Friday, 27 February 2015

The buyer's archive: February

Elise did a great post recently comparing her fashion buys from last January and this January, and being a right nosy so-and-so I loved reading it (it is also from Elise that I've nicked the title of this post/series). I particularly liked the idea of tracking the items coming into my wardrobe and being able to see, a year down the line, what is still well-worn. So here I am with a Buyer's Archive for February.

After finishing the four month spending ban at the end of January, suddenly having license to buy sent me over the top in the shopping stakes. Not helped, of course, by the fact that a lot of places were still having sales. That being said, a lot of what I bought this month went straight back to the shop, however the following managed to make its way into my wardrobe this month:

H! by Henry Holland for Debenhams navy skater dress, £27 (with 10% discount code)
I'm still somewhat unsure about this dress. It should be an instant winner as it ticks SO many of my boxes - Peter Pan collar, daisies, skater shape, navy blue - but on, it's not entirely 'right'. A bit too long for my tiny legs, for a start, but I think it'll be better without tights in the summer.

Striped Boden jumper via charity shop, £7
I actually might have bought this just at the tail end of January. I'm not crazy about the colours, but the cashmere blend is super cosy and comfortable so I've been wearing it around the house a lot.

'Riots Not Diets' Tote bag, £5
This had been in my Etsy favourites for a while, and when I saw it reduced to half price I immediately ordered two - one for me and one to send to Rebecca. I can't see it on there now, but it was from Tea Please.

Converse trainers via Very, £25
My beloved old Chuck Taylors are literally falling apart, so I grabbed a Groupon deal and got a brand new pair from Very for a lot less than their ticket price.

La Redoute collar top £9.50
La Redoute bird cardigan £14.50
I saw these items on Tigerlilly Quinn recently and fell in love - of course, it's a bird motif and a Peter Pan collar, fer crissakes - so I was pretty chuffed when the cardigan appeared in the sale, while I managed to pick up a discount code giving me 50% off the top. I have worn the top almost non-stop since it arrived last week and the cardigan is perfect with a navy skirt I bought for work and never wear, so hopefully these are two items I'll get a lot of wear out of.

ASOS blazer, £30
ASOS grey marl fine knit slouchy tee, £12
H&M skinny trousers, £25 (not pictured)
This outfit came about after attending a work meeting. 150 teachers from three local schools, and almost every woman - myself included - was wearing the same thing: a printed skirt or dress with a cardigan and a jazzy necklace. Now, there's nothing wrong with that at all, but I just felt so bored looking at us all! So I decided to hunt out a more chic teacher outfit for days when I feel like looking a bit smarter. Of course, the first time I wore it to school everyone commented on it - variations on "Ooh, have you got an interview or something?" - so I haven't worn it again since!

George at Asda striped crochet collar jumper, £14 (not pictured)
Have you ever seen a more Janet jumper than this one?! The combination of stripes with a crochet collar meant I snapped this up as soon as I spied it.

Total spend on clothes in February: £169, which is a fairly scary amount However, for what I got - two jumpers, a dress, one cardigan, two tops, a blazer, a pair of trousers, a pair of Converese and a bag - it seems relatively good value. Let's see, though, just how much wear I've got out of these items a year down the line.

Meanwhile, to make room for these ten things, I sent eight items to the blogger clothes swap (post to follow soon), and two dresses, four skirts and a jumper to eBay.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

February reads

I should preface these reviews by saying that I had terrible reader's block in February - it took me weeks to find anything I wanted to read and I struggled again and again to get into books, starting and discarding novels by entirely blameless authors as I just couldn't be bothered (all of the reviews here are of books I did finish). So any somewhat lukewarm opinions may be coloured by this fact.

1. Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion is, as the name suggests, a (broadly) Marxist take on the fashion industry. If this makes it sound dry and academic, never fear: I found this inspirational and full of fascinating (albeit depressing) details about the ways in which the industry exploits and destroys communities in developing countries while in turn exploiting consumers in the Global West. Hoskins is particularly strong on recognising and explaining the intersections of class and race, and I also enjoyed the chapter on body image, with its all-too-brief look at fatshion and the fat blogging movement.

2. I absolutely adore so many of Patrick Gale's other novels - if you're looking for a good place to start, Rough Music is a favourite of mine and I also love The Cat Sanctuary - so I was excited to start reading A Place Called Winter**. Now, I don't know how much of my struggles with this book were to do with the glitches in formatting and editing on my proof galley copy, how much were to do with my reader's block, and how much were to do with the book itself but the words I've said so many times this post are about to be said again: I struggled to get into this. Following Edwardian gentleman Harry Cane through his life starting as a wealthy batchelor to marriage and fatherhood, a shocking and passionate affair which leads to his departing for the Canadian Plains and life as a farmer and homesteader, I found the narrative a bit disjointed and there was a great deal of, "This happened... then this happened... he said this.... she said that...." rather than any real insight or descriptive detail. As I say, I love Gale's writing usually, so maybe chalk this one up to me being a grumpy reader at the moment!

3. Vivian Versus The Apocalypse tells the tale of 17 year old Vivian Apple, an average Pittsburgh high school student in an America that's preparing for The Rapture. With society split between Believers and Non-Believers, Vivian doesn't accept that the world is about to end... until she returns home one morning to find that her parents have disappeared, leaving body-shaped holes in the roof of the house. Determined to find out the truth about the sinister Church Of America, Vivian ends up on an unconventional roadtrip across America in her quest for answers. I thoroughly enjoyed Vivian Versus The Apocalypse: from the bleakly comic 'Advice To Girls' snippets from Church magazines that pepper the narrative to the central mystery, it's a witty and hopefully not prescient look at how rapidly America could fall for a fundamentalist cult. I thought Coyle was especially good at identifying and satirising the crazed patriotism and worship of capitalism that characterises so many Christian fundamentalists in the US.

4. Since first reading Wolf Hall six years ago, I've been head over heels in love with the Tudor period. So I thoroughly enjoyed CJ Sansom's novels featuring Matthew Shardlake, a hunchbacked lawyer (and, in the first novel, employee of Thomas Cromwell who, over the course of the series, survives the terrifying machinations of Henry's court by obtaining powerful allies such as Thomas Cranmer and Katherine Parr). However, as the series has gone on they've suffered somewhat from the curse of the successful novelist: a lack of editing. Lamentation, which takes us to the last days of Henry's reign and a time of religious upheaval, as the Catholic and Protestant factions at court maneuver to become the ones in power once the King dies and Shardlake seeks to solve a series of murders that threaten the Queen, clocks in at a hefty 640 pages in hardback. What this means in practice is that the book becomes bloated with extraneous detail, with characters spouting lines of exposition that are just not believable (would a Londoner in Tudor times have to have it explained to them by their friend why the heretic burnings were taking place? I think not). Sansom would have done better to trust his readers with a little sense and background knowledge, and concentrate more on what is undeniably a cracking plot when it has the chance to advance.

5. I was drawn to pick up The Axeman's Jazz after hearing that it was set in 1920s New Orleans, a city with which I have a long fascination with and love for. Based on a real series of killings in the city, known as the Axeman Murders, I found it a little difficult to get into this book, mainly because I found splitting the narrative between the different characters investigating the murders - wannabee PI Ida, police detective Michael, and the ex-con with Mafia ties Luca - meant that I was never properly invested in any of their stories.

6. The Insect Farm* was the second Curtis Brown Book Group pick, and I was sad to once again find it lacking. When university student Jonathan's parents die in a house fire, he is left to care for his older brother, Roger, who has learning difficulties and is obsessed with the insect farm built in the back garden. Already a jealous and controlling boyfriend to Harriet, Jonathan moves back to London and their relationship becomes long-distance, further fueling his jealousy. When a horrifically violent act intrudes on the quiet life Jonathan and Roger lead, a cat-and-mouse game with the police begins. The novel opens with a striking and attention-grabbing image but from that point onwards I was disappointed. I found the portrayal of Roger specifically, and of people with learning difficulties generally, hugely ableist. More problematically, the reader is urged to side with Jonathan despite him clearly being a thoroughly unpleasant, misogynistic and controlling man.

7. After that run of bad reads, I was thrilled to find a crime novel that I loved! Faithful Place was another of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, and my favourite one yet. Undercover detective Frank Mackey's life has been overshadowed by the disappearance of his first love on the night they were supposed to run away together. When her suitcase turns up on abandoned property in the rundown street of tenements on which he grew up, Frank is forced to reconsider long-held assumptions about just what happened to Rosie that December night. Slightly shorter than the other two I've read (with which my main issue was the fact they went on a bit), I thoroughly enjoyed Faithful Place and found it tense reading despite guessing whodunnit.

* This book was kindly given to me by the Curtis Brown Book Group but all opinions are entirely my own.
** This book was kindly provided for review by the publishers via Netgalley but all opinions are entirely my own.
Note: I do not use affiliate links in these posts, I just like to provide a non-Amazon source.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

10 Things I'm Already Good At

Why is it so difficult to recognise the things we're good at? Ask me to name 10 things my friends or family excel at and I could do it in the blink of an eye; conversely, ask me to name 10 things I'm bad at and I could do that too. But try to come up with something I'm good at, with no caveats? Yep, that's pretty difficult.

That's why I loved Louisa's recent post, 10 Things I'm Already Good At (itself inspired by a prompt from Sarah to concentrate on the stuff you can already do rather than the niggling things you want to be better at). As well as liking the idea of focusing on the good rather than the bad, I also think there's something pretty subversive about someone - especially a woman, especially a British woman - standing up and saying, "Hey, look at the stuff I'm great at!" rather than our usual self-deprecating nonsense.

1. Reading
It will come as no surprise to anyone who's a regular visitor to this blog that I'm really, really good at reading. Good at reading quickly. Good at reading a range of books. Good at reading in any given situation, regardless of what's going on around me. Reading is the one thing I can - and do - do very, very well.

2. Finding my way around cities
I have an excellent sense of direction in towns and cities and can navigate my way around a place easily after only an hour or so. Even if I don't return to the same place for a decade, as soon as I'm back I can remember how to get from A to B. Sadly, this sense of direction does not extend to the countryside: put me on a mountain or in a field, and I'm lost.

3. Doing the scary stuff
Take one diagnosis of anxiety, add in a pinch of shyness and a dose of chronic scaredy-cat-ness, and you have the recipe for a person who sits at home and does very little with her life. Or at least, you would if I wasn't better at facing my fears and putting myself out there. A fear of heights hasn't stopped me climbing mountains and trying my hand at abseiling and caving (ugly crying all the while, but hey - I did it). Severe travel anxiety and crippling shyness didn't prevent me from backpacking alone around South Africa, and America, then South Africa again, nor from going on numerous solo city breaks in the UK and Europe. From driving, to meeting new people, there's a ton of stuff that I find scary, so I'm pretty damn proud of myself for getting out there and doing them anyway.

4. Planning things
Whether it be trips, events or just a weekend of pottering, I am super super good at planning. If you've ever seen the bit in The Darjeeling Limited when Owen Wilson's character gives his brothers their laminated itineraries and demands their passports for safe keeping: that's me. Luckily, The Boy is really chilled out when we travel and happy to leave the planning to me, because I'd find it extremely difficult to compromise (although prior to our weekend in York, he did say to me, "I haven't looked up anything, are you cool with having done all the planning?" It's like he doesn't know me at all).

5. Teaching
I really wasn't sure whether to include this. I have days when I'm knackered and stressed and have a pile of overdue marking and the kids end up making another poster, but what teacher doesn't? I'm only just - after ten years! - starting to have the confidence to recognise that it's the days when I'm an excellent teacher that matter. The days where I'm on top of my game and I can see the learning happening in front of me; days when kids are filled with enthusiasm because I'm filled with enthusiasm; days when pupils tell me how much they enjoyed activity x, or how much they feel they're improving. On those days I think, "Yeah, I'm ok at this."

6. Putting together flatpack furniture
Honestly, I don't see why there's all this all fuss about assembling Ikea furniture: it's easy! I think the way their instructions are presented must really match my learning style, because I genuinely enjoy putting flatpack stuff together.

7. Making connections with people
By which I mean that, considering I'm extremely shy (see #3), I'm surprisingly good at making new friends. Even before blogging and Twitter made it easy to connect with people, I was always the person who'd manage to make new friends wherever I worked, or to find like-minded penpals in the days when fanzines, mine included, still advertised in the back of the NME. Now keeping friends... that's something I occasionally struggle with, but that's another story.

8. Interior design
Which is a wanky way of saying that I'm good at putting a room together. From the original vision to actually getting my hands dirty with decorating, I've made every place I've lived into a cosy, practical and beautiful home. Someone paid me the ultimate compliment recently, saying that my newly-styled bedroom shelf looked like something out of a magazine.

9. Choosing gifts for people
There are one or two cases where this isn't true - friends for whom my usual skill just abandons me - but by and large, I'm an excellent gift-giver. My trick? Buying something as soon as I see it, even if that's a year in advance, then storing it so that when someone's birthday rolls around, I don't have to panic-buy. I also really like using Etsy and local independent stores to find truly unique gifts.

10. Making things
I'm not amazingly talented in one specific craft; my sewing is ok, but nothing compared with a lot of people, and I can't knit nor crochet. But I'm good at having ideas, at seeing something and working out how to make my own version of it, and I enjoy trying out new things, be it screenprinting, lino-cutting, embroidery or papercrafts.

I'd love to hear what you're already good at: what are your ten things?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Photo an hour: 21st February

It's been AGES since I took part in Photo An Hour, which is now run by both Jane and Louisa. But yesterday was the perfect day - not too much happening that would get in the way of taking pictures, but enough going on that it wouldn't be 12 photos of a book (which is a pretty accurate portrayal of many of my days off!).

9am - After a long lie-in, I'm just getting out of bed. Lovely bed.
10am - It wouldn't be Saturday morning without the Saturday Guardian to read (although I increasingly can't bear to read a lot of the news nowadays, I find myself getting too depressed and angry about anything coalition-related).
11am - Leaving the house to go swimming, in a rare occurrence of me going out without wearing make-up. To my eyes, I look old and haggard here, but I got ID'd buying wine without make-up on the other day so it can't be all that bad!

12.30pm - I was just getting out of the pool at midday, so this one was a little late. Back home, and admiring the lilies which have lasted since my mum visited almost two weeks ago.
1pm - Thomas making lunch.
2pm - I bough the timber and brackets for this shelf months ago and it's only today been put up. Thomas did the hard labour while I did the fun bit - styling! I love having space for our new It's A Wonderful Life poster, some framed cards we've given each other, and somewhere for Thomas to stash his books in the absence of a bedside table.

3pm - Sitting down to do some sewing: a few mending and darning jobs I've been putting off for ages, some more zipped pouches, and making a start on a quilt.
4pm - Come 4 o'clock yesterday, Instagram was awash with #Photoanhour pics of cups of tea!
5pm - Finishing off the book I've been reading, the very good (and very tense, although I did guess whodunnit) Faithful Place by Tana French.

6pm - Homemade pizza for tea, yum.
7pm - Setting off to see Ryan Adams at De Montfort Hall
8pm - A gig date with Thomas. We have massively different music tastes: Him - American stadium rock of the punch-the-air variety (think Meatloaf, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen) and Me - angry grrrl music or winsome indie folk-rock. Ryan Adams is that rare place where our tastes meet, so it was nice to experience it together. 

And that's also where my photos end, as I'm not a fan of taking photos at gigs. Suffice it to say, Adams was amazing. Did I cry a little at the encore of Come Pick Me Up? Why yes, I did.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Scenes from half term

I'd spent the weeks leading up to the holiday battling with work stress, some low-level illness and general exhaustion, so I am very glad to have had some time to relax and regroup. Whenever I know I'll be spending a lot of time at home, like this week, I hit the discount flowers buckets in Aldi or Tesco and fill the house with blooms. Irises, tulips, daffodils: this week, every room had a jar or vase stuffed with flowers, and it's worked a treat to combat the end-of-winter blues.

On Sunday we drove to Cromford, in Derbyshire, for a day out. A walk along the canal, a stroll around the town and finally a visit to the beautiful Scarthin Books to hear an author talk. It was a lovely way to spend a misty and cold day, with vegan cake in the cafe at the bookshop and a really interesting talk by author and anarchist academic Matthew Wilson. I don't often mention Thomas's work here, so for those who don't know, he's a PhD student researching how social media and online networks provide opportunities for radical protest groups to organise themselves in a non-hierarchical way. Anyway, Thomas knows Matt through work and even I, as someone who is quite disconnected from organised forms of activism now, found his talk and the discussion it provoked fascinating. 

This week was also a week of parcels: I sent two clothes swap parcels, a craft swap package, a couple of gifts for my Pay It Forward people and quite a few ASOS returns. But I also received exciting post in return, in the shape of these amazing hand-crocheted collars from Elise! How cute is the little vintage button on the pink one? I can't wait to wear them. Later in the week, I received my #DICraft Swap parcel from Gemma, which was weird because she was me gift-giver for Char's Christmas blogger swap, too. Luckily, she always chooses gifts wisely so I was happy to see she'd sent to me again.
Finally, we ended the week with a couple of days away at Walton Hall in Warwickshire, after I found a super-cheap online deal. The hotel was extremely swish, so much so that I was worried we were lowering the tone somewhat. A 3am fire alarm wasn't the ideal addition to our mini-break, but luckily we were able to go back to bed pretty quickly. I'd really recommend The Hotel Collection chain: they often have amazing deals and their hotels, while not all quite as fancy as Walton Hall, are reliably nice and friendly (and no, this isn't sponsored, I just like recognising good service when I see it).

Now I'm heading into the weekend with a stack of sewing to do, a Ryan Adams gig to look forward to tomorrow, a book to bury my head in, and a determination not to think about work until Sunday night.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Made: Cloud cushion

Every time I eye up The Liberty Book Of Simple Sewing in The Works (basically every time I go in there - it's so lovely, but I just don't need another sewing book!) this is the tutorial I head for first. So when I signed up for the #DICraft swap with the theme of 'Dreams', I decided it was the perfect excuse to give it a go. Or is it just me for whom clouds remind them of dreams?

As a special treat, I bought myself some Liberty Tana Lawn cotton in Kaylie Sunshine from eBay, which turned out to be a bit of a bugger to sew (my machine isn't great with delicate fabrics, it likes to chew them) but makes the finished cushion feel so soft. I won't patronise you by giving a step-by-step as it's literally the easiest make in the world - cut out two cloud shapes, pin and sew right sides together, turn inside out, stuff, stitch up the gap. If you do feel the need for more detailed instructions, there's a tutorial on the Liberty blog.

So, what do you think? One thing's for sure, parceling it up to send is going to break my heart just a little bit!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Ask the experts (that's you, dear readers)

I've been pondering all sorts of questions lately, and then it came to me: why not ask my readers? I'm always grateful for the insightful and helpful comments that people leave here, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get your opinions on these niggly little issues. So, here goes. Answers sought for the following...

1. How can I stop my fingernails from breaking? 
I'm not on a quest for long talons, but nails that reach past the end of my fingertips would be nice. I've always had weak nails but this winter has been beyond the pale, as one after another, each nail snaps and breaks, leaving me with painfully exposed nail beds and ugly-looking hands. What can I do to strengthen my nails enough that I can at least pick up a piece of paper, or close a door, without them breaking?

2. Lyric tattoos: A good idea?
As I've stated many, many times before, I love WORDS. Words in books, words in art, words everywhere. So it seems obvious that I'd think about having words tattooed. However, the lyrics I scrawled on my school books now feel meaningless to me; what if the same thing happens with a tattoo I can't get rid of? (By the by, the line I'm considering is from Hole's Gutless: "Just you try to hold me down, come on try to shut me up.")

3. To Disqus or not to Disqus?
I love using Disqus on other people's blogs, most importantly because it alerts me to replies so I can continue the conversation my comment began. Blogger, being a bit rubbish, doesn't allow for anything as useful, so Disqus seems the obvious solution. However, I've heard one too many horror stories about how difficult it is to move from the Blogger commenting system to Disqus and, even worse, that my comments archive might be lost forever, which would break my heart.

4. Are we ready for a cat?
Thomas loves cats. Like, completely utterly adores them and follows them down the street and talks about them all the time. I, too, love cats (although perhaps not as much as he does) and have very much enjoyed living with them in the past. Yet we don't (yet) own a cat. Why not? Well, neither of us have ever been a cat owner, or indeed a pet owner at all, so the responsibility seems like a big step. I'm also allergic to cat hair, something which can be controlled with anti-histamines but nevertheless is a bit of a pain. We spend a lot of time looking at the local cat rescue centre website, picking out our possible puss, but taking the leap into actual ownership isn't something we've managed.

5. How do I beat the Sunday Sads?
Thomas plays football very Sunday morning until 1pm, something he really enjoys, but it restricts the things we can do on Sundays. This fact never used to bother me - I enjoyed having a morning to myself and then a relaxing afternoon at home - but recently I've been struggling with a malaise I can best describe as The Sunday Sads. I'm wasting half my weekend on moping around the house, ironically feeling most frustrated by my lack of activity. I'm hoping it's just the end-of-winter blues

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

At home: An office makeover

We are lucky to have a little bit of extra space in our two bedroom terrace. But just a little more, mind you, in the shape of a 2.5 x 2m part-corridor/part-room at the end of the upstairs hall, just before the bathroom. This has been my craft and sewing room for the past few years, but with the arrival of The Boy it soon became clear that we needed a more multi-purpose office space. Somewhere I could still use my sewing machine and get my craft on, but also somewhere suitable for him to work while he finishes his PhD.

                                 Before:                                                             After:

The original layout had very little storage  - a slim bookcase aside - and a beautiful but impractical oak writing desk. And so, with a heavy heart, I bid goodbye to the desk and said hello to to a practical white desk top and legs from Ikea and lots of shelving from B&Q. As tends to happen, I had the vision and The Boy put in the hard work. This division of roles along normative gender lines bothers me less than it could: until he moved in, I put up every shelf, assembled every flat pack, drilled every hole and hauled garden waste to the tip (in fact, I still do all of that except the drilling and shelves), so it's not that I can't do the heavy labour, I just choose not to.

And what a transformation! Our formerly dingy and messy space is suddenly light, bright and tidy. My craft supplies - colourful jars of buttons and threads, spools of washi tape - are still on display and easily accessible, while the less pretty things are kept in white storage boxes from Ikea.

Meanwhile, The Boy's books and work papers are all tidied away on the highest wall shelves: at 6'3" he has no trouble reaching them when needed. I also found a kitchen vegetable trolley in a local junk shop, and it's the perfect storage solution for my vintage maps and papercraft supplies. A string of colourful ball lights, from Tiger, brighten up the space on dark evenings.

We re-used the bookcase, putting it side-on to form more of a corridor effect into the bathroom, for my craft books and fabric stash, and repurposed a faux-Eames chair from eBay, which used to sit in the living room, as desk seating.

I'm thrilled with our new-look office/craft room. Sharing the space has meant I'm much better at tidying away after sewing (where previously I'd leave half-finished projects lying around for weeks), and The Boy enjoys having a quiet space in which to work. At a total cost of £58 - £35 for timber and shelf brackets, £11 for the lights and £12 for the storage boxes - it's been a bargain makeover to a previously neglected corner of the house.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Adventures in swapping

Ah, I love a good swap. And January is a particularly great time for swapping, extending the excitement of Christmas - with gifts to wrap and parcels arriving - well into the New Year. I'm still working on my box of goodies for the #DICraftswap so that'll have to wait for another post, but in the meantime I also took part in Gemma's Bloggers Snail Mail project and Emma's Fuck Off January Thrifty Swap. 

For the Snail Mail swap I was paired with Kerenza, who I sort of knew from her ocassional commenting here and from reading her blog. Kerenza turned out to be a teacher, too, and we had a good time getting to know each other via email before sending our parcels. I didn't take any snaps of her gifts before I sent them, but you can take a peek here. I knew she was a Dr Who fan so I ordered a print from Etsy, and then made a small zipped coin purse, into which I popped a Burt's Bees lip balm, and found a secondhand copy of a book I'd loved last year, Burial Rites, and thought she'd enjoy.

For my parcel, Kerenza did an incredible job of working out what I'd like. Firstly, each gift was wrapped in amazing paper made from the opening page of I Capture The Castle (one of my favourite books) overlaid with my blog logo. I squealed when I saw it! And the gifts inside were perfect: a crime novel, a gorgeous lace collar, a mustard-coloured bangle (I'm obsessed with mustard yellow at the moment), handmade map envelopes, a book coaster, a bookmark and, I think my favourite item, a homemade Scrabble tile brooch.

The thing I particularly liked about participating in the Blogger Snail Mail was being able to get to know the person a bit first, and I hope to stay in touch with Kerenza in future.

When I'd almost finished putting together Kerenza's parcel, I saw Emma promoting her Thrifty Swap on Twitter and thought I'd get involved. The rule for this swap was simple: a spending limit of £5, including postage. Well... challenge accepted.

I was given Sarah-Beth and told a little about her: that she preferred geometric patterns to florals, that she was a vegan who loved indiepop, receiving mix CDs and stationary. I had so many ideas of things to make but sadly time (and money) got the better of me and in the end what I sent was:
- A 'Feminist As Fuck' embroidery hoop, using fabric, hoop and buttons from my stash (total cost: 80p for thread, of which I used a tiny fraction, so maybe 5p?)
- A mix CD of some of my favourite songs
- A novel I thought she might enjoy (from charity shop, 99p)
- A homemade pencil case (fabric from my stash, zip cost 60p) containing a roll of washi tape, two pencils (both from my craft stash) and some speech bubble post-it notes (from a pack of 3, which cost 99p, so individual cost 33p)

The total cost of the gifts was £1.97 and postage was £2.80, so the under-£5 challenge was successful! I loved putting this parcel together, it was fun to see how much I could make and do for very little money.

The Fuck Off January swap wasn't a straight swap, so while I sent to Sarah-Beth, Lori sent to me. I opened my parcel yesterday and loved it! A cool zine, a book cover greetings card, two tiny soaps, the cutest pocket mirror covered in amazing retro fabric (and just the colours I love, too!), some vegan gummy sweets, which I'm having to jealously guard from The Boy, and a book I'd never heard of but that looks great. 

I love the process of making, thrifting and finding awesome gifts to send to people. Not to mention, receiving a parcel full of well-considered goodies is brilliant fun. There's something especially powerful about swapping with people you've never met, to think that someone has taken the time to put together such lovely things for a stranger is a nice feeling.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

What I wore: A sale bargain

Due to the spending ban I couldn't go wild in the sales this year. In fact, I bought only one thing (and that only because I'd sold a few bits on eBay so had some spending money): this dress from Joy, an utter bargain at £15 down from £60.

Teamed with an ancient Primark cardigan in green and a pair of Dotty P's heels, it's perfect for work - made out of a light but lined fabric, it's comfortable to wear and with a high enough neckline to hide the boobs of doom from teenage eyes. It's really well cut, too, giving me the illusion of a flat stomach and not pulling too much across the aforementioned boobs. Not bad for fifteen quid.

* Dress: Joy (not online, but try your local store) * 
* Cardigan: Primark (old) * Shoes: Dorothy Perkins (old) *

Monday, 2 February 2015

Made: Slogan embroidery hoop

I love having words - be they lyrics, quotes, slogans, or lines from books - displayed in my home. So when I was trying to think of ideas for a DIY gift swap I'm doing at the moment, it was inevitable that one of the gifts would involve words. In this case, embroidered words.

Sitting by the fire with the hoop in my lap, carefully sewing, was a lovely way to spend a cold afternoon. And although I know we all decided long ago that there's nothing inherently anti-feminist about crafts, it still felt gloriously subversive to be embroidering this slogan. After making two of these - one to send and one to keep - I'm already planning what other alliterative hoops I could make... 'Vegan with a vengeance' next, perhaps?

You will need:
1 embroidery hoop
A piece of fabric just larger than your hoop
A skein of embroidery thread, preferably in a bright or contrasting colour
2 or three buttons
Text to trace
A fabric marker
(And, of course, a needle)

1. Write out your text (I used the font English 157 BT in size 92 on Microsoft Word) and print.
2. Place your fabric over the paper and trace the words using the fabric marker. Depending on the thickness and colour of your fabric, you may need to do this against a window or light box.
3. Unscrew the hoop and place your fabric over the smaller of the two. Top with the larger hoop and tighten the screw.
3. Thread your needle with two strands of thread (or one long strand that you double up) and knot.
4. Using split stitch, stitch along your letters, trying to cover as much of the fabric marker as possible (although this will fade over time, it obviously looks a lot neater if you cover it with your embroidery). The split stitch - where you loop backwards with each new stitch to split the last one before stitching forwards - can be fiddly to begin with but is extremely satisfying once you get into a rhythm.
5. When you've finished your slogan or song lyric, choose a couple of contrasting buttons and sew onto a corner of your hoop.
6. Cut the excess fabric away from the edges of your hoop, then stand back and admire!