Tuesday, 25 November 2014

'tis the season to be jolly

Last year, Christmas almost killed me. I spent the run-up to the festive season upcycling a vintage wooden dolls cot, supervising the Husband giving a second-hand bike a makeover for Ben, trying desperately to make biscuits and cakes and treats because all my social media channels told me everybody else was, writing twelve different craft tutorials for the blog (there actually weren't twelve in the end - some of them were still languishing unfinished come Boxing Day) and trying to keep up with my usual workload, look after the kiddos and attend all the usual school and toddler-group activities. By the time Christmas Day rolled around, I was exhausted, the house was a tip and I had the right hump. 

This year, we're taking a different approach. Adele over at Circus Queen did a great post on how she's simplifying Christmas this year, which I found really inspirational - I guess I was kind of looking for someone to tell me that it's OK not to make everything yourself, and cram the entire advent period with activities, events and trips. It's fine to relax, take stock of all the good things you have in your life, and just enjoy the season - so todays post is all about the things we will (and won't!) be doing to prepare for Christmas. 

Bringing Nature Inside

One thing I really wanted to do last year was find and decorate some branches; I like the idea of mixing nature with brightly coloured craft materials, and had been hugely inspired by Hannah's fabulous branch in her kitchen (see the whole post here, it really is epic!); there's something really nice about spending the afternoon in the woods and then bringing some mementos home to decorate afterwards. I've got two so far, and they've been trimmed with beaded garlands, pompom trims, chunky wooden beads and DIY paper ornaments; it was really therapeutic, and I could probably have cheerfully carried on had it not been for the fact that one of them fell over due to the weight of the decorations.
I've also picked up some holly from a wooded area near our house, and I'm hoping to grab some beautiful leaves to do this with before they all turn to mush on the ground, but I definitely won't be panicking if I don't manage it - I'm more than happy with my cheery sticks!

Wrapping It Up

Last year, I decided that I was going to print my own wrapping paper - not only that, but was I happy with pre-made stamps? Of course not, because why make things easy when you can make them really stressful, right? I spent ages cutting out card templates, then transferring them to adhesive backed foam and making my own flaming stamps; admittedly, some of them looked really nice, but did the paper end up anywhere different to all the other wrapping paper? No, it did not. This year, I'm doing a mixture of brown paper (you can recycle this - ordinary wrapping paper isn't actually recyclable, grrr) and washi tape, felt bows (two rectangles, secured with wool in the middle and glued on with a glue gun) and good old bakers twine. Quick, effective and without the mess and fuss of ink pads and drying time. Boom.


The one bonus of making so much last year was that everything was packed away once Christmas was over, so I can just pull it all out again. I had some great pom pom garlands and paper chains above the sofa, some cross-stitch bunting which I actually made about four years ago and then lots of little bits and pieces that we've picked up over the last few Christmases, so they'll all be making an appearance again. This year I've cobbled together some simple felt-and-lace scallop bunting, a bead garland (which basically involved threading some beads onto illuminous pink bungee cord) and err, way too many pompoms to be useful. I'm definitely, definitely not going to be staying up until the small hours making FIMO shapes and cross-stitching Christmas cards, weeping into my embroidery silks and hollering, 'humbug!" every five minutes.

The Best of the Rest

We've also got a few fun activities planned, most of which involve sitting on the sofa and eating a lot, but we will be leaving the house occasionally. We're going to be:

  • Reading some new Christmas books with the kiddos; we picked up a couple of bargains a few weeks back, and I'm really looking forward to cracking them open.
  • Heading over to Winchester Christmas market to pick up some little treats for friends and family.
  • Making some gingerbread (and possibly buying a gingerbread house kit - Ben is pretty desperate to make one this year!).
  • Watching the school nativity.
  • Visiting some nearby little villages to see their Christmas lights.
  • Taking lots of pictures and making lots of memories.
  • Burning lots and lots of winter scented candles (I'm literally addicted!).
What have you got planned this year? Are you making anything nice, or going anywhere special? Whatever you do, relax and enjoy it!

This is a collaborative post.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

sunday style: budget busting winter special

I love clothes, and I reeeeeeally love clothes that a) have minimal impact on the planet b) help me reduce consumption by buying them and c) don't cost a small fortune. Although I'm really not a fan of winter (the cold, the rain, the dark evenings and grey days... ughh....), I do like the clothes that go with it; chunky jumpers, midi dresses, shirt collars peeping out over the neckline of patterned knits, they're all right up my street. So today, in a nod to spending less and helping our beautiful planet, today's Sunday Style is dedicated to the handmade, the recycled, the vintage and the secondhand - and nothing is over £25. Shop away!

From the top:

Left: Kloth jumper on ASOS Marketplace, £20
Right: Revolva jumper on ASOS Marketplace, £18

Left: Follow Your Heart dress on ASOS Marketplace, £17
Right: HOV dress on ASOS Marketplace, £16

Left: Love Buzz Jumper on ASOS Marketplace, £18
Right: Knee length floral dress at Oxfam, £12.99

Left: Little Red Vintage shirt on ASOS Marketplace, £20
Right: Thrift Store shirt on ASOS Marketplace, £20

Clockwise from top left:
Ladybird Likes Polaroid Necklace on Folksy, £12
Girl with Beads recycled leather bow-tie necklace on Folksy, £15
SummerField chunky mittens on Folksy, £9.50
Max's World laser cut acrylic necklace on Folksy, £14
Red embroidered shoulder bag at Beyond Retro, £22
Leopard pumps (brand new, size 5) at Oxfam, £12.99

Friday, 21 November 2014

ten fabulous years of amelia's magazine

If you've never heard of Amelia's Magazine, simply put - you're missing out. Created and run by the wonderfully talented Amelia Gregory, it's a wonderfully creative and eclectic mash-up of beautiful writing, illustration and photography; covering topics such as fashion (the Fashion Week reviews are always a good read), earth and environment, art and music, it's a great alternative to all of the carbon-copy mainstream magazines, and is one of my favourite places on the internet.

I first stumbled across Amelia's a few years ago, and was lucky enough to be able to contribute a few illustrations to some of the open briefs (pictured above); nowadays I just read and enjoy, and couldn't have been more pleased to discover that to celebrate ten years of the magazine, Amelia is planning to print a book full of creative writing and the most exquisite illustrations. Those Which  We Do Not Understand is to be an exploration into the way humans seek to comprehend the things they don't unerstand in their lives; think paranormal activities, the moon, the occult, paganism and herbalism.

The project is currently live on Kickstarter, with a series of amazing rewards for backers, from postcards and rare back-issues of Amelia's Magazine, to copies of the book and limited edition gold-leaf A3 art prints; currently at £9,863 with 309 backers, the project is so close to it's £12,000 goal. Every little helps, so if you can pledge anything (even £1!), or even just fancy spreading the word, get involved by visiting the Kickstarter page here and Amelia's Magazine here.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

the good, the bad, and the ugly

Like most bloggers, I've got a fairly unhealthy Pinterest obsession, and I'll admit right now that there have been times when I look around at our little house and it's raggedy carpet, ugly worktops and UPVC windows and start making a long list of things to change. Pinterest is a really great resource, and it constantly supplies me with heaps of inspiration and information (particularly when it comes to enviromental issues), but I do find that if you spend too long pinning pictures of impossibly perfect homes, it can make you forget everything you love about your own home. So after a particularly long session pinning pictures of perfect Scandi homes, oak floorboards, rustic kitchens and wilderness-style gardens, rather than working out whether it's worth replacing the worktop in a rental property, I decided to just take a few pictures to remind me of the things I love about our (very small) house.

The Conservatory (Top)
Firstly, the fact that we've actually got a conservatory is blessing in itself; it gives me the space to store my craft supplies in a way that makes sense and is easy to acess, and it also means that if I'm working on a photoshoot for work, I can just leave everything out rather than having to tidy away at the end of the day. It's also the lightest room in the house, with three large windows, which means I can get some fairly decent photos even in deepest darkest winter. Admittedly, it's basically just a plastic box stuck to the side of the house, and come November the temperature drops to pretty much sub-zero, but it's nothing an extra jumper and a bathroom heater can't fix!

The Bedrooms
The main problem with our house is the bedrooms - not the size or shape, but the fact that there's only two of them; early next Spring, we're going to swap with Ben and go into the small room, while the kiddos share the big room. They're going to have to have bunk beds, and it's probably going to be absolute chaos - but they're both looking forward to it, and it's a good excuse to buy some more lovely prints and make some crafty bits. The bedrooms themselves are pretty nice; they might not be massive but they're light and airy, and the window sills are big enough to store books and plants on; ours gets the light in the morning and Ben's gets the sun sliding across the wall as it goes down.

The Bathroom
I did a little tour of the bathroom here, and mentioned then how small it was; it also has the worst marbled tiles (seriously, I can't fathom why people would choose marbled over plain white) and these awful old taps. But, for all the marbled horror, it's a relaxing little space with a really deep window sill that's home to my (usually dying) plants and little collection of beachy finds. And if I squint, the marble effect is hardly noticeable anyway (although I'd love to rip them all off and replace it with some of those brick-effect tiles!).

The Flooring
I think out of everything in our house, the thing that gives me the hump the most is the carpet in the lounge and all the way up the stairs; I always crop it out in photographs because it's literally just horrendous. It's brown, brown, and there's literally no hiding it - it makes the whole place seem darker and is just plain ugly. When we moved in, we replaced the tiles in the bathroom and kitchen, and the carpets in the bedrooms, but we're stuck with this one; if money were no object, I'd rip it up and either replace it with bare floorboards or a more neutral carpet which is slightly less, well, ugly.

The Kitchen
The smallest, darkest, ugliest room in the house, I often wonder if I might enjoy cooking more if the kitchen wasn't so... awful. With similar marble effect tiles to the bathroom, and one of the most horrible worktops I've ever seen (mottled green and brown, anyone?), pretty it ain't. That said, it is a massive improvement on the way it was when we moved in; torn lino, cupboards with chipped paint, artex all over the walls.... it looked a little bit like one of the 'before' photos on Homes Under the Hammer. We plastered over the artex, replaced the flooring, painted the cupboards and took some of the doors off to make open shelving, then I added some plants, washi tape and retro crockery and pyrex. You can see the results of the makeover here, and while it's not the best kitchen I've ever seen, it's definitely not the worst either!

The Lounge
The lounge is probably my favourite room; it's where I do a lot of my work, where the Husband and I watch all our box sets, where we eat dinner at our thrifted charity-shop table and where I snuggle on the sofa with some crochet or a book. It is a teeny bit dark in the winter, and that brown carpet rears it's ugly head again, but it's got a mantlepiece (something I've always wanted in a home - finally, somewhere to display my vintage bits and pieces!), and it's a pretty good size and it just has a really lovely feel to it. It feels homely and comfortable and safe, and that's definitely not something you can buy in a DIY store.

This is a collaborative post.

Monday, 17 November 2014

five great ideas for (easy) handmade gifts

I've always loved giving handmade gifts at Christmas, but over the last few years I've noticed that I make the plans and buy the materials in September, get started in November, and then find myself in an angry tangle of yarn / thread / fabric come December 20th. The whole sorry episode usually ends in a mad dash to the shops (because obviously the last post has been and gone) to buy things that I could quite easily have got cheaper online if I'd just planned things a little better. I'm always guilty of overstretching myself, and while I have visions of settling down in front of Christmas movies with a sherry (stop looking at me like that) and immersing myself in craft heaven, I usually just slump on the sofa with a packet of biscuits.

So this year, I've trawled the internet for some simple but effective handmade gift tutorials that I know people will love; things that will take an hour to make but will be cherished for a lifetime (well, a while anyway...)

1. Personalised cross-stitch embroidery hoop

I really, really love cross-stitch; I love how it looks on the wall, I love that it's a really old craft, and I REALLY love how simple it is. Choose a colour, stitch a cross, and repeat until you've finished the whole pattern; done. The only thing you can really do wrong is misread the pattern, which is easily corrected, or tangle your thread, which can be solved with a bit of patience and some mild swearing.

When it comes to patterns, there are absolutely heaps to choose from; sewing shops often stock cross-stitch packs, but they can be a bit 'twee' - for something more modern, Etsy is a goldmine. For a couple of pounds, you receive an instant digital download, and can then either read the pattern from the screen or print it out. My favourites were the camera pattern by PlatoSquirrel, and 'Let's Go on an Adventure' by Tiny Boxes Designs, who also has a great mountain design. I was also pretty taken with the graphic patterns from hallodribums in Austria - think triangles, arrows, diamonds and phrases - and the cheery 'Do What Makes you Happy' (always sound advice) from Red Bear Design, who are actually from my hometown. Keep it local!

If you've got an idea for your own design, but haven't got the foggiest how to turn it into a cross stitch pattern, there's a handy little website called My Photo Stitch - you just upload your photo or text, select a few different options and it produces the pattern for you in a free PDF. Bargain-tastic!

2. A DIY Craft Kit

A DIY craft kit is the ultimate in easy handmade gifts; The Makery in Bath sell some amazing pre-packed kits for specific projects, including rosettes, stags heads and polka-dot knickers (oo-err!), but if you fancy giving your crafty friend something a bit more personal, just make your own - after all, there's not much that's easier than putting things into a container and decorating it, right?

For miniature sewing kits, pack out a large jam jar with vintage threads, a little handmade pin cushion and some pins and needles, or for something a bit bigger try adding thrifted fabrics cut into squares, yarn, crochet hooks and other small tools to a small suitcase. You can add personal touches to the outside, such as labels, washi tape and ribbon on the jar, and transform the suitcase with some spray paint, stencilling and a new lining.

Image sources: Left, right

3. An Ombre Cushion

Ombre is the trend that just refuses to die, and I have to admit, I've been totally been suckered in; hair, plant pots, clothes, garlands, necklaces.... the works. Simple envelope cushion covers are soooo easy to make (rectangle of fabric, seam the short edges, fold the ends over and stitch - done!) and then a quick dunk in a bucket of fabric dye will take it from drab to fab in a few minutes. For extra 'cor' factor, add on some pompom trim, fringing or lace strips to make it a real thing of beauty.

Image Sources: Left, right

4. Home Made Bath Soaks and Body Scrubs

Buying someone bath and body gifts is always a risky business; overpowering fragrances, nasty chemicals and allergic reactions can all leave people itchy and irritated come Christmas day. There are some great organic and natural skincare companies around; Lush is one of my favourites, and I love how they're doing a special festive range, and Napiers Herbalists specialise in herbal bath and body products which are all natural and skin-friendly.

If you're on a bit of a budget, though, there are a gazillion tutorials online which show you how to make everything from relaxing bath soaks to skin-softening scrubs and exfoliators; ingredients such as sugar, epsom salt, essential oils and dried herbs all work together to produce bath and body products which are good for the skin and the environment. Hurrah! My favourite set of tutorials were the ones at Brit & Co, which included recipes for banana brown sugar scrub and pumpkin, honey and baking soda scrub.

Image Sources: Top, bottom left, bottom right.

5. A Hand Decorated Notebook

Notebooks and diaries are always useful, and you don't have to have a tonne of specialist book-binding skills to make one that's a little bit special for a gift. There are heaps of online tutorials for covering hardback notebooks with fabric, but my favourite is the one over at A Pair and A Spare; the photos are really clear and the instructions are pretty simple - all you need is a notebook, fabric and glue, and you're set. For something a bit more simple, try covering notebooks in washi tape; either go for simple stripes and geometric shapes, or create a cool aztec pattern that really stands out. I also stumbled across these amazing stitched covers at How Did You Make This; although these are done on thinner covered exercise books, you could do the same thing with a hardback book if you drilled the holes first and then used thicker embroidery cotton to work the pattern with.

Are you making anything this year? Someone is almost certainly going to get a cross-stitch from me!

Friday, 14 November 2014

found: HEMA

If you already know about HEMA, then you'll already know that it's one of the BEST shops in the UK at the moment - and if you've never heard of it before, hold on to your bank cards! A Dutch retailer that's been likened to both Tiger and IKEA, but with a lot more categories, it's pretty much craft and homeware heaven.

The first UK store opened earlier this year, and then the online shop followed soon afterwards; I was lucky enough to receive a £25 gift voucher to test out the e-store, and ended up going way over budget (surprise!). They manage to successfully mix food, drink and kitchenware with home accessories, crafting goods and even clothes and beauty goods; I think my favourite find was the bag in the top photo, though - being a crafter and writer the slogan really made me smile, and the neon waterproof lining was genius (because how often do tote bags end up being completely ineffective in the rain?!). I also chose a few simple wooden toys for the kiddos Christmas stockings, some geometric patterned cloud-shape iron-on patches and a good selection of printed tape. The one thing that really stood out to me was the price point - the bag was £10, and was the most expensive thing of all; think around £2-3 for a double pack of washi tape, £1.25 for a tube of acrylic paint and £4 for a small metal storage basket. The website is incredibly easy to navigate, and delivery was really quick as well - I'm not a patient shopper, so this won extra points with me!

They've also got a REALLY good festive decoration section, full of all my favourite colours and patterns; turquoise honeycomb balls, multi-coloured star garlands, sparkly gold diamonds and various festive tapes. The only this is that they tend to sell our fairly quickly in a lot of things - so if you see something you like, it's best to grab it there and then!

I was sent a £25 gift voucher for the purpose of the review, but as usual all thoughts and opinions are my own - and quite frankly, I would have bought everything anyway!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

sika lodge: dorset - part one

Firstly, I cannot believe it's taken me almost three months to write up our little holiday, but somehow, it has. It's been quite nice to sit and edit all the photos now the colder weather is here; little memories of sun soaked days and log-fire filled evenings are keeping me going through the rainy weather quite nicely!

Being into all things eco, when I saw Sika Lodge featured in Country Living a couple of years ago, I decided immediately that it was somewhere we absolutely had to visit; it was fully booked for that summer, so we waited until January of this year, and got in ahead of the crowds. One of the best things about this place is that owners Robbie and Rachel charge a flat fee all year round - so no ludicrous price increases during half terms and summer holidays (yes, Centre Parcs, I'm giving you the side eye right now...), which is pretty important to us as Ben is obviously at primary school now.

I'd seen a few pictures of the cabin on the website, but it still exceeded all my expectations; Robbie is an incredibly talented carpenter, and not only did he craft all of the furniture by hand, he also built the actual lodge itself. Inside, it was like ethical-rural-rustic heaven; a sea of upcycled and recycled wood, beautifully simplistic kitchenware (we loved the whistling kettle and enamelware) and the cosiest little living area complete with log burner. If there's one thing that's missing in my life, it's an open fire - so even though it wasn't all that cold in the evenings, we were determined to make the most of it!

Being an eco-lodge, there were a few interesting features that it took us a while to get used to; the toilet, for example, was basically a posh hole in the ground with a seat on top. Now, on the website, it does say that there's an eco-toilet, but I just assumed it was something with a fancy flush and then forgot about it - so when Robbie gave us the 'wee-in-the-front-poop-in-the-back' instructions, I must have looked pretty surprised. Basically, composting toilets are great for the environment, and work by separating your ones and twos - there is more information here for anyone who is interested - and they require absolutely no flush whatsoever. Genius! It sounds horrendous, and I bet you're all going, 'uurrrghhhhhh, that's SO DISGUSTING. I bet it STINKS' - but it doesn't smell at all, and after the first evening you just sort of get used to it.
The second thing that we struggled with in the beginning was the hot water situation; the cabin is solar powered, which means that if there is no sun, then there's no hot water - simple as that. We were fine for the first day, but then it clouded up and we were just getting no hot water at all - the only other option was to light a fire to heat the water in the tank instead, so this meant setting an alarm to get up and get the fire burning nice and early. The first morning was a learning curve with a little tantrum thrown in (err, that could possibly have been me...), and then after that it was just a case of being organised. I think this would have been way less hassle if we hadn't had a toddler and a five-year old in tow, running around and generally doing those kid-things that kids do!

The lodge itself was equipped with everything we could possibly have needed (there were even freezer blocks in the freezer for picnics!); the emphasis is really on the environment and getting back to basics, so while there was a radio and CD player, there was no TV, no 3G signal and no internet. There were, however, plenty of board games, a good selection of books and a hot tub, so the chances of getting bored were slim to none. It was really nice to not be 'connected' all the time - working for myself means that I'm kind of always 'on', to the point where the last thing I do at night is check my emails on my iPhone (sad, but true!) - and I found that I relaxed way more than I do when I'm flicking through Twitter and Facebook, or checking up on Instagram. I think with technology and social media, it's incredibly easy to forget to switch off and enjoy the simple pleasures; making food together (OK, I actually hate cooking and am terrible at it, but you know what I mean) reading books, crafting.... I swore when we left that I'd spend more time away from the internet, but I pretty much fell at the first hurdle when I started writing emails on the way home! I do love the whole slow-living ethos though, and my stay at Sika Lodge has definitely inspired me to spend more time looking into how we can make our home and lives more simple and environmentally friendly.

For more information, head to the Alpha Farm website here; Robbie and Rachel are both incredibly friendly and accommodating, and were happy to answer any questions we had.
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