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New Year, New Craft!

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Eve, I prefer to stay in with a glass of champagne and a good takeaway and watch the fireworks on TV. However, despite the cliché of it, I really like taking stock of my life at the new year; taking the time out to review the year that’s just been and think about everything you’ve achieved and then planning for the year ahead.

As always the year has had it’s ups and downs. The downs mainly coming from some illnesses in our families. In terms of my own personal goals though the year has been pretty positive overall. As you may know if you have been reading my blog since I started, I was a bit lost at the beginning of the year. I had a tough Christmas period with my jewellery business last year, culminating in a spectacularly bad craft fair where I sold one item over two days and left me with terrible back pain. I told myself that I would just step away from it completely and come at it again, refreshed, in the new year. When January rolled around however I just couldn’t find the motivation to get back into it. I made a few pieces out of necessity but I just could not come up with anything new. 

Instead of pushing myself and attempting to plough on with it, which would have just made me more miserable, I decided to give myself permission to play and do other things. I started doing some art again and got back into baking. I had been doing my ceramics for a while but I started to see it as a creative outlet and not something that was taking up time when I should have been doing jewellery. Basically I started enjoying myself!

Although I was enjoying myself, I still felt guilty that I wasn’t doing my jewellery and I began to think about how I could bring all of these things together so that I didn’t have to stop doing any of it. Then one day I had a shower moment! What if I created a blog that explored living creatively, making things because you felt like it and learning new things all the time? I liked that idea a lot and came back to it over and over again. Once I started giving some structure to my blog and my Instagram feed I felt driven to create more and then one day I went down to my shed and created some new jewellery! I decided to go back to basics and stop trying to do fancy stuff that wasn’t really me. By going to back to how I started in jewellery – in polymer clay – and allowing myself to just play with it I became excited about my new ideas once more.

I certainly feel I have achieved a lot this year. I have been to so many amazing workshops and completed some great craft kits that I receive through the post and pick up when I’m out and about. I’ve been to some really interesting events and exhibitions and overall this year I would have to say that I feel inspired.

I’ve rediscovered a love for sewing. I did a GCSE in Textiles but was somehow discouraged from taking it further to A Level. I feel now that if I had I may well have gone on to do it at university as well. My favourite skill that I have learnt this year is definitely punch needle and I’ve now reached a point where I’d like to plunge myself further into the world of fibre art and not only complete craft kits but start to create some original work of my own.

So what do I want to achieve next year? Well for Christmas I received some gift vouchers for two of my favourite craft venues; The London Craft Club (https://londoncraftclub.co.uk/), and Tea and Crafting (https://www.teaandcrafting.co.uk/), so I will definitely be booking up some workshops there in the next couple of months. I also plan to continue with my subscription boxes. I have two main ones that I receive; MakeBox (https://www.makebox.co/), a monthly box, and Craftpod (https://www.craftpod.co.uk/), a quarterly box. I really like that they bring new projects to my home, things that I might not otherwise have tried. Some projects haven’t been for me at all and I probably wouldn’t repeat them, but I’m pleased that I took the opportunity to give them a go. Other projects I’ve enjoyed so much and will definitely be using the skills and techniques in future projects. I’ve also been eyeing up a short course in embroidery at UAL, which I am thinking of booking.

I am also very excited to be attending Alt Summit (https://altitudesummit.com/) in Palm Springs, California in March 2020 as well. I think this will really test my networking skills as it is a week long conference and I can be quite shy, however I think it will be good for me and hopefully I will learn loads of helpful things and hang out with other creatives who are at the top of their game. I’m hoping that it will help me to focus on the direction I would like to take this blog and my own work so I can start to shape a future doing something I’m passionate about – creativity!

If you have any recommendations for workshops or crafts you think I should try out in 2020 I’d love to hear about them!

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The Getty Center

I’ve been away on holiday for the last couple of weeks, but I couldn’t resist doing something a bit creative whilst we were away! My husband and I spent the last week of our holiday in LA visiting our friends who live out there. We decided to head up to the Getty Center (https://www.getty.edu/), a cultural organisation dedicated to the visual arts. 

We drove up to the car park and then took the shuttle train up to the museum itself. It’s located in the hills with amazing views overlooking LA. The building itself is very impressive, made mainly of white stone it towers over the main courtyard, softened by sweeping curves.

We didn’t go with the idea of visiting any specific exhibition so we just had a wander round and checked out anything that interested us. We started off by looking around an exhibition on the history of photography showing the progression of cameras from their inception up to the first digital camera made by Apple, storing up to 32 photos! This lead us on to an exhibition called ‘The Flavio Story’ showing photographs by Gordon Parks, who went to Brazil for Life magazine to document poverty in Latin America. We also had a quick look around another photographic exhibition called ‘Once and Again’ showing pictures by photographers who had visited the same subjects repeatedly, showing changes over time.

After this we decided to have a look around the gallery with paintings by famous artists including Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Cezanne and Turner. I really enjoyed seeing these paintings in real life and we spent quite a while browsing around the ‘Paintings from Europe’ section.

My favourite part of the visit was the gardens. The Central Garden designed by Robert Irwin is a circular design with a winding path criss-crossing over a stream down to a large pond featuring a hedge maze. Even though there were quite a few people there the whole place felt really relaxing and it was lovely to wander along the paths surrounded by a massive variety of flowers. We also went down to the South Promontory which has a desert theme and features a sea of cacti.

If you are ever in LA and looking for something to do that inspires your creative side and takes you away from the hustle and bustle of the city I would definitely recommend a visit to the Getty Center, plus it’s free entry!

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Creatival Manchester

On Thursday last week I travelled all the way up to Manchester for Creatival (https://www.thecreativebusinessnetwork.com/creativalmanchester2019.html), a one day conference for creative people. It was a long day but I had a great time! Creatival started life in Exeter but launched it’s second venue in Manchester this year and was run by a collaboration between the original founder, Helen, and Megan, the founder of Curated Makers, which champions northern makers and artists (https://www.curatedmakers.co.uk/).

The conference took place in the stunning Manchester Hall. It was all on one floor and it worked really well with the room layout for each of the different sessions. As well as the plenary and workshop rooms there was also a hub for networking including a few exhibitor stands including Mollie Makes (http://www.molliemakes.com/) and Folksy (https://folksy.com/). This was also where the lunch and coffee was served during the breaks.

There was a pretty packed schedule starting at 9:00am and running until 5:45pm after which the bar opened, including one free drink! The stand out speaker of the day for me was Leona Thrift-ola (check her out on Instagram @indie_roller). She’s something of a rock star in creative industry circles, having run several businesses herself and since taken the step into supporting other independent business owners, giving guidance, advice and mentoring. She mainly talked about her new book which is coming out soon and discussed the main ideas behind it. I came away from her talk feeling like I’d really gained some valuable insight into the ins and outs of running a business, and like she was really rooting for me, even though we’ve never met! Other great speakers included Ingrid Fernandez from Dec and Dash Legal Consulting and Athena Cauley-Yu from Meticulous Ink. My only disappointments were that the workshop sessions were too short, I felt like there was still more to discuss when it ended and also that I couldn’t attend all of them. There were three workshop options but because of the way the itinerary was structured it meant that you could only choose two.

Q&A panel at the end of the day. (L-R: Lucy – Lucy & Yak; Yvette Streeter – Editor, Mollie Makes; Leona Thrift-ola; Athena Cayley-Yu – Meticulous Ink)

The chance to network was so great as well. There was plenty of opportunities to mingle throughout the day and I managed to speak to several people from whom I received some great advice and encouragement. It was wonderful to be amongst so many like-minded creative people and to feel that we were all there working towards the same goal, no matter what stage we were at in our journey.

The other perk of the day was the amazing swag bag we each received! It was packed full of goodies from brooches, socks and soap to notepads, magazines and discount codes. And one can never have too many tote bags!

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The Make Arcade: Badge Making Kit

I hope you are all enjoying this sunny bank holiday! It was my birthday this weekend and I had such a lovely time celebrating with my family and friends. We’ve had some people staying with us this week as well so it’s been quite busy so I just have a small crafty project to share with you this week!

I bought this little badge making kit from The Make Arcade (https://www.themakearcade.co.uk/). They have loads of little crafty kits ranging from badges to felt sewing and cross stitch or embroidery kits and they are really reasonably priced. I think loads of the kits would make a great party bag gift or activity for a party or hen do or even just to keep the kids entertained for a while!

My kit was £4.00 (plus postage) and included:

• Wooden cactus shape
• Green glittery fabric
• Pink felt
• Orange string of pom-poms
• Brooch pin
• Pot of glue
• Paper templates

All I needed were scissors and a paintbrush for the glue. It was very easy to put together, all I had to do was cut out the fabric using the templates and glue it to the wooden cactus. Then finish it off with the pom-poms and trim them to size and lastly glue the brooch pin onto the back and leave it to dry.

I really enjoyed it as a quick project and I’ll be sure to wear my new cactus badge out and about!

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Terrarium + Cocktail

This week I had so much fun when I went to a terrarium making class at Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals in Fitzrovia, London (https://www.mr-foggs.com/house-of-botanicals/). The class was hosted by Darren and Adam from the Botanical Boys (https://botanicalboys.com/). I was a bit early so I got an opportunity to talk to them before the class started. You could tell that they are both really passionate about plants and caring for them. Darren is one of the founders of the company and one of his main aims in doing so is to bring people back to nature and encourage them to protect the environment. Adam is an extremely creative person who likes to dabble in craft just like me, but when he realised that he had a passion for plants he got in touch with a Botanical Boys and eventually went to work for them.

We started the class off with Darren giving us a talk about the best way to care for indoor plants and some handy hints and tips about why our plants might not be looking their best or responding how we thought they should our ministrations. He said he hoped by the end of the class we would all feel like we could throw off the self-proclaimed ‘plant killer’ title!

After this we began to build our terrariums. Adam took us through how to add each layer to ensure proper drainage and encourage the jar to be self-sustaining, although it does still need watering occasionally. Luckily there is a helpful care guide on their website for clueless people like me! Once we had added all our drainage layers in and then the soil we could choose our plants. Adam showed us how to remove them from their pots and carefully release the roots so the plants were separated and then how to plant them inside our jars. Even though the class was quite large he still managed to give each of us individual attention and made sure we were planting correctly. Once we had finished that we then added some small rocks.

Darren then gave us some instructions on how to care for our new terrariums as well as directing us to the website. Then it was up to us to get our terrariums home upright and in one piece!

I booked the workshop through Obby (https://obby.co.uk/). It cost £45 and included all the materials plus a cocktail! There were twelve people in the class and it took place in one of the private dining rooms inside the bar. The only negatives I found were based on the venue. The space was a little tight for so many people and because it was in the evening the noise level from the bar was really high and sometimes I found I really had to concentrate to make sure I heard what Adam and Darren were saying.

The Botanical Boys have several locations where they sell their terrariums and host workshops including London, Birmingham and Norwich, but they were really excited to be opening a new store in King’s Cross. It opened last week, the day after the workshop, and I wish them the best of luck with it and hope I can get up there to visit soon.

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Candle Making at the London Craft Club

This week I went to the London Craft Club (https://londoncraftclub.co.uk/) in Bedford Square to join in with a candle making workshop. As you know I have tasked myself with trying out as many crafts as possible in my pursuit of a creative life. I really wasn’t sure I would enjoy candle making that much as I’m not particularly a candle person, but honestly, I had the best time!

There was nine people in the class and when we arrived we were offered a drink and took a seat around the table where our own candle making kit was laid out on a tray. The workshop was run by Alice from Scott’s Apothecary (https://www.scottsapothecary.com/). Alice is a chef and nutritional practitioner but has been interested in essential oils and their therapeutic benefits for years. She took us through the various oils, explaining about the top, middle and base notes that make up a well rounded scent and we passed lots of different oils around to smell and work out which ones we liked and which we didn’t. It was fascinating to see the range of personal preferences around the table. One person could love a smell and the next person could absolutely loath it. It meant that in the end all our candles smelt so different. I was surprised to find that although I thought I would hate the floral smells as I tend to stay away from them in perfumes and food or drink I actually quite liked them concentrated as an oil.

After we had smelt all the oils and Alice had talked to us about their properties we were free to mix some together to find a scent for our candle. Alice went around the room talking to each of us and advising us on the most complimentary combinations and the amounts we should use. I decided I wanted to create a citrus candle as that is my favourite scent. I used mandarin, grapefruit, bergamot and lemongrass. I only had a really small amount of the lemongrass in the end. Once we had mixed our oils together we poured them into our melted wax and mixed them thoroughly before pouring them into the jar. Alice had already attached the wick to the bottom of the jar so we just had to keep it central with a wooden stick and leave them to set.

Whilst they were setting we moved on to making a perfume. We could either make a perfume to wear or a therapeutic oil. I decided to make one to assist with headaches made up of peppermint, lavender and clary sage. I haven’t had a chance to test it yet but I’ll be interested to see if it works! For this we only required a small amount of the essential oils and then topped it off with almond oil.

I found learning about all the different oils and their properties really interesting as I’ve never really looked into them before. One of the things that made it so enjoyable though was the other people. Apart from two of them all the others were also there by themselves, which meant that everyone was more inclined to talk to each other and there was a lot of chat and laughter around the table. It was lovely to be crafty with a room full of like-minded people and it just goes to show that you can go along to things by yourself and still have a great time!

I will definitely be heading back to the London Craft Club for another class. They offer a great range of workshops covering a variety of different crafts and they are so welcoming. Now all I need to do is find time to burn my new candle…

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‘Over the Rainbow’ MakeBox

The theme for the July MakeBox is ‘Over the Rainbow’ and it’s inspired by rainbow babies; a child born after a loss. This is a really personal subject for the couple who run MakeBox+Co and 10% of the profits from this kit are to be given to Tommy’s Baby Charity (https://www.tommys.org/).

There were three projects to make; a large woven rainbow wall hanging, a woven rainbow necklace and an embroidered postcard.

Inside the box was:

• Large rope
• Small rope
• Embroidery thread
• Several different coloured balls of yarn
• Wire
• Ribbon
• Wooden beads
• Wooden birds
• Pearls
• Chain
• Superglue
• Needle
• Postcard

The wall hanging and necklace were made in the same way by wrapping the yarn around varying lengths of rope and wire. The wire gave it stability and allowed you to form it into the correct shape. The balls of yarn were a random selection of colours, which didn’t give you the option of following a regular rainbow pattern, but did mean that your wall hanging would be unique. The rope I had was not the same as the type in the instruction photographs and it meant that it came unravelled really quickly as I was trying to wrap the yarn around it, which made it a bit tricky to keep it under control at times. I think it may also have affected the length of some of my pieces as they didn’t seem to match up as well after I’d wrapped them! Once each length of rope was wrapped you had to add a ribbon (or wire in the case of the necklace) and wooden bead to the top colour before stitching them all together on the back. This ensured that all the pieces were kept in place. The wall hanging then had the wooden songbirds added using super glue. The necklace had the pearls stitched on to look like raindrops and the chain added.

Each stage of the make was easy and I didn’t feel like I had to do it all at once, I just came back to it whenever I had a spare hour and it was nice to do something relaxing and different for a while. The instructions were fairly clear, but if I wasn’t sure about something there were plenty of pictures that showed each stage in progress to refer to.

Lastly I completed the embroidered postcard. Using the leftover yarn from the other two projects I backstitched each layer of the rainbow to create a lovely piece of art which I’m going to hang on my inspiration wall in my studio. I especially love the quote on it – “After the rain clouds there’s a rainbow.”

I’m really enjoying receiving my MakeBoxes and have even ordered a couple of past boxes to complete as well!

They have already announced the August box and it looks pretty exciting!

(Information about MakeBox+Co can be found on their website https://www.makebox.co/)

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Van Gogh and Britain

I recently visited the Tate Britain to see the ‘Van Gogh and Britain’ exhibition currently taking place. The exhibition explores Vincent van Gogh’s relationship with Britain and the time he lived here in London.

The first half of the exhibition looks at the artists and images that influenced him when he lived in London from 1873-1876. This was before he was an artist and he worked for an art dealer, Goupil, which was how he was exposed to a lot of the pieces that he found inspiring. I didn’t realise but Van Gogh didn’t actually become an artist until after his return to the Netherlands. He first tried teaching and preaching but eventually turned to painting in 1880 and continued this for the last ten years of his life.

Whilst he was in London he immersed himself in culture, visiting as many galleries and museums as he could. Throughout the exhibition you can see examples of work by various artists that influenced his work from subject matter through to form and style next to Van Gogh’s own work that he produced later on in both the Netherlands and France.

The second half of the exhibition goes on to demonstrate the impact Van Gogh’s work has had on both his contemporaries and more recent artists. It also looks at the exhibitions of his work in Britain, most notably ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’ in 1910 and the showing of his work and publication of two biographies and his letters in the 1920’s. Many people linked Van Gogh’s mental health with the genius of his work and this led to a lot of interest in his paintings.

A selection of postcards showing some of Van Gogh’s well known paintings.

I thought the exhibition was well laid out and clearly showed the progression of Van Gogh’s life and work. The descriptions next to the work were very informative and I felt like I learnt a lot whilst I was there. They had several of his famous pieces such as Starry Night over the Rhône (1888), Sunflowers (1888) and some of his well-known self-portraits. It is a very popular exhibition as Van Gogh is a well-known artist and the rooms were extremely busy, with queues forming in some places to see certain works of art. I was also surprised that Tate Britain were allowing people to take photographs of the work. I found it quite distracting as it meant people were spending a lot of time lining up their perfect shot or getting really close to the paintings to photograph details. It seemed like many of the people there were just interested in photographing it all and were not really appreciating the art in real life. I saw several people going round photographing the painting and the description next to it, presumably to read later. For me this seems to defeat the point of attending an exhibition. They might have been better reading up about Vincent Van Gogh on the internet!

My favourite painting: Pollarded Willows, Arles (1888)

Tate Britain is a five minute walk from Pimlico tube station or a 20 minute walk from Victoria station. For a non-member the ticket cost £22. It took about an hour and a half to go round the exhibition and afterwards we sat down for a drink in the Djangoly Café inside the Tate. The exhibition finishes on 11 August 2019 and I would say it’s well worth a visit.

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Giant Arm Knitting

So, on the hottest weekend of the year so far I went to a giant arm knitting workshop! It was at Tea and Crafting (https://www.teaandcrafting.co.uk/) which is run by a lovely lady called Jane who has created a peaceful and creative learning space for crafters in Convent Garden. As well as workshops they also run private parties, hen dos and baby showers. Despite the heat I had such a great time! I have been wanting to learn how to do arm knitting for a really long time. I’ve seen blankets made out of giant yarn for sale on Etsy and I’ve seen videos of people doing it. It was right up there at the top of my craft bucket list.

The workshop was in the evening, starting at 7pm, which is perfect to get to if you work up in London. There were eight people in the class and it cost £65. We were asked to choose our wool colour in advance of the class and when we arrived our 2kg balls of wool were all there waiting for us with our names on. I chose a nice mustard yellow because I thought it would go well with some of the décor in my house (but also because it’s a bee colour and also because I’m a Hufflepuff!).

The tutor, Hannah, started off by showing us how to make a slip knot and from there cast on. We had to cast on fourteen stitches to start with, which took some time as we all got used to the tension of the wool and also how tight we could actually make the stitches as they went further up our arms. When we had all mastered this Hannah then showed us how to start knitting, moving the stitches from arm to arm by pulling a loop of wool through to create a new stitch as we went. Once I got into the rhythm of it, it was really satisfying. The blanket grew at a fast rate and I could feel it getting heavier and heavier the more rows I added. It took me about an hour and a quarter to knit a blanket almost as tall as me! When we only had about a metre and a half of wool left Hannah showed us how to cast off and weave the loose ends into the blanket. She was a really great teacher, very patient and encouraging, especially if any of us found ourselves getting in a tangle!

I’m so pleased that I ticked this off my craft bucket list. I loved how quick it was to have a finished and useful piece of work. I have ordered myself some more wool so I can keep practicing, otherwise I will definitely forget how to cast on. I used Woolly Mahoosive (https://woollymahoosive.com/), which is the same place where the wool we used in the class was from. We had 2kg balls in the class but when I went on the website I couldn’t find any of that size so I ordered a 4kg ball. The one I ordered was a man-made fibre and cost £60 (plus postage), for natural wool it was a lot more expensive. Now all I have to decide is if I’m going to make two blankets the same size or one double the size!

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Seaside Cottages Craftiosity Box

I had a lovely surprise recently when I received an email to say that I’d won a free Craftiosity subscription box in their prize draw! I was entered into the draw by signing up to their mailing list and my box came in the post shortly afterwards.

As you know I spent a long time deciding which subscription box to sign up for so I was excited to be able to have a trial of the Craftiosity boxes. The boxes normally cost £22.95 per month but with free UK delivery. However, you can’t just subscribe at any time, you have to sign up to the mailing list and wait for them to open subscriptions for the next box, which is how I ended up winning my box but also one of the reasons I ultimately decided not to choose them as my regular subscription box. I was too impatient to get crafting to wait around!

The theme of this box was seaside cottages and the project was to make a decorative hanging of little wooden huts. Inside the box was:

• Four wooden houses
• Wooden baton
• Wooden beads
• Acrylic paints
• Paint brush
• Paint pen
• Thread
• House templates
• Tracing paper

The idea was to paint the little houses, giving them a weathered look and then add details with the paint pen such as windows and doors using the templates and tracing paper to transfer the designs onto the painted wooden blocks. Once they were all painted and dried you could then attach them to the wooden baton using the thread so they hung down. I found tying them on a bit fiddly as it was hard to keep the baton and house still to estimate the correct hanging length. A second pair of hands probably would have been helpful at that point!

This wasn’t my favourite craft project I’ve completed, but looking back at some of the past boxes on the Craftiosity website (https://craftiosity.co.uk/) they have done some really exciting looking projects previously. I suppose that’s the joy of subscription boxes, you never know what you’re going to get and it’s always good to try something new, otherwise how will you know if you like it or not?

I’d like to say thank you very much to Moira, the founder of Craftiosity for picking me as the winner!