Monday, 10 October 2016

Bits and Pieces

It's nearly a year since my husband, Geoff, gave me a two day course at Blue Sky Mosaics for my birthday.  Though courses run throughout the spring and summer, it wasn't until the first weekend of October that I was able to try my hand at mosaicing for the very first time.

Not only did I find creating a mosaic to be a therapeutic pursuit, I was impressed with what I was able to make in (just over) two days with the help of course tutor and mosaic expert, Ann Stephen.
Ann Stephen is the creative force behind Blue Sky Mosaics and this is a small selection of the materials in Ann's studio available to students like me.  Ann's studio is in her garden and the surroundings where the course takes place are full of mosaic treasures.  Though it was October, it was sunny enough to sit outside for morning coffee and warm croissants with Ann and Bill and my fellow course attendees.
I'd only a pretty vague notion of what I wanted to make - a rectangular plaque to be situated outside our front door but Ann lent me some mosaic books for inspiration and her husband, Bill, made me a suitable substrate.  All I needed now was a design!
Here you can see my picture evolving from a mosaic I liked in the book (top left) to my own interpretation.  It won't surprise anyone who knows me that my design features a chicken!  She's pecking at 'corn' in a flowery garden with 'grass' made from a broken Spode teacup which belonged to my Grandma.  Much of the mosaic is made from coloured glass with the inclusion of glass pebbles, beads, ball bearing chain and small ceramic tiles in the border.
The glass was all shaped, cut and ground into the desired pieces using specialist tools.
All the flower petals and leaves were made individually.
Transparent glass is backed so the adhesive does not show through and its vibrancy is not lost.

As the design comes together, all the small pieces can be stuck into place...
...then grouted - the messy bit!  Grout has to be worked into all the crevasses and that's best done by hand.
Next comes polishing with a soft cloth - and the mosaic is revealed with its bright colours and detail.
I can't wait to see it hung up at home.
A truly inspiring weekend spent in affable company, an encouraging atmosphere and beautiful surroundings.  Many thanks to Ann who is generous with her both her time and her talent.

Like to have a go?  I thoroughly recommend you do - here's the link again :
Blue Sky Mosaics, Kintore, Aberdeenshire


Monday, 26 September 2016

In Between The Lines

As a geography student back in the 1980's, my assignments regularly called for the use of coloured pencils.  When I took my studies a stage further, and achieved a postgraduate diploma in cartography, I used to quip that I was trained to colour in without going over the edges!

Now I am enjoying colouring once more but this time it's just for fun  I coloured this birthday card for my Mum from the cute postcard book Don't Quit Your Daydream by Bethany Robertson
I received it in a mystery swap parcel from a knitter in America last Christmas along with these other lovely goodies.
I love the gel pen as it's one of my favourites to accentuate colours.
I restricted the colour palette to pink and red with gold highlights for this card from the same book and gave it to my husband on Valentine's Day.

Colouring is a bit like knitting and crochet - you don't expect a quick result but there's no rush either.  You become absorbed in the task of colouring and working towards a finished picture which you're happy with.  You don't need to spend a lot on materials and you don't need to learn a new skill.  Everyone can colour in!
I particularly love the work of Johanna Basford.  Her illustrated colouring books are beautifully detailed and are really fun to colour in.  I see amazing completed pictures on social media of Johanna's illustrations by talented colourists.  I'm in awe of what others can produce with the humble coloured pencil.
So even though I've owned this book since it was published in 2013, I'd never actually coloured in a single page of it until very recently.  Maybe it's because the images are printed on both sides of each page and I couldn't quite bring myself to colour in one side in favour of the other.  (I was delighted when I found that it was also produced as a book of postcards and I've completed several of those.)  Here, then, is my very first coloured page from Secret Garden.
My picture's now on display in the National Trust for Scotland shop at Pitmedden Gardens where I volunteer, hopefully inspiring others to try their hand at the relaxing art of colouring in.
Have you had a go at this absorbing, relaxing and creative hobby?


Sunday, 11 September 2016

Little Creatures

I do like a bit of Talking Heads but I'm not sure that my little creatures are quite what David Byrne was singing about in 1985.  Recently I've knitted, crocheted and felted a variety of small 'critters' for a variety of reasons.  I'm happy to be able to include some of these in the personal  Kindness Project I've embarked upon this year in which I use my making to help others.

Meet Bo - the little sheep I've made for Yarndale, an annual wool festival in Skipton to be held this year on 24th and 25th September.  The 2016 festival's community project involves the creation of lots of crocheted and knitted sheep which are going be sold in aid of Martin House Children's Hospice. This pattern was created by inspirational crochet blogger Lucy at Attic24 and I found her pictorial step by step Wooly Sheep tutorial quite easy to follow.
I'd a major concern that my sheep looked more like Dobby, the house elf from the Harry Potter films, but my finished item looked just fine so I posted her off to join the Yarndale flock.
Each maker has to include her (or his) name and where the sheep was sent from so a list of 'shepherdesses' can be compiled.  I'm sure together they'll be a colourful spectacle, as at previous Yarndales, and I hope they raise lots of money for the hospice.
I'd made myself an owl keyring in February as a prototype for a possible crochet class project using this pattern  by Rachel who creates under the name Yarnartists.  She's generously shared her pattern and it's free.  Thanks Rachel!  Sadly my owl 'flew away' (ie got lost somehow) so I recently made another.
Such a quick and easy project which uses tiny amounts of leftover wool and the pretty heart buttons which come attached to the labels on my favourite White Stuff knitwear.
These knitted mice are off to London! I found this pattern for Mischievous Mice on the website for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and decided to make some for the Battersea cats to play with while they wait for their new owners to come and take them home.
Here's my own cat, Marble, carrying out essential quality control checks.
It's a few years since my husband gave me this book and I'd never tackled a three dimensional needle felted project until my friend, Noelle, said she'd like to give it a try.  She really wanted to make a dog and I had the necessary equipment and materials so we spent a happy morning together chatting and making doggies!
Noelle was following a pictorial guide from her Woman's Weekly magazine and she made a super job of the brown and white dog on the left.  My 'Westie' was pretty sheep-like until I gave him a nose!

So with elf-like sheep and sheep-like dogs I may give little creatures a rest for a while and, same as Talking Heads, I think that's OK.


Friday, 19 August 2016


It's the jam season.  The trouble is - we don't eat that much jam in our house so I'm always on the lookout for alternative ways to enjoy the fruit we grow.  Whilst I'm partial to a little homemade jam on my pancakes...
...and perhaps on toasted fruit bread or a hot cross bun, I usually end up giving it away!  
However, I do enjoy making jams, jellies and chutneys.  There's something very satisfying about picking our fruit and preserving it to be enjoyed long after its season in the garden is over..
I love seeing rows of jewel coloured jars with their pretty labels.

I printed these myself after finding a lovely selection of free downloadables on this site for jar labels.  The ones I used were created by Yours-Is-The-Earth and The Elli Blog.  As well as blackcurrant jam and jelly, I've made several blackcurrant cakes, so tangy and moist using ground almonds instead of flour and lovely, plump berries.  I followed this recipe by Sarah Raven from a lovely book my Mum has.
Whilst the blackcurrant bushes were prolific, our strawberry crop was poor this year - too much rain I think - or possibly the plants are just getting old.  This photo is of last year's fruit!  Berries which maybe aren't as pretty but still taste fine are ideal for this cake.  It's called Fantasy Cake and I made a couple of these.
Let's not forget the rhubarb - I've been cropping our rhubarb since May.

I prefer to bake my rhubarb - it holds its shape better being baked in the oven rather than stewed on the hob - and I've made lots of rhubarb pie.  Pastry is not at the top of my list of kitchen triumphs so I'm not ashamed to admit that I use bought pastry cases - sweet for fruit pies and savoury for quiche.
We've just started eating the batch of rhubarb chutney I made a month ago.  Now chutney is something we really do enjoy.  I've also made some gooseberry chutney for the first time this year. Our gooseberry bush was only planted two years ago and produced little in its first year.  What a difference a year makes - gooseberries galore!
 This puree is in the freezer now in batches to be brought out and made into gooseberry fool at some future date.  I can also heartily recommend this gooseberry crumble cake - an excellent way to enjoy this often underrated fruit.  My recipe was taken from a well-thumbed 1980's recipe book by Katie Stewart but here's a Gooseberry Crumble Cake recipe by Nigel Slater which is pretty similar.
Really delicious!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

I Heart Cushions!

This craft project grew from a desire to brighten up a dull corner in our dining space.  We live in an old croft house and the thick walls and low ceilings which characterise cottages like this also tend to make it rather dark.  I love this Ercol chair, which my parents bought as newlyweds in 1959, but its most recent visit to the upholsterer left me as flat and dull as the serviceable beige fabric I'd chosen.
I also wanted to find a use for this hand felted piece I created at a local class last December -
but not as a piece of wall art.  (Our house definitely doesn't need any more textile wall art!)
When my husband chose this jolly picture for my Christmas a few years, we positioned it above the Ercol chair where it would be bright and cheerful.
The chair, though, badly needed a cheery makeover - so I thought I'd make a cushion.
I trimmed up my hand felted piece.
Then chose some lovely batik fabric from the specialist quilting shop in our village - Rainbow Fabrics.  It is a deceptive tardis for needlecraft fanatics - to see inside look at this Rainbow Fabrics by Google Maps
A bad experience in secondary school sewing class has meant the sewing machine and I haven't always been friends.  I searched for an on-line tutorial and found this one by Womans's Weekly entitled how to sew a zip on a cushion cover.  I liked that this guide included an instructional video as well as the same instructions in written form.  Some cutting, pinning, tacking and pressing later...
...the only bit I struggled with was sewing round the zip.  This happened...
Hey - that's what the seam ripper is for!  My second attempt was better...
...and I managed to insert a zip reasonably neatly into my cushion cover.  Funny thing is, after all my  efforts with the sewing machine, you don't even see the zip as it's on the under side of the cushion!  
I heart this cushion <3.  How about you?


Sunday, 24 July 2016

Loving the land I live in

Yesterday I climbed to the top of our local hill - Bennachie (pronounced Ben-a-hee!)
This is not remarkable in itself but the land and the landscape are.  Though here in my home county of Aberdeenshire, we talk of climbing Bennachie, this is not one but a range of hills with several peaks.
Most prominent and rugged is Mither Tap with its iron age fort but Oxen Craig is higher.  Craigshannoch is the third peak with Millstone Hill an outlying spur.
Though not particularly high at 528m - Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain is 1346m - the mountain is very prominent  and dominates the skyline.  The range of hills is isolated from other high ground and the surrounding land is relatively flat so Bennachie tends to dominate the skyline.
Here's how it looks from the village of Oldmeldrum.  Bennachie features on lots of local logos.
Climbing Bennachie is a favourite family outing - this was taken on Boxing Day 2006 when 9 relatives made it to the top with four of our neighbours. 
I created my own embroidered landscape from this photograph.  This became a present for my sister-in-law, Fiona, who grew up seeing Bennachie everyday but no longer lives nearby.
So it was a joy to climb to the top yesterday in the company of my daughter, Eilidh, who remarked what beautiful countryside we live in.  I couldn't agree more!

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