Tuesday, 21 December 2010

I'm not dreaming of a White Christmas...

Well, the UK has been hit by blizzards in many areas (not here though, at least not yet) and having heard of many people struggling with postal delays I decided the time had come to take my Christmas break. My shop Treacle Toffee is now lying dormant - I might revive it for one last clearout sale in January. The other two shops (JumpUp and Scatterbox Originals) are going to remain active with a 10% discount applied to the usual prices - this will be running until January 4th when I'll be able to post out orders again - my way of making up for delayed delivery for anyone eager to buy but patient to receive. :) Check out the links on the right!

I'm setting off tomorrow...all being well. Travelling at this time of year is always stressful, and now that the weather might effect the UK's already pretty unreliable railways...let's just say I'm practising my calm breathing technique...

So, I'm feeling like a bit of a Grinch. Because I'm really hoping it doesn't keep on snowing until Christmas. I've been looking at the Met Office website's map of the UK charting reports of snow and gulping at the size of the snowflake icons...the reports on that part of the site aren't moderated so it COULD be that the report of 100cm (that's 3 feet) of snow in the area I'm needing to pass through tomorrow are either someone's typo or a prank. Or meant to be in millimetres.

Of course, White Christmases are lovely. We had one up north last year and for the UK it was quite a treat as we do rarely get snow on Christmas (somewhere in my archive you can see my snowy photos from last year). But last year I was very lucky and got a plane up north, fortunately on the one day when there was enough of a lull in the snow for the airports to be operating. This year, I face a 7 hour journey by train. If it all runs on time. Eeek.

So...I'm hoping for a brief thaw please (I hope you're paying attention, Jack Frost) and then a little festive dusting of snow maybe...and then another little thaw for my return journey...

Other than that...the weather outside is frightful, and though my little fan heater is delightful, heck can it eat up my electricity allowance! Please don't let it snow, please don't let it snow, please don't let it snow...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

By the way...

...the Treacle Toffee 30% off sale continues!
Friday 10th December at 11am Eastern Standard Time is the cut off for orders to arrive in the USA, Canada and Europe in time for Christmas.
UK buyers wishing for arrival by Christmas need to order by the 17th of December.
The shops will go into vacation mode after that, until the new year, so I can have a little break.

Sink or swim

Last week I signed up as a member of the local swimming pool. I had never been there before - in fact, I hadn't attempted to swim since I was about 21 (that was a very brief attempt in the sea in Crete) and before that, a very brief attempt at 18 in Tenerife..considering I've lived with this on my doorstep for 8 years, pretty shocking lack of swimming!

We had a short stint of group swimming lessons in primary school (aged about 8 I guess) and the first year of secondary school (age 11) but I was never a strong swimmer, always very much....'freestyle' would be the polite way of putting it, 'doggy paddling' would be a little less kind...'drowning in a direction' might be most accurate! Hmm jellyfish do it with so much more style...

There were a few trips to the swimming baths with my older sister and friend when I was about 13, but I was never confident to go out of my depth and so I was often left behind, splashing about in the shallow end of the pool while the others swam into the deep end and gossiped about boys.

In short, swimming has been something that held me back literally in terms of socialising, and my inability to swim kind of became a metaphor in my life. Too lacking in confidence and strength to dive into the deep end of life...like the first half of Laura Marling's song:

So, I decided to learn to swim. Last week, the plan was to organise going to the adult lessons that the pool run on a Tuesday night...but the weather intervened. We don't often get snow in Cornwall, and we never seem to prepare for the possibility, so when we had a shower of hail-snow hybrid stuff overnight, the town came to a standstill for a day, and slipped and slid slowly through routine activities the rest of the week.

I'm a northerner (well, kinda) and so I was perhaps a little more intrepid than most in going out in the cold. I battled (skidding like Bambi) up the hill to the local pool, which sits out on the peaceful peninsula. Having made it all the way there to organise my membership, I realised it wouldn't be too safe to go after dark while the road was so icy (the road is unlit part of the way, too) But I managed a quiet afternoon session in the week, just remembering how to swim, staying in my depth.

Feeling more confident, I went again on Friday evening, thinking the ice must surely have melted by then (ha, my thoughts on the dangerousness of the dark, icy path were proven right on my way home) but I'm glad I went after dark. The pool has a sloping wall/ceiling comprising many large windows, so effectively if you lie on your back in the pool, there is just the dark sky above you in the evening, reflecting the ripples and light and people in the pool below. Strangely soothing, and definitely good exercise, even if you only doggy paddle ;-)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Clap if you believe in crafters

There's a lot of information out there on being self employed in the handmade arena, that really pushes the idea of branding not just your work, but yourself...a whole package deal to sell to your customers. I can understand why this is - the whole handmade movement is about buying from an individual person who spent time and effort on the product, and the feeling that the thing you've bought has a story behind it, other than just being another mass produced thing from a factory.
But the idea of branding myself, selling myself as some kind of concept, has always been a little uncomfortable for me. I live a fairly ordinary, unglamorous life. What magical spell can I possibly weave to inspire a stranger across the country or across the ocean to buy into Brand Catherine? I try to let my products speak for themselves, and I try to sell things that I feel are good quality, that people will like. Is that enough, in this cut-throat, super competitive handmade world?
Yesterday, I went for a bracing walk with a friend in the cold and the wind, and this friend very patiently listened to a lot of talk from me about my recent feelings about my work and the whole branding issue. Like a lot of creative types, I'm not that outgoing. I don't often go out to gallery private views. I'm not a party person. I don't have a very active social life. I don't wear beautiful clothes, or live in an especially beautiful home. There isn't always much to say about my day to day life that really differs from many other single peoples. And sometimes, I have doubts about my work. Even saying this feels like I'm breaking a taboo...
"NOoooooo!" cries a voice in my head. "If you don't stay positive about yourself and your products, your customers will walk away!" And maybe in some cases this will be true.
I talked to my friend about this difficulty of feeling that I had to develop some kind of fascinating ultra-positive persona to generate excitement in my brand. And he said something that really struck me, about how honesty is sometimes more respected, and that its important not to try to separate your real self from your work. I realised he was right...if Brand Catherine is going to have any real meaning, it should be the real deal.
So, yes. Sometimes I make something, or sketch out an idea, and later I think...was that the best I could do? Will anyone like this? Does the design work? Whenever I feel that the answer might be no, I tend to hold off on listing the product, or at least I'll try and sell the item at a discount and be upfront about it if I don't feel confident that it's my best work.
I have just set up a discount sale in one of my shops, Treacle Toffee. Everything listed there is a product I still have faith in, but I want to be honest that I plan to close up that shop in the near future, at least temporarily but probably permanently. I think the products are good, they're well made with good materials. But my ideas, style, taste and creative drive are taking me in a different direction now, and the honest truth is I think I can do better. So this is the time to buy from Treacle Toffee! The 30% off sale will be on for the rest of November.
In normal employment, performance is pretty clear cut. If you're not doing as well as you could or should, chances are your boss will tell you. Goals and expectations are clearly defined. When you work for yourself, its a different story. My customers are my bosses, and I rely on feedback and sales figures to gauge if things are going right, as well as for the income that sales generates. Especially during this recession, with the flow of money slowing down and listings so easily lost in the sea of competitors, that feedback about my work is all the more difficult to come by. I still check my shops on Etsy for 'hearts' on a regular basis and feel a little buzz when I see that someone's taken the time to add something of mine to their favourites list.
There are many sellers of handmade goods, like me, who love their craft and really want to make a living out of their creativity, or at least a supplementary income. And I think a lot of us have our moments of doubt, mired in the need to perfect our products and our brand. It is so easy to lose morale, ever hiding behind that shopkeeper smile. And then the creative flow gets blocked, the fear of not getting it right holding you back from keeping on with your work.
There are a lot of great products out there, by sellers who aren't that well known, who don't get featured on Etsy's homepage. Some of us don't get found that easily, because Etsy's search results are limited to the most recently listed 50,000 items. That sounds like a lot, but in some categories this is just the tip of the iceberg of what's actually available on the site. Small sellers who don't have a lot of financial backing to invest in paying the listing fee again and again to go back to the top of the search results can very easily lose their search visibility now. But if you delve into the later pages of the search results, or type in a more specific search term, you may uncover one of Etsy's best kept secret products.
So, dear blog reader. If you can, next time you find a handmade product you really love, especially if its by a seller who isn't raking in multiple sales each day, please let it show. Vote with your wallet if you can and you feel moved to, or just vote with your mouse and click that 'favourite' button. Tell a friend, or write a blog post. Tweet about it, if you're that way inclined. Chances are you'll put a genuine smile on someone's face, and it might just be enough to help them keep believing in themselves.
Clap if you believe in crafters...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Dance of the Blackberries

Hello you!
I know, I know, its been a while. Time appears to have been sucked into the vacuum cleaner of life and somehow I haven't posted since July. For any regular readers, I apologise for my absence...for any new readers, I apologise for starting this post with apologies!

I look outside my window today to see the sycamore tree waving about in the breeze, looking like a green, frizzy haired head-banger...the tips of those leaves are turning brown, and that isn't the only sign of autumn. Last week, on one of my Big Long Walks (I've taken to calling them that...5 miles is a long walk to me!) I found an abundance of blackberries on the coastal path.

I'd been thinking about picking blackberries for a while, having spotted many ripe ones on my walks over the past couple of weeks. But I'd been advised not to pick ones by the roadside (car fumes, you see) so I made a mental note to look for some on the coastal path, which is away from roads and has nothing but fresh sea air nearby.

I managed to collect a good fistful of berries, but I hadn't brought a container with me for them, so I had to improvise with an envelope from my handbag (carrying my junkmail around with me is not always a bad idea!) The best blackberries seem to be away from the path, higher up, where fewer animals and people have got at them...unfortunately this also means you need to stand on tiptoe and weave your hand through a maze of sharp brambles and lurking spiders to get at the fruit. There's a knack to doing this without injury, I think...

Anyway, after half an hour of foraging for the best berries, picking them from the brambles and popping them into my envelope, the occasional passer by either giving me a strange look or happily announcing that they knew what I was having for my dinner, I took my envelope of berries home for a good soaking (just to be sure they were clean)

Before I made the berries into a delicious apple and blackberry crumble, I took this short video of the berries soaking:

Aside from being an autumnal home-body and heartless blog neglector, lately I have been having a large clearout of craft supplies...I have realised I have a lot of stuff that I'm not likely to use, and because I am shifting my creative focus lately, I think it will do me good to clear out and start (fairly) afresh.

Happy September!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Can you see the sea?

Family holiday, visiting my mum's old school friend in Brighton, circa 1989...

"I can see the seeeeeeeeeeeeea!"
"Oh yes, me too, I can see the sea!"
"I can see the seeeea...oh hang on, are you sure that's not the sky?"

It's a game our family always played, competing to be the first person to say they can see the sea (when they really can) as we drove closer to the coastline in our old red Ford Escort. We lived surrounded by land then, as my parents still do, so the sight of the sea was a once-a-year novelty.

There would often be a dispute, as one of us saw a hazy blue line on the horizon, whether what we could see was the sea, or actually part of the sky. It's especially tricky to tell on those days when the sky is almost full of cloud (oh Mr Barnes, my old geography teacher, would roll his eyes at me forgetting the names of the types of cloud) and there is just a sliver of blue sky visible on the horizon. Sometimes the sea and the sky would be almost exactly the same colour, barely distinguishable from one another.

Memories of this, as well as my walks along the local coastline now that I live near the sea, have inspired my first art embroidery for JumpUp. I used part of a gorgeously soft wool jumper for the base (poor jumper, it had stains on the front as well as a hole - obviously had been worn and loved a lot during it's life!)

I really enjoyed watching this come together...it's been a while since I created something totally by hand (ie no sewing machine) and I have found it quite addictive, so I've already begun sewing my second embroidery, this time inspired by the hills I grew up around.

I have a friend visiting from Bristol soon, looking forward to playing the 'see the sea' game again!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Healthy, right?

Today, I perfected homemade falafels. These are one of my favourite things to eat in summer, and they feel really virtuous (though they're fried, they contain healthy chickpeas and lots of leafy herbs, and they go well with salad) I've tried to make my own a couple of times before, but always got stuck when it came to making them stick together and hold their shape.
This time, I took a recipe from my favourite veggie cookbook (Vegetarian Cooking by Roz Denny and Christine Ingram) and adapted it - the recipe calls for mint, which I didn't have so had to skip that, but I also added one beaten egg and dipped the finished falafels in breadcrumbs. Fried in a little oil saved from a jar of sundried tomatoes (I think it's a mix of olive oil and vegetable oil), they came out beautifully even with the missing mint!

I thought I would share the recipe here. This made me 14 falafels roughly an inch wide.

You need:
A 400 to 425g tin of chickpeas, drained
1 garlic clove, crushed or chopped finely
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaf
1 tbsp fresh mint
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large egg, beaten
One or two slices of bread made into breadcrumbs (2 tbsp for the falafel mix, the rest for dipping the falafels into)
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Use a food processor to whizz the chickpeas into a smooth paste, then add the rest of the ingredients apart from the oil and the leftover breadcrumbs. Whizz again (that's the technical term for it, right? :) ) until everything is mixed well. Make the falafel mix into bitesized balls, roll between your hands and roll in breadcrumbs to cover slightly. Heat the oil in a pan - ideally you'll need about a quarter inch deep of oil (half a cm) Fry the falafels gently for about 8 minutes, turning over once.
Serve in warm pitta bread or tortilla wraps with salad and hummous.
Apparently they freeze well (reheat for 15 mins in the oven) so if you have a big food processor, it's probably a good idea to make a big batch at once and save some. Buying a pack of 8 similar sized falafels in my supermarket costs £2, but making them at home is a snip of that (especially now I'm growing my own coriander!) so I recommend giving the recipe a go. :)

I also have been enjoying some homemade icecream...but the recipe isn't quite perfect yet, so I'll save the details until it's just right.
I like to tell myself homemade icecream is much healthier (and I suppose it probably is in that you can minimize the additives in there) so I think I'll be making lots of different flavours this summer. This first attempt was chocolate and peanut butter icecream...made more healthy by having low fat crème fraîche in it, but sadly this does seem to make the iciness a little much and the creaminess a little lacking...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Salt Ghost aka When Life Gives you Lemons... buy your own lemonade

Reading this lovely blog here (link) I was reminded that I've been meaning to write a post about my Salt Ghost...
At the charity shop I work at, we had a donation last week of a set of salt and pepper shakers. I've seen these around before (I think designed by Alberto Manteilla...can anyone tell me?) really cute pairs of shakers that are in the form of little figures that fit together in a sweet 'hug'. The set we had donated featured a white figure and a purple one, but sadly the purple one was too chipped to sell. I noticed that the white one, separate from his partner, looked like a curious ghost.

I like the quirkiness of it (sort of creepy but cute), so I bought the shaker and he stands on top of my little set of drawers in my kitchen. Perhaps next time I have a guest over, and they ask for the salt, I will tell them it is inside the ghost... :)

Here in the second picture you'll notice 4 lemons sitting on my lemon squeezer. In the unusual heat of last week, I got it into my head that I was going to try and make my own traditional lemonade (that is, the still kind, not the fizzy sort) I very earnestly took photos of the freshly-washed lemons before I started and then I used a recipe found on the internet.
It took me ages to zest the lemons, as I don't have a proper zester...I tried using a cheese grater (no luck) then a vegetable peeler (even less luck than no luck!) and then finally resorted to peeling the skin off by hand. I do NOT recommend this, especially if you have sensitive skin and a paper cut (I'm really prone to both) Ouch! I even managed to get a bit of lemon rind down under my thumbnail, which then pressed back the sensitive 'quick' behind the nail and...well, I've heard there's a type of torture not unlike this, and I can well believe it...VERY painful!

After over an hour of peeling the lemons, then carefully removing as much of the pith as possible, steeping the lemon peel in hot water for an hour and then juicing the lemons and preparing the sugary lemon water, then straining it all to get rid of the peel and 'bits', I put my jug into the fridge content in the knowledge that it would all have been worth the effort.

A while later, a glass of cool iced lemonade in my hand, I took my first eager sip...and oh, how I regretted it! Sour as can be, and not sweet at all (despite 100g of caster sugar having gone into the 750ml of water), the lemonade was as painful to drink as it had been to make, making my gums and lips sting. I added some more sugar, and watered it down repeatedly until it was drinkable...having spent so much time on it and not wishing to waste the lemons and sugar I'd used, I forced myself to drink it over the next two days.
The moral of the story, I think, is don't use any old recipe you find on the internet. Usually, I'm lucky and find a good recipe...but sometimes, not so much.
In future, I think I'll cross reference a few recipes to compare ingredients, and use trusted sources wherever possible - such as dear Nigella, who has a brilliant recipe for chocolate banana cake on her website that came out totally delicious when I tried it (did I remember photos that time? Nope...I ate it too fast...oink)
Or perhaps one of my dear readers knows of a less painful recipe for traditional lemonade?

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Hey Presto!

I am pleased to announce that my new Etsy shop, JumpUp, will be launching (finally!) tomorrow, the 1st of July 2010.

I am making recycled envelopes to mail some things in, out of unwanted sheet music...this music was rescued from the 'rag' box at my favourite charity shop after it had gone unsold in the shop for weeks. The charity gets a small amount for each book that is sold to the rag merchants, but I gave them a little extra than their usual price for the music book. I can't actually read music, but I love the look of it.
It has often bugged me that bubble mailers are hard to recycle and the eco friendly padded envelopes that you can get now are really quite heavy (adding to the cost of posting more than an envelope should!) I have folded over the edges and stitched the paper together in such a way to try avoid paper cuts for anyone handling them (I have a paper cut on my right index finger at the moment from a few days ago and ouch, why do such tiny cuts sting so much?!)
I didn't notice until I finished the first one that it said 'Presto' at the top of one sheet. Apparently, presto means 'soon' (as well as 'quickly', in the case of music) so it seems very apt!
The 1st of July also happens to be the birthday of a friend, who has been listening to me ramble on about my new Etsy shop for some time now...and who, as it happens, lives in a house full of people who can read music very well indeed (professional musicians!) so even more appropriate, perhaps.
I hope you like the new shop! I'll be adding things bit by bit, so please do take a look.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Talk about moving...

Since I last blogged, a few things have happened. I had a hospital appointment to investigate the cause of my persistent sinus pain, which lead to another hospital referral - this time for allergies. I've long suspected an allergy to dust and I will find out for sure on Wednesday with a skin allergy test. I am a little anxious about it, but mainly because I fear I'll be told I'm allergic to one of my favourite foods! I'm hopeful that the doctors can finally help me cure the problem though. This is something I have put up with for years (I definitely had the sinus problem as a teenager, possibly even before then) so its a strange feeling that I might be close to a solution.
(EDIT: I've been for my allergy testing today, and it all came back negative - so the plot thickens! I think the next thing will be an investigation of my sinuses, in August - fun!)
Secondly, the main reason for my absence from blogging, was that I moved home. This was a really sudden, unexpected thing which unfolded over the space of less than 3 weeks. I had been wanting to move to a new place for a long time and had been on my landlord's waiting list for a bigger flat for 3 years. He visited me at the end of May to tell me he'd had an unexpected vacancy (a student who was going to stay here for the summer and changed her mind apparently) A few days later I viewed the flat, and then I had two days to decide if I was going to move or not.
I'm the sort of person who finds change difficult, even when I know it's a good change, so I had lengthy discussions with family and friends about the possible move. Pro and con lists were made. Then I made my choice - I was going to go for it! Here I am 3 weeks later, in my new home...early June was a blur of box packing (it is amazing how much Stuff you can accumulate...) and making notes for various people and companies to notify of my new address.

I have been in the new flat for a little over a week now, and it finally feels like home. I have found places for everything and put pictures on the walls. One thing I really love about this place is the light - it's an attic flat, with plenty of windows. My work desk is placed so I get a view of the tree outside and the street below...in my old place, the desk was in a dark corner. I still want to improve my craft supplies storage (as you can see, I have a random collection of shoe boxes, laundry bin and plastic tubs under the desk!)

The process of 'nesting' finally complete, I have got back into my Etsy work. I'm at the stage of photographing the first items for JumpUp, so I thought I would share with you (at last!) a sneak preview of what is to come...

Watch this space for more news!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Too darn hot

For the past few days here, we have had some very sunny weather...by British standards, anyway! Summer here is unpredictable and shortlived, usually. So, when the weather warms up here, we've got to make the most of it.

This week, in between licks of homemade ice lollies - you might call them ice-pops? - and sighs of 'ohhh it's too warm' (even though it's actually only been about 22 degrees celsius here at most, this is too much heat for someone with Celtic blood and a northern upbringing!) I have been sewing. Fan pointed at me, 'hot' water bottle filled with cold water and chilled in the fridge overnight resting on my knees, I have been making progress on the new things for JumpUp and recently completed a custom order for Treacle Toffee. I have really wanted to get some more Gocco printing done for Scatterbox Originals too, but the weather is too warm for printing (the inks dry out a bit in the warm) - soon, I hope.

I'm waiting for a blackboard to come in the mail before I take my JumpUp photos. I have my heart on creating a kind of 'set' for the new shop's photos...the blackboard is going to be a backdrop, if all goes according to plan. So as yet, I still have no photos to share with you of my latest work.

Instead, I will show you a picture of my lunch from today. Me, obsessed with food?! However did you get that idea?

This was pasta salad - mayo, sweetcorn, vegetarian 'chicken' - grilled style - and some of my homegrown lettuce leaves - very soft and tender. The background is a silk scarf from a charity shop - normally this hangs over my window as a makeshift curtain, attached to the boring metal grille that my landlord presumably put there for safety reasons - today, it was taken out of the window to let the light in.

I'm trying to photograph my meals more often...partly as an artistic thing, partly to encourage myself to make more of an effort with my eating. When you're cooking for one, it's not always easy to motivate yourself to cook good meals. Also, presentation-wise...I don't know why but I think if food is laid out nicely, it's more encouraging to eat carefully and think more about what you're eating. Maybe it's just me?!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Where I've been, where I'm going...

Hello hello, it's been a while! For any regular visitors who've been wondering what happened to me, I've been immersed in a few things, some more exciting than others. The most notable happening lately was a short visit to Bristol.
Bristol, for those not in the know, is a fine city in the south west of England. It's where many of the graduates from my art college have ended up, including good friend Paula Bowles, children's illustrator extraordinaire (see her blog by clicking this word....here!) When she's not drawing or painting, Paula can often be found practising the ukulele...

We enjoyed fine weather, which allowed for a picnic in the park and a tour of the city (nice!) and we also went to see the lovely Laura Marling at Colston Hall, supported by equally great Alessi's Ark (check out beautiful music video for Alessi's The Horse here) and Boy and Bear
I've been back home for a few days now and find myself left with that feeling (I wonder if everyone gets it?) of being glad to be sleeping in my own bed again, but my mind still where I was...ahhh holidays!
But I have been snatching my mind away from holiday mode for long enough to make some progress on JumpUp. Doll number Two has been made! I'm still perfecting a few ideas but I think things are shaping up well.
Not quite ready to show pictures yet as I have a plan in mind for how I'm going to do that, involving getting a suitable blackboard and arranging a kind of little 'set' for my photos...
Next week, I'm going to be a little distracted by my parents visiting me, the UK General Election and the small matter of turning 28...but the shops will remain active, if a little quiet...like caterpillars waiting to emerge from chrysalises...and I'll keep to my usual standard of dispatching sales within two business days.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

When I am a grown up, I will know what I want...

When I was a kid, I remember really struggling to choose what I wanted. We'd go to a restaurant as a rare treat and I'd annoy everyone by frowning at the menu for 20 minutes. At home, Mum would ask me if I wanted cake or ice cream for pudding and I'd grin and say 'both!'. I'd get a cheque from my granddad for my birthday and then not know what to spend it on.

I'd like to be able to say that now I'm older, I know exactly what I want...I'm certainly more decisive than I was, but here I am about 3 weeks before my 28th birthday, and though I can think of several things that I'd like...I can't quite narrow it down to just one!

So here we have a sampling of things on Etsy that have me a little bit smitten...some of them are within my budget, some of them alas are not...(my mum reads this blog and I don't want her to think I'm demanding that she spend more on me than I know she can afford!) But I had these things sitting together in a 'poster sketch' on Etsy, and I thought they all sat together quite nicely...
Nice photo of some thread bobbins by auxpetitsoiseaux
Poppy red ballet flat shoes by lunashoesuk
Chopin recycled cassette tape wallet by sallyannk
Cuff bracelet by LaTouchables
Today dress by THIMBLEandACORN
Monty Fox lambswool plush by saracarr
Suitcase cushion/pillow/plush by Olive
Ruby Slippers gocco printed cards by FlowerPress
Gocco printed Button badges by askingfortrouble
Pillow man doll by mck254
Large sunflower clock by krtwood

Just a heads up - I'm going to be taking a break from my Etsy shops for a week, from April 19th, so I can do some proper catching up with an old friend and do some (gasp!) socialising...but soon I hope to have an update for you kind folks on JumpUp (aka Shop Number Three)...

Friday, 26 March 2010

Sewing and Growing

Recently, just when I was thinking about sewing and worrying about whether I'd have enough space to grow all the vegetables that I want to grow this year, I saw this on Etsy:

I had to smile, it fitted my mood and thoughts so perfectly at the time! This print is available to buy from knitalatte / Resurrection Fern - check out the shop for more charming, unique 'still life' photos.

While my seedlings continue to grow (and I continue to be amazed at how they know to lean towards the light!*) I'm planning new things to sew. It's been a long while since I used my sewing machine, and it's become yet another flat surface for pots of pens and pencils, thread bobbins and bizarrely, my glasses cleaning cloth. Soon, I will tidy, dust it off and get to work on New Things...soon.

* My coriander seedlings have got their first proper leaves now...when they first developed they looked a little bit like tiny green hands. In a cute way, not in a freaky alien way...They reach towards the light as if they're trying to grab hold of it)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

So much to do...

After over a month of living in the land of 'destashing', trying to clear out and rejuvenate my supplies boxes, this week I have finally been getting back into just crafting again. It's been a while, so I thought you kind folks might like to see a little sneak peek on some of what's coming for Scatterbox Originals (the other shops haven't been abandoned, I will post about what's to come for Treacle Toffee and JumpUp soon as well)

I have had some interest in some more El Bandido products, namely notecards and moleskines, and this week I finally had both the time and the supplies to get started on these. El Bandido has been a popular fellow, but I'm also interested in developing other 'cat characters'. This week I made two new screens for gocco printing - a new El Bandido one because the old one has given up the ghost, and one with a new character.

Sadly, the El Bandido screen didn't develop properly - I made a misjudgement on how much carbon there was in the photocopy, which meant parts of the image didn't 'burn' completely, leaving a patchy image. I printed several notecards with the patchy screen, since the first few prints often are patchy and it was hard to tell at first that the image just wasn't going to print completely on the cardstock. The notecards I have printed are ok...but they aren't as crisp as I'd like (the edges of the lines look 'nibbled at'), So I think I will list these ones at a discount price...

Very soon, I will make another new El Bandido screen (which can be done no problem but I'll need to get a good photocopy done at the print shop in town) but my other screen luckily came out well, so I got printing...

So here is a first view of my new character, Queen Felicity. Printed in gold ink on black, blue and red notebooks. These will be available to buy in the shop soon, so watch that space!

I'm pleased with how these notebooks turned out - I think the gold ink works well. A very regal way to keep track of all those 'to do' lists, don't you think?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

And the winners are...

A warm thank you to everyone who entered my recent giveaway draw - I had a wonderful response and got lots of tips on spring cleaning, from the practical (Dust from top to bottom! I'm always forgetting that one), and the sensible (Don't wait for spring!), to the sneaky (get the kids to do it!), to the sympathetic (just be messy!), to the inventive and ecological (use vinegar in place of fabric softener! That one has me intrigued...)
All comments were appreciated very much. Entrants, please scroll down the post to see if you won!

Picture I took a while after closing my skylight window after letting in lots of fresh air whilst hoovering (another good tip!) The hand-print looked a little eerie just appearing there in the evening mist...certainly until I realised it was my hand-print!

My big spring clean is going well so far. My own personal tip for spring cleaning is...when you need to clean the wire racks from inside your oven, sit them in the sink or a large tray, cover with hot water and then sprinkle on bicarbonate of soda. It loosens the grease really well, and it's much more eco friendly and economical than buying a specialist spray for the job. Bicarb does so much around the house, from neutralising odours in the fridge, to cleaning and you can of course use it as a raising agent in baking. I've recently discovered that toothpaste is really good for getting a lot of stains off those hard kitchen surfaces, and I'm convinced it's the bicarb in that that does it!

Now...for the winners of my draw...

I printed out and cut up the name of each of the 24 commenters, then put the little pieces of paper into my red beret. I held the hat tight, gave it a shake and then swirled the papers around inside with my hand for a minute or two. Then, with my eyes closed, I picked out Winner number one:
icitea (aka Clare)
and then...
Winner number two:

To those who didn't win, commiserations! Thank you for entering anyway - better luck next time...hmm, yes I think there will be a next time someday ;-)

I published all comments on the blog (aside from accidental duplicates from the same person) so any of the folks who kindly included their email addresses in their posts, you are free to delete your post now if you wish to keep that data off the blog.

I will have new cameo pin brooches available for sale at Scatterbox Originals on Etsy in the near future, so if any of you would like to 'RSS' feed my shop to see my shop's updates more easily, please click here for the page to sign up for the feed.

Thanks all!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Slowly springing up...

Woke up this morning, feelin' fine...

Had homemade luncheon on my mind...

Went to the window, to check on my seedlings and stood...

Wow, they've grown much faster than I thought they would...

Something tells me I'm into growing food

(Something tells me I'm into growing...)

Yeah, something tells me I'm into growing food!

Random bursting into song aside, I thought you kind folks would like to see my little set of seedlings. I sowed these 8 days ago, and some are doing very well, some are taking their time a little bit. The tall ones you see here are spring onions - scallions to my American friends - the two-leafed ones (in a nifty container I made by cutting an old plastic milk bottle in half lengthways) are lettuce, the smallest seedling you see is an aubergine seed (again, translation for American readers - eggplant)

I'm also going to try my hand at growing potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, mini carrots, coriander, chives and basil (some are sown already but nothing interesting to photograph yet, some I can't plant until I get more soil) Next week a kind friend is going to help me out with getting compost from the DIY shop (as I can't drive) and also some spawn for button mushrooms, which I am going to grow under my sink. Can't wait!

It's been a long time since I tried gardening, having so little space here I thought I wouldn't manage much...but it's amazing what you can actually grow in a small space. I'm hoping this will be a more eco friendly, healthy and economical way to feed myself.

The bowl of soup above is made with frozen veggies and a small chopped potato, boiled in stock and then made smooth with my hand-blender. I garnished my soup with seeded bread that had started to go stale - I spritzed it with some olive oil 'low calorie' spray, before toasting, and it came out delicious. I don't know if this is peculiar to the UK, but I call these strips of toasted bread for dunking 'soldiers'...an odd expression, but one I've grown up with!

Like my slower growing seedlings, I am very slowly making progress with my latest handmade things. The Great Ebay Clearout is gradually getting done, and I'm itching to spend more of my time creating. Tonight's job is to get some black and white images ready for use in my gocco printer, and then I think I'll do some hand-sewing for the new Etsy shop...

Things are coming together for 'JumpUp' aka Etsy Shop Number Three. I have found some great materials to recycle and I hope I will have some things ready to show you all soon. In the meantime, I just have to show off these:

They're going to play a starring role as props in my new shop's photos!

Thanks to all who've entered my blog giveaway so far - the spring cleaning tips are all very useful - and the Messy Person Syndrome sympathies are much appreciated too! I'm going to close the giveaway for entries tomorrow, Wednesday 10th March, at around 9pm UK time. If you'd like to be in with a chance of winning one of the two Apple Cameo brooches, click here to see the post and info on how to enter - one entry per person (with two chances to win per entry) and remember, this is open to entrants worldwide!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Cameo appearance - and a Scatterbox giveaway!

Lately, I have been having a big clearout - a sort of 'Spring clean'. I've been selling off a lot of my older craft supplies on Ebay (check them out, UK folks!) to try to make more space, and it has felt like I haven't actually made anything in a long time! Yesterday, I took some time out from the measuring, counting, photographing and listing on Ebay, to make a start on a new batch of cameo brooches. I'm part-way through making some El Bandido, Blush Bear and Bluebird pins...

At the stage right now of cutting out the felt pieces and the cotton that I printed my artwork onto. Please ignore the errant hair among the bluebirds...I seem to be moulting, it really must be Spring!

It will be a while before these are all done, since the Great Big Clearout must be finished...but right here I have two completed Apple cameo brooches...and they're up for grabs, in my first ever Spring Has Sprung Hip Hip Hooray Giveaway!

Oh yes indeedy, one of these apple pins can be yours - free of charge, wherever you may be in the world. All you need to do is post a comment on this blog, telling me your name and your favourite tip for 'Spring Cleaning' (or tell me how messy you are if you like, make me feel better!) Once I have a fair few entries (I think I'll leave this open for entries until Wednesday March 10th, my sister's birthday as it happens! EDIT - entries are now closed) I will draw two names and tips, and post these on the blog after the closing date - the winning entries will need to contact me and provide me with their address for posting the brooch - don't worry, I will keep your details private!

These pins are roughly the same as this one here (link) - but the felt is a brighter green and the brooches are slightly smaller as I over-trimmed the felt a tad in my 'yay I'm sewing again!' fervour.

If you want to comment on this post, but don't want to enter the giveaway, let me know in the post.

EDIT TO ADD: I'm going to keep this at one entry per person, sorry I forgot to say this earlier!
I'm moderating comments on this blog so they won't show up right away. If you don't want to post your email address in the comment, that's ok, my contact details will be available in my blogger profile for the two winners.

Good luck!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Traversing Pastyland - Drowned Cat

On Thursday, I took my camera out and after my errands in town, I went for another long walk through the town, up around Pendennis peninsula and down to Gylly beach.

It was lovely to get out in the slight drizzle, because I always find it clears the air. Especially by the water, I think the salty air and the right amount of dampness has helped my sinuses a lot (now I understand why the Victorians placed so much medicinal value in a holiday by the sea!) Before I lived by the sea, as well as my sinus problems, I used to get terrible headaches linked to atmospheric pressure when there's a storm coming. Apparently, by the sea the ions in the air are different, and less likely to cause the pressure.

It began as a pleasantly 'fresh' walk to the headland, where I took some pictures of the view...looking out at the little outpost of Pendennis Castle there, to the left as you reach the point of the peninsula (coming up from the 'docks' side). The white 'arrow' of an old sign spoils the shot a bit I think!

A bike left waiting for a ride home...I think there's a scientific law that dictates if you see a bike with a basket, artistically leaning against a railing...you physically have to take a photo of it!

...I headed down the other side of the peninsula from here, then eventually came to the long straight road that leads past the little strip called Castle Beach. Looking down at the thinning patch of sand, I saw a figure in black with a black dog, walking on the beach...I wonder if she knew how striking she looked down there, on that deary, drizzly day... a dark shape moving against the pale sand?

She probably had her mind on a hot cup of tea, like I did! On the road, I saw the cars switch on their headlights...

As you can see here, it's a long, straight stretch down to Gyllyngvase, which is just around the bend in the distance. On a clearer day, by this time there'd have been the beginnings of a striking sunset over the sea ahead to the left.

I had planned on going as far as the next beach along and then back home via the nature reserve...it was not to be - by the time I got to Gylly, what had begun as a light spattering of drizzle-rain had become what we Northerners call 'Chooking it down'! The problem with wearing glasses, is that when it rains, you can't see. I had to take my glasses off to cross the road - I'm only mildly short-sighted, enough to need glasses, but I can cope without my glasses for short lengths of time as long as I don't need to see detailed signs etc.

By the time I headed up the hill to my home, my hair was soaked through, my glasses covered in raindrops, my coat soggy and a good couple of inches at the bottom of my jeans were wet through. I got home, turned on the heater, changed into my pjs and set about making a lasagne for dinner...the perfect, cosy end to my walk!

I went for another, longer walk the next day - the same route but with Swanpool beach included as the weather was much better...naturally, on this beautiful day for photos...I didn't have my camera with me! But then, photos of Cornwall in wet weather are probably more representative of what it's often like here...

If you enjoyed this little dose of armchair tourism (or should that be computer desk chair tourism?) please do take a look at the rest of the pictures I took, in my flickr album here.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Birds V Butterflies

I can never decide which I like best, birds or butterflies...but I know I want ALL of these!

Butterfly necklace by gossimarwings
Butterfly mobile by zsazsa32
Bird necklace by sophiehillartist
Natural History pillow/cushion by norajane
Owl brooch by jennymccabe
Blue nest pillow/cushion by willywaw
Bird brooch by arcticcircles
Butterfly cuff by julishland
'Flight' pillow/cushion by modernradar

All available to buy direct from the makers on Etsy.com!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Gonna go for a walk in the rain...

Last week, I was pretty lucky with my daily walks always being during a dry (or relatively dry) spell of weather. I don't mind the rain (I grew up in Lancashire, which is kind of Britain's equivalent of Seattle!) and I do love the beautiful patterns falling droplets make in puddles, hence the inspiration for these brooches:

But if I went walking in pouring rain for 2 hours, I know that would be pretty miserable. I've been thinking about saving up for some waterproof trousers, and definitely on the hunt for a good raincoat. I know just what I want - a knee length mac with a hood, in a fitted shape, ideally either blue or a nice red.

I stumbled across this video on youtube that has made me a little more eager to be out in the rain, though: here, we have the fascinating (to me, anyway!) science of water droplets. If you're not interested in science-talk, you can watch this without sound to appreciate the close-up shots (starting 20 seconds into the video)

Friday, 19 February 2010

12 virgins

Playing around on Etsy's Pounce Undiscovered tool yesterday, I found 12 great items from shops that were amazingly yet to have a sale on Etsy. In the spirit of newness that this time of year has filled me with...I present to you 12 (Etsy) virgins!

Check out the treasury list I made here
(it expires on Sunday February 21st)
These sellers are: rocketweeddesigns, JennDiggs, eloriamarie, WornTornandReborn, DayView, nintajewellery, CasaDiAries, RevolutionaryWoolens, ohsoquiet83, alicesbeads, thesoapaddict and JaninaGrigore

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Small, green and split three ways

Over time, a lot of people have asked me where I get my ideas from, and I used to be a bit stumped to answer. I don't mean to sound arrogant when I say this - not at all - but the ideas pretty much come to me. Even when I don't ask them to...they're a bit like dreams in that respect. When you close your eyes at night, you don't think "tonight I'll have a dream that I'm about to catch a train with my mum who is Lauren Graham in this dream, and we'll be carrying old shoes and keep dropping them" (and yet I really did dream that once)

Dreams are very rarely intentional - the dream comes, out of the dark little pockets of your mind that have been quietly collecting the jigsaw pieces of the day - things you've thought about, snippets of conversation, fleetingly seen oddments, clips from films and songs. The little pockets collect these pieces and while you're asleep, they try to put the pieces together, mixing them with older pieces, in the dark. And sometimes, unexpectedly, two mismatched jigsaw pieces will fit somehow and become a story. I believe that ideas come the same way. The main difference being that some people can access those dark pockets full of jigsaw pieces whilst they're wide awake and doing something boring like chopping an onion. Sometimes the jigsaw pieces spill out to the front of your mind without you asking for them.

I often wish that J.K. Rowling's 'pensieve' idea was a real life gadget. The ability to take thoughts and memories out of your mind for a bit, to relieve yourself for a while, is very appealing to me. I think it is both a blessing and a curse for creatively minded people - the sudden inspirations, that leave your mind running at a mile a minute. Notepad and pen in hand, trying to scribble down and keep up with an unexpected flow of 'jigsaw piece' ideas.

I have found that sketching out thoughts and noting down ideas is a good thing - an essential thing when I find myself awake at 2am, unable to switch off the flow of jigsaw pieces until I've 'got it all out'. I have ideas for the Treacle Toffee shop, for Scatterbox Originals, my oldest shop...and now I find a new and different thing has been born in my mind...and after a while, I gave it a name that I liked, and quietly snaffled up the domain on Etsy. The third shop is, I suppose, my way of having another table to put my interesting new jigsaw onto...as close as I can get to a pensieve.

The New Idea is different...it involves recycling as a main feature, and there are a few potential types of items I'd like to make, but there's a theme, running through all the designs, of woollen stitches. I had a discussion recently with a good friend (the kind of friend who wisely always tells you the absolute truth) and she said to me "why have three shops on Etsy?" She raised a good point - promoting three shops is, basically, thrice the work. I currently have two blogs - this one and also www.scatterboxtwo.blogspot.com for my original Etsy shop. I thought that I should promote each shop separately, which meant separate blogs.

Now I have given it a lot of thought, on my long walks. For now, yes...I will have three shops. I feel it will help me to keep track of how each type of idea that I have goes down with buyers. But as for the blogs, I think I need to be more cohesive. Keeping up two blogs has been tricky. It's all very well when it comes to talking specifically about designs and ideas for one shop, but I often want to blog about Other Things (like my walking post, below, or my recipies posts) I may have three shops on Etsy, and they may have different styles and likely different audiences, but I am one woman. The same woman who came up with El Bandido also came up with organic cotton feathery patterned handbags. The same woman finished a degree in Illustration five years ago, ate the same breakfast this morning (peanut butter on toast followed by homemade banana cake and a mug of tea), the same woman is wearing the same pair of socks right now. Actually she's wearing two pairs of socks at once, because they're getting thin and she needs more cushioning for all the 5 mile walks she's doing...but you get the point!

So, folks, what I intend to do is focus myself on one blog for all three Etsy shops (I will most likely keep my less-known, quieter blog for my Illustration endeavours separate for now). This blog is my youngest one, but for the rather dull reason of it being easiest to type, this will be my main blog now. For anyone wishing to only see posts relating to a particular shop, I'm going to try to tag each post with it's relevant shop name, if it relates to one in particular, or 'all shops' if it is a more general post. The 'scatterbox blog' will remain up and viewable, if anyone wants to see it.

I want to do all three shops justice, which means that I am going to become more focussed in what I do within each shop, more specific in terms of items. For Treacle Toffee, and Scatterbox Originals, this means I am gradually going to try to streamline what I make, focusing on popular designs.

As far as the New Shop goes, the name is JumpUp and I'm hoping to have it up and running by early Spring.

This is a brief preview of some of the jigsaw pieces that are beginning to make up JumpUp (very rough sketches here are all for plush dolls, but you can see the shop's main page: www.jumpup.etsy.com for the current 'sections' I intend to have)

I hope that you, dear blog readers, will support these changes. Thanks, as always, for reading!