1.9.21

Woolly chaos and catching up

 

Since sending my boxes of book samples off to be photographed a few weeks ago, I’ve been able to tackle a very long list of things that have been put to one side while I worked - it feels as if the last year has disappeared into a black hole of getting the book done. So this has been the state of my studio as I have been restocking my shop with wools and taking fresh shots which look better than the ones I’ve been using for the last six years. 

 


Last week my art director Jane Toft (who was the original editor of ‘Mollie Makes’ and who gave me my first magazine break back in 2012) held the book's photo shoot with the professional style photographer Jesse Wilde, who has an impressive portfolio, specialising in artist and craft subjects. Jane emailed me some in-progress snaps of how it was going on the day, which shows stills of my work, the camera being hooked up to her power book. 
 
 
Somebody asked me on my Facebook page if there is somebody to take the pattern shots too, and no, there isn't, it would be impossible. A pattern can take at least a week to shoot for all kinds of reasons; the quality (or not) of light, getting a piece from point 1) to point 2) to point 3) and tweaking. So thats all down to me and my trusty old camera and that's why it takes so long. But I'm happy to leave this kind of thing in more expert hands and it's good to have fresh eyes on my work.


It’s rather amazing to see it all, coming together at last, after a year and a half. Quite a lot has happened since then; it’s been over a year since Joe left with his tail between his legs, taking just a  few hurriedly packed bags of clothes and I’m still working through sorting the left-behind stuff out, as he hasn’t bothered to reply to my request to send a van around for it all. Life is so much better without him though, and once the shock had worn off, I soon realised that life was immensely improved by his absence.

I need to get logs chopped and the chimney swept as I spent last winter without using the wood burner, which was not fun, although it has seen a couple of feathered visitors this summer, including this sooty bundle of fluff, who made a quick exit through an open window.

My ‘to-do-list is gradually shrinking, and I have to clear it before my book samples return from their big adventure, when I will be photographing them for my shop, in time for the holiday season. Onward!

21.8.21

Art at the Orangery


 
I’ve had the pleasure of the company of an old friend recently, who I haven’t seen in person for about three years. We had a lovely couple of days together and I was taken out for meals, some local sight seeing and thoroughly spoilt. (Subscribers to my Patreon blog extra can find a picture packed post about our visit to Attingham Park and house here).

As if this social whirl was not enough, I returned home to find an invitation to an art exhibition which was being held at the nearby Pitchford Estate, at the Orangery. My distant neighbours, Mary and Hugh, who own the Twenty Twenty Gallery in Ludlow, had put together a small but carefully curated weekend show for a handful of artists. And so I took Marjorie out for the ten minute cycle down the road and around the corner, to the long, lime tree walk that leads up to the main entrance of the hall. 



At the bottom of the walk sits the small church where, a lifetime ago, I sat alone and bleak, mourning the recent loss of my beloved Andy. It was good to be returning for a happier occasion. The estate was peppered with the work of local sculptor Sharon Griffin, a couple of her heads seen here beneath the tree house, which is said to be the site of the world's oldest tree house with origins in the 17th century. This is a much later construction, built in the style of the main house itself. (Read more here).

I parked Marjorie near a pair of heads so that she could  soak up some artistic atmosphere as well,  and entered the orangery.


The orangery itself sits to one side of a spacious walled garden, where more of Sharon’s work could be seen.

 

Inside and feeling a little shy, I was greeted warmly by Mary and introduced to to Sharon herself, who was spending the weekend demonstrating and working on another piece. 


We had a very nice chat, and then I went to look at the paintings, which included a collection of Pitchford Hall interiors by Matthew Wood

 

 And gorgeous, haunting works by another Shrewsbury artist, Ann McCay

My very favourite was 'Collecting Sticks', which, had it been within my means, I would happily have purchased. But there are boring things such as bills and a large mortgage to pay, so I sighed a little as I told Mary how much I loved it and as it happened, Ann was sat nearby, so we were introduced.  She immediately said 'red shirt' and I replied 'electric bike' and it turned out that we'd seen each other in June when we had all attended a performance of 'Tess of the d'Ubervilles' which was my first post lockdown treat to myself back in June, also held at the Orangery. I (of course) had cycled there on Marjorie and she and her husband had passed us on their much faster electric bikes.  And I had been wearing a red checkered shirt.

 
After another lovely chat, it was time to head home. I haven't had a social life since moving here nearly nine years ago, but in the last few months, with two new local friends to do things with and now making some more connections, I am starting to feel a little less isolated at last.
 
One final glimpse of the Elizabethan splendour of Pitchford Hall, glimpsed through the trees as Marjorie and I made our way back to the cottage.  


28.7.21

Upright before the storm

 


Up the lane to post a little order before the storm came in. The intense, humid heat of the previous week, which I find quite debilitating, has been replaced by restless skies, sudden downpours and flash storms. Everywhere there is a creeping sense that summer is winding down, with blackberries ripening and the dawn chorus starting later each morning. I must try to get the chimney swept before autumn. 

19.7.21

Surfacing for lunch


One of the few good things to come out of the ghastly pandemic is that I have two new lovely Shropshire friends. They booked a few of my Zoom workshops during lockdown; we kept in touch, eventually met up and now it seems as if I’ve known them forever. And life is a little less lonely. 


I have other lovely and much loved friends but they are scattered across the country and so, unless you count the unlamented Joe (which I don’t), I’ve spent the last nine and a half years here at the cottage in near isolation and while I’m very comfortable in my own company, it has been difficult at times.



The other day I was picked up by Friend One and driven towards the Welsh border.  There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘has’ as I enjoyed the passing scenery, until we finally reached Friend Two’s gorgeous house. 

We had lunch under a canopy in the garden, as it was a blisteringly hot day. My offering was some rather ominous looking local cheese ‘The Ironbridge’ - part of a cheese box from Moyden’s Cheese, which arrived unexpectedly on my doorstep as a kind present from one of my other distant friends. (It’s actually delicious, despite it’s appearance). 



I was also able to see three of my needle felted ‘heads’ on display, out of direct light and under glass, looking very at home in their stylish surroundings. 



It was such a delight to feel more like a normal person and less like a hermit, with friends to talk to and visit. I came home feeling happier than I have done for a long time and with a squashed but scrumptious cupcake. 




I’ve had a long break from here, due to the pressure of my book deadline. Life is returning to a slightly easier pace now that it’s all finished. I couldn’t have finished it without the support of my Patrons, who have enabled me to pay the bills while I’ve been tied up with book work and in return, I’ve been able to post regularly there, with sneak peeks of my book work and cottage life, and I am now busying myself with fulfilling pledges of needle felt work and paintings. 


As a little summer present, and because I’ve been so absent, I have made one of my July posts open for free and public reading. 


It’s a Wrap




 

25.4.21

Marmalade and a mouse

 


Well, I wasn’t expecting this! A few days ago, this sweetly painted parcel arrived - even the address was beautifully hand scribed and must have taken so much time and care. I’m still in the dark about who it came from, as there was no return address and I suspect the gift giver wanted to remain anonymous. 

I think there may be a clue with the foxgloves and bees, but I may be wrong. Anyhow, it contained two lovely pots of Frank Cooper’s marmalade, including the dark, chunky bitter gold that is the vintage type. The kind of card I love, with a Paddington quote, and an adorable hand knitted mouse, who is now known as ‘Coops’ for obvious reasons. He does look as if he is protecting my jars with a ‘none shall pass’ stance.


So I am hoping that the generous gifter reads this, perhaps having read my previous post about buying a jar on an extravagant whim. And I hope they know how very touched, pleased and smiley their present made me. Coops is now installed in the bedroom, I am going to cut out the painted box front and display it somewhere and I know just what to do with the marmalade...



For my Patreon subscribers, (£3 monthly and upwards) my latest post is a photo packed jamboree called ‘The Way of the Horse’, exploring pastures new, having tiny adventures and discovering lovely Shropshire views. With Marjorie.




18.4.21

Beneath the apple tree

 


This weekend I have been working in the garden during the warm afternoons. It has become rather a jungle and I cannot remember the last time I sat out in it; Joe didn’t like sitting outside, or gardening (which should have told me something) and subsequently, I too became discouraged. I’m still adjusting to the complete freedom to do what I want, when I want, and that can be a difficult thing when you’ve spent most of your life living with one person or another.



As it was so nice, I fetched my three beloved old bears from the bedroom so that they could enjoy the sunshine too. We had a cup of tea and some chocolate buttons that a friend had given me. I needle felted little pears for my book, while the birds fluttered in and out of the willow tree, singing their Spring tunes. Bumble bees droned heavily over the dandelions and as we were sat under the apple tree, there was a faintly acidic smell of cider from last year’s old fruit which are still clinging to the branches. 


The pear tree is coming into full blossom and despite my many imaginary and unaffordable dreams for the garden, I was very content simply to gaze upon my scruffy kingdom, which has become so dear to me. 

 

14.4.21

The birds sing goodnight

 



It’s been a ‘wading through treacle’  kind of day for no good reason, and although I’ve managed to do some of the things that needed to be done, it still doesn’t feel like enough. So it’s time to say goodnight to today, and take comfort in a quiet evening. Things are growing and tonight the birds were singing gloriously, so do turn your volume up, if you can’t hear them. 


Mr Pheasant briefly interrupted this pleasant melodiousness with his inelegant,  croaky squawk, but he is part of home too. Time for bed as the sun sets, country style. 

7.4.21

Gluing myself back together


Post Easter seems as good a time as any to resurrect my blog. It’s been a very difficult winter. I have a tendency to keep things to myself, trying to make the best of whatever problems I have and it’s hard to know what to write without sounding like a whiner (although I have unburdened myself a little in the safety of my Patreon page, where my lovely readers have seen far too many photos of my working in bed).


Apart from battling with the cold, I came close to burn out recently, as I struggled to put my book together and maintain a living with my shop. It just isn’t possible to do these two full time things at the same time; I’m too worn out from the things that life has thrown at me. Sometimes I feel like a pot that has been dropped many times and glued back together and I’m getting to the point where if I’m dropped again, I may fragment into so many little pieces that no amount of glue will put me back together again.



Reluctant to acknowledge how bad I was feeling, I was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on anything, my book work was lagging and the prospect of having to put the cottage on the market later in the year loomed over me, which I think would have been the final straw. Suffice to say, I felt useless and it’s been hard to maintain a cheerful presence on my social media.



However, I have been the recipient of some immense and unexpected kindness, just as things seemed quite hopeless. I’ve been able to take some much needed time out to rest and repair over Easter. I have been granted a deadline extension after I explained my difficulties to my lovely editor and a few days ago, I had a garden visit from a new Shropshire friend. Being so isolated, I’ve not been able to form many connections since moving here, but for me, lockdown made me not one but two new friends and this one kindly bought me lovely pinky yellow daffodils, which are cheering the cottage up.



It’s a monumental relief to know that I can finish my book without any extra stress and then throw myself back into making and selling, hopefully making a go of things. I’ve finally started painting again. Ideas are sprouting up. I can tackle the garden, knowing that I am safe for the summer.  Spring is here and remarkably, so am I, and I am so thankful for all of it. 




6.2.21

Oxford Marmalade

 


I’m eating a lot of toast this winter. For some reason I've reverted to thick white sliced, which I know isn’t the best health-wise but is cheaper and strangely comforting. I have also had a craving for marmalade and I am unusually particular about marmalade. It has to be Oxford Marmalade (with a capital M).  Now there’s nothing cheap about Oxford Marmalade, but as I’m eating so much toast, I have decided it counts as a proper and necessary food staple.

I’ve formed a little ‘bubble’ with Jean-and-Brian-Next-Door. We are all self isolating and the other week Brian drove me over to a local Co-Op, as I couldn’t get an online delivery in time to save me from having to concoct a meal from the contents of my fridge, which consisted of half a jar of ancient pickled beetroot, three lemons and a small chocolate mousse of uncertain age. It was the first big shop I’ve been in for nearly a year. Mask on, I drifted about, instinctively learning the strange pandemic dance of avoiding other people and not blocking the biscuit aisle for too long. Then I spotted it. Frank Cooper’s Fine Cut Oxford Marmalade. I saw the price, hesitated, then had a ‘sod it’ moment and put it in my basket. 


When I was 19, I moved from a damp bedsit in Bournemouth and life on the dole, to Oxford, to start my art education. I instantly fell in love with the town and greedily drank it all in - sketching in the Ashmolean, discovering real ale, exploring the lovely shops in Little Clarendon Street that I couldn’t afford - yet. Because naturally, I dreamt that I would one day be a well known artist, maybe living in a nice house in the Jericho area, with a studio and well able to afford little luxuries. Back then, there was a dedicated shop on ‘The High’ for Frank Coopers jams and marmalades. I can still remember venturing up the steps and through the slim pilasters that framed the arched doorway,  feeling very daring and buying my first jar of proper thick cut Oxford Marmalade, a real indulgence on my meagre income. 
It was handed over in a fittingly nice white paper bag with a drawing of the shop on both sides and soft string handles. I still have that bag, as I used it to keep Christmas decorations in, although it is of course, older and very worn now - rather like myself. 

The Oxford shop on the High Street shut many years ago and became an antiques centre, which is still there now. But I never lost my early love of the dark, bittersweet - almost sour - flavour of proper marmalade and every time I  taste it, I am momentarily a 20 year old art student again, hungry for artistic fame and wanting to eat the world. So long as it is spread with Oxford Marmalade. 


4.1.21

Sounds all around



It has been too bitterly cold to venture out for some time, but there comes a point when you really have to remind yourself of what legs are for. I have been feeling a bit creaky and my dodgy ankle was aching, but today I was in much need of some fresh air. There is a brisk East wind sweeping the country, which cuts right through you - a ‘lazy wind’ as I believe it is called in the North. So it was a bleak morning and to make my exercise a little more exciting, I challenged myself to find three bits of bright colour or beauty while I was out. Which was quite hard as everywhere seemed drab and chilled. 


Then I heard a quiet swishing and glanced sideways just in time to see an Ash key whirl to the ground. Looking down, I saw how it resembled a tawny owl in full flight. Had I not caught the fragile sound of it’s falling, I may have passed on without noticing.

As I continued my small ramble, I heard the fragile tinkling of running water. No magic spring, but an ordinary drain creating its own music as the icy field water trickled through the muddy echo chamber


Returning homewards, I found myself listening intently for my third ‘moment’. I was no longer on a quest for visual colour, but for the sounds of the winter landscape. And there it was, above my head; the dessicated whispering of long dead leaves, punctuated by the call of a crow. 


My cheeks scoured by the East wind, I reached home and a welcome hot lunch. I did not find the bright colours I had been seeking, but I have found a new interest in the sounds around me, which paint their own aural picture. 



It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to post here, but by way of apology, I have  made my latest post on my Patreon page public, with updates on my recent bedroom makeover - if you follow my Instagram account or are a Patreon, you will know that I’m spending a lot of time working in bed, where I can keep warm. There’s teddy bears and little needle felted geese and everything. 




25.11.20

The soup of life

 

Another early start for me at 7am and while I am shovelling down my first coffee of the day, I thought I’d take advantage of the dark morning to write to my friends and readers here. The last few weeks have been what seems like an insurmountable challenge to get my depleted Etsy shop updated and restocked - lots of things that I have made over the last couple of years and not listed for sale, lots of new work. My anxiety has previously tied me up in knots over how to put work for sale out there without imposing upon people. This is something I’ve always struggled with, but it had become worse over the last few years. Funnily enough, now that I have my life to myself again, I find that much of my anxiety (despite my circumstances) has dissipated. So I’ve been sorting out  pieces that I made and never shown, all of which needed photographing, such as these little rocking horses that I made in Spring 2019. And to my surprise, things are selling.  


After shutting my shop during lockdown, I am at last getting my wools back on sale. They were due for a packaging make over and so each colour has to be re-photographed. This time I wanted to do it properly, instead of the rather prosaic shots I took back in 2013, so I set a theme of a piece of vintage china/ pottery with a crumpled linen backdrop, which has worked nicely. There are roughly 45 wool colours to photograph, when the light in the morning is good enough. 


With all the other things I’m trying to organise, it means that my studio floor has become a melange of wool and various props, and I am still in the middle of all this, putting kits together and working out how much more wool I need to buy in and how much I can just about afford. (You can see the path I’ve made here, from the door to my desk). 


When it gets too cold and dark for me to carry on in my studio, I take my work tray to to bed and make the most of the rest of the day. Sometimes there is cake. I have so many little things to finish off in time for the Christmas season, but I’m not sure if I can do it (the reason why being near the end of this post). 


I’ve been absent from this blog, as I try to cram what was supposed to be a more gradually paced process into a few weeks rather than a few months. After the initial shock of Joe’s unexpected ‘daylight flit’ has worn off, I have slowly realised the enormity of what he’s done and how coldly uncaring his selfish actions were, without the slightest concern for my feelings or the life we’d built together. Which I thought we both enjoyed. There are a few more details on his side that I won’t go into - it’s too private and not my concern anymore. I still cannot believe what a mess he’s made of both our lives.

I’m usually too busy to dwell on it though and I am finding that apart from the constant worry of trying to quadruple my income in the space of three months, I’m actually ok. I have always been comfortable with my own space, I love being on Instagram every day and chatting to people and I have my dear little old bear Rupert for company. What more could I possibly want? 


Which  brings me to the final herb to be thrown into the messy soup of my life. My next (second) needle felt book. This all started back in the halcyon pre-Covid days before the first U.K. lockdown and I’ve had to wait for months to see if it was even going ahead. All the details were sorted out just before Joe did his vanishing act and I’ve been so busy with all of the above that I have only just started the pattern shooting. I’m not able to reveal too much at this point, save that I am working with two amazing like-minded women (my editor and art director) with whom I’ve worked with before. It’s going to be something a bit different and rather beautiful. 


I have twenty patterns to shoot and make samples for, as well as all the writing and supporting photographs, with an April deadline. My problem is juggling all  the things I have to do and make to earn enough to survive every month, with the enormous amount of work involved in putting a book together. (There are only so many hours in the day, no matter how early I start).  

It won’t be published until later in 2021, and then it should be a huge boost to my career. I hope to be able to get enough new custom from the publicity to keep the cottage going. That’s the plan. My problem - and what is tying me in panicked knots - is whether I can manage to get to that point before I have to sell up.  So if you are reading this and have bought anything from me, whether it be craft materials, art, prints, cards, needle felt work, kits, Patreon support, Zoom workshops - everything large or small - thank you. You are literally helping me to keep the roof over my head, because I’ve just about managed to make the mortgage for the last three months, without Joe’s help. And I feel quietly proud about that.