Tag Archives: Moomins


I should have written notes while I was away, or I should have spent the evenings writing instead of watching murder mysteries, because now, less than a week since got home, I’ve so much to tell you but it’s all jumbled up with how it feels to be home. Things have burst into flower and leaf , houseplants are leaning towards the light and people have moved into the birdhouse we put up last spring – they have been busy dusting and bringing in new nesting equipment.

The return to Witchmountain, after British Craft Trade Fair, was delayed by a trip to London; so that altogether I was out of my nest for nine whole days! This only happens once a year and I should probably do it more often so that the feelings anxiety beforehand and unsettled flatness afterwards are less intense. I had such a good time and so many adventures. After all the build up to a big event it’s not surprising it feels a little odd to be back with no imminent deadlines and just a sleeping cat for company during the day (and the owl who likes to hoot in the daytime).

This year BCTF was back in a permanent hall rather than a marquee and we’d been given an extra metre of space due to a cancellation, so it was a massive relief that the calico backdrops I’d made last year fitted perfectly. We found it much easier to set up this year, although it’s never quite how you imagine it on paper.I’d mended the ladders with string but they still felt pretty dodgy and my mum told me yesterday that my grandad made them himself in the war or something…no wonder they were wobbly. Here are three generations of Tillyer women- I need to work on my body language a little don’t I, you can see the discomfort in my white knuckled, clenched fist!

Of course I got severe stand envy as I looked around at what other people had done and it’s the hardest thing in the world not to compare and lose confidence; it is for me anyway. My friend Bridget Wilkinson was there for the first time and the simplicity and neatness of her stand design really let her work shine … it was also easier to set up, so If I do the show again I may do some reinventing ( mine was done with fabric, mostly because I have no power tools except a sewing machine and my dreadful measuring skills are more easily forgiven in fabric ).

Well we had a good show and met so many lovely, inspiring people – makers and gallery owners- I can’t even begin to list them all (but I will be adding new dates and stockists to the exhibitions page on the website soon)  I began to think I should give London a miss and head straight home to start on orders. This year is going to be busy and exciting; I just hope it starts to even out financially because there’s no doubt it’s been an expensive journey. BCTF is cheap compared to the bigger events like Top Drawer but I reckon it cost over £1,000 to stand, which is an awful lot when you don’t have a guaranteed income. We treated ourselves to a hotel with a pool and I swam every night, imagining myself looking like Esther Williams until I put my glasses back on and saw the reality-sometimes it’s better to live inside your head and dream.

And so from Harrogate to London where the weather made everything seem like we could have been in Italy. We ate tiny overpriced cakes cut into 3 pieces in the Royal Academy members rooms, marvelled at the marmalade at Fortnum’s , lusted over everything in Anthropologie and visited the Bernard Jacobson Gallery where there was an exhibition by a rather special artist.  London glittered in the sunlight and I insisted we went to Kew Gardens after a tip off there might be Moomins there. We must have walked for miles and I do wish I was able to go everyday for a month with a sketchbook and a picnic and a good map and plant guide.

There was a Moomin event at Kew but the real reason we were in London was to go to the Southbank Centre’s Adventures in Moominland. Ok, I may have lost you by now; to a lot of people the Moomins was just a slightly creepy kids cartoon or a childhood paperback but I didn’t even discover the books by Tove Jansson, apart from the semi autobiographical  “The Summer Book”,  until I was 42. For some reason we missed them as children so my first Moomin experience is of  reading all the stories one deep, white winter, with a bottle or two of whisky for company, snowed in and  heartbroken after a relationship breakup. They are children’s stories yes, but as the exhibition makes clear they are also about existential crisis,  fear and loss, love and friendship, family and acceptance of difference, home and security. Many of the stories are actually about Tove’s own life and relationships. Lots of the characters are misfits and outsiders but all are welcomed into the “family”. Don’t tell anyone but at a couple of points along the guided “adventure” I nearly cried- it was so beautifly done, with little illuminated tableaux in each room containing exquisite original drawings… some hidden in suitcases like Thingumy and Bob’s “content”, the love that they kept secret. There were no filming or photography allowed which I can understand but I wish I could show you how magical it was to literally walk into a favourite book; the whole experience was gentle and tactile with the smell of woodsmoke and clever use of light and sound. It could have been tacky and theme parky, or full of cynical kids but in our group of 15 there were only two very sweet children and the rest were grown ups – which just goes to prove my point.

Tove Jansson’s niece, Sophia Jansson
Photo: Vic Frankowski

Almost every year and in times of need I re-read Tove Jansson’s books, especially Moominland Midwinter and feel grateful for the magic of a story that can transport you to another reality and put a different spin on your own. I think it’s no exaggeration to say those books saved my life that winter, because whilst reading it was as though I pressed “pause” and took the time out  I needed to feel  stronger.

OK, enough of the soppy stuff. I’m back in the Lakes now and busily making orders to send to all the lovely new galleries. There is a giveaway on my Facebook page at the moment to win a candle lantern… it’s in the spirit of Hobbit birthdays  because I’ll be picking a winner at random the day after my birthday next week. If you have time have a look… you’re in with a good chance because despite paying to promote the post only about 11 people have entered! The mysteries of Facebook algorithms.

Happy Spring, Easter, Eostre – whatever you celebrate x

Reading: “The Bear and the Nightingale” Katherine Arden and ” Work and Love” Tuula Karjalainen Website: I met Heidi Vilkman at BCTF, she is from Finland and apart from her art she has built the most amazing little cottage which could easily have been in a Tove Jansson book- honestly you have to look! http://cobdreams.blogspot.co.uk


2009 Degree Show


Since I last wrote I have been to Hartlepool twice to see the Degree Shows at CCAD. The opening night was very busy and brought back all sorts of memories from last year. It was lovely to see some familiar faces and catch up with people a little bit, as well as seeing the end result of all the hard work I’ve been reading about on various blogs.An instant favorite was Holly Flanagan’s amazing dresses, featuring bold prints and jewel like embroidered neck-pieces.The embroidery was so original and fresh, very inspiring. I think she is entering the Hand and Lock Competition this year so I’d like to wish her good luck.


I’ve been working on some new designs and found out I’d sold a piece in Japan which is good news amongst the gloom of a wet June day. I’ve also been making a few little bits and pieces to take to York for the Embroiderer’s Guild exhibition.I’m not sure if I’ll be allowed to sell stuff but I need to fill the table anyway.Its a shame the exhibition clashes with the next Designer’s Marketplace in Middlesbrough on the 28th.


Now, time to reheat the coffee and finish some sewing. I just finished my last  (and decidedly weirdest) Moomin book, “Moominpappa at Sea”, and have that horrible feeling you get when you finish a book and feel a bit bereft!




I’m really enjoying working on this little jacket ,now that I’ve started stitching into it and just playing,instead of worrying about trends and the mass market. I wonder if I can borrow a baby to model it when I get it finished!?

Today I’ve been a domestic goddess, making rhubarb jam and starting some bread off, filling in my tax return and attempting to draw some bluebells as well as updating my C.V. The updating was due to a call I got this morning from Protocol National asking if I was interested in applying for some art and design teaching jobs.Anyway,there’s no harm in trying…


So, although I’ve been busy busy busy, (and still not quite managing to get on top of things) I’m struggling to find much to talk about tonight. Time for a drop more coffee and some more sewing.Perhaps this monster that Jake made will give me some inspiration and encouragement! Isn’t he great.


Hopefully the books I ordered will arrive soon, (“Textile Designers at the Cutting Edge” Bradley Quinn and “Moominpappa at Sea” Tove Jansson) I’m desperate for more Moomin stories ; why have I only just discovered them?



Today I went looking for that Moomin book I said I was saving for a special occasion ; needing to escape a little from the here and now. So I went into town and bought books and Vogue Bambini ( for research) and embroidery thread. As I left the bookshop I heard this …a man, with a small boy of about 2 or 3 who wanted to go in to the bookshop, said ” you don’t want to go in there, it’s only full of books” ….my heart sank even further than it was already. Sometimes a good book is the only thing that saves me. I can’t imagine a childhood without books or stories…poor kid.

Well I posted some designs today so that means I can spend tonight doing something to put on Etsy, before starting another group of six. Today’s picture is a sketchbook page, I really must start using it more.

Time to light the fire now and snuggle down with my reading.

(Oh, don’t forget, if you’re in Newcastle this Saturday, Designers Marketplace is holding it’s latest event at the university there; actually, I might get the train up since the weekend is looking pretty empty so far!)