Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Box No.2

I enjoyed making the poppies box in my last blog so much that I've been busy working away on another one.

I took an absolutely gorgeous piece of shimmery silk and needle felted all kinds of woolly and sparkly textures to it.  I then stitched on lots of tiny beads in complementary colours.

Next I painted a pine box using chalk paint, waxed it and rubbed it to a lovely smooth finish.  The silk was stretched over a tiny canvas and fixed into the lid of the box, et voila!

Friday, 2 December 2011


When I first bought my wonderful embellishing machine I made this poppy picture but was never quite sure what to do with it!  It was too small to stretch onto a canvas and I wasn't sure that it would look as effective from behind glass, so it has been lying in my sewing room for a few months, waiting for some inspiration to come my way.

That inspiration came through an art materials catalogue in which I found plain wooden boxes with a small canvas inlaid into the lid. 
So after carefully painting and waxing the box, I wrapped the poppies around the wee canvas and this is the result.

Another recent project has been the rennovation of a box given to me by a friend.  I think it's made of bamboo and the gaps between the uprights made it tricky to paint. 

I painted it using pale blue chalk paint and used a stencil to add the seed heads.  Then I waxed it and lined the bottom with some wadding and a complementary fabric.

I plan to put both boxes into the shop for sale, but I always struggle with pricing.  It's so difficult.  Do other crafters have a formula for pricing their work? 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Enchanted Castle

At the weekend we went to the Enchanted Castle at the beautiful Crathes Castle near Banchory.  We've been here several times in the past but have never seen it quite like this!

At the entrance our tickets were exchanged for glow sticks to be worn as necklaces or head gear!

Unfortunately my camera is not good enough to be able to capture the castle in all its glory.  The entire tower was covered in continually changing light projections - fish swimming, fireworks exploding, multi-coloured patchwork sqaures etc.  There were fire ball swingers and fire breathers on the lawn outside the castle and a magician in the courtyard.

I've been painting castles in shades of red, pink, orange and yellow for years - it was good to see these colours on the real thing!

There was a walk around the grounds where the trees and pond were lit by colourful lights, and the walled garden was especially magical.

The only slight negative was the huge number of visitors.  We went fairly early and it was very, very busy.  For anyone who plans to visit next year, if you don't have young children with you I'd recommend going as late in the evening as you can.  It was open from 5-10pm.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


Autumn is definitely my favourite season.  Maybe it's because I was an October baby?  I don't know.  What I do know is that few things make me happier than seeing beautiful golden and red leaves on a crisp autumn day.

Last week, Kirsty and I spent a day in the beautiful surroundings of Haddo House.  We were there for their annual Christmas Craft Fair as well as to walk around the lovely grounds and park.

Kirsty took a particular liking to this gorgeous tree, and she feels inspired to create an autumnal textile piece. 

We took lots of photos and collected fallen leaves and beech nuts to provide inspiration back at home.

The ground was covered, and I mean literally covered, in silvery webs which you could only see at certain angles.  Unfortunately this amazing sight didn't work well on camera, but here's a close up of a web that Kirsty wants to incorporate into her piece.

Her project is still at the early stages, but hopefully I'll be able to blog about it once it's finished. 
Meanwhile, here's a wall hanging I made recently using various autumnal shades. 


Friday, 4 November 2011

Cafe O'Clay

Super-friendly owner Susie has opened her second branch of Cafe O'Clay in Montrose (the first is in Aberdeen) and I just have to give it a plug on here!

It's half cafe, half pottery painting, and is just the fun, modern, funky kind of place that Montrose was needing.  You don't have to paint anything if you don't want to - you can just go in for a coffee or yummy light lunch. 

The tiles in front of the counter show the handprints of staff, builders and early customers.  (I believe I've been added since this photo was taken!)  I've also painted a tile in the style of my quirky hills and sheep paintings, a number of which are displayed for sale in the cafe.

There aren't a huge number of options for children's birthday parties around here, but your little darlings can now paint their very own piece of pottery and have party food at Cafe O'Clay for £10 per head. 

You can also just pop in to paint something whenever you like - on a recent wet Sunday, I took the kids along and we had a lovely cosy, painting session.  I decorated a bowl for my breakfast cereal and my girls painted little boxes. 

Hand painted pottery makes a great personalised Christmas pressent, especially for grandparents, so if you're in the area, give it a go!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Autumn on the canal

For our October holiday we tried something new this year - travelling the canals of North West England by narrowboat.

Ewan had been on several such holidays as a teenager, and was keen to let the rest of us experience this.  We had a fantastic week and I enjoyed (almost) every minute, but it wasn't as I'd expected.  I'd set off with romantic notions of tootling along the peaceful canals with autumnal trees overhanging the boat whilst I caught up on some reading - for the most part, nothing could be further from the truth!

The route we chose was the Cheshire Ring, starting and ending at Middlewich.  We travelled down by train to Crewe which was by far the best way to travel, particularly as we had no use for our car during the week.

We picked up our boat, Larch, were given a guided tour of her and shown how to go through our first lock.  Then we were left to our own devives - 92 locks in under 100 miles, and all to be completed in a week.

It was a real adventure.  On Day One we did our first five locks and got to grips with the whole thing.  Day Two had 27 locks and we had a really great time working our way through them.  The girls and I soon developed a system to work together as a team on the locks, whilst Ewan did the driving.

Day Three was when the heavy rain started.  We had a 12 lock flight to complete, which was pretty easy.  The physical work involved in winding the paddles up and down and opening the heavy gates kept us cosily warm despite the constant rain.  We also had a couple of swing bridges to open.

On Day Four we had a particularly challenging flight of 16 locks to complete in half a mile.  The scenery at this point looked beautiful, but due to the dreadful weather we hadly saw any of it.  It's hard to describe what made these locks so tricky - it was all to do with the height of the beam that you push to open the gates.

Day Five was the hardest by far.  Now that we were lock experts we thought that nothing could faze us.  Wrong!!  This day involved travelling along the Ashton Canal which took us through an industrial area to the east of Manchester.  Whilst filling the boat with water we met a man who lives on a houseboat moored near the start of a flight of 16 locks.  He warned us of the difficulties of getting through the 'Rochdale Nine' - the locks in central Manchester - and reminded us that you have to be safely moored up before it gets dark, particularly in this area.  This was to be quite a challenge.

The Ashton Canal has a sad history of vanadlism-induced closure.  When it was reopened in the 1970s all the locks were fitted with a special locking mechanism, for which we'd been given a key.  This slowed the process down, as did the fact that some of the paddles just wouldn't open. 

British Waterways advise no stopping on this canal, and also that you avoid using it during school holidays.  Of course, we knew none of this until we were well on our way and there was no going back!

Unfortunately I have no photos of this stretch - it rained incessantly (which thankfully kept the neds away) and we were keen to get through them as quickly as possible.

I do have this one, taken at the end of the flight, and showing some of the amazing architecture of Manchester.

Then the truly difficult bit started - in the city centre were the nine heaviest lock gates of all.  The canal was overflowing and water was cascading over the top of the gates - this made them very difficult to open, and too scary to walk across.  As a result we only opened one side of each pair of gates, which thankfully was wide enough to let our boat pass through.  This was a very slow, physically demanding process, not helped by the two subterranean locks where some local winos were watching us.   

We did eventually managed to get through all nine, and moored for the night at a modern, redeveloped canal basin in the city centre. 

We were surrounded by nice eateries, and we had well and truly earned the Chocolate Volcanoes that we had for our pudding that night!

Days Six and Seven were a doddle!  There was one tiddly wee lock and three excitingly long tunnels, and we were finally able to relax.

It was at this point that I wished we had a different boat.  We'd chosen a traditional narrowboat.  This meant that it had no outside seating area other than the roof.  There was little room to stand by the tiller so having all four of us there at once was a bit of a squash.  So we alternated between driving, chatting to the driver, sitting inside and sitting on the roof. 

It's fascinating to see the country from the canal.  You really do see a different world (both rural and industrial) and a different way of life for the many people living on houseboats along the route.

Day Eight saw our final few locks and the return of Larch to the boatyard.

Would we do it again?  Absolutely, but I wouldn't recommend this route for beginners, and next time we'll have a boat which is a bit more versatile.  It's very expensive to hire the boats (which is why we went in October) but we were so busy doing the locks and tootling along through the countryside that we didn't spend any money other than on evening meals in pubs along the route. 

Since arriving home we've already been looking at other routes and hire companies.  Maybe next October...

Friday, 7 October 2011

Afghanistan Inspiration

At the Creative Stitches show in Glasgow in March I was really impressed by an excellent project called Afghanistan Inspiration.

This is a scheme whereby women in Afghanistan embroider 8 x 8 cms square panels which are then sold in Europe with the intention that they will be integrated into a larger piece of work. 

In addition, a number of these squares on the theme of jugs, dishes, pots etc were used by textile artists from all over the UK to be sewn into larger pieces.  These were available for sale to raise more money to help the Afghan women, and one in particular really appealed to me.  The exhibition toured for several months, so I've only recently received the piece I had reserved.

Entitled 'Water Birds' it was sewn by Liza Green from Edinburgh.  She has made a very clever piece inspired by the square sewn in Afghanistan which shows a bird beside water jugs. 

The stitching is done on a very lightweight, sheer fabric and, as it hangs in our hallway, it wafts beautifully every time I pass by.  Threads hang down from the fallen bottle at the bottom as if water is cascading from the picture.  The photo really doesn't do justice to the beauty of the piece.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Recent renovation projects

I need a bigger shop!

I really enjoy revamping scruffy old wooden things with the fabulous chalk paint from Annie Sloan.  I buy mine from Rustiques at Milton near Banchory.  The owner, Moira, is full of inspirational advice to anyone wishing to have a go themselves.

It's a chalk based paint which is very easy to use.  There's no tedious rubbing down and sanding to do before you get stuck in with the colour - yay!  Once the painting is finished, I brush on a soft wax and rub it down to give each piece a lovely sheen.

So, here are a few before and after photos of some of my recent projects.

This chair is really tiny but very chunky and solidly built.  It would suit a toddler or could maybe be used to display a plant?

This wooden box looks really, really old.  It was covered in bumps and scratches and had a big stain in the bottom. 

This table was very scruffy and wobbly.  A few new screws and a lot of paint and wax later, and the revamped version is now in use in my sewing room.

 The magazine rack was very fiddly to do with all the spindly bits taking quite a while.  I haven't decided yet whether this is finished, or I should do more to it?  Hmm...

And finally, here are some scruffy old wooden bowls that I've been revamping too.  Each one is completely different, painted and waxed entirely by hand.  They each have a felt base to protect furniture and are now available to buy in the shop.