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Children's illustrator and cricket lover cultivates vegetables and cats in rural Oxfordshire.
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Two years ago today, my lovely Andy chose to leave this life. Today, I and all his many friends and family remember him with love. It is a bleak, rainy winter's day and the trees are bare, but I have picked all the colour in the garden for him and hold his memory close in my heart. Always.
At the end of last year, I paid a flying visit to Manchester, to see my dear friend. Sue of 'Mouse Notebook'. Apart from catching up with news, I was also treated to a grand tour of her 'workplace' - the magnificent Chetham's Library.
I admit, that at the top of the stairs, when this Paradise of books opened up before me, I stood still and had a little weep. Only a true bibliophile will understand why.
Visiting is free, but donations are always very welcome (indeed, needed). Visiting times and details can be found here.
And as the lucky guest of a Chetham's librarian, I was treated to a quick tour behind the scenes - what we might call 'the staff room'. I will let the books speak for themselves, they will do it more eloquently than I.
Another insight into the life behind the shelves - inside the inner sanctum of the office, where a colleague was examining a beautiful antique book of real (and very much imaginary) marine life. I think the publication date was the 1500's, I was too lost in the engravings to pay much attention.
My friend's colleague, who had been browsing the book on our arrival, tried to find a particularly spectacular creature he had spotted earlier. Sadly, like so many mythological beasts, it remained elusive, despite much searching.
On the way out, still breathless from the presence of soaring shelves of antique books, I spotted this - as my long time friends and readers will know, anything letter press catches my attention.
Here are small enclosed areas, rather like individual shrines to the blessed book.
There was a distinctly cathedral-like atmosphere throughout - a hushed reverence and the way the fragile winter light filtered through the windows.
Partially drunk on the rapture of books, I emerged into bright winter sunshine and braved the Christmas crowds and the train journey home.
So many thanks for all the kind and lovely comments on my last post. Joe and I were incredibly touched that people were happy for us. Now that I have a real purpose, I've thrown myself back into work with a vengeance, starting the New Year with two little hare brooches in a newish style.
It's good to be making again.
2014 ended with a gorgeous feature in 'Filtz Fun', a popular German felting magazine - they made it all look beautiful, I think the prettiest magazine article of mine I've seen. I do need to update my publicity picture though. 2015 is starting to fill up with workshops - at the moment I have five definite dates, starting in March with a bang at the p-Lush alpaca show in Coventry, where I will be using alpaca wool for the first time ever. The next day I am in Oxfordshire at my regular venue of Folly Fabrics, Smith's Restaurant in Manchester in April and back to the Buckingham Summer School for two full days in August. (Summer, hooray!) More info and contact details can be found on my website. More to be added, with luck.
Many of my lovely friends and readers will know that at the beginning of 2012, soon after moving into our new home - this little cottage from which I write - my beloved partner Andy tragically died. So many of you supported me in those lonely, heartbroken and dark times. Even though I may not have replied to every email or message, their presence helped me work my way through the excruciating period of grief which followed. Thank you seems hardly enough.
I cannot deny that it has been a long, solitary journey since then, despite finding odd fragments of joy. The constant battle to endure the loneliness, the worry of finances and trying as best I can to make some sort of business. For whom? Because life alone for me, is not a life at all. And so this poor blog has been often neglected. I have had little to write about, save work and more work. But now it is a New Year and a fresh beginning for me. And for another person.
Immeasurable joy has danced into my life and I have a reason for living again. A loved one to care for, to cook for and to hold. My bleak life has been transformed and I remember yet again the poem quoted to me in the early days, by a dear friend and soul sister.
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
At the time, it seemed a horrendous mockery. Now I read it with a sense of blessedness and newly opened eyes. Welcome Joe; welcome to my life, my heart and my many dear friends, wherever in the world they may be.
This last weekend saw me packing up my workshop again and travelling by various means (taxi, train, bus, foot) to the Toft Alpaca shop, near Rugby. I was a little dead on my feet by the time I arrived, but a friendly and business like welcome - not to mention a fine bowl of creamy latte coffee - soon had me upright and setting my workshop up for the next day.
It's that time of year when people's thoughts turn to Christmas and I'd pre-made a little set of my own trees to act as visual aids and inspiration.
And then I set my sales table up, as I now sell not only my own kits, but tools and supplies now. I couldnt bring my entire range of 52 wool colours (which I have stocked in my Etsy shop) but I brought as many as I could.
I was fully booked with twelve places filled. The shop and cafeteria have a really great, busy atmosphere and soon my little band of needle felters were hard at work creating their own trees.
Lunch was a superb affair.
I took advantage of the time to pop out and get a quick shot of the stars of the show, the alpacas. There are many more than this, but these two sweeties are near the shop.
Next door to my class, a crochet workshop was going on - making the delightful creatures designed by Toft founder Kerry Lord, in her new book, 'Edward's Menagerie'.
Which contains patterns for all these lovelies dangling here -
Meanwhile, back at needle felting central, I'd opened up my battered suitcase of treasure - beads, findings, threads and everything needed to beautify a Christmas tree.
This was a particularly talented class, and by the end of it I was incredibly proud of the gorgeous small forest of trees skillfully crafted that day. As for myself - well, I packed everything up again and made the return journey back home; a very busy two days indeed.
I have just two workshops left this year - one is fully booked, but there should still be places for an acorn making workshop on November 20th at the White Hart pub in Eynsham, West Oxfordshire. Details and booking contact can be found on my website.
My Conference pear tree has been over productive again this year. Too much fruit for one person and as I did last year, I let my lovely neighbours gather as many as they wished. Still the tree hung heavy with fruit. So I have picked my own small share. The split ones to eat now -
The perfect ones to store for a few weeks.
There are apples too - sour cookers of an unknown variety.
This is the trouble with fruit - I don't have the inclination or time to do anything with them and yet I hate waste. The birds will gorge on any windfalls though and in my garden I have a couple of very plump blackbirds who have done very well out of my lethargy.
I actually found myself more drawn to the spoiled fruit still clinging to the tree.
Such rich colours and close up, a fascinating surface; quite beautiful in its own right.
This is the problem with living in the country, where everyone has fruit trees and a glut of produce. However, I am bravely chomping my way through several pears a day and they are, without doubt, very sweet and tender. Everything will be eaten, one way or another.
This month saw my return to the eternally wonderful Hope and Elvis studio, run by Louise Presley, to hold two all day workshops over one weekend. It barely seemed as if I'd been away, but it had been almost a year.
In the morning, and in keeping with the autumnal weather, acorns were made. I accidentally got my own measurements wrong, not for the first time, so instead of bijou acorns, we had egg sized ones. but everyone enjoyed themselves. As you can see from the big beam on Louise's face.
And amazingly, despite my error, we had a batch of acorns by lunchtime -
And a cluster of cheerful toadstools from the afternoon's work.
On day two, I did it all over again, with another group of lovely people. But this time we kept the acorns a little smaller...
This was a gorgeous colour combination, with faint gold beige stripes on a tomato red background.
There was one very special person who came, Charlotte of 'Chest of Delights' blogspot - we've been virtual blog chums for a few years now and it was lovely beyond lovely to meet her and finally get to hug this friend I'd not met before. She also brought along some of her own beautiful work.
There is something very pleasing about a well made toadstool.
I also launched my fourth needle felt kit, which just happens to be a decorative acorn - they went very well, which is always nice and reassuring.
Decorative acorn kits are now available from my Etsy Shop, priced at $17.00/£10.60 plus shipping.
My next workshop is at the popular Toft Alpaca Farm, Rugby, on November the 1st - this time making Christmas trees. For more details and to book a place, please visit their website, but hurry as it is almost booked out!
In much need of a break, I set off for my second home, Cinderhill Farm. Traveling light with all the essentials.
Hello pigs, snorting about in a carrot munching frenzy.
Hello again Marvin, my old friend the farm rooster.
Hello to my new job, as Chief Label Sticker-onner at the Pie House. Cinderhill Farm is now a chief pie supplier to the newly opened Gloucestershire Service Station and pies cannot be made fast enough. Or sausage rolls.
Sticking the labels on in precisely the right place turned out to be my forte - everything has to be beautifully turned out, from pie to packaging.
So the next day, we set off with crates of various pies, all the way from the Forest of Dean to Gloucestershire. Across the magnificent Severn Bridge -
Where we unpacked many, many crates of hand baked goods at the warehouse, before doing a little shopping, Cotswold style. Local cheeses from small dairies, for supper -
And beautiful artisan bread from small, local bakeries.
Gloucestershire Tebay services are all about selling local goods and supporting the surrounding community. It's an entirely different shopping and eating experience to the standard service station.
Naturally, a selection of Cinderhill Farm Pie House Foggys were sitting proudly in the deli section.
We had civilised and greedy double cake for tea, from the cafe.Yes, the huge meringue is mine.
And even later, the worker's reward. Ciabatta and exceedingly good cheese. Almost humble.
It was a lovely week of work and relaxing. But then it was time for me to return to my own quiet world. Goodbye, wonderful Wye Valley, with your spectacular views.
Goodbye noisy geese, with your beaks stuck in the air.
Goodbye sweet Pearl, house kitten of great beauty.
Goodbye rufty tufty barn cat who's name I can't remember.
Goodbye Cinderhill Farm, until I return again.
So I come to the end of an unscheduled blog break. This summer has been about attempting to keep my financial head above water and setting up my supplies business. It has also been about sorting out my personal life and what happens next after the horrors of last year. So far it is all a bit uncertain. There have been one or two lovely highlights though.
Being treated to high tea at the Kensington Palace Orangery was one of them.
Dressed as I was in my old leather biker jacket and army boots, my old friend and I were given the most prompt and courteous of service by exquisite young waiters.
Tea was served and we genteelly dived in.
Having not seen each other in person for several years, my old friend and I had much to talk about, in-between debating which sandwich or cake to have.
The orange-scented and currant scones served with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam were naturally, divine.
And served on crested china.
It was all so very delightful and so very, very civilised. As my kind and generous friend observed, tea and cake put many things right. Though that theory has been sorely tested this summer.
Alone at night, but for the moths, who cascade through my open bedroom windows. I welcome them in and watch them for a while, as they flutter around like a crazy miniature circus.
Eventually, they settle on the glowing, bare plaster walls. Some cast disfigured shadows, like tiny monsters. A hooded vampire with twitching tentacles.
Some are masters of disguise and blend in where they can.
Others cluster round my lamp, a single artificial light in the dense country darkness.
Raggedy dancers, spreading their dresses.The large, ungainly Elephant Moth, whirring and thumping on my pillow. So clumsy on foot, so elegant when air borne.
Skinny, gallumphing daddy long legs, careering about like out of control trick ponies.
The sweet plume moth, who's prettier common name is 'Angel Moth', dressed in downy feathers and stretching her elegant legs.
Sometimes, they come to me.
I leave the windows open and turn off the lamp. By morning, they are all gone and the walls are bare.
So this month I have managed to bring out my third needle felt kit - my yellow dog Custard, who so many people love. Designing a kit takes a while, but is so worth it once it's all finished. And now available with my other kits in my Etsy shop. And finally finished a long languishing order, for a copy of 'Kitty Blue' from my book 'Mrs Mouses' Cupcakes'. This is the newer version -
The first Kitty who appears in the book, was made five years ago, so there are a few minor differences. Such as the flower buttons, as I couldn't source the same ones.
But they are not a million miles apart.
Amazing to think that it is summer already - and I have a lovely big interview and feature in this year's Mollie Makes 'Made in Felt 2' magazine.
I also got to mention my two favourite needle felt artists, Victor Dubrovsky and Malachai Beesley, always nice to plug other needle felters, especially if you admire their work. Lady Winifred Weasel, my latest design, is looking for a copy now. She advises finding more details over on the Mollie Makes page. but if you're in the UK, it can be found in the usual major outlets, WHSmith and various supermarkets.
Since getting out and about, I have found a new, nearby refuge. Venus Pool is a 20 minute cycle away, a bird watching reserve with hides dotted about and rich in all kinds of wildlife. It is here that I go when I need that 'thing' which I can only get from tramping about in the green.
There is a new area of woodland opened up - it has been well over a year since I was in woods and I had almost forgotten how deeply they touch me. These woods are cultivated; a far cry from my old woods in the Cotswolds, which nursed remnants of the ancient Wychwoods in their heart. These are more Rivendell that Mirkwood, but to a thirsty soul they were bliss.
Returning, down a long, straight track leading towards an oak tree.
Buttercup fields glisten in the sun.
There are blowsy, overladen hawthorn trees lifted straight from a Samuel Palmer painting.
There are strategically placed seats, just where you want them. With views.
Naturally, the Wrekin overlooks it all. It is never far from the background.
On the way home, I see the potato crops are starting to show through.
Two Oxfordshire workshops this month, the first at a new venue in Bampton, Folly Fabrics - a vibrant, cleanly laid out shop in the heart of Bampton - which Downton Abbey fans may know is where many of the Downton village scenes are shot. (And yes, they were filming for a new show when I was there, but I was working!) Folly Fabrics are my third supplies and kits stockists and it was lovely to walk in and see everything displayed beautifully alongside my book.
Sharon had made specially themed cakes and biscuits with pink bunnies adorning them. There is always cake at Folly Fabrics and Sharon is a fabulous baker. Too adorable to eat? They were scoffed, anyway!
Everyone seemed to have a good time.
The next day I was back in my old stamping ground at Fibreworks Oxford, with a smaller class - only three, but it was nice and cosy. Birds were made. And here's a few things I managed to make inbetween everything. The cat is sold, the fox was a gift, but I still have a couple of the little stump hares in my Etsy shop. My next workshops are in July - at Chipping Norton Fibreworks on Friday the 18th making Candy Buns and back to Oxford Fibreworks on Saturday the 19th July, making this wee house on a hill, which can double up as a sweet pin cushion. Both shops are also stockists of my kits.
I'm always on the look out for nice shops to stock my wools and kits, so if you know of any, please let me - or them - know. I aim for nothing less than world wide domination.
It's taken me a long time to get my lovely push bike (Marjorie) out and about. The day Andy surprised me with her was one of the happiest days of my life, to know that he loved me so much - as I loved him.
Since he died, even though she is my only form of transport - and the nearest shop being two miles away - I haven't been able to face riding her, a unbearable reminder of what precious thing I have lost.
But this spring I felt able to get her out of the shed and dust her off. Brian-next-door pumped her tyres up for me and we have been having little adventures, finally exploring the gorgeous landscape around us.
We even found an egg honesty box a few miles away.
We're never far from a view of the Shropshire Hills.
It's hard sometimes, to allow myself to enjoy all of this, knowing that Andy never got the chance to see that we made the right choice after all. How he would have loved it.
Shropshire is proving to be more uppy and downy than the Cotswolds, but Marjorie and I are learning to tackle the hills.
It's nice to see my little cottage with its cream chimney stack, nestling in the landscape as we return home.
One small grey goose waddled off to a new home.Walter. He really is very small indeed...
There are still some spaces left on my May 10 chicken brooch workshop at the Fibreworks Oxford. If you'd like to keep me company, please contact the shop via the website.
Back at the Fibreworks Oxford, trying my Candy Buns pattern on a group of never-before needle felters.
I was really pleased when a few people asked if it was ok to tweak the design - going off piste is great!
They were a great group, so much so that they were my first workshop to finish early.
And now my kits (also available in my Etsy shop) are on sale there, along with my packaged needles. So if you're in Oxford, hop like a Candy Bun over to the Cowley Road if you want one and say hello to lovely Tasha and Lotty.
Five days is a long time to be away from home. Someone was glad to see me.
And now the bit you're probably been waiting for if you entered the giveaway. Using a random number generator thingy, the winners are -
I will do your best to contact you directly, but if I haven't, please email me via my blog profile.
Thank you so very much to everyone who took time to comment and those who bought the book anyway. It briefly went to number two in the Amazon.com craft list. Sales are good, but your kindness is wonderful.
Last year, the most terrible of my life, also saw one of my life ambitions fulfilled. With ghastly irony, the offer from Harper Collins to commission my first needle felt book came just two days after Andy died, in January 2013. What should have been a joyous occasion was like ashes in my mouth. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered any more.
Yet this book was part of my future survival; I was left rudderless and precariously positioned financially. Somehow the mortgage had to be paid, the electric bill, the water rates, the council tax and now it was all down to me. So having been given a deadline extension and much sympathy from my publishers, I began designing the first patterns in March.
Believe me, when you have lived through your worst nightmare, when you have howled into the snowy night for your love to come back to you, dreaming up cute toys seems like a monstrous irrelevance. And so the years of professional working kicked in and I immersed myself in making the best book I could, under the circumstances.
Somehow I found the strength to get this book finished by summer last year, despite having to take a break to organise Andy's woodland burial. I worked seven days a week, 8-10 hours a day. I often found myself crying as I sat alone in my studio, just me and my felting needle. But I did it. And in the end, I rediscovered my love of toys, as I surrounded myself with more and more of them.
Most of the designs were new.
Some were old favourites, like the Roly Poly robin, who I've made many, many times.
And I was able to include a good section on techniques, including how to sew in eyes and how I get that firm, smooth finish people are always asking me about.
I also wanted to produce a book which had more challenging patterns in - there are plenty of 'simple' needle felting books out there, and while I do have some very easy 'roll it up and stab' patterns, such as the Rainbow Mice, there are some more tricky designs for seasoned needle felters to get their teeth into. Over the space of four months, I produced a heck of a lot of creatures.
Although it is great to finally have my own needle felt book out, the person I wanted to do it for is no longer here. So these two lines are, for me, the most precious part of it.
"This book is dedicated to the life and dear memory of Andy Macauley, 1971 - 2013. My Forever Love."
I have three signed copies of my book to give away - if you'd like to have the chance to win one, leave a comment here so that I know who you are, and I'll do the draw next week, when I return from my workshop at Oxford Fibreworks. I'll also pay the shipping costs to wherever the winners are in the world. so all you have to do is enter and keep your fingers crossed! If you don't want to leave it to chance, then it seems to be available in major book shops all over the place, as well as Amazon UK and Amazon.com. It's also available as a Kindle edition and iTunes. Harper books in the USA have also published it, so my American friends should have no problem in sourcing a copy. I do hope that people like it.
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.
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.
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Back from Cinderhill Farm, having slept lots and had a really satisfying workshop.
The lambs are popping out now, triplets and twins born last week. They've been in the warmth of the barn since birth, but were being put out to grass.
Quite wonderful to see the lambs nibbling at grass instinctively, although only a week old - and the 'mums' tucked in with relish.
The new farm shop 'The Pie House' is now open for business and extra help bought in. it is light, clean and lovely, selling local produce and the farm's own meat.
A nice selection of cheeses too. I do like a good cheese photo.
A few hundred pasties were being made, all by hand, for weekend orders.
Two geese came to live at the farm (genders as yet unknown), which pleased me greatly as they are a favourite of mine. Once out of their crate, they waddled off up the hill and settled in at once. Such beauties.
I did some solitary communing with the pigs in the first real sunshine of the year. All of us grunting happily for the sheer pleasure of the warmth.
And finally, the workshop - a small one, to open the year. Two returning people from last year, which was so nice.
I'd set a pretty demanding challenge; to make a hare - my simple moon gazing design - within the day.
As usual, the farm laid on three square meals. two of which consisted of home made cakes.
At the end of the six hours, with lots of hard work, they had made all a gorgeous hare, each with it's own personality. So rewarding and to hear how everyone had enjoyed themselves. And great to meet a fellow blogger, 'Compost Woman', who has done a more in-depth blog post about her day, here with lots of photos.