Monday 28 December 2020

A Winter's Tale

 Here we are almost at the end of another year and like many, I find it a time for reflection. I don't think any of us need another reminder of what a different or difficult year it has been. We have all faced challenges, some more heartbreaking or devastating than others, so in many ways I am fortunate. Plans for the year didn't materialise, we didn't see friends, our family or our three new grandchildren as much as we would have liked but overall things are okay. And on the plus side, I have learned new skills by taking my teaching online and have started a new venture with the podcast with Izzy. Both things that probably would never have happened without the pandemic. In fact planning, or lack of, is the subject of the third episode of our podcast, Izzy & Gina... in stitches, which you can hear from Thursday 31st December as we attempt to wrap up this year. We also talk about our dogs and I mention a little foray into writing...

Which brings me neatly to the real subject of this post... writing. Along with my other creative pursuits I enjoy putting pen to paper now and then. I've often kept diaries, I've written here for more years than I remember and I've even written a pantomime but I've never really attempted a story, at least not since I was at school. So during a short writing course from Beth Kempton just before Christmas, where we were encouraged to write a short winter story based on a memory, I came up with the following. I have debated whether to share this as it feels incredibly exposing, but there seems little point in writing a story if no-one gets to read it. In the words of Seth Godin "It doesn't count if you don't share it". 

So here goes. It is entirely true and I hope it will bring a smile to your face at the end of this strangest of years. Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think. And let me sign off for the year by wishing you peace, hope, good health and love for 2021. Thank you for being here.

A Cautionary Winter's Tale

It was one of those winters of childhood memory, where you always wake to a world cloaked in muffled silence, enveloped in a blanket of snow. Of course, most winters were not like that at all, and just like the endless hot balmy summers we recalled from our youth, they were merely imagined memories, given rose tinted spectacles with the passage of time.


But this particular Christmas we really did wake to find there had been a heavy snowfall during the night. It was a late start with the adults weary from the celebrations of the evening before but us children couldn’t wait to get outside. Donning hats, mittens, scarves and boots we wrapped up ready to go and play in the road, in the days when it was safe to do so. The overnight snowfall had been so heavy it was unlikely there would be any traffic on our quiet street anyway.


Snowballs were hurled, landing on our necks sending trickles of icy water down our backs as we shrieked in mock outrage. Snowmen were built as we rolled huge balls up and down the street, gathering layers of clinging wet snow speckled with grit. We lay on the fresh unspoilt snow in the front gardens making ‘angels’ with our arms and legs. We played for what seemed like hours, until our ears and noses were tingling and our fingers became so numb, we could no longer feel them, encased in their mittens coated with clinging clumps of ice.


Back inside our wet outer garments were discarded, leaving puddles on the floor and soggy damp wool was draped over heaters to dry, as my mother boiled up a kettle to make us hot blackcurrant drinks to warm us up. As we sipped the steaming hot mugs of blackcurrant cordial there were cries of disgust. 

“This tastes really strange”, “It’s horrid”, “There’s not enough Ribena in this, you’ve made it too weak”

Mum emptied the bottle, adding extra cordial to our mugs, in an attempt to improve the flavour but it didn’t help much. It became sweeter but still tasted disgusting.


And then my uncle Dave, ex merchant navy, appeared, taking in the scene of complaining children with their hot drinks and realisation dawned. 

“You didn’t use that half bottle of blackcurrant I left on the sideboard, did you?” He asked my mother. 

“Yes, thought it best to use that up before opening a new bottle.”

“Ah… I mixed that with my rum last night!”


Fortunately, none of us had drunk more than a sip or two and none of us actually liked the hot rum and black, but the story was told for many years about the time all us kids all got drunk on uncle Dave’s rum!



You can read another one of my forays into writing here.

Wednesday 9 December 2020

Christmas Crafting.

I had a mad moment last week when I wondered if I might do a post every day in December, like I have in the past, a sort of blogging advent calendar. Which had I gone ahead would have meant more blog posts in this one month than I managed the entire rest of the year... but I came to my senses in time! I'm not sure what it is about December that makes me think I can do ALL the things as I go into a frenzy of making gifts, handcrafting decorations, baking, pickling and preserving and more. I turn into a crazy crafting woman who could give Kirsty Allsop a run for her money!

During an afternoon set aside for clearing up my studio, I found a bag of pebbles that had been knocking around for years. There has been a bit of a thing in our village (and in other places too I believe) for painting pebbles and hiding them for children (and adults) to find. The idea is that they get photographed, the picture is posted on a special Facebook page called 'Guilden Rocks' and then pebble gets hidden again for someone else to find. I thought it would be fun to paint my pebbles and hide them... needless to say the studio didn't get cleared that day!

I've also been making some origami stars to go on the front of some Christmas cards... I was inspired after reading some of those other advent posts from my past. This one here should you fancy giving them a try. I seem to remember threading them onto invisible thread and hanging them up as decorations too.

But they look quite cute on the front of cards!

I also made some of these cute little tags after watching a fabulous free tutorial by Laura Kemshall. Given my usual aversion to anything patchwork related these were strangely addictive and I ended up making a dozen or so to go on the front of more cards.

Or in some cases to decorate parcels. The observant among you may also have noticed there were mince pies made too. You can find my recipe for almond topped pies here... regular pastry just doesn't come close.

As if that wasn't enough I've also crocheted these Christmas trees which came in kit form from Cotton Pod. It was the most beautifully packaged kit I have ever received and felt just like I was sending myself a gift. It was almost a shame to unwrap it all to make the trees but I'm glad I did because as yet they are the only decorations up so far... and they look rather jolly on the mantlepiece.

I may not be doing a blogging advent calendar but the real one I made for our eldest grandson has gone down a treat. We get daily photos as he takes the latest ornament from its pocket and hangs it on his tree. The joy is infectious!


And as final note, which really has nothing to do with what I've already written about (I tried to think of an elegant segue but failed), I thought I should mention the second episode of my podcast with Izzy Moore is out tomorrow at 10 am GMT and we will be talking about some of our favourite textile and art books... as well as about painting pebbles and Christmas cakes! (Yes, I have made my Christmas cake too... I knew I could link it to making stuff somehow!)

Izzy and Gina... in stitches is available on all the usual podcast listening platforms. Have you listened to the first episode yet?

Sunday 29 November 2020

Too much excitement for one week?

You might be pleased to hear that my dizzy head is almost back to normal and I'm allowed to venture out on my own once more (I'm not sure I was ever not allowed but we were being cautious). I have even taken the dog's lead again, with some trepidation I might add! However there is still a lot of giddiness down to excitement round these parts.

Isobel and I launched the first  episode of our podcast - Izzy and Gina stitches, last Thursday. Lots of informal chat about art, embroidery and life in general... although mostly just introducing ourselves in this first episode.

We were ridiculously excited and nervous about how it might be received but so far we have had lots of lovely feedback and we're busy getting episode 2 ready for release on 10th December. Have you listened yet? I'd love to know what you think... well maybe only if you liked it! We've got a whole episode planned about feedback and receiving validation from others. Izzy and I have both written blogs for quite some time (I think we have a podcast episode planned about blogging too) so we are used to waiting for comments and wondering if anyone is reading, and more importantly enjoying what we are putting out there. I've also had the occasional negative comment too so we think this could be quite a meaty subject.

In fact we have loads of  meaty episodes planned so if you enjoyed the first episode you might like to subscribe in future. It's available via all the usual podcast platforms.

The excitement continued this week as I received my copies of WOWbook 6 on Friday, in which I have an article on how I combine painting with stitch. I wrote the article and went to have my work photographed by the lovely Michael Wicks way back at the beginning of the year before the first lockdown, so after such a long time it was wonderful to actually see it in print.

Photography: Michael Wicks

Photography: Michael Wicks

It's a gorgeous book and full of fabulous articles so it would be a good one to put on the Christmas list if you like creative textiles. It's available from d4daisy books. Or if you fancy winning a free copy, I am planning to give one away next week to newsletter subscribers only. You can find a link to sign up in the side bar.

I've also taken part in a virtual Christmas market in our village this weekend, seeing as any real Christmas markets or craft fairs are not happening. I wasn't really sure what to expect or how it would work but it was actually fantastic! It was all done via a Facebook event and it was hard work keeping track of who wanted what,  and then sending payment instructions as well as arranging collection or delivery, but it all came together and was really successful. There was also a virtual raffle that raised lots of money for charity and I continue to be impressed with the way people are finding ways to work around these difficult times.

My best sellers were these little angels...  I sold out! I spent a ridiculous amount of time making boxes for them and then writing little individual stories for each one that I put into miniature books. Totally bonkers I know, but I think we could all do with a bit more bonkers in our lives don't you?

And if you fancy making you own angels I have a course telling you how right here... and it's totally free!

So after all this excitement the plan is for some down time with some knitting and tea... although I confess the mug of tea has been replaced with a glass of wine!

So what have you been up to this weekend? Listened to any good podcasts?

Thursday 19 November 2020

Pastures New

Thank you for your lovely comments and concern about my head (last post). I've not moved very far from the sofa all week and I'm going a little stir crazy as I still have vertigo, but today the giddiness might just be down to some excitement round these parts!

Anyone who receives my newsletters will have picked my hints that there was an exciting new project I've been working on. And of course if you receive my newsletters you'll already know why I'm excited. It's something that has been on the back burner for a while since the summer when my friend, Isobel Moore and I, first had the same crazy idea. I had just about come to the end of Open Windows and I was wondering what I could launch myself into next, musing over ideas whilst walking the dog. (I know, before anyone else tells me, I should be paying attention when walking the dog as with my track record, the only place I'm likely to launch is in the bushes).

Various crazy ideas popped into my head but one wouldn't go away, so I sent Izzy a message asking had she ever thought about doing a podcast and she responded instantly with a resounding "YES!" (I believe there was some screaming and splurting of coffee too but don't hold me to that!) It turned out that she had been thinking the exact same thing and what is more she also thought it would be fun for us to do it together! We are now ready to let the world (or my limited readership) know what we have been up to, so you might want to see a little taster...

Izzy & Gina... in Stitches

Isobel and I have known each other for about ten years. We are similar in many ways: we both took our City & Guilds Diploma in machine embroidery at Missenden Abbey with the same tutor, albeit at different times, we're at exactly the same stage in taking our teaching online, and we are both dog owners - but our backgrounds, interests and personalities are definitely different! Hopefully this will allow for some lively discussions and debates on the pros and cons of being a textile artist, teaching and running a creative business…  but our main aim is to have FUN!

We'd both be absolutely thrilled if you would join us on this adventure. You can find our new podcast here, with links how to listen on the usual podcast platforms (if we’ve done it right - this is a very steep learning curve for both of us!) We're aiming to release an episode every other week, with the first one a week from today on Thursday 26th. We finished recording our first episode this morning and it was absolutely nerve wracking even though we were only chatting to each other, but we did laugh... and it was fun for us, at least.

I'd love you to leave me a comment to tell us what you think of our mad, crazy idea, and especially if you have any questions you would like us to discuss or if there's anything you'd like us to talk about! It's terrifying and exciting in equal measure - neither of us has done anything remotely like this before - so be gentle with us! And wish us luck.

Sunday 15 November 2020

November Days


Despite another Lockdown here in England and the ever shortening days, life had started to get into a pleasant rhythm of daily dog walks and beautiful sunrises at the beginning of this month. I'm trying not to sound like a cliche but finding the simple pleasures in life seems more important than ever right now, and getting outside and appreciating our surroundings is one of those pleasures.

I  launched my final online class of the current series of three this month and although I am working on a short free class to launch next month I had decided to take a little break from creating new classes

Instead I thought I would try to get back to some painting. I've not picked up a paintbrush since before breaking my hand in the summer so I have been easing myself back by working in a sketchbook and following Laura Kemshall's sketchbook challenge to fill a sketchbook in November. It is a series of eight classes, two per week, just colouring pages, stencilling, printing etc, all very relaxed and informal... and excellent value. It was all going so well...

Then out walking with the dog on Friday afternoon, on our way home, literally ten yards from our back gate, Hector spotted another dog and lurched to say hello. I was completely off guard, so the lead whipped around my legs pulling me with it and the next thing I knew my head was smacked against the road. I thought that 'seeing stars' was something that only happened in Beano cartoons but it happens! I've never known my head hit anything so hard. What followed was a blur of trying to sit up (I couldn't), being moved to the pavement (I was in the middle of the road), hearing someone say there was blood and Stewart calling an ambulance. Neighbours came out with blankets and a hot water bottle and all I could think was that I couldn't possibly die as I hadn't finished sewing our grandson's advent calendar and there was no way Stewart would know what to do!

I was taken by ambulance to hospital and it was scary for a few hours - I've heard way too many horror stories of brain damage and worse after head injuries - but although it wasn't really what I had planned for a Friday night, I cannot fault the hospital staff who ran just about every test possible. A ct scan showed I was lucky, my head was just bruised so besides concussion, vertigo, some minor cuts and a headache I was fine. In fact, more than fine... blood pressure, heart and lung function and everything else was absolutely tip top! They let me go home at midnight.

Saturday morning the dog wouldn't leave my side... you might be fooled into thinking those doleful eyes are saying sorry, but I'm not. He's a hooligan and would do it all over again if another attractive pooch were to wander past. I do wonder what we achieved with all those months of puppy training.

Meanwhile I'm confined to the sofa. My headache has eased but the vertigo not so much. When I get up and walk I feel like I'm on a boat. It's very strange and quite disorientating. Fortunately, if I don't move my head too much I can still read, type and knit so there has been a lot of progress.  The painting and other activities will have to wait again until I can safely get out to my studio. You can find details of these hats on Ravelry. I've been on Ravelry for years but only recently started to figure out how it works! Well, how some of it works at least.

And I'm still counting my blessings and appreciating the simple things in life because to be honest, I was grateful to wake up on Saturday morning (even if it was at 4 am with a stonking headache).
I hope you are all keeping safe and well.

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Cables and Cake

Hello... it's been a while, but we're on holiday in Norfolk and the weather is rather damp today so we're having a lazy morning sitting around reading, knitting, drinking tea etc in the hope the rain might ease a little so we can walk this afternoon. So I thought it would be an ideal time to drop by this sadly neglected blog in the hope there might be someone out there!

It has been so long since I was last here I'm not sure where to start, but the one consistent feature in my life over the past six weeks has been knitting! My hand has virtually mended now and except for heavy lifting or bare knuckle fighting I feel I can tackle pretty much anything I did previously. (For new readers... I'm not in the habit of fighting, honestly!)  I'm sure knitting has helped to keep my fingers flexible. Mostly I've been making hats and have fallen in love with cables. I don't think any of this woolly headgear will be destined for me as I look about 103 in woolly hats... it's not a pretty sight.

Once I was able to wield a pair of scissors safely, I also cut out the fabric to make a new dress... It's the Factory Dress by Merchant and Mills since you ask. It's a lovely dusty pink linen that I bought over a year ago. I don't like to rush things! And it just so happens that it is a perfect match for the beautiful yarn that I bought from Whistlebare last week. I'm progressing from hats and intend to make myself an Aran cardigan in the pink, although the blue is already another cabled hat.

Talking of Aran cardigans, I have also been doing some surgery on an Aran jacket that I knitted over 40 years ago from yarn that my parents brought back from Scotland in 1978, bought directly from the mill.

As you can see it has been sadly neglected in recent years, often just worn around the garden or to keep me warm in the studio (hence the paint on the very worn cuff) It has been given a good wash, seams have been repaired and both cuffs have been ripped back and re-knitted, with a ball of yarn that was spun from my friend's Ryland sheep. And I have to say it is as good as new!

This is me wearing it about 37 years ago... I know because the small child I am dragging along is my eldest son and he recently celebrated his 38th birthday. Which makes me feel very old... maybe I really am 103 so it's no surprise that I look like an old lady in woolly hats! I do wonder if the jacket will still be going strong in another 40 years (when I actually will be 103 in the unlikely event I am still around). I have a feeling the jacket will outlive me and hope there will still be someone who wants to wear it.

In other news... there has been baking. As the weather cooled, the Aga was switched back on which means once again I have an oven and can bake. My lovely sourdough starter Vincent Van Dough has gently bubbled away in the fridge, occasionally being fed or being added to pancakes and is now incredibly vigorous.

So now it is supplying us with bread as well as pancakes.

Of course I have been making cakes too whilst still basking in the novelty of having an oven, after a summer without one.

So that's what I have been up to... as well as seeing family while we still can, getting out to walk, reading lots of books and generally avoiding the news. I think this might be the pattern of our lives for some time yet. I'm also continuing with my online teaching which fortunately is going really well as this morning I have had conformation of yet another face to face class being cancelled. Details of my latest class are in the link below but the best way to keep up to date with what I'm teaching is via my newsletter which you can sign up for via the link in the sidebar. I think online teaching is the future for me now and it certainly has its appeal without all the bags to pack and load in the car, not to mention the long car journeys around the country too.

Free Machine Fun - Thread Painting

So that's my news... how have you been?

Sunday 6 September 2020

Knitting myself in Knots

An update on the hand since I was last here...
I turned up for my scheduled surgery having had nil by mouth for 12 hours to find I wasn't on the list for the day. During the long wait to find out what was happening, a young lad with an identical injury to mine asked me if I had broken my hand fighting. Being rather alarmed that I looked the sort of person who might sustain an injury due to fisticuffs I explained 'my fall' but wish I had told a little white lie. It probably would have made his day to have met a boxing granny! Eventually I got to see the surgeon for him to tell me he didn't think I needed surgery after all, which was actually a relief, although probably quite convenient given I'd been missed off the schedule. I didn't really want anyone cutting my hand open so I didn't mind. Apparently there is a slightly higher risk of me breaking it again without a pin so it means my fighting days are over but I reckon I can live with that.

The cumbersome cast was removed and replaced by a splint with some pretty snazzy purple strapping, allowing some freedom of movement in my forefinger and thumb. The world was my oyster with such a nimble pincer movement, although I soon discovered picking up anything heavier than a jigsaw piece was pretty much impossible.

Much as I appreciated being lent the jigsaws, after finishing the second one I really had scaled the heights of boredom. I couldn't cope with this for another four weeks. Spying some knitting that had been languishing on the needles for the past six months I had a mad idea. This was the first of a pair of Latvian mittens that I offered to knit for a friend who didn't understand the pattern. I didn't like to tell her that I didn't understand the pattern either, so this was about the third reincarnation of mitten no. one which was why it had been abandoned. There were just about six rows left on the thumb and it would be finished. What if I could adapt my pincer movement to knitting? I found by supporting the knitting with my left hand I could grab the yarn and wrap it around the needle with my thumb and finger of the broken hand. It was slow, it was cumbersome, but I could do it and after about three nights I finished the first mitt whilst watching endless episodes of the Fruity Knitting podcast.  In fact I have learned so much about knitting during those few rounds of the mitten thumb I think I now sort of understand the pattern and the second mitt will be a doddle. Well it might be once I can use my hand properly again. At least I have cast on and I'm ready to go.

Inspired my my mitten success I thought I would practise on something a little less fiddly and found a kit I bought last year from my lovely friend Lucy Locket for a hot water bottle cover. Except it wasn't less fiddly and in fact was cast on over two circular needles creating a seamless bag, something I had never done before. But my technique has improved and I can now even support the right hand needle in my right hand... and all that thumb twiddling is proving to be excellent physio.

So now I have a lovely new hot water bottle cover which I don't really need but that's beside the point!

Something else I have discovered I can do with just a finger and thumb is press those buttons that say 'buy now' and I seem to have purchased several more balls of yarn for the literally hundreds more knitting projects that I'm planning. I don't like to do things by half... I'm all or nothing me.

In between all the knitting planning, knitting watching and knitting doing I've also found time to record the final videos for my next online class "Free machine fun - drawing with the needle". Some of my stitching is a bit wonky but I can draw better with the sewing machine than I can with a pencil so it has all worked out quite well and is a lovely introduction to free machine embroidery for the beginner or anyone wanting to brush up their skills. You can find out more about it here if you are interested:

So that's my news for the past couple of weeks. I've still got another week or so of wearing this splint so plenty of time to discover more skills... which funnily enough don't include cooking, washing up, vacuuming, ironing etc. But I think I can cope with that.