Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

May you have
Walls for the wind
And a roof for the rain,
And drinks bedside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
And those you love near you,
And all that your heart may desire
- Celtic Blessing

And may you make only New Year resolutions that will be a joy to uphold!

Friday, 23 December 2011

I guess I do

I was thinking about missing sitting and doing the embroidery I talked about in my last post...
then the latest issue of Make Jewellery Magazine arrived and reminded me that I still do a lot, just with beads on the thread.
Find my latest project in the current issue.

I'm loving the beautiful model and the fact that the necklace fits her so well. I used one of those pre-made brass collars from Robins Beads, and now I've seen the end results I'll be going back for more and some of those gorgeous brass cuffs too.
I used semi precious stones, Turquoise and Jasper along with the seed beads, the cabs are quite small, but have lovely markings in them and are really well cut. I got them from Silvermoon Crystals, don't be put off by the eclectic mix on the homepage, their cabochons and semi precious stone beads are lush! another place I will be visiting again when I need to stock up.

matching earrings
collar detail

I also have quite a few brooches which I've bezelled onto a backing fabric so that I can add a bit more embroidery, I've been following the 'polo neck or not?' fashionista discussions and confess, mostly not, except when it's deeply cold, but I do admit to having a natty line in little knitted scarves which look fab with a beaded brooch on.
Simple cabochon embroidery
I have been known to treat myself to a really great cabochon from the team at Designer Cabochons whenever I see them at a bead show. Each stone is hand cut in their studio, and they travel the world to source truly beautiful slices of magical rock.

A quick check in the 'stones I have fallen in love with and will bead around one day when I have the time to play' box, reveals that I have no less than five beautiful stones languishing in the dark.
Bad lady!!!!
Anyhoo... this is a pic of one I did do and wear a lot. I used some home made copper leaves and my fave mix of turquoise and olive bead colours.
It jingles in a tinkly way when I move too.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Here's one I made earlier...

If you are in need of a sewing, stitching or knitting project, try the Making Spot...
visit when you need to stitch!
Created by magazine publisher Future Publishing. Here is where much loved projects and articles come alive again, downloadable for modest sums.
They have a cute blog too, I've added it to my blog listing so you can go see.
Or click here to visit the pattern site.
well you can never have
too many lavender sachets
It's a bit like a walk in the past for me as I discovered no less than 32 designs I'd created over the years for various magazines like Simply Knitting, Needlecraft and CrossStitcher.
My favourites are the embroidery projects, it's something I just rarely have time to do these days.

Like all crafts it takes time, not just time but that special time which is yours alone to use up how you please, bit of a rare thing in my hectic schedule. The spare time I have is usually filled with 'trying to get ahead' on commissions and workshops already looming in the diary.
So now I can look at the pictures of my favourite projects, take a deep breath and remember when time seemed to last longer... Such a lovely thought!
My much loved Auricula quilt

Now I guess it's back to the festive countdown...
If I was organised I would be putting my feet up just about now with the fairy lights twinkling, presents wrapped, groceries stored and 'to do' lists all done and fresh logs cracking on the open fire.

What I actually have is a bare tree, a tangle of lights, a heap of carrier bags, the contents of which I hope equate to the number of presents required, no idea what groceries are needed, a house in need of a darn good clean up and a slightly unsettling feeling that I have failed some kind of seasonal exam yet again...

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Friendship Fairies

My neighbour is one of those gifted gardeners who seems to broadcast seeds in the spring and have a burgeoning cottage garden all summer, without ever appearing to do very much, it is a gift I admire and envy. A delight this summer were swathes of purple poppies. The seed heads ripened into perfect rounds and tickled a little idea into existence. She kindly let me harvest as many as I wanted...
Which I dried, and saved all the seed (they just fall out if you upside down the Dried seed head).
poppy heads gently dried

First I painted the seed heads with a nice thick white emulsion paint. Then I added hair with brown acrylic paint. Two dots for eyes, a little red heart for a mouth and a couple of pink splotches for cheek.

Next,  twist some seed beads onto fine wire and wrap a strand to make a little tiara. Paint the very top of the seed head with a gold magic marker, instant fairy crown!

ready for Christmas
Wrap pipe cleaners (chenille wire) for arms and legs, changing over the yarn colours to make simple boots. Tie these to the stalk then wrap it all with a length of lace. This secures everything forms a little body and creates underwear too. Make a simple top with felt, a skirt with patchwork fabric, then cut a simple butterfly wing shape from craft tin, stamp or punch out holes for added pattern then sew to the fairy back.
Believe me this is great fun if you are doing a batch. Mine came out kind of 'Boden' with sensible A line skirts and boiled wool jackets.

I really don't have time to bead fabulous gifties, but I do like to make something as a little thank you for my friends who help me in lots of ways through the year.

Each one arrives with a little card and a packet of poppy seeds ready to scatter in the garden, so next year girls... you too can make fairies!
Friendship fairies

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Sparkly Christmas London

Lynn and Gillian
Had a lovely day in London yesterday with my friends Gillian, bead artist extraordinaire, Lynn, who owns a little slice of beading heaven in Dorset, and Jackie who is a gifted bookbinder and lover of all things craft.
We met at the V&A for a visit to the Power of Making exhibition before it closes. Fascinating and inspiring, and definitely thought provoking, not least in the selection of crafts and media. We had a lively debate about it over lunch in the divinely tiled dining rooms. In contrast to some of the sleek computer generated modernist objects we'd just been looking at, the comfortingly familiar font and the soft yet achingly lovely colour palettes of this completely tiled space were kind of reassuring in one way, yet suddenly and overwhelmingly fussy in another, definitely experiencing visual overload!!
Totally tiled tea rooms
Next, we spend several happy hours dribbling over the glass in the newly laid out Jewellery Gallery. With some of the exhibits comes that lovely feeling of greeting an old and much loved friend, often seen in favourite books, but so much more beautiful in real life. With others, the brain tick ticking away over shapes and how to redevelop them using just threads and beads instead of heat and metal and hammers... oooh!!! more experience overload, and still the bookstore to browse!
I treated myself to the book of the exhibition so I can read up some more about the thinking behind it.
Then there was just time to pop up the road to look at the Christmas windows created for Harrods by the Swarovski team. Best seen on a dark and rainy evening, the Enchanted Forest theme is lavish, monocrome, slightly strange and attracting lots of admiration from the passing crowds of shoppers. You can watch the beautiful and otherworldly film created for Harrods online by Anryk Bregman of unit9 here. Or listen to Anryk talk about it here. Or you can see my pocket camera snapshots of the bits I liked best.
moonlight and filigree, window detail 

dove window detail
pretty sparkly lovely things
Definitely a brilliant day. From the serious business of craft and technology embracing new media; tempered by the reassuring evidence that true craftsmanship is breathtakingly beautiful and timeless in the jewellery gallery; to the awesome power of brand to conjure and inspire a creative and completely ephemeral world. Best of all, to see it all in the company of good friends.
We're planning to hop on a train to Paris next to visit the Musee D'Orsey...
 now that will be a grand day out.

Sparkling, twinkly Christmas

A trip to the ballet on a midwinter afternoon is a lovely way to start the Christmas excitement.
Which is why I'm loving the scheme to beam live performances from the Bolshoi Ballet to local cinemas, what a great way to share the arts in a budget friendly way!
On Sunday we saw The Nutcracker Suite, it's the ultimate Christmas Ballet and this version was sparklingly pretty. I'm looking forward to seeing the other performances over the coming months.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Batch bake beading

Well, it's the time of year when anyone with an ounce of craftiness is either sitting smug or in a tail spin. I'm referring to that subtle pressure to hand make lovely presents. The smugly smug gals started last January and are now happily doing artful giftwrapping. For the rest of us, life got in the way, or we spent the summer gardening, or like with me, didn't really think about it until the weather turned a bit nippy, which is honestly too late.... almost.
I often thought that it would be lovely to spend my spare time all year industriously making things, then book a booth at the local Christmas market. Having just walked around the one in Bath on this bitterly cold November day, I can honestly say that I'm not sure I could stand the chilly winds of commercial reality!
knitted and felted and waiting for beads
Anyhoo, it's batch bake beading time and although a bit eleventh hour here's a project that is definitely
do-able at the rate of beading up one an evening.

First get a ball of Wash+ Filz-it! felting yarn, and a 4pin knitting dolly. Knit yourself 20 -25cm (including the bit in the bobbin). Sew the ends together then felt it. I make several and put them in with a regular washing load. You can easily knit five or six in an evening.

Once dry your knitted bangle will have shrunk a bit.
Also the join may look a bit blobby but will disappear under the beading.

Now for the beady bit. I tend to use up oddments of beads, bags of weird sizes and cheap and cheerful's which may not be ideal for precision beading, but you know, you fell in love with the colour...

seven bead netting, three sets fit a treat
Work the netting around the knitting. I find three sets of seven beads fits well. You can use a bigger  or different coloured bead for the centre/intersection bead. Not sure about netting? there's a good tutorial here So keep beading and rather than stretching out the knitting, push it into the beading so that it is the beaded net which stretches over the knitting. I use a little wooden stick, or knitting needle, or blunt end of a biro.
Tweek the size at this stage if needed, by squishing up the knitting more or less to get the diameter you want. It will look a really weird shape until you've beaded right round.
Once the beaded tube ends meet up, zip them together and the bangle is suddenly perfectly circular and good to go.

One ball of yarn will make about 8 -10 bangles... and there are lots of lush colours to choose from.
Make a gift tag to explain that these bangles are a bit stretchy, can be rolled on, and hand washed too.
If you're feeling generous, tie two or three together with a pretty ribbon and hand them over. If not, pop one in one of those cute organza bags.

finished bangles... can I really bear to part with them!
I am a big fan of netted beadwork, it works up satisfyingly quickly. If you'd like to explore some new ways with netting, my book on CD Beadnet covers all sorts of shaped and hollow form netting, with lots of colourful projects. One of my favourites is the spiky 'Sea urchin' bangle, it's really easy to bead.

Sea urchin bangles in monochrome

Monday, 5 December 2011

Little Owls

crochet and stitched owls
I love the way little icons suddenly get popular, just now it seems that cute owls are everywhere, cleverly made from all sorts of materials. Last year I made these crochet and felt ones for my chums. I stuffed them with cloves and cinnamon so the christmas parcels would smell nice.
Since then I've gradually acquired several variations of fabric ones, from adorably fat ones made of vintage Kimono silk, to colouring book graphic ones made of hand embroidered felt.
felt, cotton and silk owls

I can remember patterns for similar in the magazines and 'How to' books of my childhood. Now they pop up in handmade sites like Folksy and Etsy, with modern twists and endearingly thoughtful and clever variations.

Out of curiosity and a desire to add my own craft to the in love with owls mix, I decided to have a go at making a beady one myself. What started as a 'how can I make a basic owlish shape easily?' turned into several evenings of beading origami as I added or subtracted beaded components! finally remembering the golden rule of 'There are no rules'
I decided to just mix it up and have some fun.
Little Owl charm is now available as lovely kit  for you to create, packed full of beads, thread, needle, charm strap and instructions. It's a really stitch sampler too with no less than five different stitches, enjoy!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Beadiful bug

is this a mini stag beetle?
I found this gorgeous little fellow wandering around in the back yard, probably looking for a winter snoozing space before the frosty weather comes. I love the way it's looking up at the camera, sure it noticed me!
I'm OK with bugs, I am fascinated by their incredible structures and always trying different ways to 'draw' it out in beads. 

red crystal bug 8cm long approx
This red beady bug was one of my first experiments at making Albion Stitch bugs, the body is an acrylic crystal about 5cm across and I kind of built onto it. Red bug usually sits on my shelf in the office, but comes on visits to workshops with me and is a great conversation starter! the bugs have slowly grown more elegant and refined (see the pic at the top of my blog) as I graduated from plastic to divine Swarovski crystals... so much sparkle, so many lovely shapes to bead around!

beaded bead caterpillar on felt leaves
My articulated beaded bead caterpillar is 'feasting' on some dry felted leaves. He has a pin to attach like a brooch and kind of wiggles about as you wear it. This really creeps some people out, but better than those 'Living jewel' brooches (apparently all the rage in the 19th century) which were real beetles with crystals stuck on their wing cases and a little gold chain tethering them to an ample decolletage. I always wondered what their owners fed them on.

Sally's giant bed by 30cm long
not including antennae
One dear chum saw red bug and handed me a giant crystal she had found in the V&A shop in London. 'Bead a bug out of that then!' was her challenge and serious commission. The crystal measured 20cm and it took me weeks to get to grips with the dynamics of working at such a different scale. The wing cases are wire knitted with added bead embroidery (otherwise the whole thing would have weighed a ton!). It took many weeks of going back and trying different things, but happily my friend is very pleased with her bug. The legs and antennae are posable as they are made from iron wire embellished with beads and crystals.
It lives on a beautiful wrought iron bedstead fashioned like wild grasses, so we call this the giant bed bug.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

bobbin along

Just got these little cuties into the post for a magazine article which will be coming out soon. I'm having such fun with the French knitting. I wrote a little book about it, then I did a mini marketing campaign for the book... and it's all sort of snowballing from there. I've had lots of invites to create projects, and to answer questions about my book and French knitting in general, which is just lovely. It's definitely one of my fave ways to relax... you can't always relax with beadwork!

More acorns...

knit an acorn today
When I'm not busy beading, I do like to tinker with a bit of yarn! To make these acorn pomanders you'll need some pure wool (a skein of tapestry wool is ideal) for the acorn, some chunky wool for the acorn cup.
Also gather together some acrylic toy stuffing, an 8 pin knitting bobbin a 3mm (or similar) crochet hook, some dried herbs... I used a mix of cloves, crushed cinnamon sticks and dried lavender.

Knit the Acorn, wind the yarn around each bobbin pin in turn, then wind round each one again so that you have two rings of loops. Stitch by making a new loop, lift the bottom one over the top two and off the pin. This gives a nice snug stitch. Work for 20 rounds then cast off by lifting the two stitches off each pin and pulling the yarn through both. Pull the cast off yarn tight.
Turn the whole tube inside out and stuff lightly with toy stuffing. Sew the end closed.
Felt the acorn... dunk the whole thing in hot soapy water and keep washing until you feel the yarn begin to firm up and shrink. Rinse it in cold water and squeeze out the excess. Roll the acorn into shape and leave it to dry.
add a scented mix of spices
To make the acorn cup, use a chunky yarn and cast on one row of stitches onto the 8 pin bobbin leaving a long tail to work with later. Knit 8 rows and cast off loosely, leave another good long tail.
Use the yarn tail at the start and crochet three or four chain, work back up the chain in single crochet to form the stalk of the acorn cup. This is not an exact science, but use the rest of the yarn to fill in around the base of the stalk until you think it looks nice and cup shaped.
Stretch out the top of the acorn cup and single crochet around the edge with the second tail (or just over sew the edges if it's easier).
Fill the base of the cup with a pinch of dried herbs. Slot the knitted acorn into the cup and stitch the two together.
Make several and pile them in a bowl for a sweet and seasonal room scenter!
sew the edges together

add some fir cones and horse chestnuts too

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Why Acorns?...

Albion stitch and size 15's, work in progress!
Acorns and oak leaves are on trend right now thanks to Kate Middleton's divinely diamond encrusted wedding jewellery. Delve a little deeper into our pagan past and the Acorn is a symbol of fertility and abundance, apt for a bride to wear on her big day. You can also carry one in your pocket to ward off old age (! bit late but worth a go), or put one on your windowsill to protect the house from lightening strikes... which is why those curtain and blind pull thingy's are often acorn shaped, who knew!
With these comforting properties maybe it's not surprising they are emerging in all forms for our adornment when all around us is a bit unsteady.
But the honest why is that I just got an urge to see if I could bead one... it was a throw it across the room in frustration experience, followed by a walk away and ignore it while the brain ticked over session. Eventually I resorted to trusty Albion stitch and now have the beginnings of a design. I fiddled around with some spare beads to make a top for the pendant, so now all I have to do is come up with a nice way to put it all together. When I do I'll write up the pattern and pop it in the shop.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

harvest an idea

a snap from the i-photo stash
Recently I was being interviewed for an article and interviewer asked, 'do you keep a sketch book?'... long pause, 'Well yes, kind of... I have a little book in my bag that I scribble in with black biro... the scribbles make sense to me, but definitely nobody else'.
I got to thinking about this because I used to love filling sketchbooks with drawings, colourful snippets and ideas. A habit from my art school days when the sketchbook was a tool for processing thoughts. Our drawing tutor also drummed into us that we couldn't expect to understand shape unless we stopped to really look and explore things with our eyes.
To be fair, I also have in my bag an amazingly small digital camera and i-photo folders full of 'eye candy' snaps that I use for inspiration, is that virtual sketch booking?
I love buying sketch books, can't resist the promise of a new one with all those lovely creamy empty pages. Promise that one day I will fill them, then off they go, into the box with all the others.
Just to remind myself, I dug out some old, filled sketchbooks and was amazed at the energy and colour I'd poured into them, a little bit nostalgic too for the days when I had time to start each project with a good long sketchbook filling session.
Then the brain played the 'what if' trick, what if you started with a really small sketch book, what if you got back into using one, what if you just, like, sat down and did a drawing for the first time in forever?
So with some acorns and oak leaves gathered on my woodland walk it was out with the crayons, watercolours wetted down at the ready and a whole afternoon later my first little page is done.
Why Acorns?
first 15x15cm sketchbook... filled!
I'll show you tomorrow...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Falling leaves

I love autumn, the colours that paint themselves across the countryside, the crisp air with a hint of bonfire smoke, the promise of a last few sun bright days before the long, long dreary winter sets in. I love the urge to harvest the fruits of the season, make jars of jewel coloured fruit jam, spice laden pots of pickles and chutneys, non of which I do being a hopeless cook...

Instead I take the camera for a walk, feast on the outrageous colour combinations in the leaves, relish the ripe berry colours of rowans, rose hips, horse chestnuts and acorns.

With pockets full of inspiration, and a good splash through crisp autumn leaves to satisfy the bit that never grows up, the next lovely part of the process is to raid the bead stash. Only beads that honestly match the colours in my leafy harvest.

So out with the Vitrail rivoli's, silver lined and metallic cylinder beads and a few fire polished crystals and I'm ready to bead me a Michaelmas bracelet. 

Michaelmas, the feast of St Michael and all Angels is on the 29th September is one of the four quarter days spaced three months apart (the others are Lady Day 25th March, Midsummer 24th June, and Christmas Day) and celebrates the Autumn equinox.
Anyhoo, I'm liking the results, and specially the way the colours change, depending what's next to the beadwork... so I could buy a mustard, brown or burgundy colour jumper and it would look fab with either... or all.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Getting started

I've spent many a happy hour browsing blogs, a magical world of creativity, awesomeness, honesty, humour and inspiring work... so now it's time to dive in and share a corner of my world.
First up, today has been a day of 'I don't wanna' when the internal three year old is on tantrum mode over the must do paperwork, the chores, the drizzling rain. So the incentive has been to get through them quick sticks and back to some lovely beading.
I'll be teaching this mixed media workshop on the 21st of October here. It's called 'Steamer' inspired by Steampunk and uses some natty plumbing bits and pieces. I've picked out a new colourway I want to try (rich coral, palest watery turquoise and soft sandy grey...mmmm).
Steamer mixed media necklace