Wednesday, 27 October 2010

WIP Wednesday: Frantic Craft Fair Preparations

It’s WIP Wednesday again (or at least I think it is, I thought today was Thursday earlier but I’ve been corrected. This is what happens when you don’t work in an office and don’t lift your head up from making lavender bags for three days, the passage of time becomes confusing) – thanks Tami for hosting, and if you want to see more WIP posts (or link your own) then get on over to Tami’s blog and her Mr Linky widget.

Now, I bring you hot-off-the-press dispatches from the Craft Show Preparation Front Line. Because it is an Eco Shopper factory here, essentially. Eco Shoppers, they are coming out of my ears. There will hopefully be enough Eco Shoppers for the whole of Bakewell to carry one tucked in their handbags ready to whip out at a moment’s notice. No, I don’t need a carrier bag, thank you! they will be able to say, as one. I have my Useless Beauty Eco Shopper, made with a mix of new and retro fabrics! And I shall slot my purchased item into it carefully, like so, both saving the environment and impressing all around me with my quirky taste in fabric bags and my much-appreciated support of a one-woman business!
Honestly, the light in the sewing room is quite atrocious. It is all quite Dickensian although at least we have central heating and dinner. If I cook it
I like doing the handles best: fold, fold, centre fold, sew down one side, brrrrrrrrrrrr. Brrrrrrrrrrr. I find them strangely satisfying. It’s like popping bubble wrap, but more productive. I have run out of handles now, though, sadly, and must do ironing and pinning. I do not like ironing and pinning quite so much. There is not the same sense of mastery of heavy machinery.
African Wax Print. It got in there somehow. I've still got a lot left, you know. I might have to make provision for it in my Will
Here is a selection of Eco Shoppers, folded. I think what I might do before my next craft fair is buy a big batch of African Wax Print fabrics and make some more Eco Shoppers out of that. I think they would show off the big prints very well.

It is very possible we will have neither bags nor sufficient change at the craft fair. It is very possible that Milo the husky may eat a lavender bag at a surprising and inappropriate moment. It is very possible that all the price tickets will say the wrong things, if there are price tickets at all. But by God (swelling violins), there will be Eco Shoppers. And how can more be asked of any crafter?
If you look at the DVDs in the background you will see one called Russian Ark. Don't buy it. Just trust me on this one
And here is an experimental cushion cover which I think turned out quite well. It’s made from cotton jersey and upcycled tshirts, and you can see I am experimenting with exposed overlocking, which I think looks good. Me and that overlocker: it was a tense relationship to start with, but now we’re besties. That doesn’t happen very often, does it? That’s what makes our relationship so special. I haven’t got a tattoo or anything yet, though. I just want to make sure we love each other still a year from now.

That’s it for the moment – I shall go and sew a few handles on. Thanks to everyone who’s signed up for my card swap so far, I’m so pleased to have people taking part! Hearts, marshmallows and smooches to you all, and may your WIPS flourish. And if anyone else wants to give it a go, come, come on board the Card Swap Train. You’re more than welcome ;-).

Monday, 25 October 2010

A book review (of sorts)

After I did my post a while ago saying I never read fiction, you’ll be excited to know (well, possibly not that excited, I do understand ;-) ), that I’ve read a book! Yes! A fiction book! Pride and Prejudice! It doesn’t count, because I’d read it before (albeit years and years ago), but now I’m reading another! Bleak House! Which doesn’t count either, because I read it when I was doing my A-Levels, but, baby steps, people, baby steps, and as this is the first time I’ve actually enjoyed reading fiction for God knows how many years I am rolling with it. Perhaps after I have finished Bleak House I will branch out, gasp, and read something I haven’t read before! Even something written after the death of Queen Victoria! (possibly not to start with, actually. Let’s see). (Just as an aside, for those of you who haven’t read Bleak House, I do recommend it: I actually think it’s probably the best English novel ever. I think everybody could have given up and gone home after Bleak House and that would have saved us a lot of trouble. This is a bad attitude, though. I know. I am working on it).
Bleak House! I like books you buy by the yard
Anyway, that is not the Book Review to which I refer. I am also reading Jane Brocket’s book on quilting and I thought I would share what I thought about it with you. I have been stepping round this book for a while. I first saw it at the V&A when I went to their quilt exhibition, flicked through it, decided there was nothing in it, and put it back. Then I kept seeing it in Heffers. Anyway eventually it wore me down and I decided to buy it, it came, and I have perused. Now. Here is the review of it as a quilting book: if you, like me, are interested in the kind of quilting where it is all about simple shapes, colour combinations, and never doing anything alarming like paper piecing, you will love this book and it is definitely worth buying. I am glad I finally succumbed and got a copy, and I like and will probably even make a couple of the quilts in it, and find the advice about putting fabrics together very interesting.
A lovely silky quilt! (Although pls stylists, I am kind of over shabby chic. K Thnx bai)
However. For those of you who are not familiar with the work of Jane Brocket, here is a quick summary and you will see why things are a little more controversial than you would expect a book with some nice quilts to be. Jane writes the Yarnstorm blog, which has lovely pictures, and is very much of the genre of ‘finding beauty in little/ unexpected things’, which is always cheering. A few years ago she published a book called The Gentle Art Of Domesticity, which I also have, and which I enjoy. Anyway: cue lots of angry people on one side saying that publishing a book about domesticity was oppressing women, a lot of people on the other side saying they loved knitting/ quilting/ brushing the guinea pig’s hair into a surprising shape/ and they most certainly weren’t oppressed thank you very much, a fight on Women’s Hour, a nasty review in the Telegraph, and a thread on Ravelry which ran to over 100 pages and turned into a discussion on whether or not you should be a surrendered wife (you shouldn’t).
This is how I know Partner has failed at the gentle arts, because his favourite thing in life is to bark at me, 'The world is a terrible place, Susie! Deal with it!' while I sniffle at the poor abandoned puppies on Animal Cops Houston
Now, I have tried to come up with a sensible position on the Domesticity and Feminism debate which I could sum up in a blog post, and readers, I have failed. I think it is complicated. I do. I will only say that I think reclaiming domesticity is a fairly radical act in and of itself, whichever gender does it, and that if we valued domestic skills generally we perhaps wouldn’t be a nation who thought Tesco ready meals were food, and that it was fun to go and buy a skirt made by someone paid less-than-poverty wages in a third world country because we haven’t got the first idea how such things are produced. Also that because a woman writes a book celebrating domesticity it doesn’t mean all other women have to give up their jobs, slip into a pinny, and start decorating cupcakes with their teeth gritted, because I believe we as ladies are allowed to act independently and have different interests. However (and I speak as someone who likes both the Jane Brocket books I have got), I have to say that her version of domesticity does involve quite a lot of not talking about ugly things, and there seems to be quite a narrow line between celebrating the beauty in everyday life and simply not engaging with the things that are not beautiful (Kate Davies did a good post about this, here, when the book came out; I thought this was a good reading). I also always think, when I read Jane Brocket in the Domesticity book talking about how she’d love to knit with Vanessa Bell, about the Wendy Cope poem on Vanessa Bell, The Sitter, from her collection If I Don’t Know, (which is great, by the way - I love Wendy Cope), which explores Bell’s snobbery towards her model. Domestic heroines: not always uncomplicated people. Domesticity as a concept: not always free from problematic class issues. Bugger!

But, I have gone off my subject. What I mean to say is:

  • Read Bleak House because it is great
  • The Jane Brocket book on quilts is definitely worth buying
  • Embrace radical domesticity, but the operative word there is radical
  • The world is not always a nice place: there is blood and politics as well as cupcakes, and if we engage with it as it is, rather than a prettified version, our lives will be richer and more honest

Anyway. Lavender bags. They have entered my brain and stopped me thinking coherently: off to make more coffee.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Homemade Christmas Card Swap sign-up post!

ETA, Sign ups now closed! Thanks to everyone for taking part x.

OK, people. Let’s do it. Let’s have a Homemade Christmas/ Yule Card Swap.
People send me cards. I squirrel away the shiny ones
 (This isn’t only to encourage me to get off my behind and make my own cards this year, I promise, but, you know, that will be a happy side-effect. We can encourage each other! I can post links/ ideas that don’t involve buying something very peculiar I saw late the other night on QVC which melts powder to emboss cards, and which burnt the woman who was demonstrating it quite seriously!).

You’ll be sending one homemade card out to one other person, and receiving a card from someone else. (ETA, I meant a card with a greeting in it, not a blank one for someone to reuse). My definition of homemade is quite loose: whatever floats your boat, from a hand-embroidered Yule-themed art postcard to a bit of glitter stuck on a card from Primark. Basically if you’ve had a hand in making/ altering it and you like it, then we’d love to have it in the swap. (It strikes me that we all celebrate different things these holidays – Christmas, Yule etc – I think rather than tailoring cards so that they cover everything let’s just send a December Greeting in the way we would normally do it, and take the ones we receive as a greeting as they were intended, i.e. I’ll happily receive Winterval, Yule, Kwanzaa cards or whatever anyone wants to send me. But let me know if you feel strongly another way).

Anyway, here’s the serious bit. These are the Roolz:

  • To sign up, leave me a comment below, saying that you’re in. Then email me your postal address (to uselessbeautydesigns [at], and also tell me your commenting name (so I can cross-reference), where you’re willing to send a card to (because it’s just a card, it should be cheap to send it anywhere in the world, but if for some reason you’re restricted by location, no problem, just let me know, and I’ll match you up accordingly).
  • I’ll leave this post up until 5th November to try and guilt as many people as possible into signing up so people have enough chance to see it (no pressure ;-) ). Then I’ll email everyone who’s taking part over the weekend following, and let you know who to send your card to (who you send to will be different to who sends to you – that way it will be a surprise!).
  • Send your card out by 10th December (that gives us 5 weeks to get something together), and let me know when you’ve sent it by dropping me an email so I can keep tabs on where we are.
  • If anyone doesn’t receive a card due to their sender forgetting, having a personal crisis possibly involving the installation of a new bathroom, or the postal service exploding, I will send you a card to replace it. So it’s a risk-free swap!
  • It would be lovely if you would blog about what you receive (or send me a pic and tell me to blog about it), because I’d love to see what people get! I’ll link to all posts.
And, as a special bonus, because I have been frantically making lavender bags this weekend for my craft fair, using a sack of lavender I got from Long Barn (highly recommended – it smells amazing):
Lavender! In a sack! Smelling delicious!
I’ll draw a winner (using the random number generator) from one of the comments on this post after I close comments next Friday, and I’ll send them a couple of the lavender bags as a bonus prize. These aren’t wimpy little lavender bags that hardly smell of lavender, I want you to know:
Obviously I will trim the threads before I send them to you. Obviously
They are hardcore. The entire house is lavender-scented. They are knocking me sideways. You will like them, I promise.

OK, I think that’s everything. I hope it makes sense – if not let me know and I’ll make something up clarify ;-). Happy swapping, people. (Excited. Hope someone signs up. Eeek!).

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Friday Interview: Vivianne Kacal

OK, it’s the Friday interview! Today’s is with Vivianne Kacal, who gives Tarot readings through her website, Kismet's Companion, and has recently started selling her own handmade soap on Folksy and Misi. Although Vivianne’s blog is tarot-themed and she talks about tarot, I didn’t realise she actually gave readings (I am very dim) for a while – when I realised, I had a reading done straight away (and it was very interesting and thorough, so if you are thinking of doing the same, I would highly recommend Vivianne. I also think it’s great that she has a code of ethics on her site). Anyway, I dabble a tiny bit in tarot myself (although I’m still very much a beginner), and I find the whole thing fascinating, so I was delighted when Vivianne agreed to be interviewed. Thanks Vivianne!
Vivianne with cards and a scary skull, eek
1. What drew you to Tarot initially?
Oooh, I don’t really know; there was a Fournier tarot deck in my flat, which I don’t even remember how it got there, or where it came from …so I started with that.

2. Why do you think Tarot readings are so perceptive?
Hmm. I think it has to do with how well the reader picks up – and then communicates to the querent – the nuances of the cards individually, and how they connect together in a particular spread; the more open to intuition the reader is, the more specific they can be – within the parameters and limits of the cards.
The world is a good one to get. The one you don't want is the tower. Unless you actually get it in a reading in which case, don't worry, it'll be fine (my opinion not Vivianne's! ;-) )
3. What would you recommend to someone new to Tarot who wanted to learn more?
I’d recommend joining an organization such as TABI (Tarot Association of the British Isles) – a community full of friendly and supportive people - and doing their free beginners’ course, which is based on Joan Bunnings’ ‘Learn the Tarot’ book. I’d also tell them to read any tarot book they can get their hands on, practice, read, practice …and then read and practice some more. I’d say to be wary of people charging tons of money, especially if/when you don’t know what you’re getting for your money; be wary of ‘diplomas’ and ‘degrees’ – there are no formal or official qualifications in tarot. 

4. Do you find using different Tarot spreads influences the reading? Do you have any favourite spreads, or artists?
Hmm …not so much that different spreads influence the reading, but that different spreads illuminate different aspects of the situation, depending on what the querent (person having the reading) wants to know. I like the traditional Celtic Cross spread for an overall view of what’s going on with someone, and I like to use a couple of 3 to 5 card spreads for fine detail and suggestions for moving forward. I developed two very specialized spreads dealing with bereavement – which the Australian Tarot Guild used in a recent weekend seminar, I’m proud to say - and divorce/separation. I’m very fond of Beth Seilonen’s work, although I don’t use her decks for working with, for me they’re ‘art’ decks; I like the Victorian engraving-based style of Baba Studio; and of course, Ciro Marchetti’s digital art is fabulous for detail and color.

I find actually that the deck used for the reading can influence the ‘tone’ or timbre of a reading: several readers have their own favorites for romance readings, say. If I have a querent who doesn’t choose the deck, I will select one based on their question. As regards ‘working’ decks, I like the Hudes deck for no-nonsense, smack-upside-the-head type readings; the Spiral tarot for romance questions, as its ‘voice’ is quite gentle; the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot is for my my comfy old slippers deck – I’ve had it for over 20 years, and its imagery is always the one I visualize in first; I like the Victorian Romantic for its slightly different angle on things; I like the Gilded tarot for the detail, which really kickstarts the intuition. I’m also quite fond of the Whimsical, which adds another layer of shorthand and/or metaphor to a reading….

5. You say on your site that Tarot can predict someone’s death. I thought this was very brave and straightforward, because I think often people gloss over this possibility. Is this as simple as the death card turning up in a reading, or is it much more complex and contextual? Would you always convey it to a client?
I’m glad you asked me this. It could be as simple as the Death card turning up in a reading, but it is more likely to be a combination of certain cards in certain positions in a spread; it might also depend on the question being asked. On one occasion, the querent asked for 1 card to be drawn, and the question was ‘where will I be in August ?’ I drew XIII Death; the person died in July. There was a background of recent ill-health, but at the time of the reading, nothing medically to indicate this outcome. [Note from me, my jaw dropped when reading this one, you can imagine!].

Conveying such information to a client is where things get really sticky, and one of the reasons why I am so focussed and soap-boxy about ethics: I strongly believe that not enough readers have considered this kind of question before they start reading for other people; I mean considered in terms of how they would handle it to/for the querent. There are a few ways of handling this, ranging from outright lies to blunt ‘saying it like it is’, and I think that which response is used depends both on the reader, the querent and the situation at the time.
The Celtic Cross spread, using the Gilded Tarot

6. How would you describe the kind of soap you make?
Fabulous, of course LOL ….I’ve been making soap for a couple of years now, and I feel like I’ve found my favorite formula – one which gives lots of creamy bubbles, a lovely rich lather and leaves my skin feeling clean without being ‘tight’ or dry.

7. Has making your own soap made you feel differently about commercial soap? Do you think handmade soap is better?
Yes, it has ! It got me educated about what’s actually in commercial soap – like animal fats (sodium tallowate is the official name) - which most of my veggie friends didn’t realize. I think handmade soap (by which I mean cold process or hot process soap, not melt & pour glycerin soap) is far better for the skin, because the humectant glycerin produced in the saponification process is retained, rather than removed as it is in commercial soap; also, the blend of different oils that can be used in CP soap can be adjusted to optimise various qualities such as lather, moisturizing, enriching, hardness, etc. I also really like the idea of supporting crafts and small businesses. We haven’t used commercial soap for a few years now… [Note from me. I'm going to bore you next week about the Chorleywood bread making process. Hooray! And it seems to me that commercial soap is to real soap as tesco value sliced white is to homemade bread].

8. Which of all the things you’re doing at the moment are you most excited about?
I am enthusiastic about everything I’m involved in – or else I wouldn’t be involved in it; life’s too short for me to be dragged down and under by stuff that either bores or irritates me (see my blogposts on housework); I just don’t see the point in wasting my time like that: and the older I get, the less tolerance I have for it…

Right now, I’m looking forward to getting to grips with the ‘techy’ side of selling – promoting my Misi and Folksy shops, working out how to streamline my tarot website further, perhaps linking my blog more immediately to my website, that kind of thing. I’m always excited about tarot – I’m nosy, so I love to read for people and find out about their lives, and if I can help is some way through tarot, then really, that’s a great feeling.


Thanks again Vivianne – I loved your answers and there’s lots to think about there (I’m going to be checking out TABI and the tarot decks you mention). Catch Vivianne on her tarot website, blog, or folksy or misi shops.

Have a nice weekend, everyone. I shall be spending mine hovering over my overlocker, grinding my teeth ;-). You all try and have more fun than me, though!

Thursday, 21 October 2010


The Saturday after next (October 30th) I am going to be doing a craft fair, in Bakewell Town Hall. So for those of you anywhere near Bakewell, you will be able to come and see me looking excruciatingly embarrassed with a huge empty table with only a tie-dyed tshirt and one cushion on it, with my mother sitting next to me muttering ‘I told you so’ in a manner which is not encouraging. Because the main thing I have learned about craft fairs so far is, don’t leave it until the week before to think about whether you’ve got enough stock or not. Anyway, it’s fine. I’m not hyperventilating and running about like a headless chicken at all, and in no way am I tempted to pull a duvet over my head, go down and watch Judge Judy, and start on the sloe gin. It’s all fine. No one needs to worry about me at all. {Sob. Whimper}.

I’ve got another interview tomorrow, hooray, with Vivianne from Kismet’s Companion – thanks Vivianne for being such a nice interviewee ;-), and do check back tomorrow for talk of tarot and soap. OK, now I’m off to rethread my overlocker, which is always my task of choice when I’m very very very busy and stressed. Bugger it, I might have a coffee first. It is my birthday after all (36! How did that happen? I think I’m probably justified in having a midlife crisis now. Peroxide, leather and electric guitars: here we come).

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Another Woolly Hat

Do you love me more than the hat? Do you though? Do you?
Hat – By my mother.
Modelled – By my brother Dan.
Sofa – Marks and Spencer.
Cushion – I am strongly suspecting Dunelm Mill.
Wool – From Kemps wool shop in an exciting Rowan bargain bag last Christmas.
Pattern – Who knows? This is my mother, she is a law unto herself.
The love of a good husky – Priceless.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Thinking about cards and shall we have a card swap?

I’ve been thinking a bit about sending letters and cards and things recently, after reading this post by The Gingerbread Lady and finding this blog (whose author is going to send me a letter! Isn’t that kind?), and I do think it is nice to get something handwritten occasionally, which is one of the reasons I like sending cards at Christmas (I know everyone moans about sending cards, but I like it! I like to keep in touch with people! I am a hideous Pollyanna/ Martha Stewart hybrid!).

The other time, obviously, that people used to tend to send cards was when they went on holiday, although now we can all text each other and a text does have a fighting chance of getting home before you do. I dug out my old postcard collection earlier from when I was very little, and it is nice to look back and see the kinds of things I was sent. Looking back with cynicism, it does strike me that I was perhaps encouraged to have a postcard collection by the fact that they were cheap and easy to store in a box. No wonder my diamond and mountain goat collections never got off the ground, then.
I'm not sure why this was the postcard of choice from my grandparents to me as a small child but I want you to know I am ok now, although I wish I had seen the one on the bottom left after we had done the bathroom, not before
It was a different world in which you either sent someone a postcard of an unattractive man being made faintly anxious by a scantily-clad nymphette, or you had to send them a postcard of a donkey or a parade of shops in Ingoldmells.
You might need to identify a lugworm one day. You'll thank me then
I think a gun was held to my cousin Richard’s head, or dodgem priviledges were withdrawn until he had produced a postcard to send me. (‘Draw Sue a picture, Rich! It’ll be quicker!’).
I think we visited Skegness while they were there. You'll be relieved to know the site was perfectly acceptable
These are from my grandparents on both sides. What kind of holiday would it be without a pint and a game on the slots? No kind of holiday at all. And I am glad to see the caravan site was quite clean, although I think there is a world of meaning contained in that ‘quite’, and no doubt it was expanded on when they got home. Meanwhile, Nana Mollie is roaming the streets of Oxford eating buns and causing trouble.

Anyway, you see, I have kept my postcards for years, even the ones from my mother’s French penpal who tells my mother off for not writing often enough and the ones from Grandad’s next door neighbours, Les and Lucy Lomas. It is not as easy to keep emails, so sometimes an actual physical artefact is nice. Which brings me back to Christmas cards! I was thinking it might be quite a nice idea to do a handmade Christmas card swap later this year. Would anyone be up for that? I would organise, and you know, we’re starting early so we would all have plenty of time to get something made (I am not very good at making cards so I might just be sticking a few sequins to a bit of cardboard. Bad news for my potential swap partner, I know, but good news in terms of, don’t be intimidated by standards). Let me know if that’s something you’d be interested in, and if I have any takers at all I will think about it more and do a proper sign-up post.

(Random fact of the day: bathroom fitters hate mosaic tiles. They hate them. They make them suck their teeth. Back to perusing the tile catalogue).

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Friday Interview: Heloise Toop

And it’s the Friday interview! (I love doing these). Today’s is with Heloise Toop.
Heloise in front of a self-portrait
Heloise is an artist based in Cambridge who I came across when we went round Open Studios this summer (for those of you who haven’t been following my blog since day one and taking careful note of everything I say, Open Studios is a series of weekends in July when artists open up their houses and you can go and look at their work, stroke their cats and generally bother them. It’s a great idea and you get to see loads of really varied work). Well, by the time we got to Heloise, it was the late afternoon, and we were very tired. We had stroked cats all across Cambridge (and some of them had been quite challenging), we had tried to find thoughtful things to say about a variety of media, and we were arted-out. We were Hardened Art Consumers. Ha! It was going to take something fairly special to impress us! Then we saw Heloise’s paintings and to say we were impressed is an understatement – we were blown away. They were fantastic. I kind of love portraits anyway, and I love colourful, bold paintings, so I was predisposed to like them, but even so I did find them unusually haunting. I think what got me was that they have a kind of hyper-realist quality, but there is something calm, rather than cruel, about the way they expose their subjects. Anyway, I will stop babbling, and we will get on with the interview.

1/ How would you describe what you do?
I paint portraits in Acrylic or Oil aiming for a sense of realism, but also attempting to make them exciting with colour and composition.

I love faces, and I try to create pieces that make the viewer stop and take notice. I sometimes do this by cropping the face, so it is large on the canvas, and the facial features are prominent and engaging, or I work on large scales with lots of colour so they're hard to miss!

2/ Which of the things you’re working on at the moment are you most excited about?
I am in the process of painting a wonderfully gifted actor, Jan Uddin, who has an amazing face and incredible engaging eyes. I have painted his portrait before, but this time I am painting him full length, on a very large scale. It's very different to anything I've ever done. You'll have to wait and see!

I also have a commission to paint Brian Belo, winner of Big Brother 2007 who has an instantly recognisable face and a heart of gold. I will have to try to convey this in the painting. Apart from that I am about to undertake a commission of three beautiful children which I'm very excited about, as it's always nice to paint those big eyes and innocent faces.
Portrait of Jan Uddin
3/ You have a distinctive, and clearly well-developed, style. Do you feel having developed something so effective and coherent relatively early on in your career restricts you or liberates you?
I am very flattered that you think my style is well-developed. I have never thought it was!

I struggle through a lot of paintings trying to find my way as I go, and to me, I'm still attempting and discovering new things all the time.

I am pleased that my paintings could be seen as having a distinctive style. I have never noticed a particular style, but it's incredibly hard to look at your own work objectively. So, in answer to the question, I don't feel restricted, just happy that I know what kind of thing I'm drawn to, and that I'm passionate about it. I'm sure my style will evolve over the years. Experimenting is half the fun.

4/ Is it any more difficult finding inspiration in commissioned pieces than subjects you’ve chosen yourself?
It can be difficult when people have a very rigid idea of what they want, and I'm not allowed any input at all. It's only happened on a couple of occasions but the paintings don't come out looking like mine. Unless a person commissioning an artist wants a piece of the artist in the work, then there is no point in commissioning them.

If I'm allowed a fairly free hand to choose what I think would work best for the commission regarding pose, background etc, it is easy to find inspiration, because it's my vision.

I love painting lots of different people, and there are exciting ways to paint everybody. It just works better if people trust me to make the right decision.

5/ What quality are you drawn to in the subjects of your pictures? What do you see in their faces that makes you want to paint them?
I haven't ever really thought about it, but I suppose I'm drawn to people with strong facial features. Big noses and distinctive eyes. Out of choice I seem to go for people with a slightly ethereal look about them. For my non commissioned work, I often paint my sister, partly because she's free to model, and partly because I love her quirky style and huge blue eyes. She is also willing to put up with me sticking butterflies in her hair and dressing her up as the Mad Hatter. I can't thank her enough.

6/ Do you have other creative interests, or is painting your focus?
I have been playing the flute for fourteen years and I've dabbled in crafty things like sewing and customising clothes and other objects, but my heart truly lies in painting.

7/ Are there any other artists you particularly admire, or are inspired by?
It was the Pre Raphaelites who got me interested in portraiture while I was doing my A Levels, just because their paintings are so beautiful and magical. I love Millais especially, and 'Ophelia' is one of my favourite paintings. I also like Andy Warhol because of the large scale and acidic colours of his work. I always go to see the BP Portrait Award at The National Portrait Gallery, and I think a lot of the artists who are exhibited there are fantastic.
In The Shadows (which features gold leaf. I'm a sucker for gold leaf).
8/ Where do you see yourself and your paintings in ten years’ time?
Haha, where I see myself and what I wish for myself are very different things!

I would love to be in a house with a big studio, painting with the sun streaming through the windows without a care in the world, looking at all my art awards shimmering in the light and a waiting list ten feet long to be cracking on with.

However! What I'll actually aim for over the next few years, is to be exhibited in London, either in the Mall Galleries again, or ideally, in the BP Portrait Award. I would love to be able to make my living purely from my paintings, but that's probably a bit much to hope for.

I hope that in ten years I will still have the support and interest from the people that I am lucky enough to have now, and that others still enjoy my work. Fingers crossed!

Fingers crossed indeed. Thank you, Heloise, you were a lovely interviewee, and I wish you every success with your painting (and so do my mum and dad, who did Open Studios with me, and are big fans). To find out more about Heloise, or to commission a painting, you can look at her website. I’ll also update about future exhibitions (and if I ever sort out the how-to-earn-money issue and we can go a few months without the bathroom exploding or the ceiling falling in, I may start saving for a picture myself. In the meantime, Heloise, if you ever want a free no-strings model, just give me a shout. I'm not sure my face is very interesting, but I have got quite a big nose ;-) ).

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Better Homes Than Yours

I have bought Living Etc magazine. I do this occasionally and it is invariably a mistake. Normally if I buy a home magazine I buy Your Home, in which the Homes look – and I say this carefully – as if a normal person has decorated and perhaps had a bit of building work done, then gone on a spree around Home Sense: i.e. they mostly look achievable, and what my house might conceivably look like if I made a bit of an effort. The homes in Living Etc are not achievable and it just depresses me. They normally have one of the following:

- A woman with 5 children under 7 whose home is absolutely white, with a white Terence Conran suede sofa. ‘No it isn’t impractical!’ she trills, brightly. ‘You just have to be organised!’. Somewhere in the house is an antique tailor’s dummy with a silk dress from Alice Temperley hanging from it. It is subtly conveyed in the photographs that the children have all passed their Grade 7 Oboe, are the most popular children in their respective peer groups, and enjoy eating broccoli.

- A couple who taught themselves to be electricians and builders while working full time jobs as Barristers/ Senior Television Executives, and thus renovated their house in Notting Hill on only £500 and a Heal’s gift voucher from Daddy.

- A man who gave up his job as a Barrister/ Senior Television Executive to make pointless things out of reclaimed wood, instantly brought in the equivalent of his previous salary, and has hand carved his kitchen out of an old crate. Which he found at the side of the road. And he has also adopted the cat he found sitting in it.

- A woman who ‘sources adorable little things’ from flea markets in Paris and has a display of manky little bits of lace above her bed, along with a framed shoe from when she was a child. Somewhere there will be a winsome line from a winsome poem stencilled on something, and a chest of drawers that she has distressed with sandpaper and the application of dabs of white paint. I am trying not to gender stereotype with this one and if I ever see a man in Living Etc doing the same I will come back and edit this post.

Anyway, this month there is a woman who lives right in the middle of Borough market and ‘just loves the bustle’, and another woman who has put lots of balls of wool in a big glass vase ‘to make a colourful display’. Readers, I do not think that woman can be a knitter, although perhaps I have overlooked the decorative possibilities of that ball of turquoise fun fur I never quite know what to do with. So I am going to quietly put Living Etc away before Partner finds it and makes fun of me (Partner calls such magazines ‘Better Homes Than Yours’, after a magazine Marge was reading in The Simpsons), and I am going to go and wash up, then read my catalogue on tiles. Tiles! Who knew there were so many different kinds! Shall I be let to sleep,/ Now this perpetual morning shares my bed?

(By the way, I’ve got another interview tomorrow, with Heloise Toop, who is a Cambridge artist who paints the most fantastic portraits – so do check back ;-) ).

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

WIP Wednesday is distracting me from Home Improvements. Good!

It’s WIP Wednesday – thanks again to Tami, and her admirable mastery of the Mr Linky widget, for hosting! Well, my major work in progress this Wednesday is the new fire we are currently having fitted in the living room, which has practically involved rebuilding the house. Nothing we ever do to our house is ever simple, because, as Partner says, it is a knackered house, and we should accept that, give up trying to make it look halfway decent, and drink wine. Anyway, we now have a big hole in the wall – in a slightly different place to the hole that was in the wall previously – and Partner and I can spend the rest of our lives arguing about whether we should have had the fire lower, after spending the morning shouting Higher! Lower!, like terrible parodies of Bruce Forsyth, at the poor fire-fitting man while he patiently moved the fire up and down for us to see what it looked like. In the meantime, it is my job to make cups of tea every twenty minutes and force them down the fire-fitters’ throats, as if they were baby birds (I’m not suggesting I’ve got the hard part of the bargain).

But onto more conventional WIPS. I’ve finished piecing the top of the Subversive Guerrilla Quilt, and here it is (standard disclaimer: don’t judge me on my woodchip. I’m having a fire fitted. I’m making an effort).
OK, look, be honest. Do you iron your duvet cover either? Reluctant ironers unite!
As with everything I ever do, I spent the entire time sewing this together thinking, Oh God, it looks crap, I’m a crap person, I can’t even make a decent quilt, nobody loves me, etc, and then the moment it was finished I decided I adored it with a burning passion, and basked in my smugness for a good afternoon. But I’ve got to say, I’m not looking forward to trying to quilt it. Do I have a long-arm quilting machine? Why, no. Do I know anyone with a long-arm quilting machine? {Looks pensive and chews knuckle}. I think my plan is to quilt it in quite a basic way (i.e. just on the squares), by (short-arm, non-walking-foot) machine, with a mixture of brute force and determination. Possibly while eating a bun. Does that sound like a plan?
I need to iron that seam again. God. O Photography! As no art is,/ Faithful and disappointing! as Larkin said, inbetween being a great big irritating commitment-dodger
This is the skirt of the Anna Maria Horner Evening Empire Dress. I won’t tell you how long I’ve had this cut out, because I don’t want you to think I’m disorganised, but I got to it eventually, and I will try not to leave it for another 3 months before I sew the bodice. I’m pleased with it so far, and I’ll do a review of the pattern when I’m done.
It's chunky, it's funky, it's I-can't-think-of-another-rhyme-unky
And this is my Cheadle. I’m not convinced I’m getting gauge (OK, look. I’m not getting gauge but I’m not sure whether it will be disastrous or not). The wool is Debbie Bliss Donegal Chunky Tweed and I actually really like it, it’s great for this pattern. I bought it from The Black Sheep recently while it was on offer so for the price especially, I’m a happy bunny.

And moving away from tangible woolly things, I’ve got a couple of less tangible FOs to tell you about – forthcoming articles! I’ve got a piece coming up in Bespokezine, a new zine put together by Jess Van Den – available now for preorder. I’ve also got a how-to in the December issue of Sewing World, and an article in the next issue of Cuntastic (I was trying to explain this one to my Aunty Kath in the British Museum cafĂ© when she had an attack of deafness which necessitated my yelling ‘it’s an anti-consumerist critique of sex toys, Aunty Kath!’ loudly across the cups of tea). I’m very excited to be a part of all of these, so if anyone happens upon them, do let me know what you think!

Happy Wednesday WIPing, everyone.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Pen and ink are not dead. They're just feeling a bit delicate.

Dear blog readers,
I look exactly like my brother. I'm sorry Dan, we will never escape our genes

Friday, 8 October 2010

The Friday Interview: Diana from Magickal Realism

Today’s interview is with Diana Rajchel of Magickal Realism.
Diana from Magickal Realism
I first came across Magickal Realism through etsy, and I’ve bought (and I love) a few of Diana’s scents. I’ve always been really in to perfume, and, like a lot of people, I can divide the periods in my life up according to the perfume I was wearing at the time (and I shan’t be revisiting Opium. But a sniff of CK1 takes me right, right back. Don’t judge me ;-) ). I was lucky enough to discover Magickal Realism at a time when I was starting to become a bit bored with mass - market fragrance offerings, and wondering if there was an alternative: well, there certainly is, and I’d encourage anyone who’s balking at the thought of buying the latest Jordan fragrance or whatever nonsense Boots are pushing this week to have a look round at some indie perfumers, who aren’t all hung up on the conviction that we all want to smell like pretty flowers or fabric conditioner. Diana’s scents are genuinely different, and have a complexity about them that is very seductive. Also, the names are fab. Who doesn’t want to smell like a vampire groupie? I certainly do. Diana does lots of other stuff too, and I can recommend her writing first hand as I’m a proud owner of the Spellcasting Picture Book, which is great. Anyway! On with the interview!
I think we'd all rather smell like Vampire Groupies than like Corporate Clean Vanilla Fragrance no. 126
1/ Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and what you make?
If you asked me my vocation a year ago, I'd likely style myself a writer who makes perfume. Nowadays, I just identify as an artist. I'm at an odd convergence in my career: a plus size blog I started in 2007, mainly to help other plus size women find more clothing sources than the usual suspects, took off in strange and unexpected ways manifesting this year. ( Arguably, the plus size blog is what I'm best known for, despite writing occult nonfiction for more than a decade, and running a magical oils business that became a perfumery over the course of that time.

In terms of crafting, I design perfumes. Once in awhile, I also make body products - usually melt and pour soaps, scrubs and bath salts. Although I planned to get away from it when I started Etsy, I've found myself drifting back toward creating unique occult supplies such as the incinerate incense papers in my trashion line.
Samhain ritual fragrance. It's coming up, you know! Plan ahead!
2/ Which of the things you’re working on at the moment are you most excited about?
Aside from the book I'm writing I'm having a great time making the origami incense bats. I plan to add penguins and other shapes as my skills increase. I'm even looking into Polish paper cutting arts, although at this time I find the approach intimidating.

I'm expanding my trashion line to include trashion accessories. Right now I have bottle cap/wine cork incense burners waiting for listing.

I have in development "uncrossing bombs." These little skulls fizz when they hit water, and are intended for use in uncrossing spells where someone finds water preferable to fire. Once I sort out how to ship them in one piece, I'll have some fun with them.

3/ You use only natural products in your main (non-Trashion) line, which is is very unusual for a perfumer. Why did you make the decision to go all natural, and do you find it restricts you or frees you up?
Going all-natural was not, initially, a conscious decision. I just wanted to work with chemicals that I had the best chance of understanding - and that meant working with natural/botanic origin materials. I've found since then that despite claims by IFRA, natural materials do have a lower rate of allergic response than do synthetics. As a person with chronic idiopathic urticaria, (hives, all the time, with no fully identifiable cause) I've become invested in understanding allergies and allergens. There's no way to serve everyone when it comes to chemical choices and allergic concerns. Why? Because you can be allergic to anything if your body decides to be at any time, water included. Using natural materials I do seem to enjoy better success at avoiding someone's histamine minefield.

Also, popular synthetic scents annoy me; I consider them the olfactory equivalent of Celine Dione and modern country western music. Yes, a lot of people love them, but for me... nails on a chalkboard. The result of the current approach to fragrance is a lot of the same stuff over and over, and since fragrance takes a very different kind of imagination from other materials, it ends up with a lot of people asking only for what they know. Synthetic musks, grapefruit and certain florals are now essentially like elevator music - 4 chords and seven years ago, as Huey Lewis and the News might say. [just a note from me to say I agree totally! ;-) ].
Take thy beak from out my heart and take thy form from off my door!
4/ Does being a Wiccan influence the way you create, or the kinds of scents you make?
Yes, and I've found it's a looping influence. Whenever I drift, someone asks me to come back. I began in the business making magical oils on custom requests under the name Medea's Chariot. I quit for a few years, and decided to revive the perfumery with heavy rebranding in an attempt to move to a slightly more mainstream market, but found that my steadiest customers buy my fragrances most for magical purposes even now. So even though I started to move away from it, I was brought back to it by popular demand, and this happened before I wrote the spellbook. I'm considering starting a separate store for aesthetic perfume shoppers now and giving Magickal Realism over to fellow neopagans completely because of this.

When it comes to new scent designs, they happen either because someone requests it to suit a purpose or need, or because I see something I want to capture in scent. Often the requests reflect a magical nature, enough so that I design all my fragrances according to an astrological model I designed to determine formulas.

5/ Has running your own perfume business changed the way you feel about mass market perfumes? Are there any mass market perfumes you enjoy?
I found myself looking at mass market perfumes much more seriously after I began designing myself. I began to realize, ironically, how over-fragranced the western world has become and how we limit our vocabulary of scent. Even laundry detergent gets perfume added to it. Despite the aesthetic limitations of mass market perfumes, I came to acknowledge some real artwork out there amidst the chemical flow. While I strongly - STRONGLY -disagree in the trade practice of nondisclosure of materials in perfume, I acknowledge that some perfumers using synthetics demonstrate real talent in what they create. I'll let the Environmental Working Group ( take on the issues of what's hiding in those synthetics. The way I see it, I might not find the process for pigmenting paint thrilling but I can still admire a Da Vinci. I just have to take responsibility for what I paint myself.

My mainstream favorites are admittedly few, but I do have them. The two standouts that I love (and can't afford) are Tom Ford's Black Orchid and Coco Mademoiselle. I will sometimes wear Preferred Stock instead of one of my own fragrances. It's hilariously popular with men, who all comment on my yummy smell and then stare at me in horror when I tell them I'm wearing a men's cologne. The way the world has been brainwashed into olfactory gender roles affords me endless amusement.

For nostalgia's sake, I also keep around a bottle of Love's Babysoft Jasmine and I'm hunting down Muguet. I may try to track down Charlie Express! and Le Fleur since I wore those perfumes in high school, and it's fun to look at my autobiography in perfume.

6/ I loved your Spellcasting book, and I understand you’re writing a new book at the moment about Handparting, the Wiccan divorce ritual. I think divorce, and the end of a committed relationship generally, is something that cries out for a ritual to mark the change: do the people you’re talking to generally seem to find Handparting rituals a positive experience?
Yes, I am currently writing a book about handparting, a Wiccan ritual for releasing people from marriage vows upon their divorce. I'm hoping to go the traditional publishing route with this one, which these days may mean a physical book or at least something you can pull up on an ebook reader. I'm currently seeking an agent, and I'm also asking neopagans who have experienced at least one divorce that happened more than a year ago participate in the survey:
It's long and intense, but it also allows participants to bookmark pages and come back as they can.

Of the respondents on my survey so far, the few that have had handparting ceremonies find them positive. I was unable to conduct one during my own divorce, and I would like to think that a formal ceremony followed by "here's some codes of conduct you might want to try" would have been infinitely helpful. As it was, I stumbled through and made more of a mess of what was already a mess. While there's no way to make any divorce, even an amicable one, easy, I felt like younger Wiccans in particular might appreciate the book or perhaps use it as a flotation device.
What I like about grounding is, you can also do it by having a cup of tea and a nice piece of cake. True fact, this is recommended in one of my books
7/ Are there any other perfumers you particularly admire who you’d like to tell us about?
Anyone involved in Rebel Perfumers rocks, really and truly. They're all passionate about forging their own aesthetics in scent, and somewhere I'm stashing a piggybank so I can find a way to try them all.

8/ David Tennant, Matt Smith, or someone else?
Oooh, best question EVER! [note from me. Yay!]. I actually started my Whovian travels with Peter Davison, but I identify Christopher Eccleston as MY Doctor. He brought a gravitas and alien human-ness to the role that brought the series back to life while acknowledging the loss in the first place. I really do love all the actors who played the Doctor; the character is so much more than the actor that plays him, and they've all captured that essence of a hyper-intelligent alien with ADD and low sense of self-preservation beautifully.

Thanks Diana for this – I really, really enjoyed your answers (indeed, I’m going off now to click my own interesting button! That isn't a euphemism!) and I’m going to check out your recommendations, because I’m completely fascinated by perfume (and if anyone else is into perfume as well, can I also recommend this book, which is one of my favourites). I hope the Handparting books goes well too, because it sounds great. Thanks again. (Check out Diana on her website, etsy shop, or plus size style blog).

Have a nice weekend, everyone ;-).

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Quilting. The new Guerrilla Art Form.

One of the things that always brightens my world a little bit is graffiti. I love graffiti (I even don't mind the dodgy kind), and I wander about taking pictures of it sometimes (you know, when I can't find any random cats to photograph. I did nearly take a photo of a hairy little terrier outside Homebase, though, because he just looked so tragic, but then his owner came out to get him and I felt I shouldn't intrude on his incandescent joy).
Just off Portobello Road. 5 million tourists with their cameras pointed in the other direction, me photographing 2 men standing near a signpost. It is a wonder I do not get arrested
I love the colours, the style, everything about it. My best graffiti experience was going to the outskirts of Prague to look at a modern art gallery, and the tube (I can't remember what it is called in Prague) went through a completely graffiti-covered urban-wasteland-type landscape which was very striking. Sadly this was before the days I had my digital camera always on hand, ready to whip it out at a moment's notice in order to photograph urban artwork and passing furry creatures, like a Photography Ninja. I was completely thrilled, then, when I went to Habitat the other day (home improvements. And I say again, Do Not Do It),  to see new and really dramatic graffiti on the corner of Newmarket Road, which is one of the, shall we say, less attractive parts of Cambridge. Indeed, Newmarket Road looks a bit like capitalism chewed it up and spat it out, with a side order of boarded-up shops and dirty concrete. The graffiti looked amazing, though. Today I went to bother the people at the bathroom shop opposite to get an estimate, and while I was in the area I took some photos:
Well that certainly brightened things up. Perhaps they considered and discounted Magnolia

This is about fractured enactments of femininity. There, I saved you the trouble

And this is how my hair feels today
It's by a group called Blight Society – they also have a blog with more photographs, if you want to look (and you can see why the location needed cheering up. Somehow it never gets any sunlight either, I think that makes it seem worse). You can also buy artwork from their site, from £1, thrillingly. I shall certainly be checking back to see what's selling for £1, and I think I actually recognise some of the styles from stuff I've seen around Cambridge. Anyway, this got me to thinking. I always feel like the best kind of graffiti is the kind that has a bit of an edginess to it. And – admire my segue, here, this is going to be worthy of daytime television – I feel the same about quilting. I'm nearly finished piecing the top of my quilt, and I can't say (says she carefully) that I feel it's entirely an aesthetic success. I think it's a bit too busy. If I'd had a full choice of fabrics I would have done it differently, and I think it would have looked better.

But... I did make it entirely with things left over from other projects, fabrics from charity shops, fabrics I'd swapped (and thankyou to Mumma Troll, your fabric is one of the best things in it!), and stuff like that. So although I do think it would have been more attractive if I'd planned a colour scheme and then bought fabrics to fit, I just can't somehow entirely get behind buying all new fabrics for a quilt. It seems wrong. The point of quilting seems, to me, to be that it's a blindingly effective way of making something lovely out of unusable scraps: going out and buying all the latest co-ordinating Kaffe Fassett, although it would produce something really beautiful, just isn't the same (I do love Kaffe Fassett prints, though. Not dissing him. Just saying). So, I'm happy with my scrappy quilt in terms of theory, even though some of the blocks do look as if they've been put together by a short-sighted monkey on acid. Anyway, here is the half I've pieced so far of the Edgy Guerrilla Art Quilt of Doooooooooom – you can judge for yourself if being thrifty was worth the aesthetic compromise. (You can be critical. I can take it).
I just don't know why this went so blurry. In real life all those horrendously clashing prints are as sharp as a pin
Now. Do check back tomorrow, because I've got an interview with Diana Rajchel from Magickal Realism. I was very happy she agreed to do the interview, as Magickal Realism has long been one of my favourite shops on etsy (indeed I believe I once bought some House Blessing oil from her: time to dig it out and scatter it about methinks), and it turned into a very interesting interview, I thought.

OK. I have linked graffiti and quilts, possibly not as good as my Yoko Ono/ Spratley cake link but I think that's enough for one evening. I shall now go and look at brochures with toilets in them and weep quietly. (I don't quite know how I became so bourgeois. If someone wants to take back my membership card, do. It's fine by me. I used to be cool).

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

My Secret Shame - exposed.

Here they all are oppressing me, dammit (are there any I've borrowed from anyone? Do shout)
Forgive me, internet, for I have sinned.

I have slightly more qualifications in English literature than are entirely compatible with being happy and well-rounded. I have a library on my doorstep. I have books in my house. I have a mother who brings me a bag of all the latest fiction, pre-reviewed and digested for me whenever she visits (‘don’t read this one, somebody dies and it’s miserable. This one’s funny, you can read that. This one’s by that man who wrote the one that was on telly. It’s not as good’).

And yet.

I do not read fiction. And what’s more:

I don’t care.
I'm afraid you can indeed see What Not To Wear in the left hand corner there. Look: you think I got to be stylish without research? And sweat?
Other kinds of books, goodness yes. Knitting books, craft books. Vintage sewing books. Books on Wicca. Books on politics. Books on sociology. Books on psychology. Cookery books. Books on feminism. Spell books. Poetry. Newspapers. Graphic novels. Bonus points for political feminist graphic novels. Travel guides. The Argos catalogue. Fashion magazines. Home Improvement magazines. I read all these all the time. I’m never not reading something like that. Is there a new critique of capitalism with a feminist eco slant somewhere? Marvellous. I’m right there. Some book or other about a thrilling new knitting technique? Here I come, credit card in hand. Obscure feminist craft zine with recipes, only available in San Francisco? Thank God for Airmail and Paypal. New Argos catalogue out? Here I am, skippety-skipping across the Beehive centre carpark to see if they’re doing anything different this season in terms of woolly rugs. If I’ve run out of anything else I read the Boden catalogue. Look, they send me hundreds. They make such an effort. Someone needs to appreciate all those little questions they ask their models. But fiction? No, nyet, nope, sorry, not interested unless you stick a few Kitchener stitch directions or a nice recipe in between chapters 10 and 11.
Ah, Le Chat, comme je l'aime. But I do not understand Tardi
So I am at a crossroads. I am wondering whether I should just accept a happy utilitarian future in which everything I read is Useful and Improving, or if I should bite the bullet again and engage with fiction. Because I must have read some at some point. Perhaps I should, you know, go wild and (try and) enjoy myself. It’s not as if I’m a total aescetic: I do read poetry (says she desperately). And I do like a bit of fiction. I like Dickens! I like things you buy by the yard where everyone’s emotionally repressed and married to the wrong people! I liked Harry Potter! But beyond that – as someone says in one of the Adrian Mole books (ok, I do like them as well), ‘I have never read Dostoevsky. And with good luck and a fair wind, I shall never have to’.

Do feel free to leave me any fiction recommendations, to tell me I’m wrong, or to sympathise (although, please: no Magic Realism. That is where I draw the line, and I draw it firmly). Those of you who know me in real life – feel free to tell me off. I know you all will. But I have broad shoulders. Me and the Argos catalogue, we can take it. Off to look for a woolly rug. (I want one in beige. I’m not adventurous).

Monday, 4 October 2010

Mr Fierce, and a Spratley Cake Recipe

It’s my mother’s birthday today, so Happy Birthday mother! Following my previous post, she would like everyone to know that it is actually she who is responsible for my love of sewing as she used to make my furry toys when I was little. She used to make a long furry sausage with eyes and ears, then she stuffed it with corrugated cardboard (yes really), sewed a bottom on, and that was my toy. I had many of these and my mother says that she and I spent many a happy afternoon rolling corrugated cardboard and stuffing it up the respective bottoms of Snowcomes (Snowcomes was white), Rover, and Mr Fierce. I have tried to get my mother to take photos but she says Rover et al are ‘all in the attic with their stuffing out’. Well, this seems quite an ignominious end, especially for Mr Fierce, but I will try not to be sentimental. Anyway, Happy 32nd Birthday, mother, and I am hoping Dan has a better handle on how old you actually are rather than how old you tell us you are, just in case you are ever kidnapped in Ecuador or something and one of us has to give information to the Foreign Office.

Anyway. Since I did my post about the evils of supermarkets, I have so far managed to reduce the money I spend in them by about £20-£30 a week, although I am definitely still buying some stuff there. The £20-£30 was very little effort, I have got to say, although I can see that reducing it further might take a bit more thinking about. I am certainly glad I am giving Tesco less of my money, because I was in there on Saturday and they were making a great big fuss in the fruit and vegetable aisle about sourcing things locally:
Stop criticising, all you nasty people. All our fruit and veg is British! Or at least a miniscule proportion of it!
Look! Look at their commitment to reducing air miles!:
Before supermarkets screwed up all our agriculture there were hundreds more varieties of apples than there are now. Thanks for the sop, though
And then when I looked where the apples came from:
Integrity. Ur doin it rong
There were some British ones – I think there was about one crate out of about 20. The rest were mostly from Portugal or New Zealand. Honestly, I don’t know how dim Tesco think we are. (Quite dim if you look at the Tesco Values customers supposedly want – I don’t know about you, but I can even manage compound sentences!). Anyway, I won’t go off on a rant, because I wanted to give you a recipe.

One of the things I have been doing recently is cooking much more from scratch, and for some reason I have been drawn to very boring, basic food of the kind that you will never see on Nigella. Why can’t food be boring and basic, though? It still tastes nicer than a ready meal. In fact I often think with these programmes where someone goes and tries to get people to cook proper food instead of living on deep-fried Mars Bars and turkey twizzlers, they should just say, why don’t you just stick a baked potato in the oven, yum (I do see that wouldn’t be very exciting: it’s probably best for all of us that I’m not involved in television).

So in the interests of rediscovering more basics, I bought a book on Derbyshire cookery when I was in London recently (I was brought up in Derbyshire), and I found a recipe in it for Spratley Cake. Well, Spratley Cake is as unglamorous as it sounds. It is essentially a big flat Garibaldi biscuit. But I made some Spratley Cake and it was quite delicious although, it has to be said, not attractive. While I was considering whether the photo I had taken of it was just too ugly to put on the internet, I found myself listening to the Only Album By Any Of The Beatles I Can Stand To Listen To, (and even then I suspect Yoko wrote most of the good bits. Go on! Unfriend me! ;-) ):
O if only I knew someone with a band who would let me cover this song. Hey! Wait!
And I thought, if Yoko can look like this on the album sleeve notes – unairbrushed and in a not very attractive jacket, with that expression of slightly irritated tolerance – I can show you my rough-looking Spratley cake. So here it is:
There were some bits which looked a bit better but we ate them very quickly
And this is the recipe, here. I used slightly more pastry than this – 6oz (made with 4oz flour and 2 oz butter), and honestly, it was lovely, I shall certainly be making it again. It would be fine as well if you don’t have any fresh mint (we have some in the garden – it’s not worth buying any for it, it would just be delicious in a different way without).

There is one huge, huge problem with making things from scratch, though. They are much, much more moreish and delicious than things you buy, so unless you quickly invite everyone you know round to your house the minute you make biscuits, you end up eating more. I fear my rear is expanding, possibly even as I type this. You know that saying about having to choose between your face and your figure when you get to a certain age? Well, I wanted to keep my figure. I didn’t think I’d get to choose explicitly, exactly, but I did think I’d have a bit of a say in it. And after years of stress and looking slightly haggard but fitting into all my carefully-curated vintage, I now I find myself looking bright eyed and healthy, with a muffin top. Bugger. How did that happen? I hope it’s not going to come down to a choice between breaking the stranglehold of the supermarkets and still being able to get into my Vivienne Westwood skirt. Activism. Always has its drawbacks!