Wednesday, 31 May 2017


Over the last few weeks I've become completely obsessed with tatting. It's not like I need another craft to take up time that should be spent working on knitting designs (or practising the violin) but, as soon as I picked up my shuttle again, I was sucked into a compulsive world of thread and tiny knots.

In the years since I last did any tatting there's been this little invention called the Internet so I now have evidence that I'm not in fact the only tatter in existence. For a craft that's often described as 'dying' there are an awful lot of people out there doing it. There are lovely tatting blogs like Le Blog de Frivole and Lace-lovin' Librarian,  a Tatta Tat Tatters group on Ravelry and lots more. I don't do facebook but I'm sure there are tatting groups there too. 

Tatting developed as a craft in the 19th Century and is believed to have evolved from Knotting where a larger shuttle was used to make knotted thread that was then couched down to fabric as part of an embroidered piece.  Lace was very popular at that time but was also very expensive; tatting was a relatively simple way of making your own lace. In the first half of the 20th Century tatting was mostly used to make edgings for linen, doileys and collars and patterns for these can still be found in charity shops.

In recent years the craft has developed with the availability of beautiful coloured threads, including variegated shades.  The ones I've started using are Lizbeth threads; in the picture above I tatted the centre of the motif with 658, Ocean Turquoise and am working the edging with 149, Peacock Blues. I've linked to the US site Handy Hands as they have better pictures of the colours but, if you are in the UK, I can thoroughly recommend Roseground who stock all the Lizbeth threads as well as other threads, shuttles and lots of tatting books. Their service is very quick and, with my first order of threads (yes, there's been more than one), they sent me a paper Lizbeth shade chart which is really helpful. It even lists which solid colours will match each of the variegated shades which is very helpful when you can't see the actual thread.

Tatting threads come in various thicknesses (or should that be thinnesses?) - the higher the number, the thinner the thread. Mostly I'm using size 20 but I did try a little snowflake in size 80, just to see what I thought.

The motif on the right was done with a thread that's about a size 10 so you can see how much finer the 80 is. Funnily enough, it wasn't much more difficult than tatting with thicker thread but I still think I prefer the look of the Lizbeth 20.

As well as the thread, you also need a shuttle or a tatting needle. I haven't tried needle tatting so I can't talk about that. I have to admit that I was very taken with the shuttles - I do love a good craft tool - so that's what I went for. The ones I use are Aerlit Shuttles which come in various pretty colours and have a tiny hook on the end which you use for joining the rings and chains together as you go. The thread is wound on to a removable bobbin and you get a spare one with each shuttle.

So, after all that, would you like to see my tatting? Of course you would, who can resist an offer like that? I started off with various motifs, mostly from the New Tatting book.

The two at the top are Marigold and Dahlia and the one with the colours is the Hydrangea Mat. The snowflake is from Jennifer Williams' book Tatted Snowflakes. This is a clever pattern because you make two shapes and then weave them together to make the finished snowflake.

Then I moved on to bookmarks as I wanted to make some things I could give as presents. This was the first one I made; it's Jon Yussof's Foldover Bookmark which is available as a free pattern on her blog Tatsaway.

You fold the bookmark over the page where the two sections meet. This one was for my daughter. The next two were also from free patterns. 

The one with the ribbon is Bookmark with Two Layers, another clever pattern by Jennifer Williams and the flower one is Rachael Mohler's Flower Bookmark.

I've just ordered another new tatting book (told you I was obsessed) but, while waiting for that to arrive, I've tatted a square motif from New Tatting and learnt how to do split rings from the same book. It has photo tutorials for the different techniques which are very clear. The blue motif at the top of this post is what I started last night (after telling myself I wouldn't start another tatting project). It's another free pattern from Jennifer Williams; this one is just called Motif for a Coaster.

Have I persuaded any of you to have a go at tatting? It's much easier than it looks and the results are really impressive. You can find out more about it at the Ring of Tatters - that's where I got the information about the history of tatting. In fact I'm off now to join them.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Books & Ink

Tempted by the offer on twitter of a free Winnie-the-Pooh book bag when you spent £5 today, I wandered down to Books & Ink for a browse through their huge selection of books. I'm very lucky to have such a great bookshop just down the road. Their stock is mostly secondhand but they do have an interesting selection of new books too. 

Books & Ink live in an old, beamed building in Banbury's White Lion Walk, home of The Wisteria to beat all Wisterias. Thousands of books are arranged over two floors - on shelves, tables and in boxes - so many wonderful books.

Vintage Children's Books

I've had a soft spot for this bookshop ever since my daughter did a week's work experience there when she was 16. She had a wonderful time and learnt lots about the book world. If you're not near enough to visit the real shop, do have a browse through their online shop. About a quarter of their stock is listed but you can phone them if you're looking for something particular. 

A Selection of Picture Books

So, what did I buy today? Here are the three books I chose, together with my new book bag.

A Bridge of Children's Books came from the 'Books About Books' section which is one of my favourites; there's always something intriguing there. This one looks very interesting. It's a translation of the original German book, written by Jella Lepman in the 1960s. She was a Jewish author of books for children who returned to Germany after the Second World War with a determination to help children indoctrinated by the Nazis through the establishment of an International Youth Library. The book is her account of how she set about achieving this. 

            "Let us begin with the children, to slowly straighten out this utterly confused 
              world. The children will show the adults the way."
                                                                                                                             Jella Lepman

It seems to me that her mission is as vital today as it was seventy years ago.

The next book, I Believe in Unicorns by Michael Morpurgo continues the theme of war and books. Tomas lives in a Europe at war and learns about the power of books and stories to change lives. It's a magical book full of hope, beautifully illustrated by Gary Blythe.

On a lighter note, the third book I chose was 101 Things for Girls to Do, first published in 1935 although my edition is from 1942 (so we're back to wartime again). It's subtitle reads 'being a review of simple crafts and household subjects'. I love this sort of book. As well the embroidery and weaving projects you'd expect, there are also sections on working with leather, metal and wood.

Paper Beads and Wood Carving

How to make your own caddy spoon

This last project appeals to me. Good caddy spoons are hard to find. What do you mean, you don't have a tea caddy? I use mine every day.

I hope you've enjoyed this little look into the delights of my local bookshop. If you're ever passing this way, do go in and say hello.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Tat or Treasure

My favourite shops are the ones that sell old things. I love secondhand bookshops, charity shops and Antique Centres. You never know what you're going to find. In the last few days I've bought this little collection.

I've been looking for an old portable typewriter for ages but it had to be just right. I wanted one in good condition, at a reasonable price and it had to be a pretty colour. This one ticked all the boxes. It's an Imperial 200, made in 1973 and is in perfect condition. It even came with its original instructions and, as you can see, it's a lovely colour. You can still buy typewriter ribbons so I look forward to using it. Having trained myself to type gently on a keyboard, I shall now have to revert to my original heavy handed typing.

I didn't buy all those tablecloths in the picture yesterday, just the one on top but I thought they looked nice together. They're seersucker and I always seem to find them for £4. Actually, I often buy them from the same stall at Brackley Antique Centre so that would explain it. I love all the bright colours and use these cloths a lot.

The little toast rack came from Brackley too. It's Branksome China, one of the many types of china I'm partial to and I was particularly pleased to find this as it matches the cup, saucer and tea plate that I found in a charity shop last year. I love that combination of deep red and grey and the shapes are pleasing too, a bit like some Poole Pottery from the 1950s.

See those wooden things at the front of the picture? They're bag handles (the sort you use to make work bags with - or you do if you're still living in the 1940s as some say I do) and I found them in a 50p basket in one of the charity shops in town. The lady on the till wanted to take 50p for all four but I haggled her up to £2. It's quite hard to find proper wooden handles like this now as they seem to have been replaced by plastic pretending to be wood. I shall enjoy making them into bags.

I love finding old things like this. If you're interested, I could show you some of my other collections - tin postboxes, Isle of Wight studio pottery, posy brooches. And that's before I get started on the books ...

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Sad Story of Mabel (with a happy ending)

In case you're thinking that Mabel is a previously unmentioned member of my family, I should explain that she is in fact my laptop. All my laptops have been called Mabel - apart from my small one which is of course Mini Mabel.

Anyway ... last week Mabel's hard drive broke - just like that. Luckily she was still in warranty but I was more worried about all my data. Which is where the wonderful people at Quickfix Computers came in. I took her down to their computer hospital (I'm sure that's the correct technical term) and they rescued everything for me. I was so impressed and yes, the first thing I did when I got her back was to back everything up.

So, I'm back in business now. Mini Mabel did her best but I'm no good at writing on a small screen. Lots of blog posts in the pipeline ...

In the meantime, you should have seen Tolly the kitten in the garden this morning. This is his first summer and he's enjoying being outdoors (as long as I'm nearby of course). Today he kept running at full tilt from one end of the garden to the other, obviously just for the sheer joy of it. Tomorrow I may get the bubble machine out and see what the cats make of that.

Linnet is still a bit anxious outdoors after her run in with the dog the other week but is otherwise fine. I discovered that the blood on her fur came from the dog who managed to lose a tooth trying to bite her. Cat 1, Dog 0 I think.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017


In all the years I've been designing I've never had trouble coming up with new ideas ... until now. In the last few weeks I've got stuck on several new designs and all the new things I've tried to work on have failed. This was bothering me until I realised what was causing it - deadlines.

As many of you know I design a big series of Christmas patterns for December each year so I'm used to that hanging over me but this year I've added to the pressure with the mini quilts. I was coping with that all right - after all it's only one small pattern each month - but then I had an idea for an even bigger series to run throughout 2018. So I'm now working to three lots of deadlines which is getting in the way of designing new stuff.

It's a difficult balance to strike. The big patterns like these are very popular and therefore bring in more donations but ... they do make the whole exercise feel more like a proper job. I prefer working on designs that come to me out of the blue, just because they seem fun - drifting from one to another as the fancy takes me.

I think next year I shall go back to just doing the Christmas series. I like all the big stuff I'm doing this year but it's just too much work!

As I can't show you a picture of any of these things I'll leave you with another favourite picture book.

This is one of the Frances books written by Russell and Lillian Hoban all of which are wonderful. Frances has a witty and mature style of language for a small child / badger; in this one she's put out at the arrival of a new baby and so runs away to live under the table (as you do). I also love Bread and Jam for Frances which includes the best school packed lunch ever, complete with a little vase of flowers. Any other fans of these books out there?

Monday, 8 May 2017

Cat Meets Dog

Poor Linnet had her first run in with a dog yesterday. My neighbour came round to explain that a visiting dog had gone for her and that she was now at the top of the tree in my garden, hissing and growling.  So, after standing on top of a wobbly ladder for about twenty minutes talking to her, I managed to get her out of the tree. The concerned neighbours had to pretend not to watch as she's frightened of people so that of course made it worse.

I then tracked her down to the top floor of the house and added insult to injury by sponging her with warm water. She had blood on her fur and I was trying to work out how badly she was hurt. In the middle of this tricky procedure the kitten arrived and started hissing at her. I think he could smell how frightened she was but it didn't help! I couldn't find any obvious wound so I left her in peace to calm down.

She spent the evening in the hospital wing (my daughter's bed) and this morning seems fine. She ate her breakfast and then finished off the kitten's too so there can't be much wrong with her. As yet, she hasn't ventured outside again. At least she will now know to treat dogs with caution which isn't a bad thing.

Friday, 5 May 2017

I don't get out much ...

... but when I do, I go to the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) at Stratford-upon-Avon. It's only about half an hour's drive from here and my son and I go to all the Shakespeare plays.

Absolutely every play they put on is brilliant. The acting is wonderful, as is the music, the lighting ... you get the idea. I've particularly enjoyed Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet and Michelle Terry as Beatrice  but there are so many outstanding performances it's hard to choose. 

Last week we went to see Antony and Cleopatra and then we're going to Julius Caesar in a few weeks' time (wrong order, I know). The first Shakespeare play I ever saw was 'Antony and Cleopatra'. I was studying it for A Level and came on a trip up from Hampshire to Stratford to see it. It was 1978 and Glenda Jackson was playing Cleopatra - not a bad introduction to Shakespeare on stage!

If anyone is thinking that Shakespeare sounds like hard work, I recommend going to see one of the plays; they're easy to follow when acted. If you can't get to the theatre, the RSC is bringing out DVDs of their productions. I would recommend the two DVDs of Love's Labour's Lost and Love's Labour's Won as an excellent starting point. They're dramatic, funny and full of brilliant songs.

The Shakespeare films made by Kenneth Branagh are also really good. There's an excellent Much Ado About Nothing (my favourite play) or how about Love's Labour's Lost staged as a Thirties Musical? A couple of year's ago I was lucky enough to see Kenneth Branagh in The Winter's Tale at The Garrick.  It was wonderful.

I shall leave you with one of my favourite speechs from Much Ado - not Benedick or Beatrice but Don John, railing against his brother whom he is forced to follow after an unsuccessful rebellion.

'I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any: in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.'

Act I, Scene III.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

This and That

Yesterday I published the fifth pattern in my series of mini knitted quilts; each one is about the size of a postcard and together they make a lovely woolly calendar. So, here's the May Quilt ...

As you can see, I went for lots of saturated colours with this one. England is very green at this time of year - the grass is a wonderful luscious colour and all the trees are coming into leaf - so I thought I'd reflect that in this little quilt. Mind you, it's hailing at the moment but we'll gloss over that. The tiny butterflies are very quick to knit but they took a-g-e-s to design. The smaller something is, the harder it is to make it look like anything other than a blob.

I haven't make the matching fabric quilt for my daughter yet (sorry about that Rose) but I'm hoping to get it done this week. I'm also behind on the big Christmas pattern and next year's KAL but never mind. There are baroque trills to be wrestled with on the violin and other crafts to do.

Speaking of which ...

... I've finished my Double Ended Crochet Scarf. Isn't it lovely? I really like the way the two sides are so different; even the edges are pretty. I really enjoyed making this and am resisting the temptation to start another project until I've got a bit more time.

I spent the evening yesterday rooting through lots of old picture books to find some of my favourites. The Federation of Children's Book Groups is celebrating National Share-a-Story Month in May and are asking people to tweet about some of their favourite children's illustrators, working through the alphabet one day at a time. Today is 'B' and I've found these three:

Jan Brett, this is one of our favourite Christmas books
Nicola Bayley
Raymond Briggs

There are so many wonderful books illustrated by Raymond Briggs but this is one of the best. I've got a big pile of books ready to photograph for the rest of the alphabet, although some letters are harder than others. I have yet to find a book illustrated by anyone whose last name begins with a 'Q' or an 'X' ...