Sunday, 29 June 2008

Taking better photos

Lovespoon on Welsh slate

So it's no secret -I'm a terrible photographer! I find the results I achieve are totally hit and miss and I have little understanding of all the technicalities, which leads to a lot of stress when I'm trying to take anything other than quick snaps and get adequate photos for etsy or for this blog. So, having spent my birthday money on a new camera, I feel it's high time to try and improve my photography skills.

tired boy on my knee

My dad helped me chose my new camera - my level (and budget!) meant I wasn't in the market for an SLR, but at the same time, this camera was a bit more than a straight point and shoot with plenty of manual options.


Abi (whose blog and etsy shop are full of gorgeous photos) has just set up a new group on flickr for would-be photographers to take 5 shots of 'ordinary beauty' each week, with the aim of improving their photography. This is all very timely for me, so naturally I've signed up. The aim is to steer clear of the 'auto' setting and play with the different features on the camera. I've also signed up to another group, dedicated to photography taken with the Canon Powershot A720is, with the hope of gleaning some tips specific to my camera.


So this is me sharing my 5 day to day shots from my first week in the flickr group. Okay, so I'm not quite there yet, but I've learnt an awful lot about my camera just by setting up these shots this week, and I can only get better. Another thing I'm learning is that 'ordinary beauty' would be a lot easier to find if my house was a little tidier!
rubber duck in his natural habitat

I shall be visiting this site a lot more for tips and tutorials and if anyone knows of any other good photography sites, please do let me know - I need all the help I can get!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Painting antics

Back to being a good mum again this week after frequently skiving off childcare duties on the weekends to sew for the fair. I couldn't remember the last time we had the paints out, so I dug them out from under the kitchen sink so the children could have some messy time. And messy really is the word - in my house anyway! It must have been a while, as the paints were totally congealed in their pots, so the children had to patiently wait while I gouged out the dried paint with a knife then scrubbed the pots in the sink, finally refilling them. My white kitchen sink was in a slightly-less than pristine state by the time I'd finished this!

They had a great time though, daubing paint over their paper, the table and, inevitably, themselves! You might think that the cheeky 2 year old was the main culprit, but it's my 4 year old daughter who really masterminds the hand painting - she always assures me it's for the purpose of making hand prints, however, I remain unconvinced that it's necessary to paint the backs of your hands.
my multifunction sewing/living/playing space - ha-ha!

In fairness though, she has the older-sister sense to refrain from eating the paints ... now they were non toxic weren't they???

So here are the fruits of their labours. Odd how those lovely bright primary colours all turned to sludge in the hands of my budding artists; now we have the makings of a great gothic wall display for our living room!

I'm reliably informed that the sludgy blobs are 'dark monsters' by my 2 year old boy. My little girl has now luckily reached the point where I can tell what her paintings are without asking, thus avoiding any hurt feelings!

Monday, 23 June 2008

My first craft fair

me (right) and ClothCat (left) at our stall.
Thank you to All Those Threes for taking this photo and giving me permission to use it!

Well, Sunday has been and gone, so I can now say I've done my first craft fair! It was great that so many people made the effort to attend, and lovely to see some blog readers and friends who came to say hello like AnnieB, Lisa, Mary, TwoHippos and Ruth. There was also a huge contingent of UK etsy sellers, some I'd met before, and others I've been chatting to on the etsy forums, who'd made their way from various parts of the country to hold stalls or to come and support the fair and it was so nice to see them all (lots of photos here). And I really mustn't forget mini-Kezz, who was sent down by Kezzaroo, maker of fantastic felt caricatures, from Scotland to see everyone. We had a lot of fun together (see here for the antics of mini-Kezz)!

lots and lots of bags!

Truth be told, I didn't sell an awful lot, but I did make back my stall fee and expenses for getting to London, so there's been nothing lost, and it was a great experience! Thank you to my lovely customers - you know who you are! It also meant that I got a whole lot more organised, sewing lots and thinking about the practicalities of selling at a fair, so that will all help make things easier next time.

my half of the table I shared with Clothcat

My dad and little girl came along to help (my daughter was so excited by the whole thing and took it upon herself to be official photographer of all the stalls!). I also owe a big thank you to my brother, who made the fantastic shop sign you can see in the first photo above, and some beautiful tags for my products, which made everything look a good deal more professional!

me at my stall, taken by my 4 year old helper!

It was so lovely to put some faces to names and to have a chat. I enjoyed sharing the stall with Lindsay (Clothcat) too - it made a big difference to have company, and it was much less daunting not to have to fill a whole table! The organisers did a fantastic job of getting everything ready for the big day. And there's an added bonus - I get to do some recreational sewing now as I've got plenty of new stock to add to my etsy shop over the coming weeks!

View of the table I shared with Clothcat
(Cloth Cat's lovely felted and fabric things are on the left, and my side is the right)

It feels as if I've been working up to the craft fair for weeks, and there are a number of projects sitting on the back burner that I haven't really had time to start, so more on that soon! Thanks so much for all the good wishes in the comments to my last few posts. I'll be back next time with some non-craft fair related posts!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

What to take to a craft fair ....?

Last-minute organisation is still in full swing, and I'm finalising my list of things to take to the craft fair. I'm probably going to forget something completely vital, so to that end I've been doing a bit of research on Lisa's blogs at U-handbag and CraftBoom, as she should know pretty much everything a would-be bag seller should need about their person and in their kit! Here's a handy list of top 10 items to take along and there's a wealth of other advice and handy hints on selling bags and other crafts here.

I'm busy refining my list now as I've realised that there's going to be a limit to what I can physically carry across London by train and tube. I'm starting to wonder whether I should have made an apron with more pockets to tote all this stuff around!

Here's my provisional list:
  • apron (equipped with scissors and tape measure)
  • duplicate book for receipts
  • notepad and pen for general jottings
  • business cards
  • trays and a small rail for display
  • bags and tissue paper for packaging and for stuffing bags
  • labels for all items and shop sign for the front of the stall (my very clever little brother is taking care of this one for me)
  • food and drink for me (may have to ditch this one if I can't carry it!)
  • float of coins for change
  • clipboard so that people can sign up to my mailing list
  • camera to photograph my stall for future blog posts and flickr
  • folded stand-up card pieces for information like prices alongside different items
  • sellotape
  • BAGS (note to self - don't forget these)

Still not sure quite what to expect on the day, but I won't have too much time to worry about it as I've got plenty to do before then. I'm really grateful for all your supportive comments on my last couple of posts - thank you!

Last-minute preparations

Still getting ready for the We Make London fair on Sunday here. I think I've realised it's time to call a halt to making new things now, and to concentrate on finishing off all the half-made things! So last night I got the sewing machine out for the last time to make my craft fair apron, so as to create the illusion of being a bona-fide fully-fledged crafting stall holder.

I used a natural coloured linen fabric, lined in calico (repurposed from an Anglo-Saxon costume I once made, one of my many forays into costume-making - but that's a whole other blog post!) and using more of the Summer in the City cotton prints I love so much. My favourite is still the bird print - I have only one tiny fragment of this left now. It seems to have been really popular too, as I've had so many enquiries in my etsy shop as to whether I have any available to sell on the basis of a bag made from it in my shop - and I don't even sell fabric!

I'm especially pleased with my little sewing scissor holding clip - folding scissors, naturally, to avoid any terrible mishaps! I might do a tutorial for the apron once the fair is over, if anyone's interested. In the meantime though, I need to start filling those pockets with things I need for the fair.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

This is what chaos looks like

This photo gives a pretty good snapshot of what most of my house looks like at the moment - piles of fabric which have been rifled through and abandoned, half-finished bags, zips and interfacing all over the place and, of course, small threads stuck to the whole family's clothing and left behind on each tread of the stairs. The reason for the mess? My last-minute preparations for the Wemake fair in London this coming Sunday, 22nd June. I find myself increasingly compelled to visit the Wemake blog to look at the clever countdown widget, which as I type tells me that there are only 6 days, 13 hours, 5 minutes and 19 seconds remaining till the fair on Sunday ... and counting ... Panicked? Hmm, just a little! I have a list of things to do as long as my arm, and I'm not really sure how it's all going to get done.

Still, out of the chaos, a few half-finished objects are beginning to emerge. Like a row of bags with bamboo and wooden handles. Not finished, but almost there ...

... and another soon-to-be-beribboned clutch. This is one of a batch of four, but seemingly they're going to be left unfinished this evening as I'm running out of the right colour thread. I remained surprisingly calm at this discovery - I'm going to adopt the approach of sewing faster in the hope that this will make the thread go further. Wish me luck!

All this means I'm very behind with my blog, replying to comments, and popping in to visit everyone else's blogs. I'll be back soon! Thanks for all your comments in the meantime, and I'm really looking forward to meeting those of you who said you might pop in on Sunday!

Hope you've had a good weekend!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008


I've been tagged by SummerSadie to answer this meme, a few weeks ago now, but I am so behind with my blog/shop/sewing/life that it's taken me a little while to get around to it!

What was I doing 10 years ago?

10 years ago, I would have been just about finishing my Finals at Oxford. It's stunned me a bit to realise that it was that long ago! Here I am in subfusc (oh yes, we had to wear gowns and carry our mortar boards for our exams!). By this point I'd met my husband, who was one of my group of University friends. He'd just finished his teaching qualification and I'd just finished my degree, and that Summer we moved into our first flat together so that he could start his new job and I could begin my MA in Medieval Studies.

5 things on my to-do list for today?

1) Watering the new plants in our front garden
2) Sewing two bags
3) Catching up with reading everyone's blogs and reading comments (blogger doesn't provide me with anyone's email addresses to respond in person, so I usually try to answer specific questions in the comments and visit people's blogs in return)
4) Tidying the clutter from my bedroom (this one is ongoing and may take some time!)
5) Find the cheque I've lost amongst the clutter in my bedroom (see above!)

Snacks I enjoy
Olives, cheese, kettle chips, chocolate, pickled onions ... hmm I could go on for a while! I don't have too sweet a tooth - if you offered me a choice between a roast potato and a truffle, I'd go for the roast potato every time.

Things I would do if i was a billionaire
I would share with family and friends and contribute to charities. I'd love to be able to move my family closer to where we live. We'd also move to a bigger place ourselves - somewhere with a kitchen big enough to eat in, a spare room always made up for the family who come to stay, a sewing room/study, and space for a piano (it's impossible to shoehorn one into the space in the house we live in now), and I'd probably have more children too! Really, I wouldn't need to be a billionaire to accomplish all this - a million would be fine :D

Places I have lived
My list isn't half as exciting as everyone else's! No glamorous far-flung places here, but a short list of: South Wales (I'm a valleys girl), the South-East of England (pretty much confined to the Thames valley) and Brittany in Northern France. Bloggers seem to be a well-travelled bunch of people, so I am clearly bucking the trend!

People I would like to know more about
Well, as most people seem to have done this one already somewhere along the line, I'll just invite anyone who hasn't done this already to answer if they feel like it!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Back to school

It was back to school on Monday for my little girl and my husband after a week off for half term. I've been playing catch up this week on all the neglected chores and items on the to-do list which were never ticked off over half term. So, after Monday and Tuesday doing the boring household jobs, on Wednesday I did a bit of sewing for the Wemake fair. This was aided by the fact that my little girl went to lunch at a friend's house and I managed to get my little boy down for an afternoon sleep - cue 2 hours of uninterrupted sewing, which is a rarity around here! The totes above were cut out already, so I had almost finished the three by the time my little boy woke up and it was time to collect my daughter. I also added another couple of be-ribboned clutches to my finished items list this week, so my stock is slowly building!

I am considering employing some small helpers and paying them in ribena to increase productivity...

Still on my to-do list is Emmeline for the Monkey Foot Designs and Stacy Sews sew-along. I am very late in the day with this one! And I knew it would happen, but I find myself arranging the lotus fabric I'd chosen for emmeline with my lovely golden bamboo handles from U-handbag like this:

I haven't cut the fabric as yet, and I really do want to make the emmeline apron, so we shall see!

It hasn't been all sewing though. We've also had a lot of fun watching the ladybird larvae in the garden this week. We have a decked area outside our patio doors which seems to be a haven for ladybirds, as come this time of year there are countless ladybird larvae marching up and down the grooves in the wood and somehow avoiding being trampled by small children. As chance would have it, my daughter's nursery school class had been looking at the ladybird/ladybug life cycle this week, with lots of fun activities like painting pebbles in red with black spots, so we offered to take in one of the larvae for the class to see. Of course, by the time we got back that afternoon, the larvae were nowhere to be seen, having abandoned their march along the decking to form cocoons. After a bit of searching, we found quite a few, and it's been amazing to watch their development - something I'd never taken the time to observe before (to be honest, I would have had no idea what ladybird larvae looked at if it wasn't for my daughter's Dorling Kindersley book of baby animals!).

If you click on the mosaic it will take you to my flickr where you can click on the individual images, if you're interested. They really are incredible things to watch - doing strange press ups and raising themselves right off the leaf at the bright yellow stage, but very still by now. We're looking forward to seeing what happens next!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Half term getaway

I'm really not the gushing type, but I have to say I was completely bowled over by the surprise my husband sprung on me this half term. On Wednesday morning I received a letter with the heading 'this is not a circular'. Of course my immediate reaction is to walk towards the recycling bin as I read through it thinking it's a piece of junk mail. I found myself wondering which organisation had passed on the fact I was a 'homemaker' along with my name and address, and then the phone number at the bottom of the page caught my eye - my husband's mobile number! Maybe I'm not that bright, but it took another few minutes before I twigged what was going on - at first I thought it was one of those phone scams where people run up hundreds of pounds on your mobile number!

Suffice to say it wasn't a scam at all, but my husband's master plan to whisk me away to Bath for a night! His line is that if I was working I'd be getting some kind of annual bonus or perks, so this was his way of treating me to reward me for staying at home and looking after the children. My mother and sister were in on the surprise. My mum kindly looked after the children overnight (they didn't seem to be in the slightest bit perturbed by us disappearing for 24 hours in spite of my worries). It was my sister who recommended the thermae spa as she'd been there before Christmas (I know for a fact that my husband read my blog post where I said I'd love to go there but apparently he has no recollection of this!).

I had the most lovely time! We stayed in the Queensberry hotel, a lovely boutique hotel near to the Circus, within a few minutes walk of the centre of Bath. It was lovely to just wander the streets in the afternoon at our own pace, though we both kept on harking back to what the children would like! We took lots of pictures of these pigs (some of the many which are dotted around the city as part of the King Bladud's pigs art event) for their amusement.

In the evening, we had a fantastic meal in the Hole in the Wall - I had sorrel, spinach and potato soup followed by rib-eye steak with shallots, watercress and dauphinoise potatoes and my husband had a smoked chicken salad on little gem lettuce followed by pork with a mustard and leek mash. All delicious, and such a lovely place to eat too - normally I'm terrified by eating in small restaurants as I feel a bit too visible, but this one had a lovely relaxed atmosphere. Relaxed atmosphere also helped by the bottle of red wine, no doubt!

The spa was amazing. I'm an inherently unrelaxed person - always itching to pick up some knitting needles, fretting about whether or not a seam finish is quite perfect enough and generally unable to switch off - so this was the perfect place to take me. It was so lovely just to lie back and float in the lovely warm waters looking over the rooftops of Bath, with beautiful views of the cathedral even with storm clouds looming. And of course the Latin geek in me was thrilled to be enjoying the spa waters as the Romans did.

I feel utterly spoiled and indulged to have had this treat sprung on me by my lovely husband! It's very rare for us to go out together since having the children - it seems somehow churlish to ask visiting family to babysit our sleeping children so we can go out - so it was really nice to spend some time together, much as I've never wanted to be one of those people who's always longing to escape from their children.

What with this little getaway, family visits and meeting up with friends, I've done no sewing whatsoever over half term - and really, I'm not complaining!
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