Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The kids are alright

I must be a bit dim, and I certainly ought to read some kind of idiot’s guide to Economics, but I absolutely fundamentally don’t understand how banks lending inappropriately and losing money means that we now have to cut basic services and benefits and ramp up tuition fees. I don’t. I’m not being coy or rhetorical or faux-naïve or anything. It seems to me like if you say you don’t believe in fairies a fairy dies, and everybody’s suddenly decided they don’t believe in the money markets at the same time. I was hoping never have to dig out the Dummy’s Guide To Why Capitalism Is Fundamentally Unsustainable but perhaps that day has come.
Down with this sort of thing!
Anyway, here are students protesting in Cambridge and having a sit-in at the central admin section, the Old Schools, in the Senior Combination Room, which is the Old Schools café (I use this term loosely). I imagine this has confused the Old Schools hugely because, on a point of etiquette which I can assure you would have been a bit much for Jane Austen, you are not actually allowed in the Senior Combination Room unless you are an Officer or have a Cambridge MA (or are invited and accompanied by one), and now they have got people who aren’t even technically BAs sitting about knitting and twittering. Someone in the Old Schools must be frantically writing a sub clause in the rule book somewhere (Paragraph 311 clause f: non-MAs may exceptionally be admitted into the Senior Combination Room in case of sit-in, revolution, plague, breakdown of society as we know it or the M&S café across the road having run out of millionaire’s shortbread). Go students!

Anyway, I do think everybody’s wasting their time getting riled up by poor old Nick Clegg when honestly he’s only doing what he has to do, and he’s actually set us all a really fine example. Indeed, those of us who sell things could make direct use of it to sell lots of stuff and try to prop up our economy. I myself feel quite inspired. So to recap, Nick Clegg was voted in on a pledge that the Lib Dems would oppose tuition fees, and now obviously he’s, like, in actual power, and he’s realised it’s not really that practical. Well, that’s fair enough, isn’t it? Anybody can rethink things and realise they wouldn’t really work. So I’ve been thinking about things myself, and I want you to know that if anybody buys anything from my etsy shop between now and Christmas I’ll send you a free bar of gold bullion and a Maine Coon kitten. Completely free. No, really, I will do. A great big shiny 24 carat bar! And I’ll make sure Fluffy’s all housetrained and brushed nicely and everything. And I’ll come round and hug you. Personally. Sorry? What’s that you say? You don’t believe I’ll actually do it? Look, just paypal me the money, OK? We’ll worry about the details later.

/ end sarcasm ;-). / end Lib Dems as well though, probably...

Monday, 29 November 2010

The sad tale of a Droopy Dirndl

Well, I was a bit under the weather last week, so I slipped behind with my blogging activity and reading blogs, but it's nice to be back and I shall be catching up this week (oh, yes. Grit your teeth). I did notice, though, that Resa at Discovering Asterisms had made some amazing lino cut cards, one of which may be for the swap – Resa, goodness me woman, you have raised the bar. How is everyone else getting on? We've got (almost) a fortnight to go so no need to panic yet (don't worry, I'll let you know when it's time to panic, because I'll be panicking right along with you).
Snow. Post - nice & fresh, pre - slush
Anyway, it's snowed here now. Partner has cracked and we've got the central heating on all day, also he has trotted out to work today in his yellow scarf and gloves (Partner is very, very colour blind, but he just loves yellow. We think perhaps it's one of the only colours he can see) looking like a bad-tempered Rupert Bear. I have been hunkered down sewing, drinking tea and listening to the Dresden Dolls. I've taken some photos of the silky scarves and put them on etsy.
I have produced a non-mad product photo that has the side benefit of making our house look normal. Which it isn't. Go me
I'm linking them here because I actually think the photos don't look bad, and I'm quite pleased with them. (Those of you who've tried to take photos of things for etsy/ folksy/ blogs/ anything – which is probably pretty much all of you – will know how difficult it is. It is difficult, isn't it? It isn't just me?). Can you see my rug? I got that from ebay. I'm never too ill for ebay*. It's made from recycled fleece bits. I don't know how I'm going to hoover it. Perhaps I'll just buy a new one when it gets dirty. (That was a joke).
Back to the mad photos. Sorry
And I've been having a go at a pouffy kind of a skirt from recycled men's shirts. I've had the idea to do this for a while, because the one thing I always seem to be able to find in charity shops is nice, good quality, cotton men's shirts. Those of you who are squeamish are now thinking, yes, that's because they come from dead people, but I'm not squeamish. Or not about that, at any rate. So I'm not bothered. Bring on the dead people shirts, that's what I say. Let's get some use out of them!
This is the side. This is an informative rather than a funny caption
It's made from two shirts (although these ones are from my dad, who, I should point out, is very much alive), and I've sewn it so that the button bands run down each side, and one of the button bands forms the closure (I'd quite like to play up the button bands, but I'm not sure how to pick them out. Perhaps with contrast buttons?).

This is just much my very initial prototype (almost a pre-prototype. A pretotype?), but I think when I've made a few improvements it actually won't be a bad design. I can see it working quite well. I made this sample from short-sleeved shirts, so it's got a contrast waistband from some fabric I'd got hanging about, but if I made it from long-sleeved shirts I'd use the sleeves to make the waistband. The waistband needs narrowing, tapering and interfacing. Actually, that's my one sewing tip, listen carefully: Interface Everything. There, you'll thank me for that one day. No probs, you're welcome.
It's a bit of a droopy dirndl. I'm working on it
I'd like a bit more fullness. I considered lining it and I might try that, but I don't want to get too far away from the simplicity of making it just from two shirts. I think if I use slightly stiffer shirts it might help. I could make a petticoat, as well, I suppose. Of course, the fuller you get with a skirt like this, the more you risk it making you look like Anne Widdecombe, so I might see if I can shape the waistband a bit and bring it further down the stomach. Anyway, I'll do another version, and see how I feel.

* On the subject of ebay, there may have been an incident involving boots. It was late. I was weak. I may need to blog for absolution when they arrive. I do hope you won't begrudge me.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Silk Scarves

Well, it continues cold here, cold and bright. I swear I feel the cold more than other people. I’m not going to say ‘God I’m bloody cold’ in every blog entry between now and April but I’m afraid I’m going to be thinking it. I won’t say it though, I do accept that might be a bit boring. God, I’m cold! OK, it’s out of my system now.
It's like living in a picture postcard, and then I wander past in my Parka and spoil it
It’s been windy as well.
What do you want in circumstances like this? Brandy. No. What you want is a lovely scarf. So I have been making scarves from the tie silk, and I must say, I’m rather pleased with them.
Silk. Thick and lovely
What I couldn’t capture in the photo is quite how nice and thick the silk is. Because it’s so thick, the scarves hang really nicely. They’re Statement Scarves. They're the kind of scarves you imagine a louche aristocrat wearing to the opera or to oppress somebody, in fact if you have heard Edith Piaf's Milord (lyrics in French, the English version seems completely different, sorry) I think he is actually wearing one in that ('foulard de soie'). I’m really enjoying making them.
And again the standard disclaimer: Must Trim Threads
The only drawback (and this is a drawback for me, not for the scarves) is, the silk frays and leaves threads everywhere, so all our carpets are covered in threads and I have to keep hoovering it up. Partner in particular has become covered in threads. I’m not quite sure how, but he’s like a great big bit of Velcro and if he walks past a bit of silk it attaches itself to him. So I’m following him round subtly plucking bits of thread off his back, because if he catches me he goes off into a Thread Rant. (‘This entire house is covered in thread! Thread! All over this carpet! Thread! Everywhere!').
And now we've had the fire done I can take photos in front of it. That wasn't why I did it. It kind of was
But I don’t care, because I love this silk and I’m going to keep going with more scarves until I run out of big enough bits. Threads be damned! Ha.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Sewing Problems. Resolved! Ha! Take that, sucker!

It is very possible I am the dimmest person in the world. However I will share this discovery with you in case anyone else is equally dim. Because in that case what I am about to tell you will be very helpful and if, as is likely, you are not as dim as me, then you can feel superior. And that is always nice, and that is why I am typing this while watching Four In A Bed because however much of a prima donna I may have been in my life I have never yet cried in an Indian restaurant because I could smell curry, as one of the participants has just done. Anyway on with the dimness. I made my bag out of the patchworked silk scraps
There is no light in this house and there will be no light until APRIL
and although I usually give this type of bag a ribbon tie closure I thought it would be nice to use a magnetic snap for this one. For a change. To see what it was like. Now, I have used magnetic snaps before with no success, because I have found they pull away from the bag and I do not trust them to be sturdy, which is fine for a bag I am using myself but not for a bag I am going to sell. Well, the reason they have been pulling away in the past is because there is a washer you are supposed to fit behind them which the prongs fold around, and if you fit this washer rather than completely ignoring it and indeed not even unwrapping the paper it came in, then the snaps fit beautifully tightly and are secure enough for anyone.
Magnetic snappy fasteners! Functioning
So the bag will be going in the shop if we ever get light good enough for me to take photographs of anything (I got the magnetic fasteners from U-handbag – I always thought she seemed like a nice person so I wondered why her fasteners didn't work properly. Well now I know it was not the fasteners, it was me, so I can recommend U-handbag with no hesitation).
A stripey handle of stripeyness and yes I do see a loose thread, they haunt me
While we are on sewing, I will just share quickly this other thing I have just realised. You know how you are sewing along happily, thinking of things like what steps to take towards world peace, whether to eat a biscuit etc when suddenly your sewing machine goes chug chug chug and starts looping thread wildly on the wrong side so you have no longer got a row of stitches, you have got something that looks like Evil Spaghetti with added knots? Well if you are like me, at this point you swear, kick something, look how much new sewing machines cost on the John Lewis website, swear again, consider what you can sell on ebay to pay for a new sewing machine, change the needle, make a cup of tea, look at Cats Riding Roombas on Youtube and give up. Well, no need to do all that! Your machine has gone mad because the bobbin is near the end and needs changing. Take the bobbin out, change the bobbin. Your machine will work again. This works every time. Ha! Take that, sewing machine! I have made you submit to my will!

It takes me a long time to work things out, but I get there eventually.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Trying to keep warm

It’s cold here. Is it cold where you are? It feels like winter now, but it’s the nice part of winter where the air is cold and fresh and feels a bit sparkly and expectant, and if you walk along briskly enough you can warm up. It’s not yet that terrible January-type-winter where you can’t get warm whatever you do, and everywhere looks damp and faded. Even so, though, I have to say that active life is mainly being sustained at the moment by endless cups of tea (or, shall we say, endless great big mugs of tea. Do you recognise the Herdy mug? It’s the one I got in the blog hub swap earlier this year, and it’s been in constant use ever since!).
On the Road, when I've never got further on a road trip than Cromer. And why is my tea spotty? It wasn't spotty
As the sun goes down – like, in the middle of the afternoon – it gets colder still. Every evening I can be found positioning myself in front of the new fire, the better to soak up any residual heat.
Fire, der der der, I'll teach you to burn, der der der derrrrrrr
When I first moved to Cambridge, we lived in a flat with electric storage heaters. I’ll just pause here for those of you who have lived with electric storage heaters to wince with me. Electric storage heaters! What do they store? Nothing but the resentment of people who have to live with them, that’s all. You’d get warmer if you invited a small asthmatic poodle to come in and breathe on you. That was a winter spent in various pubs round Cambridge and walking endlessly round shops to keep warm. I actually think the cold got into my bones that winter and I’ve never properly got it out since. So I am inordinately – let me say that again, inordinately – grateful for our functioning central heating, and the new fire, although I suspect the current happy times of having the fire on every evening will last until we get our electricity bill, when it will be turned off forever in an avalanche of mutual recriminations.
Old skool tie. Deconstructed!
I have been patchworking the lovely silk from Mountain Heirlooms. It’s great to work with. I’m making a bag, and I’m using a mix of bold stripes and small prints on a black background. I was thinking along the lines of a quilt in the Jane Brocket quilt book where she mixes striped tie silk with woollen suit fabric, but I wanted to do something a bit different, and I’m liking the wintry-jewel-colour combination. I must get away from patchwork squares and do a different shape, but I’m still liking squares at the moment and I want to do a few skirts before I move on. After that, log cabin, beware.

I wanted to tell you about a couple of new books and things I’ve seen around.
  • First, Malka Dubrawsky from A Stitch in Dye has a new book out – I love, love, love her style, and although I accept this isn’t strictly relevant, she’s a really nice person as well. I once bought a mini quilt from her etsy shop which got lost in the post, and she was so helpful with trying to track it down and finally making a new one for me that I look at it with fondness every time I see it in its place in our hall (the original apparently turned up eventually, having been on an exciting trip to all sorts of inappropriate places). I think this book looks great, I might have to buy it.
  • Also, there’s a new Stitch’n Bitch book out – did you know? I didn’t know. How could I not know? Anyway, I had a flick through in Heffers, and it looks worth buying, although there don’t seem to be any techniques in it that haven’t been covered all over Ravelry etc. If you’re a fan, though (I do tend to be), it looked worth getting.
  • And a fabric find - I was in Oxfam earlier, and they had packs of fabric squares from The India Shop – they looked at least 4.5” square, and you got 60 for £4.99 – I almost got a couple of packs to make a quilt, and then I thought, no, Susie, step away from the squares. They don’t have them on the website, but if you’re going past Oxfam it might be worth having a look in.
  • And one more thing – I’m late to the party with this as ever, but a while ago my brother Dan gave me a CD of the Dresden Dolls – if you haven’t heard them, go out and buy/ download whatever, now. That’s all I’m saying.
Keep warm, everyone!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Oh. My. Goodness

OK, now don't be too alarmed. But there's been a kidnapping. And I've been emailed a ransom note.

These toys are being held hostage in the loft at No £$.*
Ransom required, one christmas card idea.


*[I have blanked out my mother’s house number here so she doesn’t worry about burglars].
How many cuddly tortoises have you seen before? Me = none
Well, this is just terrible, because obviously these toys have quite a lot of sentimental value. Because I made them myself, when I was very young. And I think it took quite a lot of skill to make the panda look quite that camp. And the hedgehog you can see on the left of the picture is actually a mascot my Aunty Kath bought me for when I was doing my finals, and I used to take him along to all my exams hidden in my mortar board (I had to wear full sub fusc for my exams. Don’t get me started). I think I had the biggest mascot in the Exam Schools. Everyone else had small sophisticated objects from countries they’d visited in their gap year. Well, I have, actually, worried about Mr Hedgehog’s whereabouts over the years, so I am delighted to see he has popped up again – but in captivity! Oh no!

Anyway, I have been looking for card ideas, and I'm not quite there yet. I found this idea for a Christmas zine on the Post Punk Kitchen, which I thought was a nice idea – incorporating a recipe into a card. And I love the look of paper cutting, although I’m not sure I could pull (a simple version of) it off (ditto lino printing). So I’m not sure I'm quite in a position to get Hedgehog, Panda, Seal et al (Seal is stuffed with foam chips – he’s hard as a rock! He can look after himself) out of their hostage situation yet - make sure you treat them well, cruel kidnapper! I do keep seeing on blogs and things that other people are doing well with the whole card swap situation, though – well done everyone, keep at it, and I shall continue looking for inspiration and report back (and I can’t wait to see everyone else’s – I’m quite fascinated!).

(You know what would be lovely, actually? Making biscuits and icing them as Christmas cards. Not for a card swap or posting, obviously, but for people you give them to in person. Because there is no situation that isn't improved by a biscuit!).

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Friday Interview: Reiki with Jodie

I once saw reiki described somewhere as 'an efficient way of parting middle class people from their money'. I shall, however, show my hand: I have been receiving occasional reiki treatments from Jodie (today's interviewee!) for a few years now, and it is my experience that it works. I absolutely agree that it sounds like something that a cynical person has made up to take advantage of the gullible: however, I have to reiterate, - it is my experience that it works.

Reiki is a therapy where essentially you lie down and the practitioner moves their hands over you, sometimes laying their hands on your body (in a non-dodgy way) and sometimes just moving their hands above. If you're more comfortable sitting up or not being touched at all, a good practitioner will work with you happily. The idea is that reiki – energy, in broad terms – flows from the practitioner into you. For me, a reiki session can make me feel as relaxed and energised as going on holiday for a week, and gives me a new perspective on things. It has other benefits as well, which aren't always immediately apparent at the time, but can be seen when you look back. For example, and at the risk of everyone thinking I am a bit odd, since I started receiving reiki, and especially since I received my level one attunement, I feel happier in my skin, more relaxed, and more intuitive. There have also been some fairly big changes in my life direction, which I feel reiki supported me through.
Jodie, still smiling after I'd quizzed her for an hour and drunk her tea
I started going to reiki when I was doing a job which was like herding a group of particularly independent and free-thinking cats from London to Rome, while people throw stones at you, and I have to say I chose Jodie on the basis that where she was practicing then was a stone's throw from where I was working at the time. It could have gone horribly wrong. But it didn't: I lucked out. Jodie is an excellent reiki practitioner, wise and calm, but also funny and practical. She makes reiki seem relevant, as far from fluffy bunnies as it's possible to be, and she has a knack of putting her finger on issues and always finding something illuminating to say.

Anyway, I went to see Jodie yesterday in her new treatment room (near the Grafton, for those of you in Cambridge, very convenient and near many car parks). I have reconstructed this from my notes so you might want to attribute anything questionable to me rather than Jodie. On with the interview!
The treatment room. Always a good sign when you can keep plants alive
How would you describe what you do?
I connect people with the best of themselves through reiki, which is an energy-based therapy like acupuncture or shiatsu. The difference with reiki, however, is that you're introducing direct energy into the body, rather than working with energy that's already there – you're charging up the body with energy, and it induces physical and emotional wellbeing.

Although there is a tendency to think reiki is weird, it's actually just energy work, like a lot of other complementary therapies.

What made you begin practicing reiki?
I was motivated by the success I had with reiki in my personal life. I started when I was going through a bad time at work [note from me, I laughed here in a hollow, Sid-James kind of way], and I came to it new, and very quickly felt the benefit. It was extremely intense. When I learned level 1, I immediately knew that this was what I was meant to be doing: I felt a sense of connection and peace. After not knowing what I wanted to do, I knew this was the right thing to be doing, and that even if the process was difficult, it was right.

Did you meet any opposition to your decision?
Yes! (laughs). When I first started, I didn't tell anyone what I was doing, because I was worried there would be opposition. And, it turned out, my fears… were entirely justified. People were very critical initially. Once when I was still working as a secretary, I was having lunch and reading a book when another secretary, who I didn't even know very well, came and tapped me on the shoulder and told me she thought reiki was nonsense. Also, I often meet people who go out of their way to tell me they don't believe in reiki, and then say 'but don't do it on me!'.

[We discussed here a bit about why people react like this, because if people think reiki is bullshit, fair enough, but why then be so nervous of it. We discussed how reiki is a lot about confronting the truth about yourself, which can be very difficult and unpleasant, but is fundamental to everything].
The Love Chi corner. Who needs eharmony?
What have you been most proud of in terms of treating people?
Basically, the clients do the work: 99% of clients are prepared to do it. Sometimes when someone is having a wobble, I have the skills to keep them on track, but in terms of the progress people make, that's about their subconscious letting the reiki in. Reiki can change lives – it can change your relationships, sex life, work, everything. I can't take the credit for these things, I witness them but I don't own them. I just feel it's vitally important for me to do this work.

What about physical illnesses? Because I often think one of the potential problems with complementary therapies is if people suggest they can cure illnesses.
Physical illnesses aren't my speciality, although I do see people with illnesses, some of them terminal. Reiki can help you deal with and confront illness better. No reiki practitioner should promise to cure anything. One of the problems with complementary therapists is that they often promise to 'treat' illness, which obviously people hear as 'treat with a view to curing'. This can be misleading.

What kinds of things do you feel when giving/ receiving a treatment? [note from me, I am very prone to seeing patterns and colours. If you look at the rest of my blog, this will not surprise you ;-].
When people are on the table, they can feel heat, tingling, they can see colours; they can feel a sinking sensation, or feel deeply relaxed, as if their mind is stopping [note from me, I also see eyes. I do not know the significance of that. Always eyes]. In terms of being a practitioner, the sensations shift and change. When I began, I had heat and tingling in my hands, but now I feel more a sense of magnetism – as if my hands want to go to certain positions. Sensations become more subtle as the process becomes more subconscious, as your practice develops. This is why self-practice is important.

People often seem to get very annoyed about complementary therapies. Why do you think this is, and do you think it's justified?
I think the standards people expect complementary medicine to meet are higher. Conventional medicine can kill, and lots of medical treatment is very invasive – not only that, we often don't know why it works on one person and not on another.

Do you think there are complementary therapists who are charlatans, though?
Yes, there are charlatans about, and it's important to shop around until you find someone you're comfortable with. I'm always happy for a client to see another reiki practitioner. I've also found that if a therapist isn't honest with colleagues, they're likely not to be honest with clients: a lack of professional integrity often goes along with general inappropriate behaviour. And it's been my experience that female clients should be wary of male therapists. Because they can be pervy. [Note from me: names were not named and we are not suggesting that men in general are pervy. Although, let me tell you about this one time... no, I'm joking ;-) ].

How would you advise someone to go about finding a good reiki practitioner?
See what your options are, and be realistic about who you are, and what you need. If you feel the person isn't for you, don't go to them. Take your time, and don't go with anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable. The difficult thing about finding a practitioner is that often people wanting to start reiki are at a difficult place in their lives and that's not a very easy time to be doing research and comparing, but try to take the time.

Are there any therapies you think are a bit daft?
Anything involving electricity. And my particular bugbear is psychics. I think it's an ability we all have to an extent, but some people capitalise on it, and it's disempowering. It hands power over to someone else. We need to have confidence in our own intuition, not wait for it to be validated by someone who says they're channelling messages. Also, it's a huge industry, making loads of money, especially the phone lines. [Note from me, Derek Acorah! Nous accusons!].

Do you feel you relate to the world differently since you've been practicing reiki?
Yes, profoundly. In terms of my personal development, I'm phenomenally more confident, comfortable, and happy, and my instincts have developed enormously – I work on instinct all the time. I also have a sense of clarity, and even if I'm not always happy with particular circumstances, I  have some kind of peace of mind. As an individual changes, it ripples out and changes other people. Often, clients change and then the people around them do, too.

I also feel more aware of life on an energetic level – I feel more in touch with the transitory nature of life. I hang onto things less, and I'm happier to let go and invite in the chaos.

You can find Jodie on her website, Reiki with Jodie, and also on the Cambridge Complementary website, which has details of other treatments available in the studio. For anyone in the Cambridge area, I would recommend Jodie very highly – I think she's great. For people outside of Cambridge (I know that's most of you ;-) ), who might be interested in trying reiki, give it a go. As my brother Dan says, even if it's all complete rubbish it's a nice lie down for half an hour. And if it isn't complete rubbish, then, who knows where it'll take you? (Wooooo!).

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Silk, glorious silk, tomorrow's interview and a Keith update

Occasionally you buy something and you think, hmm, I'm not sure I should have bought that, I think it might have been a mistake. I have been eyeing up the box of silk offcuts from Mountain Heirlooms on etsy for ever, but have always been put off by the size of the postage charge (I'm not suggesting Mountain Heirlooms is overcharging for postage, she definitely isn't. It just costs a lot to send from the US to the UK once you get above a certain size/ weight, and I don't think you can get round it). Anyway, last week I took the plunge, and I thought, well, it certainly looks good, I hope it's worth it. My box came today
Gosh what treasures lurk within
and it's quite phenomenal. Phenomenal! I opened it up, and it was absolutely stuffed completely full of silk scraps. Really decent sizes
Ahahaha, look at the quality of the weaving
with some big enough to patchwork together for a tie skirt, and lots to cut squares for a bag from. And the colours!
Paisley = top pattern Evah
Beautiful. And the quality of the silk is fantastic – thick, woven brocades. Some of them are as beautiful on the wrong side as on the right. I can't wait to cut into it and make something. All the silk is beautiful, but I think the paisleys are especially lovely. I am very pleased I bought it. Thank you, Mountain Heirlooms! And for those of you in the US, get off and buy one now, because postage is much cheaper for you and you won't have to go through quite the moral agonies I did. Don't buy them all up, though, because I am saving up for another.

I have an interview tomorrow. Hooray! I hope you've been missing my interviews ;-).  It's with Jodie, from Reiki With Jodie, who is the person I go to see for reiki treatments and who did my level one initiation. As the Beatles had the Maharishi, so I have Jodie, she is my spiritual guru and also I suspect she is more fun than the Maharishi was (and is not highly sketchy). Anyway I have been to see her today and take photographs of her new treatment room, and I will be posting the interview tomorrow, so do come and have a look, you will be very welcome. In other news, you may remember Keith, on whom I cut my interviewing teeth and by God what a cut it was. His music is now available for download on emusic, I-Tunes, Spotify, Napster, Amazon MP3 and Thumbplay, and what's more he has moved his website to a domain I have a fighting chance of remembering and has added an updates facility. Note, we are not calling this a blog: it is an updates facility. Keith's music is very, very good; innovative and challenging. When you have had enough of watching Wagner on the x-factor you may wish to put down your cup of tea, lay aside the remote, and fire up Spotify for something different. Even I like listening to Keith's music, and as a general rule I think music without lyrics is like a jam sandwich without the jam, so you know, have a go.

I think I heard a toilet flush. Can it be? {Slinks off to investigate}.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Pictures: Textures in Cambridge

A wooden gate opposite the Old Schools, where youth, hope and principles are all devoured. There is a novel to be written about the Old Schools, but I do hope I don't have to write it. (I have thought of a plot since you ask, yes, thank you. I could not help it).

Cobbles on a street behind Clare College. Someone's carrier bag in the corner compromising my Art.

I think this was on Gonville & Caius. (You pronounce Caius 'Keys'. That's just to make you look daft if you don't know. I can't think of any other reason, although if anyone wants to tell me anything about Old French derivations or something I will try to be interested).

Buying craftiness at John Lewis

No Work In Progress this week, I’m afraid (although to see people who have managed to do things, go and have a look at Tami’s blog), because our major work in progress is the new bathroom. It is all very exciting. At the moment we are managing with a toilet without a cistern; you would be surprised how much space it adds to the room; although, it isn’t wonderfully practical, because you do have to flush it with a bucket. Having your bathroom refitted seems to me a bit like having a baby (which I have not done): when you are thinking of doing it, everybody says, oh go on, it is no trouble, it is dead easy you will hardly notice etc etc and then when you start doing it and ring people up for sympathy, hoarse with the horror of it all, they say God yes isn’t it appalling we had to strip down and wash in the sink in full view of the neighbours for a solid fortnight. But it is no use my thinking, well I wish you had told me that before, because our bathroom had essentially imploded and we had no option. I did say to Partner the other night, why didn’t we buy a house whose bathroom had been refitted since 1960, and then not by a monkey, and he set off on a long tirade: ‘because this was the only house in Cambridge we could afford! It was the only one! We didn’t have any choice! You’ve forgotten how awful everything was!’ etc etc. And this is quite untrue anyway, as we could have afforded the one in the area with all the police raids which didn’t have a kitchen, if one of us had exaggerated our annual income to bump up the mortgage. Anyway I am spending more time than normal out of the house this week, wandering glassy-eyed through department stores looking for Zone 2 lights which are not Hideous, and thus can bring you the news that Craft is very fashionable this year. Craft-inspired cushions from John Lewis:
Note to non-UK readers: John Lewis is the retail equivalent of the Church of England
Now, I did nearly set off on a rant about the cynicism of Big Business appropriating crafty stuff and possibly being a little bit too ‘inspired’ by individual crafters, but look, I am having to flush the toilet with a bucket, I do not have the energy. So I will show you these other crafty-inspired bedding things from Debenhams (I take these photographs quickly and secretly, like a ninja)
I don't like things with words on. When cushions with Latin phrases on were fashionable I would lose Partner in M&S and find him translating them & correcting the grammar
and just say, look, crafty things are really fashionable, aren’t we lucky that we can either make our own or buy handmade ones from etsy, because ours will look better because they are authentic and do not have to cater to the mass market. Hooray! Go crafters and friends of crafters! I will have a bit of a rant about this though, which I saw outside Body Shop:
Make it yourself! Impress your loved ones! Put a bottle in a bag!
In what sense is putting a few bottles in a bag handmade? At least John Lewis is cynically appropriating craft by giving us an actually rather cute chicken cushion (note to self: there is no more money, especially after today’s Great Vinyl Flooring Debacle. What were you thinking, Self? Seriously?), the Body Shop’s attempt is just dim. Does that mean if I go in Asda and put a bottle of wine in a carrier bag, that makes it handmade? Especially if I choose the wine myself? Hooray! That was easy! I didn’t even need a vineyard! This handmade stuff, it’s much simpler than it looks. Handmade Quality Street and Mateus Rosé all round this Christmas, and I promise you I’ll slip them in the carriers with loving care.

Monday, 8 November 2010

VeganMoFo for non-vegans (I hope that is allowed)

For those of you who don’t know, November is VeganMoFo (the vegan month of food), where vegan bloggers all write about vegan food (obviously, they tend to do this anyway, but in November it is a bit more structured). I have been reading Moomin Mamma’s posts about VeganMoFo on her blog, where I was encouraged to see that pressing tofu brought on the Skeleton Dance, and it got me thinking. I once tried being vegan, and, (says she thoughtfully), it didn’t work (no comment on anyone else though – clearly lots of people do get on really well with it!), but, this is the thing. I actually still really love vegan food, and I think, whatever you think about eating meat and dairy, a world in which everyone ate less of them, and definitely less that was industrially produced, would be better for our health, environment, and everything. So, I thought I would talk a bit about how great vegan food is, even though I am not vegan, and big it up, because I really think there has been such an explosion of creativity in the vegan food sphere over the last few years that anyone who thinks vegan food is depressing these days is operating on a very old paradigm (or has perhaps got this book.
Yes, God forbid it should taste of anything. I rest my case
Please do not buy it and think vegan food is like this. If Gary Francione, Pete Singer and Heather Mills read this book they would all go straight out and clamp their respective teeth around a cow’s behind, that is how bad this book is. You can do better). Anyway! Here is one of my favourite vegan recipes, I hope you like it.

Vegan curry feast (this serves about 4 people but it all freezes if there are fewer of you).
Why yes, that is a whole clove of garlic. It's good for you!
For the dal – takes about 2 hours
Put 8oz red lentils in a pan with 2 peeled garlic cloves (halve them if they are big), a couple of slices fresh ginger, 2 bay leaves, half a cinnamon stick, and 3/4 teaspoon turmeric. Add approx 1.5 pints boiling water, and simmer, gently, for about 1.5/ 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have absorbed the water and the dal is reasonably thick. About 30 mins before serving add some salt and 2 slices lemon to flavour.

For the veg. curry – takes about 1 hour
Chop and fry in veg oil 1 onion, 1 aubergine, a couple of potatoes (don’t peel them. Life is short), and some chopped mushrooms (you can vary this depending on what you have). Fry for about 15 mins until they look a bit fried (I know that’s a crap description - it doesn’t matter too much). Add about 2 dessertspoons of Patak’s Madras Curry Paste (I am pretty sure this is vegan, but if not, another curry paste would be fine). Stir to combine. Add about 3/4 tin of coconut milk (I once read the ingredients and I would advise you to buy an organic one) and about 1/2 pint veg stock, Marigold or a cube. Simmer until reduced (I do it for about 3/4 hour). Serve.

For the rice – takes 10 mins
Rinse basmati rice until it runs clear. Boil basmati rice for 10 mins, drain. (Do this just as you are about to eat, obviously. Don’t do it at the beginning).
O What would I Do without Marigold Stock Powder (this is not the vegan one, but you can get a vegan one)
This is Partner’s top favourite meal. He loves it and would eat it every night but I make him have a balanced diet with variety and change, so he can’t. It is one of those meals that you can cook even when you are half asleep and annoyed about something. If you get yourself together you can make some parathas or something to go with it, which really are beyond delicious (tell me if you want the recipe). I also sometimes make the Aloo Gobi recipe from Paku Paku instead of the dal (although I use two teaspoons of coriander, not two tablespoons, which seems like an awful lot), and it is quite delicious. (Well, I’ve persuaded myself, at least. I will make Vegan Curry Feast, with parathas and everything, as soon as we have given up on the bathroom and moved out into a guest house like Alan Partridge finished the bathroom. Hooray!).

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Card swap update, and Giveaway result

OK! Progress! I should have now emailed everyone with the name and address of the person to send your card to (if anyone hasn’t got an email, let me know, and I’ll send again). You’d be surprised how long it took me to work out how to do this, and it involved a cup of coffee and a break to look at these goats on the Post Punk Kitchen message boards, but I got there in the end, and I think it all fits together! Hooray! So, just to reiterate The Roolz:

  • Post your card to the person at the address I’ve sent you by December 10th. We’re sending a handmade card with a Christmas/ Yule other winter holiday greeting in it, addressed to the person you’re sending to (and put your name and your email/ blog if you have one, so the person who gets your card can say thanks if they want to!). Handmade can be as complicated or as simple as you like. So long as you think it’s cool, we will, too ;-).
  • When you’ve sent your card, could you let me know either by emailing me on uselessbeautydesigns [at] gmail.com, or leaving me a comment. Then I can cross you off my spreadsheet and I won’t have to bother you ;-).
  • If anyone’s card doesn’t arrive in a reasonable time after the 10th, let me know, and I’ll send you another card (it might end up being a New Year greeting, but I promise you’ll get something!).
  • When you get your card, it would be lovely if you’d blog it so everyone can see – you don’t have to, but I’m really excited to see all the cards, so I’d love it if you could! (If you don’t have a blog, send me a photo –I’m happy to mention it for you).

I’m looking around for cardmaking inspiration, and I’ll do a post with links sometime this week (and I should warn you at this juncture that every handmade Christmas card I have ever made involves something cut out of something else in the shape of a tree. I don’t know why I am so into trees, and frankly I try not to analyse. I will try to mix it up, but, just so you know, the Lure Of The Tree may be too strong).

Right, now on to the giveaway results, because if you remember I was also going to send a couple of lavender bags to a swap participant! Well, random.org tells me that the winning comment is comment number 12, which is Emma, from emmascrazydays. Congratulations, Emma, and I have got your address because of the swap, so I will be sending you a selection of lavender bags shortly. I do hope you like them. Also I have just looked at your blog, and your latest post features possibly the most marvellous calendar I have ever seen. Go and look at Emma’s blog and see if you don’t think the same. It’s quite fantastic ;-).

Calling Kibbygirl, Calling Kibbygirl

Quick announcement! I'm just finalising addresses for the card swap, and Kibbygirl, I don't think I've got yours - could you email me on uselessbeautydesigns [at] gmail.com? (Sorry to call you out in a blog post, I can't access your blogger profile!).

Thank you. Normal service resumed shortly ;-).

Friday, 5 November 2010

Card swap - signups closed

Just a quick post to say, sign ups are now closed on the card swap - thanks to everyone who's signed up, I'm thrilled to have so many people! I'll be collating this weekend and getting back to everyone with the address of the person to send to (and I'll be drawing a winner for the lavender bags, yay).

And as a completely random side issue. I have been looking on ebay today for some brogues which are leather, preferably handmade in Italy, start at 99p and have no bids and am not finding any, strangely enough. However I do have this piece of advice for ebay sellers: just because you bought it in Top Shop as long ago as January, that doesn't make it vintage. Sorry. The world's a hard place, I know.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folks leave behind

The wheel of the year has turned (says she ponderously).
It isn't cold here yet, but it was very windy today. The poor ducks. Buffeted
Now, I have to confess that I always lose track of what the God and the Goddess are supposed to be doing on the various Sabbats. I do. I can’t keep up. Is he dead? Is he leading the wild hunt in the underworld? Are we on Goddess-as-Crone? I can never remember. I am a rubbish Wiccan.
Strange and Random Cambridge Graffiti strikes again
One thing I am sure about, though, that I’m sure chimes in with all our experiences of this time of year, is that it is a time for getting rid of old things. It is a time for endings, and decline, and rest. I don’t mean this in a depressing way, I mean it in a ‘gathering resources in order to come back stronger’ way. We all need a time to dream, and plan, and incubate, don’t we? Well, this is the time of year to do it.
The carving of this pumpkin is actually quite rubbish. I would go so far as to say it looks pornographic
I kept noticing discarded things while I was walking through Cambridge earlier today. A carved pumpkin, out of its time, waiting to be taken in and composted.
Somewhere here there is a metaphor for something or other. Do feel free to supply your own
And flowers in the gutter. If there is one thing that annoys me in life, actually, it is people who pull heads off flowers and then throw them away. I think they progress onto putting cats in dustbins and then become serial killers. That is what I think of such people. Today, flowerheads, tomorrow mugshots in the News Of The World. Beware!
 I always think it's best to make sure a Gonk oversees patchwork. Just in case
So when I came back, thinking about throwing things away (or not), I laid out my tiny quilt squares to sew. I cut these out before the frantic craft fair preparations. They are 2.5” square, and I made them from the Scraps in my Scrap Bag. I am starting to feel slightly oppressed by my scrap bag. This is the thing: however small the scrap is, however droopy and pathetic and funny shaped, I can find a use for it. Where will it all end? When can I just throw things away with a good conscience? Perhaps I should take advantage of this time of letting go to let go some of the scraps in the scrap bag. I cannot be a Fabric Womble forever. (The quilt is going to be tiny – about 25” x 25” – and it’s going to hang on the wall to cover up our other fireplace, which also needs sorting out. I know this is the coward’s way out. I will engage with builders next year).

My Fabric Wombling is having a bit of a boost, though. I bought a box of silk scraps from Mountain Heirlooms on etsy earlier. I can’t wait till it gets here. I’m already imagining skirts and bags. I wonder why scrappy bits of fabric are so much more exciting than proper yards? Perhaps it’s just me!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Things through the post (not bills).

My copy of Bespoke, a new zine about all things handmade, came in the post.
I'm on page 15. You rush on over and buy it. Family who can't do paypal, ask me nicely
I have a small piece in it, so that was exciting to see, and it’s a good read as well, and very prettily put together (I love zines – I used to collect them, but then I got a bit tired of doing battle with etsy’s search engine. People, if it isn’t a zine, please don’t tag it as a flaming zine. Anyway, If anyone makes zines or knows of any, do leave me a comment and let me know, and I’ll have a look. I also used to collect feminist comics until the main shop I bought them from in London went all corporate and stopped stocking them. Until then, I disturbed many a commuter on the train back to Cambridge by whipping out my copy of Dyke’s Delight and competing for room with all the Telegraphs. It has actually just occurred to me that I subconsciously bought my biker jacket solely because of the one worn by Auntie Studs, who is by Kate Charlesworth and featured rather heavily. What does that say about my fashion references, huh? It’s a good job I was never a Superwoman fan).

I also received something else. A letter from Julie at The Letter Writing Revolution! I am thrilled, and I am going to write back. The paper she used was beautiful,
Do you see how I captured a shadow with my small battered camera? Mad propz to me, I believe
And naturally, this got me to thinking about nice writing paper. So I had a look round on etsy and I found some nice paper which I thought I would show you. Because who knows, blog readers, some of you may have some disposable income, not that I am jealous, especially because I am once more selling my life on ebay and may soon have disposable income again myself. You’d actually be surprised how vintage clothing holds its value. I’m starting to think my addiction to it is actually quite practical. Perhaps I should buy more, as it’s clearly just the same as investing in an ISA. Hmm. Anyway! On with the paper.
It's little houses. Isn't that clever?
This is a stationery set (http://www.etsy.com/listing/55215247/overgrowth-stationary-set) by mandygerth. It’s a set of paper and envelopes and it’s all recycled, hooray! The illustration is of two houses, one putting down roots and one giving out a green shoot. I thought this was lovely.
This is a notecard (http://www.etsy.com/listing/46776416/run-off-with-the-circus-notecard) by happyharpy. It’s a print of an original illustration (by happyharpy) – the eyes are unicyclists. Isn’t that cool? (I thought it was referencing the scene from A Clockwork Orange, which is why I looked closer!).  I also like the Beset By Demons (http://www.etsy.com/listing/45050704/beset-by-demons-notecard) notecard. I’m pleased to see that finally notecards are being made which are appropriate to the actual situations I find myself in.

And finally, a set of retro graphic notecards(http://www.etsy.com/listing/38299474/zen-earth-x-3-notecards) from a UK seller, digtheearth – I thought these were really nice (digtheearth has some rather nice prints as well, if you’re interested), and again, using recycled materials.

Thanks again to everyone who’s signed up for my handmade Christmas/ Yule/ whatever swap so far, and remember I’m closing sign ups this Friday, after which I’ll tell everybody their swap partner. Hooray! So if anyone still wants to sign up, here it is, and if anyone has signed up but not sent me their postal address, get it sent to me at uselessbeautydesigns [at] gmail.com (although, don’t think I can’t hunt you down. I can. I’m very cunning ;-) ).

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Of Craft Fairs and {Re}Connections

I am back from the craft show. Before I tell you about my adventures, I will just rant about Partner briefly, grit your collective teeth. Every time I go away for the weekend and leave Partner on his own, he breaks something, and then looks at it sadly all weekend, perhaps making cryptic references to it when I ring him up, until I come back. By this point, he has normally convinced himself that only someone irredeemably conventional would want a working cooker/ TV/ lamp etc anyway, and he communicates this to me with much enthusiasm, and with reference to classical literary works which seem to have been written to stop anyone being comfortable or enjoying themselves. And the next day I go to John Lewis and replace it and we do not mention it again, because while I may admire Marcus Aurelius I do not care what he would think about whether or not you should have a fan oven. I do not care. Anyway, this weekend I did a quick check when I got home yesterday and I thought we had escaped, but no, he has broken the bottom shelf in the fridge. How would you even do that? He has suggested that ‘a wine bottle may have fallen on it’, in a tone which is meant to convey a purely academic, distant interest, without committing himself to any knowledge or admission. I said, did the wine bottle fall on it while you were perhaps holding it and hitting the bottom shelf of the fridge with it, shouting I cannot live this shallow bourgeois life of bathroom refits and veg boxes, but he has assured me this is not the case so I will look for a replacement online and not engage emotionally. Partner! Like a bull in a china shop!

Anyway. I did the craft fair this weekend. In monetary terms (says she, thoughtfully), I think it could have gone better. However, in learning-how-to-do-a-craft-show terms, it was an excellent introduction, with much learned. This was my stall:
Do you see I had a red fluffy decorative item? Milo the husky liked it
And when I do my next show (in less than three weeks!) I am going to have a sign and branding and things. I must confess I find the whole branding thing difficult, firstly because I am kind of anti-branding, and secondly because I worry my business name sounds a bit daft. I do. I worry. (Somebody once said to me about Useless Beauty: ‘did you call it that because of what people used to say about you at work?’ Sadly not ;-) ). Anyway, I will conquer these thoughts and will brand and label just like a fiend, and we will see how things go. Apart from the exciting craft show (and I have one other piece of advice: do not do a craft show and sit behind your stall looking grim and reading Bleak House. No one, repeat no one, wants to engage with someone reading Bleak House. You have to stand up and talk to people. I learned this), I spent the weekend reconnecting. With kittehs
Do cats have opposable thumbs? Is that normal? Are they evolving to take over?
This is Ernie. Some kittehs seem to walk between the worlds a little, and Ernie is one of them, although it is obviously in this world that she has to be provided with a sheepskin rug, a warm fire, and regular Whiskas.

With champagne
I had drunk it. I am not saying I'm proud of this
To celebrate the successful conclusion of my first craft fair. I was lining my drinks up here: champagne, water and a nice cup of tea, the drink that cheers but does not inebriate. Two glasses of champagne did, though, and having drunk them I was playing the guitar very enthusiastically. I can play three chords, which don’t go together. Everyone was very patient.

With McDonalds
It wasn't all mine! There were other people there!
Although you know my stance on big corporations and questionable food products, I have to now confess to you that approximately once or twice a year I eat a Filet o Fish. With fries. And I enjoy it very much. I understand if you feel you can no longer read my blog
The first song is moaning about having to pay tax. I shall say nothing. I am thinking it though
And with the Beatles. My brother says although, broadly, he agrees with me about the Beatles, I will be able to manage Revolver, and he has bought it for me and I am listening to it. I am getting on ok so far, chiefly because no one has expressed a wish to Hold Your Hand. That is possibly the song I hate most in the world. Thank you Dan for the nice presents and I have already read the Thornton Wilder book, it was great.

So it was a good weekend. And now I am back to broken fridges and the whole plumber situation. But nice things came for me in the post, of which more tomorrow, and it will be good to get back to sewing things, because I have ideas for legwarmers and other such things. Stay tuned x