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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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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 fall and rise of handmade

I have a theory. It’s just a theory, mind – I’ve not done the actual research, and it’s all still forming in my head, but here it is:

Long ago, everything was handmade. Everything. Clothes, cooking pots, food, carts, tools, lutes and lute strings…. everything. In such a time, a crafter would strive for elusive perfection – seeking to make an item as close to flawless as possible. So a cooking pot would be as close to perfectly round as the artisan could manage, with the metal showing minimal dents and flaws. A shoe would be well-fitted, with stitching as near to uniform neatness as could be achieved by the human hand. Those capable of achieving such  near-perfection would often work their mark into the goods they made, so that customers who appreciated quality would see that mark on a much admired piece and seek out the maker, to place an order of their own.

Then came mechanisation. The perfection that machines could achieve became sought after instead. Initially, these machine-made items were comparatively scarce and expensive… and therefore eminently desirable. If you admired someone else’s dinner service, you could (as long as you had the money) get an exact copy of that service yourself. Every plate would be exactly the same size, perfectly round and absolutely flawless. If your suit of clothing was machine sewn, every stitch would be of uniform length. The tension in your machine-knitted hose would be perfect and uniform. Oh, the admiring glances you could garner with your machine tooled whatever-it-was..!

But then machine made became ubiquitous. Clothes, cooking pots, food, cars, tools, guitars and guitar strings. Everything except baskets, apparently:

From The Basket Book by Lyn Silber, click the image for a link to the book.

Nowadays, the only way to be unique, is to have things that have been handmade. And those little imperfections that show that a thing is handmade – the slightest inconsistency of tension in that scarf, the hint of unevenness in the surface of a copper pot, the smallest deviations from uniformity – those have become sought after. They speak of the person who worked on the item. They speak of a connection between the raw materials, the hands of the crafter and the enjoyment of the owner. Machines don’t think of you when they churn out their endless streams of perfection. The crafter invests him/herself into each item. Selects the materials. Takes pleasure in the making. Takes delight in your appreciation. Feels gratitude for your purchase.

We are so busy, so pressed for time. We have also moved a lot of our relationships into virtual spaces. Email, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…. And even those can be somewhat manufactured, as we choose what to reveal and conceal about ourselves in those spaces. That sense of connection to people with skin on is what has become scarce now. That whole warts-and-all thing. And we want that in our possessions as well.

The Scandinavian word ‘hygge’ has been adopted to describe that sense of connection with the real, the pleasantly imperfect. Some definitions:

Though there are many ways to describe hygge, we see it simply as the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Friends. Family. Graciousness. Contentment. Good feelings. A warm glow. ~Skagen

…a concept, originating in Denmark, of creating cosy and convivial atmospheres that promote wellbeing ~Collins English Dictionary

In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too. There’s nothing more hygge than sitting round a table, discussing the big and small things in life. ~Visit Denmark

My theory is that:

  • We value that which is hard to come by – the whole scarcity thing in economics centres around this. If perfection is impossible, we want it. If perfection is the norm, we want a kind of imperfection which seems superior to that perfection. There’s also the cost element – machine made items are cheaper (at the moment, anyway), handmade is more expensive, ergo harder to come by, ergo more desirable.
  • We admire that which is hard to attain. The elite in China used to wear their nails long as a sign that they didn’t need to do any work. Anyone who had to work with their hands was never going to be able to grow their nails like that (and as someone who has never been able to have long, painted nails without artificial assistance, I can attest to this!) Think about standards in women’s beauty. In times/cultures when/where food is scarce, it’s the voluptuous woman who is admired. In times/cultures where food is plentiful and lifestyles sedentary, fat and lazy are easy to ‘achieve’, so our beauty standards range from painfully thin to powerfully athletic.
  • We want to feel connected – in a world where so much can be achieved remotely, we yearn to connect on a human level, and the slight imperfections in handcrafted goods speak of that humanity
  • We are becoming more conscious of our impact on the planet, and reusing, repurposing, upcycling and all those good things enable us to tread more gently upon the earth, as it were.

Thoughts? Views? Ideas?

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Do you make resolutions?

When I was a child, new year’s resolutions were the norm. In recent years, they seem to have fallen out of vogue. Or perhaps I outgrew them. Either way.

I don’t make resolutions, but the beginning of a new year is as good a time as any to take stock, and set some goals for the future. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you doing that on your birthday, or your wedding anniversary, or the anniversary of your grandmother’s death, or the second Thursday of each month.

It does strike me as a little odd that the new year should begin when it does: exactly a week after Christmas. Why not the vernal equinox? Now that’s a time of new beginnings and new life and new promise. So maybe you prefer to do your goal-setting with your spring cleaning.

If you read my last post, it will come as no surprise to you that my goals in 2018 include the following:

  • Karyn’s [re]Kreations needs to become ‘proper’. So I need to start doing grown-up things like planning, and marketing and participating in markets. I’ve put this one first because it’s the scariest, the most necessary and the most challenging. This has several sub-goals. While I won’t bore you with the details, I will come back to this point shortly.
  • I want to have a positive impact on people’s lives: the people in my immediate circle, the people I encounter regularly, and random strangers. I have identified some ways to do this. I’ll come back to this one, too.
  • Our lease on this wonderful house is halfway through. I want to stay here for the foreseeable future. But long term goals need to start with short term goals. Step 1 of the long term goal is renewing our lease come summer time. I need to work on it – obviously not alone (there’s a Mr Namasi, too). I have a few ideas of how I can help towards that goal, too, but for now, I shall keep those private.

You might have seen a Facebook meme that is doing the rounds at the moment. I found the concept positive and uplifting, so I decided to join in. The first paragraph is my own addition, the second paragraph sums up the meme:

One of my longest-standing (I won’t say oldest, because she’s far from that) friends broke the ‘rules’ and gave me the word ‘deliberate’, even though her name doesn’t begin with D. She said that’s her word for 2018. And since it’s one of the things I need to work on, I’ve taken hold of that.

As I said in my last post, I need to become less scatter gun, more sniper rifle. Being a creative person with a studio full of craft supplies and a workshop full of tools and materials is wonderful. But it does mean that the process of tidying away clutter can result in something coming to light that you had forgotten you had. This leads to the instant, insatiable ‘need’ to do something with that whatever-it-is, in spite of the fact that you already have eleventy-three unfinished projects scattered throughout the house.

I’m not going to achieve any of my goals by flitting from bough to bough like that other dainty bird – one I resemble rather more than I would like these days: the elephant (and if you don’t get the reference, you need to go here immediately and forthwith – I’ll wait). I have been self employed most of my working life, and was a very disciplined and focused self-manager during my years as a learning solutions designer (usually) working from home. I need to find a way to carry that over into this new chapter. 2018 is the year I plan to figure out how to make that happen.

As to the matter of making a positive impact. I am looking into a few opportunities to do that on a structured basis, but there are the everyday encounters, too. I am determined to try to add something positive to the situations in which I find myself for as long as I am able. I recognise that the black dog might come calling, and I will cross that bridge if/when I come to it. But I plan to steer clear of toxic online conversations, and to add value to those spaces I do occupy. I recognise that something that I consider to be a positive contribution make offend someone, but you can’t please everyone (some people get seriously miffed when you point out that the link they’ve just shared is fake) and, as long as my conscience is clear, I shall consider myself to be on track. I shall continue to strike up conversations with fellow shoppers over the frozen veg in the supermarket, but I shall focus on looking for ways to inject something cheerful and positive into the conversation (preferably without resorting to platitudes – they make me come out in hives). I shall continue to tell random strangers in the craft store that their bright blue hair is glorious and their silver Doc Martens are droolworthy. Instead of just hitting the ‘like’ button on the posts I encounter in my various social media spaces, I plan to make more comments.

The list of words given in response to the FB meme include ‘brave’ (which I’m going to need to be), and ‘jubilant’ which would be wonderful!

What words are you taking into the year? In keeping with the meme, I’m going to wish you kindness – both as a giver and as a recipient.

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The story of a chaise

Some time ago, I acquired a chaise that was looking very sorry for itself. It came (as so many of my pieces do) from someone who had planned to do something with it, but had never got that far.

Very sorry for itself

It looked very sad. Like Corduroy the bear, it even had a missing button. More than one, in fact.

Missing more than one button

Clearly, it needed some TLC. Fortunately, it had come to the right place.

I toyed with ideas. Was I going to do something outrageous? Was I going to go for an upmarket, elegant look?

As most upcyclers will tell you, the first step is to see what you’ve got, by stripping off the outer layers.When I took off the fabric, it became clear that this was going to be much more than just a re-cover job: the webbing was perished and friable. I could literally crumble it between finger and thumb. Not what you want from the very thing that is going to support your weight!

The webbing was perished

The foam was okay-ish, but I thought that I might as well replace it too, while I was at it.

The foam was okay-ish

The finish on the frame was pretty badly damaged. So I sanded that back to see whether it might be worth going the clear wax route. But the wood, while good quality, was such a mishmash of colours, that I thought it would be better to finish it with a coat of something-or-other.

Such a mishmash of colours

By now, I was leaning toward the more elegant end of the scale, so I opted for black ash. I chose an exterior wood treatment finish, simply because it would be more durable.

First coat of black ash going on

Then I replaced the webbing, and the foam, adding a layer of new wadding (made from recycled fabrics).

New foam and webbing

And of course, I covered it all with a layer of flame retardant calico. Because safety!

Flame retardant calico

Because mustard yellows are so on trend at the moment, and look so great with black, I had subconsciously found myself gravitating that way on my (many) visits to my favourite fabric shop. And because I wanted that luxury look, I had to go with velvet.

I had to go with velvet

But I wanted to add a touch of mischief or levity or quirkiness or something. After all, why be ordinary? I had decided to use buttons only on the back of the chaise. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find it comfortable to sit on buttons. I decided these were going to be a tad outrageous. I went with covered buttons, for which I used a bright, floral fabric, cutting the covers from different sections of the fabric to make sure no two were the same.

Covered buttons

I also decided to replace the screw cover cap/plug doohickeys (see how the correct terminology just trips from my fingers?) with more of the covered buttons.

More covered buttons

Of course, I covered the staples with some lovely trim.

Et voila. Now for sale for £450.