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Oops!

January has been a bit of a walking through treacle month so far. But then it is for many people. The post-Christmas slump when the family has departed and the house de-Christmassed, the overly long wait for payday, the winter blahs (even though we’ve turned the corner and the days are getting longer)…all that stuff.

In addition to the usual suspects, January has been a month during which

  • I have been battling the black dog.
  • I have attended the funeral of a man who died far too young (he was 30!).
  • I have grown to despair of the sort of conversations that take place on Twitter. During my years in the field of L&D, Twitter was one of the most important tools in my toolkit. Since I no longer have those conversations to take part in, the balance has changed, and there is just so much vitriol. I have begun the process of extricating myself from that space.
  • Someone I thought I knew has metamorphosed into someone I barely recognise, and it is causing pain to two people I care about.
  • I have been entertaining grave doubts about the future of Karyn’s [re]Kreations.

This combination of factors already had me a bit of a low ebb, so I wasn’t in the greatest of places when the tree surgeon hired by our landlady had an accident and fell through the roof of my workshop. There are so many aspects to this event.

  1. The tree surgeon dude’s wellbeing. When he came to the house to let us know what had happened, the first question Mr Namasi asked him was whether he was okay. He said he was fine. Mr Namasi thought he’d probably feel less fine the next morning. (spoiler: he’s back today, and he is indeed fine – he said he’s had worse falls in the line of his work))
  2. The roof is asbestos. Apparently the risk sets in when it breaks and the fibres are released. Well, it was broken. The broken bits have now been removed. But I don’t know what the associated risks are of fibres on the contents of the workshop (see below).
  3. The structural damage. The hole in the roof is huge. Unfortunately, because it’s asbestos, a specialist replacement is probably on the cards. Because we don’t own the property, this is of course, the landlady’s problem, but she’s a lovely lady and it’s not a nice problem for her to have. And, now that I think about it, I guess there will come a time when there is asbestos-related work going on, on the property. I’m not sure how that will affect us.
  4. The damage to my stock. The part of the workshop that was damaged is where I keep my pending and completed projects. Some pieces of roofing have done damage to the pieces, and lot of dirt and debris has landed all over the place. I have yet to do a proper audit of the true extent of the damage.
  5. The impact on my already wobbly mental health.

On my Karyn’s [re]Kreations Facebook page, I shared a post about the damage to the workshop, focusing on the potential impact on Karyn’s [re]Kreations. Because that’s what the page is about. I reshared it on my personal Facebook page, and on Instagram.

This was when I discovered that I might not always present myself in the best light. A few people urged me to be grateful that the tree surgeon hadn’t been hurt, and reminded me that that was the most important consideration. I was utterly taken aback. Of course it is. And of course I know it. And of course, if the man had been hurt in any way, I’d have made a completely different sort of post. Of course. Well duh. Obvs. All those things.

But apparently it isn’t ‘well duh’. Apparently people didn’t automatically infer from my post that the structural damage to the roof and the damage to my stock was the worst of it. Apparently it isn’t immediately clear to people – even those who know me personally – that I value people more than things. That sat in my belly like a rock. And it reminded me of something.

Years ago, when I was submitting papers towards my Master’s degree, my course supervisor would repeatedly ask why I hadn’t elaborated on this or that point. I would explain that I had only 3000 words, and didn’t want to waste them stating the obvious. She would reply that ‘the obvious’ wasn’t necessarily obvious to the person reading the paper. I still contend that anyone to whom that particular obvious wasn’t obvious had no business marking Master’s degree level papers on the subject, but that’s a tangent we don’t have time for here.

It does seem, however, that I fell back into the same damned trap of assuming.

I clearly need to rethink how I present myself. I need to find a way to make it clear that I care about people. About the planet. About the environment. About animals. That I’m not just about stuff. Belongings. Possessions. Property. Things.

The problem is that I thought I was already doing that. This is a helluva concept to be tackling in a state of blah-ness. I might have to come back to it when my inner Tigger moves back into the front room and my inner Eeyore has dozed off again.

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Christmas gift suggestions

On my Karyn’s [re]Kreations Facebook page, I’m doing a series of gift suggestions. I thought it might be worth posting a collation of them here. You will quickly discern a common thread: an unapologetic emphasis on the renewable, sustainable, eco-friendly and global-village-considerate. I have also tried to be considerate of a range of budgets.

I should mention that none of these links are sponsored. In fact, none of these businesses even know I’m writing this post. So all recommendations are my own.

Here goes:

  • A bee saver kit from somewhere like Friends of the Earth. You’ve heard all the dire warnings of the trouble we’ll be in if the bees disappear. And you probably know that bee populations are declining alarmingly. So – even if you share my phobia of pointy insects – let’s do our bit for the pollinators.
  • A stainless steel insulated drink bottle. An alternative to bottled water and the plastic it usually comes in. Chilly’s does a great one.
  • A cooking kit. Not one you’ve bought from a supermarket, but one you’ve assembled yourself. Something as simple as brownie ingredients in a reusable jar, or something utterly hip, consisting of the tears of a mermaid’s uncle, exotic spices from the Land of the Lost Metaphor and truffles harvested at 9 minutes after midnight on a day not ending in Y. You could be precise and measure out the ingredients to the last picagram, or supply a box of this, a bottle of that and a tube of the other. Don’t forget to include the instructions.

    4Ocean original bracelet
  • A bracelet from 4Ocean, made out of plastic removed from the sea. This is definitely an ‘accept no substitutes’ situation. 4Ocean isn’t a company that sells bracelets. It is an organisation that cleans the ocean. The bracelets are a fundraising by-product. Every bracelet sold represents a pound (450g-ish) of plastic removed from our oceans. So a bracelet that looks like this one, but has been made by a company (or even an independent Artisan) that makes jewellery isn’t the same thing by a long shot. The UK supplier is here, and the USA supplier here.
  • A place at a half or full day workshop. This will take a fairly generous budget for the most part. They are of the order of the gift that keeps on giving: the fishing lesson, rather than the fish from the old adage. Something like welding, wet felting, silversmithing or blacksmithing. Or perhaps a master class in singing or dance or worship leading might be a better fit for your loved one.
  • An eco-friendly bird feeder from somewhere like Ethical Superstore. These are such a win-win item. The birds are fed, especially through the lean winter months, and your loved one has the pleasure of seeing the birds come into their garden.
  • A bamboo phone stand/holder from somewhere like Protect the Planet. I know. Some of you are wondering why anyone would need such a thing. Most of my knitting/crochet patterns and cooking/baking recipes are online, accessed via my phone. Every time I want to see what the next step is, I need to pick the phone up to look at it. If my hands are covered in marinade, or bread dough, this is less than ideal. A phone stand is simple genius at its best. And bamboo is highly sustainable.
  • Craft/artisan food and drink items. Gin is enjoying unprecedented popularity at the moment (in the UK, at any rate), and you can scarcely turn around without encountering entire walls of varieties. They seem to come flavoured with every imaginable herb, spice and fruit. Craft beers are also popular, and local microbreweries are enjoying strong support. Since moving away from Wellingborough, we have missed Hart Family Brewers, but Mr Namasi has manfully set about tasting all the nearby offerings in the Vale to find a local replacement. Such a trooper. Artisan cheeses are another option, and will keep long enough if you buy a whole cheese with a protective coating of some sort. Farm shops (such as Three Trees and Saddleback) are usually a great place to find these items. I’d also like to give a shout out to a local business in the Vale of the White Horse called Bloomfields Fine Food. Not only do they stock all these items – and more besides – but they display a map showing where their suppliers are based and most of their items have a shelf edge ticket which includes the food miles of the product.
  • Membership of English Heritage, National Trust or Woodland Trust. Obviously, if you don’t live in the UK, you’d need to explore equivalents in your part of the world. Your loved one gets what amounts to a season ticket to visit various sites, while the funds go towards maintaining these valuable spaces. We thoroughly enjoyed our family membership of English Heritage when we lived in Kent and the children were little. It took us 6 visits to Dover Castle to see everything we wanted to see there, which would have been prohibitively expensive without our membership cards. When we moved to Milton Keynes in 2002, and then Northamptonshire in 2008, we found there were too few places within easy reach to make it worthwhile being members, so we allowed it to lapse. This year, as soon as I knew we were moving to Oxfordshire, which abounds in English Heritage sites, I took out annual couples’ membership for us to mark the occasion of our 30th wedding anniversary.
  • Following on from the previous point, as one friend suggested, an annual pass to Blenheim Palace or membership of Kew Gardens or The London Wetland Centre for someone with a special interest in history or plants or birds or photography… For example, I have a notion of visiting Kew Gardens several times throughout the year, and taking photos of the same trees each time to capture the seasonal dance – and those trees’ steps in that dance.
  • A keyring made from a recycled circuit board. Protect the Planet has some cute ones. Dumped computers are a very real problem, particularly in developing countries, where richer countries pay for the privilege of dumping their electronic waste. There are entire communities which – quite literally – live on these dumps, and are exposed to all manner of hazardous waste as CRTs and the like are subjected to the elements.
  • A custom starter pack for a more ecofriendly/sustainable daily lifestyle. You could buy one from somewhere like The Wise House, or you could make your own, including plastic-free items like beeswax wraps and handmade bath puffs.
  • A loose leaf tea gift set from somewhere like Wearth for the tea aficionado in your life, or a starter pack for the person who is an aficionado-in-waiting.
  • Upcycled cufflinks made out of colouring pencils, or a fire hose, or a Jackson Pollock-esque painted canvas. If your budget is a little bigger, perhaps a fire hose wallet?

I’m going to stop there, because although I’m not out of ideas, I realise that I have provided links to several sites where you may get wonderfully sidetracked and find your own inspiration. But I can’t end without suggesting the sort of gift your loved one will never even see. I’m talking about things like toilet-twinning and the donation of a goat, chicken, beehive or cow to a needy family. Within my circle of friends are many people who would love such a gift, and in fact one who proudly displays a picture of her twinned toilet in her own guest bathroom. Not everyone needs something that benefits them directly.

I hope I’ve inspired you. Please feel free to share your own ideas and suggestions, or stories of your loved ones’ reactions to their lovingly chosen non-tat Christmas gifts.

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Yard sale…or quarts into pint pots

 

Our recent move to the lovely Vale of the White Horse has presented a challenge on the Karyn’s [re]Kreations front: We have downsized considerably, and the two spaces that will serve as studio and workshop currenty look like cluttered storage units with no space to work. As a result, I’m getting absolutely nothing kreative done. We’ve sold/given away some items already, but the one-by-one approach is too slow. Hence the yard sale.

Surplus curtains, furniture and decor items are up for sale. Some of my less frequently used power tools are available (planer, band saw…). Several of my kreations – including toys, jewellery, bath oils/salts and ornaments – will be on offer at clearance prices. I’m having a rifle through my stashes of fabric, yarn and crafting supplies, and will be looking to whittle them down to something more manageable in the space available to me.

Regrettably, I am not yet set up to accept card payments, so it will be cash only.

How to find us: Our post code is SN7 7RP. We’re just a couple of doors down from the lovely Fox & Hounds pub, where you can enjoy lunch or a cheeky pint or two to make a real outing of it. You’ll have no trouble spotting Barney, my faithful, battered blue van parked out front.

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Moving on…again

The last nine months have been among the happiest of my life. We have been living in a thatched cottage in a village in rural Northamptonshire, and I have had the luxury of a studio and a workshop in which to wield my various pieces of kit.

When we sold our previous house and started to look for places to rent, the sort of places we were shown within our chosen budget caused my spirit to plummet. There were some fairly decent places within that price range, but none that would accept our pets. And the places we were seeing were dire. Dilapidated, insalubrious, poky… The only place we saw worth considering turned out not to have broadband – a deal breaker for us.

Then a friend told us about a client of his who had a property to let. It was well outside our budget, so I had doubts about going to look at it. I’ve watched ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ (don’t judge: my son was due to get married). I know how it goes. If you look outside your budget, you’ll find the perfect thing that you can’t afford, and then be miserable about everything you can afford. But Mr Namasi thought we might as well look. So we looked. And we fell in love. And nothing else would do.

Because neither of us had a regular income, we had to pay the full year’s rent up front. It was a massive chunk of change.

And it has been worth every penny.

It has been a time of restoration and healing for me, on so many levels. I had hoped that I would see out my days in this lovely home in this delightful village. Everyone who has come to visit us here has remarked on how well it suits us. When the subject of the end of our lease came up, I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and shout lalalalaaaaaa in that time honoured gesture of denial. Mr Namasi is more pragmatic, but this place has been balm to his soul, too. Not least because of how happy I have been here.

With the end of our lease period approaching all too soon, it transpires that it has been ‘for a season’. Mr Namasi has accepted a wonderful job offer in Oxfordshire, and starts on Tuesday. It has all happened incredibly fast. The job is such a perfect fit for him, the recruitment ad might as well have had his name in it. When he went to discuss the offer with the MD, they were so busy talking about their plans and visions for the future of the business, they almost forgot to discuss his remuneration package.

Of course, I am disappointed to be leaving this cottage and the little village. The craft-and-coffee group I started is just starting to take hold properly. And the response to my litter picking events has been so positive. The neighbours are a delight. But I’m optimistic, too. We’ll find another wonderful house in another village setting. I’ll join or start a craft group there. I’ll get involved in a local environmental initiative there. And we’ll befriend the new neighbours. We’ll be somewhat further away from our sons, and I will miss them sorely. But they are adults, and living their own lives. They will still come and visit us – we will only be a manageable car journey away. And the wonderful thing about Karyn’s [re]Kreations is that they can be [re]kreated anywhere. So the house hunting has begun in earnest.

I really thought I’d crumple in on myself when I had to face moving away. But I haven’t. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the scale of everything we have to do in the next couple of months. But I’m not burying myself under my duvet. And this gives me enormous hope.

If you happen to know of a wonderful property to rent within reach of Abingdon, do get in touch, won’t you?

 

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My tangential ‘process’

Working with found and reclaimed materials requires a measure of flexibility: you can never be sure what you’re going to have to work with, so it’s best not to run on rails.

Two recent pieces I’ve made illustrate this fairly well. So I thought I’d write about them.

Shepherds’ delight

The impromptu weaving

One Sunday night, while Mr Namasi was at ice hockey, I ran out of yarn for the project I was working on. This was the second time in a week that there was too much project left over at the end of the yarn provided, and I was deeply frustrated. Also, I was in the middle of watching a movie on telly. Something which I simply cannot do without something to occupy my hands. I had to find something to do. And quickly.

There are some who might be able to understand the degree of urgency with which I was looking for a project: those people who absolutely have to have something to read on the loo. Inevitably, at some point in your life, you’ve experienced a sudden and urgent need and you haven’t been able, for the life of you, to remember where you put your book/kindle/magazine/whatever. There follows an urgent search, the like of which mere mortals will never understand.

It was like that.

I have, under the table in my studio, a stock of picture frames. They were used by a sixth form student as part of a design technology project display, and had been dumped. And then rescued by yours truly.

I grabbed one of them, a spool of sisal twine, and some yarn remnants. I had only the vaguest idea of what I planned to do with it, but swirling around my mind were images of the beautiful weaving my (Swedish) mother in law used to do. Of course, she had a proper loom (and a proper spinning wheel… both of which were works of art in their own right). But I thought I might be able to fashion some sort of rough loom thing out of the frame. It was never going to be of the order that my mother in law could produce, but I thought it might work.

A bag of felt tip pen lids

Once I started working, I couldn’t stop until it was done. It has ever been thus with me. When I’m on a roll, I have to keep going, regardless of the nature of the project I’m working on.

My husband’s ice hockey ends very late on a Sunday night*, and he seldom gets home before 12:30am. I usually manage to wait up until he gets in, but I’m less usually able to stay awake long enough after that to join him for his wind-down drink before he makes his way to bed.

On this occasion, he came home, had his drink and went to bed before me. I joined him at about 2:30am, having finished a piece I call ‘Shepherds’ delight‘.

The fragrant mobile

I recently acquired a bag of plastic felt tip pen lids. I was pretty sure I could find something creative to do with them. And I have no doubt I eventually will.

But yesterday (what is it about Sundays?), when I started exploring ideas, my mind went off at a tangent, and I ended up with this.

About as far from plastic as it’s possible to be. All natural materials, with the exception of a smidge of gold paint: driftwood, cardamom pods, some other kind of seed pod, felt balls (wool), sisal twine, pine cones, twigs…and a splash of essential oil for olfactory delightfulness.

The fragrant mobile is not yet on the website, but if you’d like to snap it up before then, you can purchase it from my Facebook page.

So I guess it’s back to the drawing board on those lids. I have an idea of what they will become. Watch this space!

*This is quite normal, in order to spread the huge cost of running an ice rink, a large number of teams, clubs and groups will pay to use to the rink at all manner of weird times. The teams with the greatest chance of bringing in a paying audience – understandably – get the best time slots. Everyone else has to fit in where they can. I have heard parents express their dismay at their 10 year old children having to attend trials for regional and national teams between 11pm and midnight. My husband and elder son play on a Sunday night from 9-10:30pm. My younger son plays on Mondays and Tuesdays – his Tuesday session finishing at midnight.

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Moving into new spaces

I’m very excited to say that Karyn’s [re]Kreations are to be found in some new spaces.

Currently on display at Woodley Wool

A few of my furniture pieces are currently to be found at Woodley Wool where, until they are sold, they serve as display space for the lovely yarns and haberdashery stock for sale. Jo, who owns the store, has also taken on a few of my knitted and crocheted items to include in her stock.

So, if you’re in the Berkshire area, please swing by the store, say hello to Jo and have a browse through the treasures on offer. Jo will also be offering crafting workshops in a rather wonderful space at the back of her shop. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get to run one or two of them! I have a friend who lives in that area, and spending time there is always a treat.

 

Soon to be seen at Click Antiques & Vintage

And then, a little closer to home for me, from the beginning of May, I will have a space at Click Antiques & Vintage, where some of my restorations will be found. I will aim to include a fair range of pieces, but the primary focus will be on vintage restorations, in keeping with the ethos Nick and Claire are looking to emphasise.

If you’re within reach of the Northampton area, and have never been to Click before, do consider popping in. It’s a total treasure trove – an eclectic mix of vinyl records, vintage glassware and crockery, tools from a bygone era, furniture, photographic equipment… a real something-for-everyone space, with a cup of tea or coffee on offer for those who finish browsing before the rest of their party.

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A Parker Knoll overhaul

Before

Some time ago, I acquired a Parker Knoll wingback chair. It had belonged to someone who had wanted to reupholster it herself, and then – having painted the legs black, and re-covered the seat cushion in the same colour – decided that it wasn’t going to be quite as straight forward as she had expected.

Parker Knoll furniture has been a British standard 140 years. Their wingback chairs are fairly timeless and – like Volvos – they are so well constructed that they just keep going.

I needed a chair in our bedroom where I could retreat with a book or my knitting when my anxiety levels rose, or when the rest of the family wanted to watch something on telly I didn’t fancy (sometimes those two things are related, but not often).  A comfy Parker Knoll was just the job.

In order to blend in with the colour scheme in the bedroom, I went with an aubergine upholstery fabric from my all time favourite fabric shop, Millshop Online, where it had been reduced to £1.00/metre (it might even have been 75p/metre, now that I think about it).

I chose a mustard coloured flanged piping. I wanted olive, but I couldn’t find any, so I compromised by painting the legs with Frenchic pea soup. Once it was done, it looked perfect with the van Gogh Irises cushion we’d bought on a trip to Paris.

I’m thrilled with the finished product, and now can’t wait to get started on the other armchairs awaiting my attention: two commissions, and three on spec. One of those commissions is a recliner, which will be a first for me, but I’m feeling confident.

For now.

After
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Reflections on the Spring Knitting & Stitching Show 2018

This year was the first time I attended this show. I booked a package that included a coach ride to and from the venue: £28 all in. These are my reflections on the whole day from start to finish. Let me say up front, that I had a wonderful day. Please don’t lose sight of that in the face of the negative points that I will be making.

The coach journey

Our coach was supplied by Poynters, and left from Victoria Street in Northampton pretty much on time. Our driver was a very pleasant chap called Andy. The coach was half full – perhaps not even that. So if you’re tempted to come along next year, you’re almost sure to get a seat. I highly recommend this approach – no fighting with London traffic, no parking nightmares, no changing trains and tubes and and. Many of us had brought projects to work on during the travel time, of course, and I made pretty good progress on my knitting. There was a toilet on the coach as you might expect, not luxurious, but adequate if you had a pressing need. There was also a box containing the makings for coffee and tea, but the driver made no mention of them, so I don’t even know if there was hot water.

Andy had estimated that the journey down would take a little over 2 hours, but it took less than that. We arrived at 9:45.

The coach picked us up again at the front entrance at 16:45. We left a few minutes after 17:00, once Andy had made sure he was leaving with the same people he’d brought down. The journey back was slower – taking us longer to get out of London, due to the time of day. I’m so glad I didn’t have to battle that traffic. We took a little over 2 hours to get back to Northampton, where the rain was bucketing down.

Arriving early – finding coffee

The venue security wouldn’t let us in before 10am. The show only opened at 10:30am, but in light of the icy weather, arrangements had been made for us to be allowed into the cafe area a half an hour early. I decided to decamp across the road to a coffee shop in search of breakfast. I found a coffee shop, but the nearest thing they had to breakfast was a pretzel or a croissant, both served as is, without jam or butter. Nice coffee, though. It was rammed, as you might expect, with people waiting for the various shows at the Olympia to open.

The venue

I have been to more shows at the Olympia than I can count, and my observations remain the same after every one. It is a wonderful venue for shows like this, but… and, as always, there are too many significant buts:

  • There are no drinking fountains, and nowhere to refill a reusable water bottle. Your only option is to buy plastic bottles of water from the various catering suppliers dotted around the place.
  • The food on offer in the various cafeterias was pretty good, but extremely expensive. Here again, plastic proliferated. Lots of packaging and plastic cutlery to eat it with. There were segregated bins in the cafeteria, but I can’t help feeling that wooden cutlery would be a better option.
  • Following on from this point, there are garbage bins dotted around the venue, but they’re not set up for recycling. Apart from in the cafeteria, all the bins are mixed waste. With the volume of people passing through the Olympia every day, I feel quite ill to think of the environmental impact of this lack of provision for responsible trash disposal.
  • I attended on the last day (day 4) of the show. Several of the toilet stalls were out of order, as were several hand dryers. In the case of the hand dryers, it seemed that the water reservoirs were full.

Reception/security

At the entrance to the show, tickets were checked and we were offered the opportunity to buy a show programme (£4.00), a carrier bag with a slogan about knitting taking balls (price unknown – I loved it, but I have enough carrier bags), and T-shirts (£10.00). I need to say a word about these T-shirts. What a pleasure to attend a show with T-shirts in ladies’ sizes! Of course, most of the attendees were women – this is the way of it with handcrafts, although we are seeing a growing number of men taking up needles and hooks. Nevertheless, event souvenir T-shirts (any souvenir T-shirts, come to that) are usually shapeless crew necks touted as ‘unisex’. These have a V neck and actual space for actual boobs, without hanging like a sack around the middle!

At one point during the day, I lost my phone. Another visitor kindly offered to call it for me, and it was answered by a member of the security team. I was told it was at the event organisers’ office and I could collect it from there. I made my way to the office. No-one looked up from their desks when I walked in. No-one acknowledged that I was there. I spotted my phone on the desk in front of one person and went and picked it up. “This is mine.” I said. “Oh, okay,” said the guy, and I walked out with it. I’m not sure that level of security would win any awards any time soon. But hey ho. I got my phone back.

The show itself

In spite of adverse weather conditions, I understand that only one exhibitor was unable to make it.  The stands were beautifully decorated and appointed, and most vendors were able to accept cards. The only time I had to pay cash was for a workshop I booked myself on (see below). There were hundreds of stalls – an absolute feast for the eye. And so many with a commitment to recycling, environmental impact, re-use, empowerment of developing communities… all the things that make my heart sing. Products on offer included:

  • art supplies

    A little gift from a vendor
  • beading supplies
  • papercraft and card making materials
  • crochet and knitting tools and equipment
  • sewing machines
  • yarns using a wide range of materials
  • cross stitch, tapestry and embroidery supplies
  • dressmaking supplies
  • fabrics
  • felt and felting materials
  • lace, ribbons, finishes
  • lights and magnifiers
  • publications
  • spinning, weaving, dyeing
  • textile art
  • threads
  • storage solutions
  • frames and stands
  • kits of every sort imaginable, and some you’ve never imagined

There were also some guilds and charities represented. Some finished goods on sale (such as jewellery, bags and so forth).

The downside for me was the presence of stands selling beauty treatments, nail treatments and offering skin analyses. There are going to be loads of women there, and everyone knows women are obsessed with looking beautiful, so let’s throw some beauty products into a show about crafting and making. Ugh. One stand was offering eyebrow products or treatments, and the vendors were quite aggressive: grabbing passersby by arm and telling them they could knock ten years off their age by letting them loose on their brows. Having dragged my sorry butt out of bed at stupid o’clock to make the coach on time, I was happy to have my clothes on the right way around. I hadn’t bothered to put a face on. I hadn’t even had time for breakfast. I wasn’t there to be decorative. I was there to explore what was on offer to me as a professional crafter/maker/artisan. I didn’t need someone telling me I could look younger. One of the women from my coach actually said as much to the pushy type who was clutching her arm. “Why do I need to look younger?” The vendor was floored. Stop telling us that we don’t look good enough or young enough or thin enough. We no longer care. Leave us and our wrinkles and grey hairs the hell alone. Okay?

Other non-knitting and stitching type stands included a few charities – fair enough, visitors clearly have disposable income, and charities must take their opportunities where they can. Although I did wryly wonder whether we weren’t being stereotyped as crazy cat ladies when I spotted Cats Protection among those present. And I fully acknowledge the appropriateness of the stands offering therapies for arthritis, RSI and other frustrating loss-of-dexterity afflictions.

The galleries

There were five galleries of quilting exhibits, and I wanted to make special mention of these. Quilting is one craft I haven’t been motivated to try, probably because it’s such a slow burner. But I am in awe of the works of art – because they are nothing short of that – that quilters produce. The Quilters’ Guild exhibition was titled Commemorating World War 1, and featured works of poignant beauty.

Workshops

For an additional fee, ranging from £15-£34 each, attendees could attend workshops for an hour, an hour and a half or two hours, depending on the complexity of the skill being covered. I booked myself onto a 1-hr workshop called Peg Loom with Recycled Materials for £15, and learned a very useful little craft for my tiny bits and bobs of yarn and fabric that are too small to use anywhere else. Since it was last of these workshops for the show, the looms were offered for sale at an excellent price. But I reckon I could knock one up myself.

My purchases

Of course, I blew the budget completely. But I am excited that my search for a runner across the high traffic area in the dining room is over: I will be knitting one, using extreme knitting yarn and needles. And it will be gorgeous and cheaper than any pure wool rug I might buy.

And, for the sake of scale, here are those (handmade) extreme knitting needles beside a selection of my other needles, including the pair that used to be the largest I owned.

I am also going to make the most beautiful wall hanging in the whole world ever, using a peg loom and recycled saris and silks. And if you’re very lucky, I might offer it for sale in my shop. Watch this space.

Suggested links

I came away with a few names that I am prepared to make a noise about. In no particular order:

Sheep on Mars, a family business selling a range of yarns, sheep locks, feltmaking fabrics, wool fibre, mohair shawls and felted goods.

Rachel John of Megaknitz.com, whose products and tools will go into the making of the carpet runner I mentioned. Not to be confused with the actress of the same name.

Elaine (aka Lala) of Lala with Love, producer of ethically sourced, sustainable yarns and fibres.

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Guided DIY service

It was inevitable that my passion for helping people master new skills would form part of this new phase of my life. The buzz I have always got from watching someone open a door to a new level of empowerment remains undiminished.

If you’ve been following my writing for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the story about how various aptitude tests inflicted conducted on me in my teens showed an astronomically high inclination toward teaching, but almost no inclination to work with children. At the time, it baffled everyone. Looking back, it’s so blindingly obvious that I can’t understand how all those professionals missed it. I was clearly born to instruct/guide/coach/empower/help/support/assist… people who were there by choice, rather than those who had been ‘sent’ to me.

This is why I started the local craft-and-coffee group. This is why I offer 1:1 sessions, teaching people new skills. And this is how Guided DIY came about.

Sometimes, you just want to point and have the pixies make things happen: this design turned into that physical object, that shabby piece of furniture given a new look, those walls tiled… you get the picture.

Sometimes you want to do the work yourself, but you’re not quite sure how. Or maybe you do know how, you’re just not entirely confident that you can make the transition from knowing to doing.

And this is where I come in. I will tailor the assistance I provide to your needs. From helping you find the right materials, to coaching you on the correct way to drive a belt sander. From helping you choose the paint, to showing you different distressing techniques. From stepping in where an extra pair of hands is needed, to stepping back when you’re clearly managing fine.

Last night was the final session with a client who had bought a lovely footstool and wanted to restore it. She had never tried anything like it before, but wanted to have a go. We had already gone through the process of choosing and ordering fabrics, and taking off the old covers (always a voyage of discovery as the secrets of previous makeovers are revealed), and now we were ready to put the new cover on. In spite of having acquired a sizeable gash in her head earlier in the day – one which hadn’t quite stopped bleeding yet – my client arrived for her appointment, keen to complete the project.

 

We traced, pinned, cut, stitched and stapled, and she left feeling very pleased with the finished product. She was grinning from ear to ear, and talking animatedly about other projects she might like to try. That right there is my ultimate buzz!

As is so often the case, she asked if I didn’t find it frustrating to work with people who don’t have the skills and knowledge that I’ve gained. And as has been the case all my life, the answer is no. I don’t find it frustrating to work with people who want to learn. I don’t care if they pepper me with lots ‘stupid’ questions (there’s no such thing, by the way) – that’s a sign that they’re engaged with the process. I don’t mind if they make mistakes – it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate how to rescue yourself. I don’t mind if something takes longer than it would take to just do it myself.

For information: Guided DIY is available here, and it is possible to purchase vouchers to use as gifts.

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The whole ‘lifestyle business’ thing

This post is my gentle request for a little more respect for lifestyle businesses. Because of the inherent flexibility that goes with such a business, I’ve noticed that people seem to forget that it is still a business: commitments and deadlines must still be met, bills must still be paid, quality standards must still be achieved.

You may be unfamiliar with the term ‘lifestyle business’. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

A business set up and run by its founders primarily with the aim of sustaining a particular level of income and no more; or to provide a foundation from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle.

On the other hand, perhaps you are familiar with the term. Perhaps you even have a lifestyle business yourself. In that case, although you probably stand to learn nothing new from this post, I’d love to hear your take on things in the comments.

A lifestyle business tends to be so much an integral part of the… well, lifestyle of the business owner, that it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. It is well suited to crafters, artisans, artists, smallholders and the permaculture community. And, it is as I type these words that I realise how consistent this approach is with everything I stood for in my previous career in the field of Learning and Development ( I was all about the embedded learning/performance support approach).

People with lifestyle businesses will tend to define success somewhat differently from the many publications to be found in the self-help section. I have frequently observed that many of the programmes designed to help people become ‘successful’ seem to equate success with wealth. I guess, if your goal is to amass wealth, and you manage to do that, you have succeeded. But what if your goal is to be happy? Fulfilled? Contented? If you achieve wealth, does it follow that you are successful?

Mr Namasi will attest to the fact that I am not very good at doing nothing. When we’re travelling somewhere, if he’s driving, I’m keeping up to date with my various social media feeds, completing a killer sudoku or three, or even doing some or other handcraft in the passenger seat. The same goes for train journeys. And I am incapable of watching television with idle hands. I can complete a knitting/crochet/beading/cross-stitch project during the course of a couple of movies. Most of the pieces I make in this fashion find their way onto my Facebook page, my Folksy shop, and/or this site. Some people may view these items as the by-product of otherwise dead time. As such, there can be the expectation that they should be dirt cheap.

Lilac lacy shawl

People who buy handmade items generally respect that the time and effort that go into them must be factored in, and will usually far outweigh the cost of the materials used. But not everyone appreciates this. I once fielded a query from someone who wanted to know how I could justify charging £180 for a custom made hall stand. On another occasion, a potential client wanted me to restore some vintage toolboxes for £10 each. And one lady almost lost her eyebrows in her hairline when she saw the price tag on of one of my handmade lacy shawls (£45 – see picture).

To be honest, if I were even to pay myself minimum wage for the time spent on the pieces I make, my prices would be a lot higher. Many lifestyle businesses are charging far lower prices than they ought to, and still struggling to find buyers. Particularly those who haven’t been featured on TV, and don’t have the sort of reach and clout to be able to price our work realistically.

So, I’d like to make some suggestions about dealing with friends/family members/acquaintances with lifestyle businesses:

Quid pro quo, deals and understandings

People with lifestyle businesses are often in the fortunate position to be able to barter services:

  • I’ll give you the milk from my goat, if you’ll give me back half the resultant cheese.
  • I’ll let you display your items in this part of my shop, if you’ll mind the store x hours per week.
  • If you display some of my promotional material in your B&B, I’ll give you a commission on any resultant sales.

They may or may not put these barters through the ‘books’ – that’s a different conversation. But it’s best to ensure that both parties feel that there is parity between the quid and the quo.

Favours

If you are asking for a favour, and don’t plan to pay for it, it’s important to make sure that this is clear up front.

Do consider whether it is appropriate for you to be asking this favour, though. Is the work involved something that your friend normally charges for? If not, go ahead. If so, bear in mind that the time spent working on your favour could have been spent working on a project that generated an income. Be prepared for the possibility that your friend might turn you down. If you have asked for a favour, bear in mind that you might get bumped if a paying project comes in – everyone has bills to pay. If you want to make sure that your project is as much a priority for your friend as it is for you, the bottom line is that you need to make it worth their while. You have to buy their time.

And, no matter how close your friendship is, you’ll need to bear in mind that your friend may have existing commitments, which need to be met. Even if they wanted to drop everything and leap to your aid, it would be unprofessional of them to do so, and could harm their professional reputation. Be a good friend yourself and recognise that.

Mates’ rates

Chances are your friend is already offering you ‘mates’ rates’ when quoting you for a project. If you value your friend’s work, the best way to demonstrate that is to pay for it without quibbling over the price. If you’re able to get the same work done by someone else for a better rate, you’re naturally entitled to ask them if they’re able to match that rate (you can do this even if the business doesn’t belong to a friend). They might agree. They might not. They might have good reasons for not being able to match the other price.

If someone admires some work done by your friend, by all means, recommend your friend’s services. But don’t, for goodness’ sake, tell them what you paid. Your friend might have offered you mates’ rates, and might not be keen to offer that same price to anyone else.

Bear in mind that lifestyle businesses tend not to adhere to traditional business hours. So don’t expect work done over the weekend (or while watching TV) to be offered at a lower rate.

Share the love

If you’ve bought some gorgeous thing/had some wonderful work done by a friend with a lifestyle business, give them a shoutout: Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth. If you’re mentioning them online, link to their website or Folksy shop (or whatever it is). Keep a business card or two of theirs to hand in case you encounter someone who’s looking for the sort of thing that your friend is able to supply.

Value the gifts

If your lifestyle business owning friend gives you something they have made or done as a gift, bear in mind that they put time and effort into that piece. Whether or not they custom made it for you, they would have been able to charge someone else for it, but chose to give it to you instead. Please don’t look on it as being ‘less than’.

My son moonlights as a massage therapist. He will often give me a massage as a gift for my birthday or Christmas. Because I so seldom treat myself to a massage, and almost always need one, this is the perfect gift for me. I also recognise that he could use that time slot to give a massage to a paying customer. I don’t chat to him on a mother-son level while he is working. Because he is working, and it would be disrespectful to devalue that work by not relaxing properly and responding as I would if I were a paying client.

If you’re ever in any doubt about what would be appropriate, my best advice is: ASK!