16 January, 2015


Usually I leap into the new year with a big list of resolutions and loads of plans. But it's been a slower start this year, with the new year starting in the middle of four week road trip. We're back home, but I don't feel like the routine of a new year has started just yet.

So I'm just embracing the slow days, beach excursions and trips to the pool. Lots of reading fiction and cookbooks. And starting to think about new creative projects this year.

It does go against my nature a bit though... I'm one of those people who write something down that they've already done and then cross it off the list. It sounds a bit neurotic when I say it out loud. But I'm resisting the planning and scheduling for the moment. Things were so busy leading up to Christmas, it's nice just to enjoy the holiday from task lists for a bit longer.

When I look around my house I'm quite pleased to be see that there are things all around me that I've made in the last year. One thing I am planning is to be more committed about recording the things I'm making this year, just for the satisfaction of seeing some progress.

Here are a few of the decorations I made in the lead up to Christmas. I'm quite pleased with them. I made a lot to give away, but have kept a few for us. Notice the Liberty offcuts as ties? Much nicer than ribbon, in my opinion. A flash of Liberty print improves everything.

28 October, 2014

An Artful Owl

Spring has well and truly sprung here in New Zealand. Hip hip hooray. I have been wanting to make the owl pattern from Abby Glassenberg's The Artful Bird since I first got hold of the book a few years ago. Things take time to percolate in my world :)

The wren was my first attempt. Abby recommends starting with this pattern, to get some practice with the techniques. I was really hanging out to make the owl. The owl looks a little more complicated (due to the feathers) but actually that turned out to be quite straightforward. I struggled a lot with getting the body to piece together correctly... I just couldn't get my head around it for some reason. There was a lot of swearing and unpicking at one stage, but once I figured it out it seemed so straightforward! I had a lot of fun with the embellishments, sewing the eyes and the feathers together, putting the ears on. Giving the bird its character is the best part.

I've been watching the birds around our house recently, and I'm thinking about trying a couple of NZ natives. Maybe a wood pigeon or a tui. For the tail I used an old skirt that I bought in Sydney at Glebe Markets years ago, that I just couldn't bear to part with but was long past wearing. And the feathers were the remnants of a peplum shirt I made a while ago, with a kind of painterly design that I love. Re-using these adds another layer of meaning when I look at this owl now, bringing back fond memories. Sometimes as I'm drifting off to sleep I recall old fabric patterns from my childhood that seem to have made a lasting impression on me. I wonder if anyone else does that.

06 September, 2014

The Gap

I'm not sure what to call this object. When I bought it home, the consensus was that it would be the perfect vessel in which to serve a huge bunch of asparagus. I'm not sure that it needs a purpose.

I was thinking today about the process of trying something new, creatively. Over the years I have dabbled in various things, mostly drawing, painting, sewing, bookbinding and printmaking. All of those things have a considerable learning curve, some of which take quite a lot of practice to get good results. Ira Glass talks about this, in his talk on storytelling and creativity. He discusses "the gap", when you're first starting out, between what you know is good, and what what you actually produce. It's worth a listen, if you're ever feeling discouraged about your creative efforts.

I've always loved printmaking, especially etching. I love the quality of the line and the embossed image on the paper. But I find there's quite a big gap between what I know to be good and what I can actually achieve. I know it's a matter of practice and perseverance, and I'll get back to it one day, but it's going to be quite a process I think.

One thing I'm enjoying about ceramics is the lack of expectation that comes with being a beginner. I'm making plenty of mistakes, but man it's fun just playing around, learning what is possible with the medium. It's pretty cool to see what emerges from the kiln, and seeing how the different processes will transform the clay often in totally unexpected ways.

The other cool thing is that you can achieve some really satisfying results even as a beginner. What starts out as a lump of clay is transformed with different processes, starting with an idea, then sculpting, moulding and manipulating, using tools or your hands. Then you work with glazes to create the surface patterns. I think it brings different skills into play, and provides opportunities to use your own strengths. I'm enjoying my wonky results, rather than needing the results to be perfect. And as my teacher says, you can buy perfect.

My friend Heleen told me about a South African ceramics studio called Wonki Wares. Their work is beautiful, and not at all wonky. But don't you love the name? Embrace the wonky.

31 August, 2014


I'm not sure I set foot out of the house this weekend. We were all a bit under the weather and needed a weekend in. It was a lovely quiet rainy weekend spent sleeping, recuperating, watching movies and making stuff. Some of us spent the entire weekend in our PJ's. I must have watched close to the whole of season 2 of The West Wing, or should I say, listened to, while I was sewing. I must be getting pretty good on the in's and out's of American politics, with the number of times I have watched this series. I never get tired of it. How about this.... West Wing quotes!

I've have had the book "The Artful Bird" by Abby Glassenberg for a couple of years and even got so far as cutting out the wren pattern and buying the materials (wire, cutters and floral tape), before setting it aside. I think that my fabric was fraying a bit and I was put off by the tiny pattern pieces. I got it out again this weekend and decided to have another crack at it. Funny, I must have been easily put off back then, because it was super easy to remedy and I really enjoyed putting this little bird together. I'm pleased with how it turned out and have plans to make another, maybe the owl next time. I have loads of fabric scraps, which would be perfect for this project, along with some cool printed fabric from a bag of basmati rice. I love this book, there are so many lovely birds to make, with such a lot of character. There are loads of beautiful birds on the Flickr pool and on Pinterest. Looking forward to starting the next one.

26 August, 2014

Ceramics 101

Gosh it's been so long since I posted on this poor neglected blog, I wasn't sure I would remember how to do it! Behind the scenes, there's been lots of making. Always.

I've been attending a ceramics class at a new ceramics studio that has opened on the north shore in Auckland. It's housed in a former Anglican church, complete with church pews, hymnals (if that's what they're called) and a church bell. I've been wanting to take a ceramics class for a long time, and it seems to have filled some inner need to just create something intuitively, without thinking too hard about it. My teacher gave me some good advice recently. She said that if you don't know what to make, just get on the pottery wheel and make a mug. And from that, things just flow. And it's so true. There's something about just getting out of one's head and just allowing yourself to enjoy the materials.

So far it's been mostly bowls and platters, both thrown on the wheel and built by hand. I did have one project that didn't quite work out, which was a large water jug which cracked right down the side before I fired it. I'm still not sure what I did wrong, maybe it was a bit ambitious for a first project but it's still on my list. I'm determined to try again.

11 March, 2014

Street Art of Newtown

Last weekend I visited my old home of Newtown, Sydney. Spent a nostalgic few hours wandering around the streets, looking at old and new street art. I did go looking for the Banksy work on the side of the Alfalfa House food co-op in Enmore Road, but it was nowhere to be seen. Found a good Vietnamese street food place next door though.

Spent some time looking on my phone for the whereabouts of the White Rabbit gallery. Only to look at my photos later and discover this...

06 March, 2014

The Life Changing Raw Brownie

I think I may have stumbled across the best chocolatey dessert/snack ever. It's from the same lady as the Life Changing Loaf of Bread, and I think this might just be in that same category. It's the Raw Brownie from Sarah Britton of My New Roots. I've been trying to minimise refined sugar for a while now, so I'm always excited to add to my repertoire of sweet things that are made of good, healthy ingredients. I guess the goal is to cut down on desserts overall, but making sweet treats out of real food ingredients rather than fake, manufactured crap is a good transition step. And more realistic for someone like me with a pretty good sweet tooth.

These brownies are a delight. They only have five ingredients: walnuts, almonds, cacao powder, sea salt and dates. Six if you sub with a few prunes like I did. They're pretty hard on the blender. I overheated my Vitamix twice and it stopped working for a bit, which was a bit of a worry, but eventually I realised it hadn't completely died, and it was just a failsafe mechanism in action. Phew. So basically, you just whiz all the ingredients together until they form a fudge-like consistency, aside from the almonds, which you just roughly chop. Mix it all up together and press into a baking tray and freeze to set. Then just cut into small cubes and try not to eat too many at once.

And judging by the hundreds of comments, they're obviously a hit with others as well. And if you want to feel even better about it, read Sarah's description of all of the health benefits of the ingredients. I had a laugh about how she cannot accept any marriage proposals (as thanks for this life changing recipe) because she's already taken.

Apparently Sarah Britton has a cookbook in production, which I'm pretty excited about. The photos on her blog make you want to crack out the kale and green peas, so I'm sure the cookbook will be something to behold. I just noticed a recipe there for raw chocolate too, that's going to be next off the block!

05 March, 2014

Happy dance china

I've gone a bit op-shop crazy of late. I can't seem to walk past a secondhand shop without going in. But I've had some pretty good finds recently, so I'm making a concerted effort not to feel guilty about it. This dinner set was a little pricy for an op-shop find, but I do a little internal happy dance every time I use one of the plates, so I figure that makes it worth it.

The markings on the bottom indicate that it was made by Wedgwood & Co Ltd (with a little unicorn), which indicates that it was made by Enoch Wedgwood, a distant cousin of the more famous Josiah Wedgwood & Sons. Enoch Wedgwood (1813-1879) was an English potter, founder of the pottery firm Wedgwood & Co of Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. Wedgwood & Co was renamed Enoch Wedgwood (Tunstall) Ltd in 1965 and in 1980 it was taken over by Josiah Wedgwood & Sons, who renamed it Unicorn Pottery. I'd love to find out more about the vintage of this particular set. And I'd love to know how it came to be in that shop on that particular day I walked past.

04 March, 2014

The Great British Sewing Bee - series 2

I'm totally loving that The Great British Sewing Bee, series 2 is screening again in the UK, on BBC Two. If you haven't seen season one, it's a British reality show, devoted to finding Britain's best home sewer. (If you haven't, go and find it. Really!) It's not being broadcasted here in NZ, so I'm having to wait patiently for each episode to be posted on You Tube. Last time I didn't find out about it until the whole season had aired, so I binged on the whole series in one night. Only four episodes though! Great background watching with a project in hand. This time the series will be twice as long.

I'm so in love with this show... it could almost be my new favourite. It's my kind of reality TV. The contestants seem to be a supportive bunch, giving each other little high fives along the way, kind of quirky and quaint, with none of the bitchiness of other reality shows like Project Runway. I love that it's actually about sewing, rather than about personalities! And that the person with the best overall skills wins.

As much as I love Project Runway, and the drama of it, I wish they would cut out some of the back stabbing and petty disagreements and show more of the detail about how they actually construct a garment. The Great British Sewing Bee gets down to the nuts and bolts level. In series one, the projects ranged from some pretty straightforward stuff like making an a-line skirt to some more difficult things like constructing a jacket to fit a live model. Of course there are the some of the usual reality TV scenarios like having tight time constraints to make something. I admire the contestant's ability to perform under that kind of pressure. When I get stuck, I often just leave it a week (or longer) or start something new.

I enjoyed getting to know the judges in season one, the lovely Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant has the swoon factor and sewing teacher May Martin, from the Women's Institute, is so knowledgable and they both have such a wealth of experience. It was interesting to hear their take on all of those little details that are so important in getting a home sewn garment just right.

My least favourite part of the first series were the tutorials, which were a bit rushed and not all that practical. This time they seem to be adding in little clips on the history of fashion and tailoring in Britain in its place, which I find a bit more interesting.

I'm not the only one going on about it either! Gertie is also a fan.

I've heard that they are casting for series 3 already too, so that's something to look forward to. Apparently a similar show is in the works in the US too. Ring a ding DING!