Tuesday, 16 December 2014


A lot of artists, designers, musicians and enterprising kitchen table creatives are just waking up to the breathtaking legislation set to sweep through the internet on January 1st. Our finance ministers, HMRC and as Mr Andrus Ansip so testily put it, have had full knowledge since devising the 'single digital market' strategy for the EU for six years. Yet for thousands this news is only just seeping out.

In case you're not yet aware, the EU is making on line retailers of anything digital (music, e-books, knitting patterns, craft templates, beadwork patterns, downloadable pdf's) responsible for collecting VAT from the customer, at the rate of VAT in the customer's country if they live in the EU. It's a complicated mess, succinctly described by Clare Josa,  here.
It is currently not viable for genuinely small businesses to comply. HMRC's big hope is that we will all register for VAT under an umbrella scheme called VATmoss, but only for anything digital, saving us the hassle of having to register in 27 different countries with, collectively, 75 different rates of VAT. They hope to apply this law to all products sold on line as soon as they can.

Just in case you thought this was too easy, the scheme applies to anyone, anywhere, selling into the EU. HMRC have also threatened anyone not complying with state of the art technology in the form of a new tech savvy team (22 jobs currently advertised) and 'web bots' to track the errant down.

It appears, however, that they think that what applied to the internet in 2008 is still current today, and assume that anyone with something to sell on line is selling it through Amazon type third party platforms. Unfortunately, to date most of these were late to the party too, and have taken a swift step back, landed the problem right back with us.

What caused this scheme to be thought up back in the day? .. a means to stop said corporate giants settling in tax havens like Luxembourg. Another stock comment is that it is designed to 'create a level playing field'.

You can read more about it, sign the petition, storm up twitter and support a growing international band of tiny people taking on a leviathan.

Here's why I think you should.
The internet has grown exponentially and is the most magnificent form of education, exchange of expertise and communication this planet has ever experienced.
In my small world of beading there has been an explosion of creativity, new techniques, new beads, new designers. Artists are no longer distant beings who's work we admire in books, they are blogging and sharing, facebooking and friending. At the click of a button I can browse museum collections, research history, find the inspiration for my next design or class.
I may be a micro business but I help fuel an international trade of big manufacturers products, I sell a pattern to you, next you go buy what you need, they sell and go make more beads, thread. tools, bead mats, craft lamps reading glasses. I'm only one tiny part, and that's the point, micro businesses may not make a lot of moola individually, but together we create an industry, we really do.

In my little bead studio in the heart of the English countryside, I can connect to everyone who loves beads as much as I do. I love this craft so much, relish each new innovation, congratulate excellence and put my share of discoveries out there too. I can ask for advice, talk to my students, and share news about my patterns and kits.

All I needed was a simple website and a paypal account. I am grateful for every purchase from my website, each one validates my creativity, I'm happy to talk with my customers many of whom are now firm friends. Having an online presence has given me amazing opportunities, to travel and teach, to meet my peers and mentors. this is how crafts stay alive, renew and grow.

For every form of creativity you can imagine, from model airplane builders to geeks coding awesome games and apps, making interactivity so readily available to anyone with a phone. Trending crochet? bloggers made it cool to love a Granny Square.
It all starts with just one person having a brilliant idea and the guts to put it out there. We mostly make a modest living, not everything in life is about money and that's how we work.

 This terrifies legislators. In my beading world I have friends in every country, politics is not an issue, we just love beads and each other. But this is why they will chip away, taking a freedom here, levying a tax there, because they can't see a community, only a community chest to be plundered. Far from levelling the playing field, what they are about to achieve is the most  invasive restriction of intellectual and creative freedom ever, EVER.

If you still and think, 'this doesn't apply to me', yes it does, it really does, whether you are a kitchen table entrepreneur, an educator with useful knowledge to share or a customer out browsing for a treat.  Your online world is about to gat a whole lot smaller and meaner. Already there is much talk of boycotting the EU. So easy to think 'OK I'll just take my beading pocket money to artists and designers outside the EU'. It's already happening.

I can't compete with that, but it isn't a level playing field any more is it?

I hope the legislators can be made to see common sense, if this was just about tax, I think they could be persuaded, all it needs is a simple agreement to exempt businesses beneath a certain size. Common sense because the costs of trying to recoup half a euro here, a couple of francs there between 28 countries will be way more than they will earn from the micro businesses. Targeting us might feel big and it might feel clever, but we are the shoulders on which those bigger businesses stand.

So on January 1st, I'll still have a website, you can still buy my kits and patterns, you just won't be able to download them, I'll have to post them to you... for now...
because in a back bedroom somewhere, someone is working out the next generation of technology which will make it possible for us to keep our amazing creativity flowing around the world, and yes, pay the tax too, but in a simple, click here and it's sorted kind of way.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

It's curtains in the kitchen

raw materials
Thank you for the gentle nudges from my lovely band of blog followers to get posting!
How does she find the time, I hear you muse when I reveal a sudden bout of domesticity and the making of new kitchen curtains. While anyone who has ever had a big deadline will recognise immediately the displacement activity tactics I've fallen in to, as one or two rather big projects near deadline date.
We took ownership of the kitchen curtains too, when we bought our house fourteen years ago. They have been perfectly serviceable and regularly laundered, but it did strike me eventually that it was time to take ownership of my kitchen windows and hang my own curtains. I am not good at interiors, I can pretty up a window sill and re-arrange cushion covers. The bigger scheme of step ladders, pots of paint and whole room makeovers is something I never seem to get a chunk of time to deal with. I know what to do in principle, but put it off to avoid the chaos and upheaval not to mention the extra work an old house inevitably reveals once you get started.
The view from here
So, I am easing myself in with baby steps, which begin with renewing those 'not chosen by' me curtains at long last.
Tada! here are my acid lime, button embellished, home made curtains which took a whole afternoon of hand sewing and a smattering of cutting and
They are made from a bargain bundle of pure cotton tea towels, some cotton ticking braid and a pile of mismatched buttons. In, of course, all my favourite shades of turquoise and green, mustard and lime. They create a really cheerful mood with the light streaming through them.
Now, where did I put that Farrow and Ball paint catalogue!
tabs tackled
Love my vintage button collection!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Toho'd again

Toho 2014 Design Challenge
Last year was my first entry into the Toho Challenge and I ended my post about it with high hopes for the next challenge.
Here are the challenge beads that arrived...  
I found myself staring lovingly at the delicious array of bead shapes, tempered with anxiety, as they were in my, probably, least favourite colour mix ever. So I did a terrible thing... I ignored the box of beads,  telling myself the muse would strike...

Toho's photo of my Prom Queen Corsage
As the weeks ticked by, it was time for the bracing talk to self about being professional, stepping up, rolling up the sleeves... I love colour, I revel in it, I play subtle games with colour. Even so, my fingers twitched to separate the colours into two groups, the pink and purple with maybe the orange: The iris blue and browns with maybe the orange, but all together? still not 'me'! The challenge is to use as many of the beads as possible so culling fifty percent wasn't an option.

I looked at many pink and purple things with hints of orange and cold dark blue... drew out designs... started and stopped... and if anybody is hoping for a magical recipe for how to overcome personal challenges, be warned, this so isn't it... buckle up for a bumpy ride!

With the deadline fast approaching and an agreement to hand the finished bead work over to Team Toho at the Bead and Button show, my hugely elaborate collar of imagined loveliness seemed less and less achievable. Windows of beading opportunity got filled up with pre-show preparations and as I boarded the flight to the USA I snuck on crochet hook and thread with the hopes of beading a rope while I hurtled through the sky.
Which as it grew, I liked less and less.

One side of the corsage has a flower
So in the end, I was beading in my room, after classes, through most of the last possible night, to finish what became a corsage for a prom queen.

Toho beads are truly great to work with and I managed to include some of each size and shape, promising myself to purchase some of the gorgeous colour lined and metallic finishes to add to my stash. I'm already a fan of the CzechMates beads that make up the shaped beads in the challenge pack; love the two hole triangles, possibly my favourite among the many new beads that have appeared recently; tried petal beads for the first time and added them to the shopping list too. When beading under extreme pressure, sometimes the ideas flowed thick and fast.
I wished I'd started sooner, but truthfully, some of those seat of the pants ideas are morphing into new designs which never would have existed without the stress.

The other side has leaves
On deadline morning, there was just enough time for a quick photo session in my room. Who knew a toothbrush glass and hotel duvet would be such nice props...
As I handed over the finished piece, with the creative doubt and insecurity record of 'What were you thinking! this is not great! what have you done!' running in my head... a very well known designer who's work I admire greatly was passing by, grabbed my piece, tried it on, gave a twirl and whispered... 'ooh I LOVE it!'...
and suddenly... it wasn't so bad.

Treat yourself to some gorgeous eye candy and see how the other designers interpreted the challenge, completely inspiring. In each piece the colour mix looks truly lovely.
Thank you Toho for the gorgeous beads, the challenge, the opportunity... and the personal bead lessons learned.
I'm deeply honoured that my prom corsage is now on display in Japan, and profoundly hopeful that I'll be included again in next year's challenge. What ever the colour mix, bring it on and I'll definitely be starting as soon as the beads arrive!

Curtain call on the wrist corsage

Monday, 15 September 2014

Bright Stars with beads

Printed cotton from 1860
 from PastCrafts Etsy
It is no secret that I do like a bit of vintage, and the afore mentioned film Bright Star has some wonderful costumes... which led me to revisit 19th century printed textiles in all their dainty detail.
Then came the arrival of a new bead to play with, this time the Dragon Scale bead, next in the series of beads developed by my lovely friend and bead artist Sabine Lippert. There is no end to her inventiveness and I am enchanted by the Dragon Scale, a tiny flat diamond of sparkly glass with a hole at one end. With the textiles as inspiration I was soon playing, and I confess that more urgent tasks were completely ignored while I had a play with my new favourite bead.
Dragon Scale bead single strand bracelet
The beads slot neatly together to make little constellations and flowers, of course flowers. The first design is BrightStar, and can be worked as single strands of flowers, or garlands, or for a longer project, as wider cuffs.
ZigZag Garland bracelet

The downloadable pattern is available here. Or choose the printed and wait for the post version here.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Bright Stars

Have you ever watched Jane Campions beautiful film Bright Star? all about the last few years of poet John Keats and named for his quietly passionate poem thought to describe his relationship with Fanny Brawne. It's no secret that Keats died of tuberculosis, in Rome, at only 25. But I was so caught up in the colours and imagery of the film that I forgot, and so wept at the ending!  What I love most about the film is the artistry of the film maker. Go watch it, if only for the colours, the interiors and the fluttering butterfly metaphors.
John Keats featured large in my school life as the one who penned the interminable poem 'To Autumn', which we had to memorise and recite. We had ancient poetry books printed with f's instead of s's, sadly this poem always began, 'feasonf of mifts and mellow fruitfulneff'... Perfect recall of the lunch hour spent writing lines as punishment for pronouncing it just as it was written. So thank you Jane Campion, for Bright Star and the prompt to go back and revisit Keats poems with an adult eye and open mind.
To celebrate the onset of this year's season of mists; and despite the loss of summer, I love autumn for the fruitfulness and the rich harvest of inspirational colours; I went to the local farmers market to stock up on provisions and found a new trader selling gorgeous bunches of flowers from her garden. I fell in love with these darkly bronzed sunflowers and she wrapped an armful up for me in brown paper tied with raffia. They glow fiery bright with the sun shining through them and sit darkly sinister in the evenings. I'm not sure of the variety name, but she told me they flower plentifully through the summer and autumn and are a good cutting garden plant to have.

I've travelled a lot this year and have more journeys scheduled for next, so my garden is best described as an overgrown wilderness.  I love gardening in the autumn, and building bonfires, so if you see woodsmoke trailing up from our valley it will be me having fun and making good a year of neglect.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Invitation to Bead

Starter Tool Kit.
I spent a fair chunk of last year working with Frome Beaders. Frome is a small but very lively and creative town in Somerset, the bead group meets there once a month. They have been meeting up for ten years and a 10th Anniversary definitely needs celebrating! There was a party, lots of cake and yet, a feeling that something more was needed to mark the occasion. Which is how the group decided that they would love to write a beading book, and use the proceeds to continue the good work started by Minerva Beaders and their book, Minerva Spirals. The funds raised go to the Ambuya Foundation, which you can read all about here.

Brick Stitch Butterflies,
Invitation to Bead book.
The group decided that they wanted to write, 'The book we wish we'd had when we first started beading'. There followed months of beading, ideas, do overs and slowly an enchanting collection of very easy projects emerged. Everyone joined in and came up with, 'the thing I wish I'd known and couldn't find in a book', lists of tips, suggestions and how to tackle the basics. They created designs from simple bracelets to enchantingly dainty butterflies. The techniques are familiar, the ideas tried and tested, and the results are pieces many will enjoy making and wearing. It was finally time to hand over the big box of beadwork send me home to my camera to turn it all into the book.
Stop Start Spiral Ropes
Invitation to Bead book

A bead group is a family and of course includes an extended family of husbands, one was a wizz at diagrams and did the step diagrams for us. Another had the gentle patience to proof read and correct the first draft, more still came on board to second and third proof.
What I love best about this little book is the friendly welcome it extends, with a lovely beading group atmosphere alive between the pages.
Cover shows Peyote Rope variations.

Since the first edition was published, Frome Beaders have been very busy, visiting bead shows, demonstrating their designs, canvassing shops and writing articles for local press and national beading magazines. They've even set up stall in a local library and supermarket foyer tempting passers by to have a go with needle and beads.

The book is also available here in the Heatherworks shop and the web page includes  information about how the money will be spent. Join in the fun, help us fundraise and treat yourself to a copy of Invitation to Bead.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

it's a cultural thing

Some men just can
So there was a shout out for bead artists recently on facebook to have a go at making jewellery for men. Yup, man bling. I started thinking about this and in the spirit of primary research, I asked the question to a few chaps, 'Would you wear beadwork?' The responses were interesting because they said a lot about ego and confidence and concerns with appearance and perceived identity.
I found some age defined boundaries; 'surf dude' beads and an armful of festival bands are fine as long as you're under 30. Designer matt metal and iconic watches are OK for career guys, just as long as it's brand identifiable and doesn't veer off a narrow path of acceptable chains, moderately plaited or aged leather and chunky thumb rings. Older guys looked a bit scared and concluded it would be a bit effeminate and not really their thing.
Seriously though, the more you look, the more complex the male relationship with jewellery becomes, and the more it really is a sub group marker. There are the stereotypes, gold sovereign pinky rings that scream used car dealer, and fine dudes for whom gold is a symbol of success. Oh, and three cheers for bikers, goths and (in the same sentence) die hard mods and punks who pierce and be-stud and jangle with retro regalia... and do the long, dyed, shaved or glued hair to match.
Overwhelmingly though, men just don't do the jewellery thing; Nope most of us are hard pushed to get them to wear their wedding rings! and as one guy pointed out, 'We're not all Johnny Depp you know!' how true... how sad.
If you widen the research to global, there are thousands of men wandering around on a daily basis, bedecked in colourful beadwork. Our combined cultural histories are packed with gorgeous man jewellery, from Egyptian collars, to Viking silverware, Medieval rings to Victorian watch chains.
Swoon worthy Samurai with exquisite carved gem buttons and enamelled Inro, the list is endless.
Maasai Man, image by Steve Pastor 2006
A few years ago, I was on a walkabout in Africa with a lovely Maasai guide, he was wearing traditional clothing and a couple of beaded armbands. So I asked him if he'd be willing to explain why I saw some Maasai men covered in beadwork and others not... did it signify something like age or marriage status? He kind of shrugged, smiled and leaned on his stick and said, 'Some men just like pretty things more than others,' and wiggled his eyebrows. So, then I asked, so do your wives make your beadwork for you? and he looked puzzled for a minute and said, 'No, we get them from the Indian guy who has a shop in town, I think he buys them from China'.
So, primary research is all well and good but I think we still have a long road to travel before the average man is happy to don his beadwork in the mornings...which leaves me with the question as to what can I design that just might tempt him to release his inner Johnny Depp? I resorted to a few stereotypes myself to get the designs ideas moving...
Post apocalyptic Mr Gibson and the so macho it's scary Snake Plissken... for example.
Sombre colours... hmm, nice safe matt black, macho gunmetal, maybe a tiny speck of danger red...
Scale, too chunky to EVER be considered girly...
and for sources... nuts and bolts and snakes and crocodiles, might just throw in slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.
What I wasn't expecting, was to enjoy the process! But it was great, I loved the freedom to up the scale and forego the usual sparkle and detail.
Here's what I made...
Sinuous snake bracelet
worked in O beads and seed beads
with a tough wire core

The Hombre cuff
worked in Czech Mate, two hole pyramid
and super duo beads
with a chunky parachute snap clasp

Monday, 21 April 2014

Florally Challenged

Toho Challenge 2013
Last year I was invited to participate in the Toho Challenge. We were each given this delicious mix of beads and asked to simply, 'Go play!'. It's no secret that I love green, especially the sour limes and olive shades, so look who was a happy bunny when the beads were handed over!
The pack include seed beads in various shapes and sizes, CzechMate two hole tiles and daggers and some plump oversized drop beads. The idea is to incorporate as many of the beads as possible.

Not all the designs are featured on the website, as many designers join in to participate over a year long period, but you can see lots of amazing and beautiful pieces here.

The first little bits and pieces
The bead pack also contained a lot of beads. One of my default rules is that I tell myself, 'I don't do big, I do dainty', so I decided to challenge myself to do 'big'... with so many beads... how could I not!
The colour palette was organic, so floral themes seemed a natural starting point. I approached making a statement size piece by starting small. I also opted for familiar shapes and began with an Albion stitch tropical flower. This gave me a simple way to keep on adding small pieces.
love the two hole CzechMate Dagger beads!
The plan was shaping up, but the next big challenge was the newer territory of engineering; to create an underlying structure that would sit well, support the elements, but still move easily.

Next, I adapted stitches to include as many of the beads in the pack as possible, which was a fun challenge and taught me heaps about ripping out and doing over, until I 'got' how to use beads with two holes instead of the usual one.
mannequin test run
The finished necklace

All the different sections were pinned and re-pinned until I settled on an arrangement, it's amazing how hard asymmetry can be to balance.
Finally, it was all stitched together and the whole piece road tested to make sure it was comfortable to wear and behaved how a necklace should.
The necklace was posted off to the USA, arrived safely and will now be displayed along side the other entrants at shows and events.

I loved every minute of the process and I'm so happy! because now I've been invited to participate again this year... the beads have just arrived. I can't wait to start playing, they are an enticing new challenge.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Green with yarn envy

Whilst I was busy in London visiting an exhibition, standing in a line waiting; I noticed that a lady was staring at me with a very hard stare. At first I thought, 'hmm, smudged make up I have, no?", then, "Lordy, not breakfast on my jumper again?" So I did some remedial wipe up, but still she stared. You never know, in the great metropolis, quite who you might encounter, so my next thoughts were along the nervous country girl up to town line. Now she had literally stopped to turn and stare some more, deeply worried, I just smiled right back at her.
This was the opening she'd been waiting for and what happened next just goes to show, people are mostly lovely.
She came right over and said, 'Ohhhh, your scarf is stunning, I want one just like it!'. I was with my friends so I waved them on when the line moved and my new friend and I had a quick knitting discussion. As soon as she'd been through he exhibition she was going to race off to a yarn store. Then I thought if she liked it, maybe you would too.

It's a length of ribbed knitting, 10 stitches per rib and 9 ribs wide. Worked using a variegated yarn called Crazy Zauerball by Schoppel Wolle ( you can just tell can't you, I bought a ball when I was at the Creativa show, but this link is for a UK store).
Knit until it will wrap round your neck comfortably then cast off.  Sew one short end to the side of the other end, it took me a couple of goes to get a neatish seam, but it's do-able. I'd decorated the scarf with my felt ball brooch and wore the ensemble with a green top... Yup, I'm still loving green!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Vintage teatime

Just before Christmas I took Ma and Ma-in-law for a day out. We drove to a little village that has survived in the middle of nowhere by over thowing its rustic past, and instead, offering an amazing selection of shops and cafe's housed in the ancient outbuildings and main street cottages. In an antique store I came across some wonderfully ornate tea pots. Sadly most tea gets made in a mug with a tea bag these days, so reaching for the Brown Derby and offering... Orange picot anyone? a ritual consigned to the past.
These were made of German Silver, an alloy that was often silver plated. I was astonished that these were selling for less than £15, but the shop keeper explained that it was simply the fashion in antiques, less than five years ago they could fetch over £50. With the Ma's being adorably kind, I found myself unwrapping a silver teapot on Christmas afternoon.

Tea drinking is so very English. It is the go-to cure for all ills, no matter what the drama or grave the crisis, in so many houses here. 'Let's put the kettle on', or 'A nice cup of tea?' is the opening gambit to any problem solving.
Now that my working life includes plenty of foreign travel, I've come to accept that it's not so easy to find the elixir of life in a recognisable form beyond our shores. Yes I do pack t-bags, I accept that drinking tea without milk is better than no tea at all.

My colleagues tease me about my plaintive quest!  I would so love to suck on a Latte or down an Amercano, but I just can't drink coffee. Instead I have learned that in Europe I must ask for black tea and most black tea will be Earl Grey. In the USA tea is proffered in assorted paper envelopes by the checkout and the sight of me rummaging for the rare English Breakfast among the chai, cinnamon, lemon and mint amuses restaurant staff no end. I am not a tea snob, instead, it's just the familiar little comforts that mean so much when you are an ocean away from home, and when work is an eight hour performance centre stage.
All that said, my Christmas teapot is purely decorative, the perfect place for a few flowers.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

City Bangle

Urban chic alert! I love my rural setting, but sometimes it's nice to get busy in a city. I was inspired by the thought of how cities are full of mechanical movement and how it all works like clockwork while we humans bustle like busy ants. How everything is designed and refined, which led to the mechanics of getting about and an amazing source of inspiration.
Go on, google 'images of tyres' and be amazed like I was by the huge range of patterns carved into slick rubber, cool!
So now I can't help but check out those wheels whenever I'm out and about.
City Bangle was also inspired by this random art installation.
Well I'm guessing it was art as it was just sitting in a big glass window with no signage. I love it! Random acts of neon colour and of course the blue green is definitely in my zone.
The design came out of these observations and it's one of those which is great to sit and make, takes a little time, but not so great for a class because it takes a little time.
Once I had the moves in place I had a tinker with the scale and just love the chunkiness when it's scaled down to ring size.
Thread the rings onto a scarf, or be like me and wear one (or more... more is always good), on your thumb.

City Bangle is worked over a thin metal bangle.
The pattern is in my store as a downloadable pdf
or traditional printed version, and I have packs of three wire bangles to go with it. Enjoy.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones necklace
You might remember that I made a piece using bits from my bead stash. Well the idea is now a fully
fledged workshop and it's proving to be great fun to teach. To make all the beading I really wish I could... there would have to be three of me at least! but each time I teach this workshop I find myself inspired to delve into the stash and make another piece.

In class students are invited to bring along focal stones and cabochons they've purchased, but find a bit tricky to incorporate into a finished piece. I've seen some amazing cabcohons, from the epic scale nugget of Amber which got encased with 24 carat gold beads, to dainty Victorian buttons rescued from obscurity.

The first half hour of class can be a bit nerve wracking, as I get presented with such a diverse selection of shapes and sizes. But you can see my shoulders drop bit by bit as students get started on their individual creations. The second part of the class is about how the newly bezelled pieces can be made into wearable art necklaces, this is the sticks bit. I share a pattern for beaded links that can be used in lots of different combinations. A starting point that soon morphs off in all kinds of directions and total fun to participate in.
I have a few more Sticks and Stones classes coming up (you can find links to them on the workshops page of this blog), and, time permitting, a few more pieces to show and share.
The latest is worked around a dichroic glass cabochon, it was gifted to me by a lovely student. Sadly no amount of trying can get the digital camera to capture the vivid oranges and reds, but I had the best fun beading the colours to go with it. The necklace part is beaded rings linked with antique copper chain. I also used the CzechMates two hole dagger beads; they are great for fringe ends and so much easier to get to lie well in the same direction!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Charity begins in the china cupboard

I like living in a semi rural place, our local towns and villages are full of people we know and who
recognise us with a smile. Shopping is fun as we still have the luxury of small independent shops, where you can pick out exactly the number of vegetables you really want and know they are sourced locally. Where the butcher will happily trim for you.. and on it goes. Our local cafes are great places to sit and listen to snippets of conversation and not mind if your own are overheard. Plus they serve real food that tastes amazing, not food that looks amazing but leaves you strangely dissatisfied.

Many of our shop keepers are busy supporting budding creatives, one does a great line in locally made cards and knitted tea cosies; and no end of community fundraisers find a place for their wares. We do have a high number of charity shops, more as the recession bites, but as a lover of a good bargain hunt and an eclectic wardrobe, I prefer to look beyond the gloom. It's a joy to take some pocket money for a walk in search of a sensibly priced bit of 'cheer up' treasure and nicer still to know that the money I spend in the cycle of re-cycling is benefitting those in real need.

All this came together recently in the sweetest way. A local school is fundraising for some equipment; with a bit of ingenious juxtaposition they gathered together odd cup and saucer combinations. Each filled with a bit of damp oasis into which they arranged flowers usually 'retired' by the local florist at day's end. A swish of cellophane and a bow of raffia changed leftovers and un-loveds into pretty bouquets. I bought one and enjoyed the easy display it made, the flowers lasted well over a week and all I needed to do was add a bit of water occasionally.

Friday, 28 February 2014

inspiration overload

This month I took a long awaited day out. A trip to London to meet up with three dear friends and to visit the Cheapside Hoard exhibition at the Museum of London. Wow! For those of you not in the know, it's a hoard of 17th century jewellery which was found in a cellar.
The hoard. image Museum of London via History extra.
The stashed treasure silently hid, surviving the Fire of London which swept away the houses above it. Listened as the rumble of cart wheels changed to the rumble of motorised vehicles, waited as a thousand conversations took place in buildings that rose and fell above it, until one day in the 19th century a workman's pick broke into the hiding space and light flooded in to re-ignite emeralds and amethysts, exquisite enamels, strangely carved jewels and magical objects of desire.

The Museum of London exhibition team deserve an award for sure, thoughtful touches like suspending the jewellery so we can gaze at it 360. informative and engaging videos, and a slide show to show each piece in huge detail. There is even a little nose high door in a wall where you can peek in and sniff the very perfumes that would have filled the filigree pomanders; so essential in a city teeming with life and open sewers.
I know you'll want to see more so here is a link to History Extra.com which has a great slide show of the pieces (and where I borrowed the image from). And a link to the museum page here. If you don't have time to visit, treat yourself to the book of the exhibition, it is a fascinating read and of course, packed with images.

The visit was made perfect by being made in the company of friends, and more importantly, friends with creative imaginations and as excited as me to see such exquisite craftsmanship. We each found favourite objects and for me it was the perfection of detail in tiny enamelled flowers on lavishly long chains. These were worn loose and plentiful over board like stomachers that fronted the elaborate brocade gowns of the day.
Jewelled chains. Postcard image. Museum of London

Friday, 21 February 2014

Zen contemplation

In January I went up to London to visit the Pearls exhibition at the V&A, which was amazing and I'm dipping into the book of the same often, for inspiration. 
At the V&A there was also an in the garden area. Created by artist Xu Bing, the installation of huge rocks, water feature, atmospheric steam and a wonderful collection of ceramics, was pure delight to walk around.

To quote the V&A website, 'The John Madejski Garden is transformed into an ethereal utopia inspired by the classic Chinese fable Tao Hua Yuan (Peach Blossom Spring). Written by the scholar Tao Yuanming in 421AD, Tao Hua Yuan describes a land in which people lead an ideal existence in harmony with nature unaware of the outside world. This dream-like landscape is created around the central water feature of the John Madejski Garden, built up from layers of thinly-cut stones collected from five different places in China. Clusters of ceramic houses, each one handmade and coloured to reflect different traditional styles, are placed among the stones. Modern elements such as small LCD screens with cartoon animations have also been introduced into the landscape to represent the co-existence of ancient and modern in contemporary China, and present everyday life. Lighting and mist also change the atmosphere of the installation depending on the time of day.'

To the unknowing visitor hurrying through the area in a light drizzle, slowing, peering more closely, then forgetting the rain... it was a delight. The shoal of ceramic fish, the many tiny figures dotted about the rocky landscape, the humour and simplicity... thank you Xu Bing.

Part of Xu Bing's amazing installation.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Spring is hoped for...

The first tulips have arrived at our local florist, labelled 'Best Tulips' and priced accordingly, but
tempting none the less. These vibrant orange ones are as refreshing as a bite of sun drenched orange, and will make me smile each time I walk past the windowsill. I have them on an old 1930's plate which is chipped but much loved and is the perfect shade of green to keep the 'hope for Spring' mood going.

I've put a big dish of orange and lemon peel on the radiator and can happily report that combination of fresh flowers and citrus scents is doing wonders for the winter blues. I know it is working because I'm reaching for brighter bead colours in vibrant combinations! reaching for Lime Zest and magenta!
The O beads are coming out in more new colours and I've been making lots of 'O Flower' rings and brooches, every time I wear one I get asked to make another for a friend, and as the design is quick and easy to do I'm happy to have the time to gift them.
O Flower, available as a pattern on my website