I think they’d be missing the point and the potential. Rules and regulations should also allow for imagination and inventiveness which is how things advance and grow and without which we are extras in a Samuel Beckett play or living a scene in Catch 22. I read this meme recently “people don’t leave good jobs they leave bad managers” and looking back now I actually miss (the early years) working in a pub in Osmotherley when despite the long hours and low pay I would gladly have done just about anything for the manager Helen who had a healthy cynicism about our bosses, the job and a real skill in asking rather than telling. Helen now runs TeaCakes of Yorkshire, a lovely online tea company and I miss her loads.

Crummock in Autumn

Hey ho, the perils of over sharing in a public arena… but life’s too short not to say what you mean just so long as you’re not nasty. Now it’s almost time for me to throw some more logs on the stove and find another pair of socks to put on over the other two – November is showing its other face today, it’s cold and damp and the leaves are mushy gold on the doorstep. Last night we went up Catbells in the dark to watch the fireworks, it was so clear and bitingly cold, sitting on the rocks drinking hot blackcurrant and Brandy and contemplating almost two years in Newlands Valley.

Autumn sketch

I dug out this old sketch which I’d made after one of our weekend trips here from “home”;  it seems so long ago now but the drawing feels more special now that I’m living surrounded by those colours , today the fells are just as black and topped with mist. Meanwhile in the land of blue and white more horses have emerged and a bear has left the Artfinder shop which is fantastic news and really encouraging.

Keep warm where ever you are and enjoy the last of Autumn x

cyanotype horse

Reading: “When the Floods Came” Clare Morrall Listening to:  “Paper Moon” Ella Fitzgerald after listening to Ali Smith on Desert Island Discs

White Horses

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This week I am practicing the philosophy and art of hygge, or gezellig if you want an even harder word to pronounce, because its definitely Autumn now and the average temperature in this house during the day (even with the stove on) is 16-18℃. I’m creating the illusion of warmth and coziness by building a nest in my little room and wrapping up in a friendly old, orange wool blanket.It’s silly that my fingers are so cold and it’s not even winter yet but I can warm them up by slipping my hands under the laptop, which is on my knee like a hot water bottle.

I’ve been driven a little bit mad by technology lately and the fact that I now have a computer that is so out of date the browser won’t even load Wikipedia (I’m keeping my fingers crossed WordPress stays as it is) and an iPhone with a splodgy camera lens and a battery life shorter than a goldfish’s memory (since it updated to ios10 it lasts about an hour). These are actually tools of my trade so I really need to think about investing in replacements but built in obsolescence infuriates me; constant software upgrades and “improvements” never seem to be worth it and always seem like a plot to force sales but maybe I’m the problem; reaching a point where I’m resistant to change and all fuzzy in the head from lack of brain stimulation. The thought of setting up a new computer makes me feel exhausted so I struggle on with Hot-water-bottle-Mac and Goldfish Phone and may as well be using a Box Brownie and a ZX81…besides I can’t afford it just now.

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After I finished writing the last blog post I was so wide awake that I ended up watching old TV programmes on You Tube (which I never do) until 3am, before reading in bed until 4. The thing I watched was “The Moon Stallion” which was a BBC childrens’ TV series from 1978. I was on my own in the house that night, curled up by the fire watching something from my childhood- ultimate gezellig. I was struck by how much it had affected me at the time – when I was 11 and living in Wiltshire not far from the places in the story. It was slightly spooky. I think I was terribly serious and geeky about it when I was 11 which must have been either funny or annoying for my family, so watching it now I cringed a little in memory of my younger self and I wondered how a child of 11 would feel about it today; apart from a slightly cheesy fight scene it had aged quite well and will always be important to me, perhaps because it was part of  a year that marked the almost imperceptible “beginning of the end” of childhood. I remember being taken to see the White Horse at Uffington and Wayland’s Smithy and frightening myself by trying to climb the steep grassy banks… it’s an amazing place where it’s easy to believe in magic. I’ve been back several times over the years and even took my children there, one hot summer day, to spin around 3 times in the horse’s eye (don’t tell English Heritage).

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You can see a little etching I did from around about that time in this post from 2012. I can see the etching from where I sit and the house does look so much like “home”.

Meanwhile in another century a woman on the cusp of 50 draws galloping white horses and lonely bears surrounded by papery flowers and wonders where the time went. You can see a little etching I did from around about that time in this post from 2012. I can see the etching from where I sit and the

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I’ve been slowly adding more pictures to my Artfinder shop as well as listing some new Winter Snow Bears cards on Etsy which are selling really well so THANK YOU to everyone who has ordered so far. It really is true that “Just a Card” can make a big difference – not just financially but by boosting confidence too, making it so much easier when people ask “what do you do”. I’ve been baking too, making this stupidly delicious Ginger Crunch slice from the recipe given to me by Lucia’s in Grasmere. More addictive than crack but hopefully better for you, despite the butter and sugar, it makes me feel happy when I eat it because it reminds me that some people are kind and generous and friendly in a world that isn’t always so ( also a lot of these people seem to live in the Lake District). However I will soon be too enormous to fit in my wetsuit so I may have to learn self control.

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I hope you are feeling gezellig where ever you are. Until next time x

 

“Water is another matter, has no direction but its own bright grace…”

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Last weekend suddenly had nothing in it after plans changed at the last minute and for the first time in ages we had time to spend together, maybe even to go away. The outrageously unseasonal weather had been set fair for days and days and I’d met all my deadlines, delivering and collecting work at various galleries ( I made it to Lancaster despite Google maps directing me via Iceland); everything seemed perfect… yet I woke up on Saturday morning with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Sometimes it really feels as though these attacks of gloom and depression come from nowhere, that they’re somehow imagined or self inflicted, certainly not justified but there’s no doubt that the feeling of heaviness and inertia is real. It took a huge effort to get out of the house and into the van, I felt like a winkle being prised out of its shell and yet, as a pile of different books will tell you, nothing is better for a heavy heart than a good dose of the outdoors- if only you can get yourself out there. When I look at the picture above (of Coniston in October, not Lake Garda in August!) I get a tiny flashback to the utter bliss of being there and the way the water was so clear you almost wanted to breath it, autumn leaves and acorns bobbing about on the surface and the sun’s warmth on my face. Hydrotherapy.

“Everything on the earth bristled, the bramble
pricked and the green thread
nibbled away, the petal fell, falling
until the only flower was the falling itself.
Water is another matter,
has no direction but its own bright grace,
runs through all imaginable colors,
takes limpid lessons
from stone,
and in those functionings plays out
the unrealized ambitions of the foam. ” – Pablo Neruda

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I have almost finished reading Amy Liptrot’s “The Outrun” which talks about overcoming addiction, partly by moving back to her childhood home on Orkney,  and her descriptions of swimming as well as the chapter about her online life really felt familiar. I was sad to be reaching the end of a good read but excited that this coincided with Bookshop Day and an excuse to visit one of my favourite bookshops Sam Read’s in Grasmere. We had an indulgent morning treating ourselves to new books, drinking coffee and eating delicious creamy gingerbread from Lucia’s and visiting Allan Bank to try and see squirrels. I’ve been to Allan Bank with various friends and family about 6 times this year and its always good to sit in the art room and do a quick sketch of the view through the window.

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Its such a wonderful place to just sit and be. I really should make a habit of going regularly with a sketchbook because its sometimes much easier to be motivated when you’re out of your cozy rut and the light is coming from a different angle. Also there are squirrels.

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By the end of the day we we had visited all my favourite places and clambered up some grippy,(mostly) friendly rocks to the top of a hill (whose name I’ve forgotten, sorry) with views for miles. I was a new person, trotting along in the fading light, back to the van to light the Kelly Kettle and eat cup-a-soup with peanut butter sandwiches before snuggling up to watch “Bake Off” while acorns ( I hope) thudded on the roof making us jump. I have heard that elsewhere in the world there was music and dancing, bright lights and fancy shoes but for once it just felt good to be tired for a reason and having a real holiday just 20 or 30 miles from home.

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Finally, as this week see’s the opening of Arteria’s “Hygge” exhibition, I’m reading a book about the concept by Louisa Thompsen Brits which states that “Hygge is a feeling of belonging and warmth, a moment of comfort and contentment” and also  mentions the importance of “Shelter” … this is the idea I have tried to express in some of my work …or at least it is what I feel and yearn for in my own life. Part of the sadness that overwhelmed me on Saturday morning was the recent news from Haiti and around the world, of displaced people and divisive political rhetoric. I want to help but feel powerless. Back in 2010 I wrote this post about a fundraiser called “Hearts for Haiti” and I’m wondering about doing something similar… but for now here is a link to Shelterbox who I think offer really practical help, quickly, in disaster areas and places of conflict.

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Reading: “The Book of Hygge” by Louisa Thompsen Brits and “The Sunlight Pilgrims” by Jenni Fagan

A Week of Rainbows

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” this quotation from “Anne of Green Gables seemed like the perfect opening line as I sit here musing about Autumn and October for the 9th year of writing this blog. The week began with the most perfect Autumn days, the kind that leave you with that chilly, fresh, energised feeling that I’ve only experienced before after emerging from a perfect swim in cold water… or a certain kind of bubbling, chemical induced excitement which I’ll pretend I’ve only read about. The air feels and smells different and it’s quieter here now that the summer is over; it’s a golden time before the winter begins. I’ve been taking stock, looking back at previous Octobers and thinking about the future.

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The week was especially special because I had a pretty magical day out with my son. Normally whenever Jake visits me here in the Lakes it’s raining but this time it was warm and fizzy with light and colour. We drove over to Ullswater and Aira Force which I’d never seen before; it was beautiful – beams of sunlight through amber ale coloured pools, diamond droplets caught on moss and shifting rainbows hovering above the falls. There were also lots of acorns which I find it hard to resist childishly stuffing my pockets with when I’m out walking, but Jake told me I had to leave them for the squirrels (who were sensibly hiding from the tourists).

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Ae well as wandering about constantly marvelling at the wonder of this place I’ve found myself living in I’ve been busy preparing work for a couple of really lovely galleries and their winter exhibitions. A set of cyanotypes with embroidered details- including this owl- went of to Emporium Gallery in Lichfield last week and tomorrow I’m off to the big city of Lancaster to deliver work to Arteria for their Hygge exhibition. As my  three month stint as guest artist at Cherrydidi in Keswick comes to an end I’m hoping to fill the gaps by really concentrating on my online shops which now include Artfinder for framed and mounted originals.

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Now, the cat is beaming messages at me about something ( probably biscuits) and Rupert has suggested I meet him from his cycle ride at Crummock Water with the wetsuits so I’ll reluctantly leave you for now (and next time I’ll let you know whether swimming in a northern lake after sunset in October was a good idea… it doesn’t feel tempting from my cozy velvet cushioned nest just now). x

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Listening to : Actually I couldn’t listen in case I got cross but I sent an e-mail which was read out on this radio programme about evictions. I also listened ( and danced about) live to the Carl Cox session from the closing event at Space which felt odd , alone in my house but connected by the magic of internet!

Honesty, Owls and the value of things.

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I’m back in my box room nest with a mug of freshly brewed coffee, while the autumn wind shakes the Sycamore tree outside the window. I’ve been in that edgy, change of seasons mood lately; not sleeping well, writing whole novels in my head in the small hours, only to forget that perfect opening sentence and the motivation to capture it,  as soon as I’m properly awake. An owl has been calling in the branch right outside the bedroom and I imagine that it could look in through the arrow slit windows and see me, sleepless and lost in a world of memories, half baked plans and good intentions. I hear it screeching “terrrr-wit” and wait for the answering whispery “hoooo” that sounds as if it could be coming from right next to me, perched on the headboard like in Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake.

mug by Witchmountain

The fells seemed to turn burnt umber overnight, the air is spicy with autumn scents and my favourite time of year in the Lake District has begun. The only thing I’m missing is the long days that meant there was time to swim after work; as it is we are wondering how long we will be brave enough to brave the cold water (or more importantly the cold wind on the shore as you try to struggle out of your wetsuit in a polite but speedy manner, stumbling about, bent double,often hobbled at the ankles by skin tight neoprene.) It’s ok once you’re in though and I’ve become a big fan of swimming in the rain when the water becomes spiky and textured like sparkling Artex and the raindrops momentarily stay on the surface like little pearls.  I want to be able to paint it, or film it or capture it somehow so I can show you.

Honesty

Back in the “studio”  I’ve been busy getting things ready for a couple of exhibitions. Unsold work has been returned safely and sold work has been invoiced, allowing me to realise that I have made the basic error of royally ripping myself off by paying too much for framing and not charging enough to allow for gallery commission – which in some cases is over 50%. One piece which sold for £175 actually earned me £6 after all expenses!  I am not a businesswoman obsessed with making a fortune but I’m learning the hard way and after discussing this over and over again with other artists and makers the conclusion is always the same… just because we can’t afford the art/craft we love, it doesn’t mean we should devalue our own. A good friend of mine makes beautiful mosaic birds…she cuts the wooden bird silhouette, uses hand picked and cut fragments (often rare glass with precious metals), grouts, seals and adds hanging hooks. Each bird is beautiful, unique and  takes at least a day and a half to make… what is a fair price? We are so used to things being “affordable” by which we usually mean mass produced by low paid workers in other countries, that even in the gift shop where I work I regularly hear people muttering that something is too expensive when it is really a very fairly priced item, mass produced in England! We seem to have lost sight of “value” in anything other than monetary terms. I’m not sure what the answer is.

hand embroidery on paper

Well I do apologise for getting on my soap box as usual, I could tie myself in knots and, being over sensitive and ridiculously passionate I’m likely to slip on the soap and fall flat on my face.  Better to keep stitching and muddling through.

cyanotype and embroidery

Well, its almost time to go hunting in the kitchen for supper and in the hope that Rupert has decided to bake something fabulous to fatten us up for winter. The oven fused all the house electrics last week so we spent last night on the floor with our heads in the oven, fitting a new element and feeling pretty smug about being able to mend stuff. It took two people though, not like the instruction video on Youtube and I felt as though I was channeling Sylvia Plath at one point but honestly, how did people ever know how to do anything before the internet?

velvet owl cushion by Kim Tillyer

I’ve just found out about an exhibition inspired by Alan Garner’s “the Owl Service” book and had just listed this cushion called “She wants to be flowers” in my Etsy shop. It is definitely one of my very favourite books, written in the year I was born, so I’ll be making every effort to visit the exhibition as well as Blackden House. Thanks to Natalie for the information.

Until next time, a belated happy autumn equinox to you all where ever you may be. x

Buttermere sunset