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Children's illustrator and cricket lover cultivates vegetables and cats in rural Oxfordshire.
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Whistle stop blog post, as I am up to my neck in *stuff*. My polar bear pattern in 'Mollie Makes Weddings' - on Amazon UK here and Amazon USA here. My kitten pattern in the latest issue (37) of 'Mollie Makes'. Available as a 'real' magazine here or as a digital download here from iTunes only. Off to Cinderhill Farm soon to do the first workshop of the year on March 8th - there are two places left, if anyone fancies it, details are here . I can count on one hand the amount of times I've been anywhere since November last year, so I am very much looking forward to my adventure. Not to mention seeing my dear friends, meeting my workshop students and cooing over the newborn lambs.
I'll also be launching my first kits, 'Slinky Fox' at the workshops. It's been a long process, but I will soon be bringing out kits on a regular basis. I will return with photos of lambs. And chickens. and more pigs. And goats.
Having been cooped up working for several weeks, enduring the UK storms, I was driven to go rambling yesterday, when the sun came out and the temperature rose. I explored a lane a mile away, to see if I could do a circular walk. The Wrekin popped up round every corner; there it is nestling under the clouds.
So long since I wandered down a quiet lane for a proper walk, my legs a bit wobbly from lack of exercise.
I haven't taken so many photos since Andy went - oh I've gone through the motions, but without the enthusiasm of old. What quiet joy to find myself immersed in snapping the countryside.
Something round every corner, and finding the most delightful little scenic bridge. There's the Wrekin again, popping it's head up.
Lots of trees down, fallen giants succumbing to the recent high winds. I walked all afternoon, using the Wrekin and the Long Mynd as my landmarks. I underestimated the distance though and it was a long trek without a map.
For the first time since moving to Shropshire nearly two years ago, I felt a real connection with the landscape and I cannot adequately express what relief and hope it has given me. Even though six miles was somewhat too far for an out of practise wanderer.
It's going to be another busy year with workshops - the first one of 2014 commences with one of my favourites, at Cinderhill Farm in the beautiful Forest of Dean on Saturday March the 8th. We will be making moon gazing hares. Last time there was morning coffee and homemade baked stuff, a hot lunch with the farm's own free range pork and the speciality of the farm, Deb's high tea. Which last year looked like this... It's an all day class, with all materials, use of tools and all food included in the price of £60 per person. Vegetarian/allergy options can be provided. This year the farm shop, the Pie House, is open, with local produce. the farm pies and gift wares on sale. There are only eight places available and we are half booked now, so if you want to secure a place, please contact Debs directly via the farm contact form. And a new venue for me, the Buckinghamshire Summer School, where I will be teaching larger classes for two days. August the 7th is beginners and August the 8th is intermediate, with a discount for anyone booking both classes.
On the 7th the design is little chickens and on the 8th you can make a slinky fox. All materials and use of tools included.
Later in the year, I'm thrilled to be making a repeat visit to the glorious 'Hope and Elvis' studios, in Nottinghamshire, making the perennial favourites, Acorns and Toadstools', in October. Last year's two days were fantastic experiences for me and we had lovely feedback. The studios are situated in the stunning Welbeck Estate (think Downton Abbey, but more so). Apart from the workshops, there are simply gorgeous shops, a gallery and I can personally vouch for the food at the Limehouse Cafe. These are the confirmed workshops, but there are more in the pipeline. All details of these can be found on my workshops page, where you can visit the various websites and contact the organisers to book directly. Hope to see some of you there, it's always great to meet up with blog readers face to face.
Some of the new designs I worked on over the Christmas period, looking at antique scrimshaw folk art and converting the style into my own versions.
One year on since you went, my darling boy. You took part of me with you that night and I would gladly give all of me to have you here now. Always missed, always in my heart.
I don't seem to get out much, but I am looking forward to spring and exploring a little more. Walking is hard, as that is when I feel Andy's absence most. He could be just out of sight, waiting for me around a corner, as he so often did. I walk around the corner and and he is not there. But I still have my camera to keep me company and bear witness. And I still have my life long love of landscape and nature.
"Oh God, your sea is so great and my boat is so small"
(Breton fisherman's prayer)
Christmas has for many years been my least favourite part of the year and I knew that this one, my first without Andy and my first on my own, would be particularly rough. So I took a Sabbatical from online life and avoided the season as far as possible. Life for me went on as normal. I have been cloistered away in this little cottage for the last eleven months, grieving in solitude and trying to find a new way of life. It has been a struggle, but work has always been my lifeline and so it proved to be again. I used the time to explore new designs and plan a business that will hopefully enable me to stay here.
Many people sent me cards and good wishes. Some hoped that I would be spending Christmas with friends or family. I did have invitations to stay with friends, but I would not have been good company and needed to face things on my own, fight my own demons. Thank you to everyone for the kind thoughts, which are so much appreciated, even if I have not celebrated the season.
My boat is very small and the ocean I'm sailing on seems unbelievably vast. But I learned to steer it, alone, at a young age and slowly I am learning to sail solo again.
That's been a rather busy November - four workshops, two patterns and lots of work related stuff in-between. Back to dear Oxford again, where I attended a concert at the beautiful Victorian church of St John the Evangelist on the Iffley Road. I once had a student bedsit up there, when I was a hungry art student. Odd to go back again, but the concert was very enjoyable, performed by the talented and energetic members of the Magdalen College School orchestras.
The church was packed with proud parents snapping away, so I wasn't able to get many photos myself, but I did love the painted ceiling.
So pleased that someone returned for more and brought some 'homework' she had done since the last session.
It was a Christmas theme and everyone made trees.
Well, nearly everyone - there was a robin, a Christmas cottage and a sweet toadstool house as well.
My final workshop of the year was my first Shropshire one. Held in such a nice venue, at Rustic and White in Wyle Cop, filled with vintage treasures and with parts of the shop dating back to Tudor times.Pleasantly surprised to find that we'd filled all twelve spots and were actually oversubscribed.
This was an all day session and also Christmas themed. There were one or two people there who read this blog, so if they are reading this, it was great to meet you.
As well as bringing two suitcases of wools, as usual I did my best to supply as many beads, findings and decorative bits as possible, which does result in a bit of a crafty mess at the end of the day!
After several hours of industry, fuelled by hot drinks and cake, there was a simply gorgeous batch of trees. I started everyone off with the same measurement guidelines, showed them the basic method and let them loose. Despite starting with more or less the same amount of wool, a wide variety of trees appeared, each bearing the maker's personality.
So that's it for the year and I am already booked to do more next year. I'll be posting some dates soon.
They are everywhere! I was commissioned to make a copy of Mrs Mouse, from my book 'Mrs Mouse's Cupcakes'. I made the first one about four years ago and it was intriguing to see how the second one was so much better than the first. Can you tell which is the old one and which the new? I will put the answer at the end of this post.
And now for the gentlemen. Another pattern, this time for 'Crafty Magazine', of the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. Or Hugo and Joe, as they are now known.
It was a bit of a challenge to come up with a simple pattern, incorporating several elements and two similar but slightly varied designs to fit into a reasonable amount of steps, but challenges are goods and after some pencil chewing and hair pulling, I think I managed it.
There are a limited amount of 'Crafty' to buy from their site here. Or, for digital users, you can buy the download here. Otherwise, it will be in most WHSmiths, supermarket sections or good newsagents. Have fun!
(The new Mrs Mouse is on the left hand side of the picture).
I've never done a tea cup before, but when the 'Mollie Makes' team asks, I do my very best for them. If you have an iPad or iPhone, this pattern can be found in issue 55 of 'Gathered' the digital sister magazine at only £1.49 for the whole magazine. (All content to 'Gathered' is different to the paper version of 'Mollie Makes').
These snow geese are a new design too, and were bought before I could offer them here.As have three of these owl decorations - I have just one brown owl left to sell.
This has also been a month for workshops and my final one of the year, on November 30th, is my first Shropshire one at the lovely vintage chic shop 'Rustic and White'. There are only two places left as I write - and it even made it into the Shrewsbury Chronicle. Fame at last. More details on my website.
When we bought the cottage a year ago, we hadn't anticipated a renovation job. but once we uncovered all kinds of nasties, that is what it turned into. Losing Andy in January made the prospect of turning it into a liveable (and sadly, maybe saleable) condition seemed overwhelming. The last thing I could think about was DIY. But in this, the most terrible year of my life, I have been blessed with the support of so many good friends and this month I had two batches of visitors to help me wrestle little Bodge Cottage into something habitable. First, Adam and Helen, old and dear work colleagues of Andy's (and mine, too). We stripped, sanded and heat blasted my bedroom until it was down the the bare bones. Now I just have to try my hand at plastering the walls. After the weekend, two more friends arrived and the Bodge Cottage torch was handed on, over a cup of tea. Jackelien and Herbert, all the way from Holland and taking time out of their Shropshire holiday to help me out. Jackelien and I met last year when she had a one-to-one needle felt workshop with me and from the start, we clicked, as if we'd been waiting for each other. Funny how that can happen sometimes.
The biggest structural job, something I could not do alone and certainly could not afford to hire anyone else to do, was removing the stud wall from under the stairs, to open up the room and provide space for a book case. Or something. But probably a book case. Herbert assessed the situation and whether he could remove most of the stud wall without bringing the house down.
Work commenced, peeling back the add-ons from the last several decades. Jackelien discovered the original tongue and groove partition underneath layers of wallpaper. It has a weathered, distressed surface which I am going to smooth down and wax. It's too beautiful to cover up.
The old plaster and lathe under the stairs was damp and rotten. I had a hand in taking it down, which was strangely satisfying. (The cottage isn't listed or even 'that' old, so this was legal).
Then a new piece of plaster board was cut to size and once Herbert had reinforced the struts under the stairs, it was put into place.
On another wall, an original oak beam was uncovered, which is going to stay exposed, even when the room is eventually re-plastered.
There were the remains of an old mouse nest in the little gap to the right and I think I'll leave that open too. Put a little 'bibelot' in it as a point of interest.
It was amazing to see the space just as I'd imagined it - and where there were gaps, some of the discarded boards were used to neaten it up, to keep the original character.
Even down to the trimmings on the edge. It's just perfect.
And as if that wasn't enough, they tackled the grotty old dog kennels, removing the grim caging and opening up the garden by taking down the trellis. (I was not totally lazy in this operation, but a creamy chicken casserole had to be made...)
So I was able to stack my winter logs, safe from the rain. I don't know how I would have survived this heart breaking year without my many wonderful friends around the world to help and support me in so many ways. Actually, I don't think I would have done. Thank God for friendship.
Janet and I have been friends for quite a few years now. We met through blogging, me here and her over at 'The Empty Nest'. Recently I've watched with admiring wonder as she has branched out and built up a thriving boutique business based around Annie Sloan chalk® paints.
When I found she was visiting England, we both were determined to meet up. And so she made the long train journey from Brighton to Shrewsbury, to stay at my decrepit little cottage for a couple of nights. Brave lady! From the start, it was like meeting an old and dear friend and we were completely comfortable in each other's company. I toured her round the lovely town of Shrewsbury, to the library, where we inspected the old school room graffiti - some of it dating back to the early 1700's.
Naturally I had to take her to a second hand furniture place - I swear if she'd had access to a shipping container, half of that shop would now be back in the USA, in her beautiful Warrenton shop, awaiting the paint treatment. It was so interesting to watch and listen as she explained how a dated and tired old chest could be transformed into something fresh and beautiful.
And (as she did all day) she made friends with one of the shop assistants as she bought one tiny little snippet of tapestry to take home.
Then there was browsing through vintage china in the Market Hall... ...fish and chips for lunch. I don't think Janet was persuaded by mushy peas.
Naturally, we had to pop into the vintage shop in town who also stock Annie Sloan paint. Janet had just been to the Brighton Anne Sloan convention and was keen to see a UK shop. There was much inspection of paint and wares. We visited another splendid vintage chic shop nearby, 'Rustic and White', where we made friends with Jo, the owner. I did a bit of networking and it seems possible that I'll finally be able to do a Shrewsbury needle felting workshop, having found the right venue. (Contact me if interested)
Janet also bought over a plethora of lovely gifts for me, including a sweet dog that she had needle felted herself, my first 'Annie Sloan' wax brush (which I have a project in mind for), real cotton buds, book plates, a vintage card of Poughkeepsie (which I can now almost pronounce properly), a hand made 'Empty Nest' bag and best of all, a gorgeous old edition of Mother Goose. Better than Christmas. Oh, and of course, the backdrop - a sumptuously heavy vintage linen table cloth, from an old mill.
And after our long day enjoying ourselves, we had a little relaxing wine and needle felting session, making chickens by the fire, with the TV on and chatting about everything under the sun. It was wonderful to finally meet meet such a gracious, kind friend who is just as super in real life as she has been for so many years in our online friendship. Your place next time Janet!
My second workshop last month was a smaller all day session at the Queen's Head, Eynsham - one of my previous students returned, which was very nice. And rather wonderfully, a blog friend, Vikki Rose, whom I have never met but have *known* for several years. She reminded me that she had bought 'Minxie', my devilish little cat from my first year of needle felting (2008). Anyhow, settled down with home made shortbread (thanks Vikki!) and tea, they got started and worked hard all morning, earning a delicious lunch made, as usual, by Jackie the landlady.
Salmon en Croute, pesto mange tout and new potatoes. Followed by sticky toffee pudding and caramel ice cream. Or melon for the virtuous.
Then, somewhat stuffed, we returned to needle felting. It was a big ask, to get them to attempt an entire squirrel in five hours.
Another tea break was needed, with Jackie's home made scones, clotted cream and jam.
Despite all this feasting, by the end of the day, they had made amazing progress and two squirrels were even finished. Three of my students had never tried needle felting before, which makes the results even more impressive.
And Vikki Rose made the day even more special by bringing me some of her 'girls' eggs and one of her sweet care-chickens. She also wrote a super write up of the day on her blog, 'Back to the Castle' which includes a photo of me on a bad hair day and showing most of my tattoos. Irresistible! If you'd like to be participate in the next workshop at the Queen's Head, sample Jackie's lovely food and see my tattoos, drop me an email and I'll contact you when the date is confirmed. Next one is scheduled for some time in February or March 2014. Price for the whole day, including all food, is £55. Bit of a bargain, really.
I have a big list of custom orders to get stuck into, but have managed to update my Etsy shop with some new designs, including the foxes which have had such great feedback.
Large fox - SOLD
My new line of hares - for some random reason I fancied giving them Anglo Saxon names, despite the circus theme. So this is 'Bar' (meaning 'from the birch wood')
'Silivia' (meaning 'of the wood')
And Woodrow (meaning 'of the birch wood) and my favourite.
GOLDY - reserved
And little Goldy, who is reserved for a Very Special visitor coming to see me all the way from America!
My first workshop this month was held at the lovely new Fibreworks Oxford yarn shop on Cowley Road, Oxford, an old stamping ground of mine. Inside, it is simply gorgeous, elegantly stuffed with lovely wools, kits, books and sundry sundries.
Here's the manager, Natasha, knitting away during a brief lull - it's a busy little shop and people are coming and going all the time. It was great to see all kinds of everyone browsing and shopping - young people, older people, men, students, families - not the traditional notion of a wool shop's clientèle.
I was a bit late arriving, but after a while everyone was working away, with coffee and biscuits of course.
A good time was had by all, from the kind feedback and I was so pleased with what everyone made - most of my pupils had never tried needle felting before.
One acorn necklace, worn with justifiable pride!
The Fibreworks is also the first supplier of my new venture, supplying spiral felting needles. I've recently discovered these and like them so much I am now selling them myself. But if you aren't in the Oxford area, you can buy them directly from my Etsy shop. Have to admit, I did enjoy designing the packaging.
Off to do two workshops in Oxfordshire - one at The Fibreworks Oxford and another all day session at the dear old Queen's Head in Eynsham. Just managed to get a pattern finished for 'Crafty' magazine (coming out soon) and finish a couple of custom orders.
The elephant is very big (for needle felting) - 8 x 5½ inches. This sweetie is only a couple of inches tall, by comparison.
Not only that - I have some foxes and new style hares to sell, when I return - here's a little preview of one.
Returning back to the mainland from Arran on the ferry, I spent the time collecting knots and ropes. Once I started looking out for them, they became quite beautiful - still life at sea.
Sometimes it's good just to forget about artwork being *good* and to simply enjoy the process of observing and sketching. Sitting by the rockpools of Arran, Scotland, scribbling away, my burdens lightened for a few brief hours.
Order just off to America, to the lovely Empty Nest Emporium in New Virginia - a trio of slinky foxes.A trio of flower geese - And a street of tiny houses - I hope the foxes are making friends with the geese...
The most delightful little green spider, trying to escape my camera lens.Crawling about on the old iron table at Cinderhill Farm.
Later found to be a Green Orb Weaver spider.
Only a quarter of an inch long, but rather fearsome when viewed up close. Harmless though.
Without a lawnmower and with being so occupied over the last several months, the lawn had grown knee high. I am blessed with the best neighbours ever. They have looked after me since Andy died and are always on hand to help. They bravely offered to mow my hay meadow.
Brian did the big task of strimming. I raked the cuttings and Jean collected them. 'It's what neighbours are for' she said.
Brian finished off the edges the old way, with a sharp bill hook. Then we stopped for much needed drinks. Ginger beer and shandy with ice.
A few days later, after hearing that I wanted an old-style push along mower, Brian produced this for me -
It's been in bits for eight years, having been at the cottage next door for about fifty years, in Jean's family. Brian got to work and put it together for me one night. Now I can cut my own lawn - without the expense and bother of petrol or electric. Isn't it beautiful? I love it. And I love my neighbours.
Last week I held an all day workshop in Eynsham, one of our old home villages, at the Queen's Head pub. My favourite pub ever, but today we were not here for beer, but to make little houses. There was plenty of chat as the work began, fueled by home made shortbread.
Breaking at one for lunch, Jackie the landlady had laid on little homebaked tartlets and salad, as the day was so hot.
Lovely Alice brought us cones of fresh mango sorbet.
And then back to work for a while...
...until afternoon tea, which naturally was scones with jam and cream. Or fruit, if you preferred.
It may sound as if we spent the entire day scoffing, but by the end of a five hour class, every one had made a super house and someone had even made a Christmas pudding. I'm planning a similar workshop at the Queen's Head in September, so if you are interested in pre-booking a place, drop me an email and I'll contact you when the date if confirmed,
I'm not big on birthdays and this one came at a particularly bad time. However, the good folks at Cinderhill Farm were determined to make it special for me and somehow I found several cards and a few packages waiting for me at the breakfast table, from various friends who had discovered my hiding place. Even a pretty parcel from America, from dear Janet and her colleague at 'The Empty Nest' - birthday bunting and the pleasure of reading about her shop in a real, live magazine. Proud friend moment. A lovely framed print of Lorna Marrison's, from the artist herself, of a village shop I know well, back in my old home.
A gorgeous book of David Gentleman's art from some old friends.
Later that day a couple of friends turned up and the woodburner lit, as it was a typical British summer's afternoon.
Debs had made my favourite coffee and walnut cake.
Serious tea and cake eating commenced as the rain set in outside.
After an unexpectedly pleasant day, thanks to the kindness of so many friends, I was ready to copy the new Cinderhill piglets. I did a lot of sleeping at the farm.
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THANK YOU to everyone who entered the 'Mollie Makes Feathered Friends' giveaway. The winners are - Mary Ann of 'A Cloth Doll Maker's Diary' and Sandra Spencer - Happy Independence day to her and all my lovely American readers.