Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Pretty Buttons

I love coming across pretty buttons to add to my collection and I've found a wonderful online shop that sells all sorts of little treasures. The Vintage Button Emporium has buttons in all sizes and materials, ranging from cheap packs of craft buttons up to very special silver or enamel Victorian buttons. For my first order I restricted myself to cheaper buttons; I had a lovely time browsing through the site, adding a button to my basket every now and then.

My buttons arrived quickly and look how nicely packaged they were.

I do like a pretty package with real ribbon. Here are the buttons I chose ...

... a mixture of glass, metal and plastic buttons. That one in the middle looks just like a mint humbug, doesn't it? The multi-coloured dotty one at the bottom reminded me a bit of my favourite button in my Mum's button box as a child. It was quite chunky but had a pattern a bit like this one. Speaking of my Mum's button box, would you like to see it?

It's quite small and was originally a sweet tin. Inside the lid it says 'George W Horner & Co. Ltd. Maker of Good Sweets, Chester-Le-Street, County of Durham, England'. So now you know. Mum's buttons have long since gone and I keep my old boot button style buttons in it.

You may remember me telling you about starting a Charmstring of special buttons a while ago. Well, some of my new buttons have been added to this. There are about twenty on my string so far so I've got a way to go if I'm going to reach 1,000.

I'm putting metal buttons on my charmstring but am thinking about starting another one with brightly coloured plastic buttons. Or maybe glass and mother of pearl (I've got a lot of mother of pearl buttons). 

Does anyone else out there collect old buttons like these? I made button cushions for my children when they were small with animal buttons and brightly coloured shaped ones (and yes, I sewed them on really tightly). I wonder if I should make myself a grown-up version with some of my treasures.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Astley Book Farm

Ever since Penn bookshop closed earlier this year (you can read about it here), we've been on a mission to find a replacement. So far we've got Wolverton Books (very cheap) and a good, mixed secondhand shop in Wantage. Of course, I am lucky to have one of the best secondhand bookshops ever just down the road, in the shape of Books & Ink. By the way, Sam at Books & Ink is happy to put books in the post so, if you're looking for something in particular, do give her a ring.

But, when it comes to books, more is always better, right? So, on Friday my son and I set off to visit another new-to-us secondhand bookshop that looked promising. Astley Book Farm is North-East of Coventry,  just over an hour's drive from here. You go in through this modest little blue door ...

That sign reads 'Unattended children will be given
an espresso and a free puppy'

... to find yourself in a huge maze of a shop.

Room after room, full of books on every conceivable subject and all housed in a barn - or maybe it's a series of barns. There are chairs dotted around so that you can browse the books in comfort and there's even a stove in one room.

The fiction alone extends through several rooms. Everything is alphabetically ordered and the stock is good. I always think the test of a secondhand bookshop is the children's section. All too often, this is just a random collection of any books aimed at children. Not the case here, I'm glad to say. 

The children's books are housed in the hayloft and have obviously been selected well. We know quite a bit about children's literature and found lots of interesting titles that we hadn't seen before. The fiction is stronger than the picture books but all the sections are good. There's also a bookcase of older (as in collectable) children's books by the main desk.

We were pleased to see that the shop also stocks all the Persephone Books which I don't think I've seen anywhere other than at the Persephone shop in London. In the courtyard there's a small barn of random, cheaply priced stock. For those too young to remember 'old money', ten bob is ten shillings or 50p in new money.

And, last but not least, there's even a cafe. We had a very nice broccoli and stilton soup but the cakes looked wonderful too. I think we'll have to sample those on a future visit. I loved this display of Puffin book covers on the front of the counter.

So, what did I buy in this exciting shop? Mostly children's books of course. I got twelve new Puffin Firsts which is a lot to find in one go.

I was particularly pleased with these two.

I'm a big fan of Barbara Willard's historical fiction, in particular her Mantlemass Chronicles, a series of books following the lives of two families from the 15th to 17th century. So, I was pleased to find 'The Penny Pony' about two children who want a real pony but can only afford an old model of one from a junk shop - sounds like a promising start to a story. The cover is illustrated by Juliet Palmer and I think it's particularly attractive. A lot of thought went into choosing artists to illustrate the Puffin Story Books.

'Mademoiselle' is set in Paris in the Summer of 1914 which would be enough to make me want to read it but it's also by Geraldine Symons who wrote 'The Workhouse Child' which I read and loved as a child. On getting it home I realised that 'Mademoiselle' is a sequel to that book, albeit with another book in between. Now I need to find a copy of 'Miss Rivers and Miss Bridges' to fill that gap. 

Not all the Puffins were fiction. I found these two history books, both written by James Barbary.

They look interesting; there was another one about the English Civil War but my son got that one. I wonder if Barbary wrote any others.

I do love a good poetry anthology so I was pleased to find this Puffin collection from 1976.

Which leads nicely on to my special find of the day, another poetry anthology.

This is a lovely book, originally published in 1957. What attracted me though was the name of the compiler. Pamela Whitlock was just 15 when she and her friend Katherine Hull decided to write a book. They wrote alternate chapters and then swapped them to edit each other's work. When the book was finished they sent it off to their favourite author Arthur Ransome. This is where the story gets really exciting as Ransome loved the book, persuaded his publishers to publish it and even wrote the foreword. 'The Far-Distant Oxus' was set on Exmoor, as were the two sequels 'Escape to Persia' and 'Oxus in Summer'. The first of the books was re-published some years ago by Fidra Books which is how we discovered it but, sadly, all three are now out of print.

Anyway, back to the poetry. As well as poems chosen by Pamela Whitlock, there are also a few beautiful woodcuts by Joan Hassall. One of the great twentieth century exponents of wood engraving, any book with Joan Hassall illustrations is a great find.

I did buy a few picture books too. These three hardbacks each cost only a few pounds.

The most interesting one is perhaps that one in the middle.

'Kindle Me A Riddle' by Roberta Karim is the story of a Pioneer family in mid nineteenth century Utah. Each page features something from the family's life and the riddle of where it came from. So, for example, Constance's winter cloak was once the winter cloak of the sheep.

The oil paintings throughout the book are by Bethanne Andersen. I'm not sure if this book was ever published in the UK; the one I found is an American edition from Greenwillow Books who are part of Harper Collins.

This picture book is much smaller and also much older.

'The Tale of Noah and the Flood' by Clark Hutton is number 54 in the Puffin picture book series and was published in 1946. I have quite a big collection of old Puffin Picture books so I was glad to be able to add a new one to the pile. There are several stunning double page illustrations in this one 

It also ends with these words (in block capitals) 'Noah lived another 350 years after the flood cultivating vineyards and when he died he was nine hundred and fifty years old'. Mmm, not too sure about that. One day I must write a blog post about this series of books.

I just want to show you one more book that I bought at Astley, an addition to my collection of Puffin Annuals.

'Puffin's Pleasure' was published in 1976 and is a compilation of stories, articles and activities by some of the great names in children's literature. You only have to open the book and look at the endpapers to know you're in for a treat.

How about a story by Ursula Le Guin?

Or perhaps an illustrated poem by Joan Aiken? This one's about a cat with a crooked tail.

Then there's an article about life on a canal narrowboat, written by Jill Paton Walsh.

My two other Puffin Annuals are from 1974 and 1975. I don't know if there any others but, if there are, I want them!

I think the annuals were an offshoot from The Puffin Club which ran from 1967 to 1989. If anyone knows any more about these annuals, I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, 10 September 2018

More Starts Than Finishes

Well, I don't know ... despite the fact that I'm currently working on too many projects too count - at least five blankets, the big Christmas pattern for later this year, you get the general idea - I've still managed to start several new things recently. But, first, here's one thing I've managed to finish.

This is my Snowball Quilt and I'm quite pleased with it. There are more than a few pencil lines still visible from quilting that border but they'll come out in the wash. I can't be bothered to wash it now so I'll wait until I spill tea on it; knowing me, that won't be long.

Of course, finishing one small quilt meant that I had to start on another one straight away. So I spent a lovely evening cutting out all the pieces for this one.

This is the first quilt I'm making from Kathleen Tracy's latest book A Prairie Journey. Those pieces looked very small to me so I was a bit worried about piecing them accurately. I needn't have worried though. With this pattern, there are no points to match so it goes together pretty easily.

I started by laying out the pieces for the first few rows on one of my little quilt design boards. I made a set of these a while ago by following Lori Holt's Mini Design Board Tutorial. The wadding on the top of the boards holds the pieces and you can stack the boards together to keep all the pieces safe until you're ready to sew them together.

For the piecing, I like to use my little Singer Featherweight sewing machine which I bought in an antique shop a few years ago. It's 66 years old, half the size of a 'normal' machine and sews like a dream.

I seem to get a more accurate quarter of an inch seam with the Featherweight. I did read somewhere that, because it doesn't do zigzag stitches, it sews a straighter seam but I don't know if that's right. Do you like the patchwork mat the machine's sitting on? That's another Lori Holt pattern, this time from her book Quilty Fun. There are little pockets at the front to hold sewing tools and the mat doubles up as a cover when I put the machine away.

While we're talking about making stuff for the sewing room (or in my case the scullery), here's my little ironing station.

The ironing board is a small bread board covered with heat reflective wadding and fabric and backed with felt. I can't remember where I found the tutorial to make this but there are various ones online. The iron is a travel iron, just the right size for the mini board.

If you make bigger quilts than me, you might like to make a slightly bigger ironing board by covering one of those small folding tables you can buy from various places. I got mine at  Dunelm Mill and it's the table the Featherweight sits on when I sew.

Anyway ... after several sewing sessions I now have half of my quilt top finished.

Can you see where I put two pieces of the same fabric next to each other? I try to avoid that but, as they say, it'll never be seen from a galloping horse (although why they should say that I don't know).

When it comes to knitting, I did manage to finish my Patchwork Purse pattern but that's about it.

There's a lot to be said for small things that can be knitted and written up quickly. Mind you, I then found myself unable to resist turning the same shapes into a patchwork blanket pattern. Yes, I know, another blanket.

This is the only block I've knitted so far but I did spend quite a long time trying to find a variegated yarn with the right colour lengths. They were either too short, making all the shapes look the same, or too long which gave me solid coloured shapes. Finally, I found Hayfield Bonus Breeze which is just right. This colour is called Embers and I bought it at my brand new branch of Hobbycraft. In the last year I've acquired a Waitrose and a Hobbycraft, both within walking distance. My cup brimmeth over.

Then, one evening last week, I had an irresistible urge to do some crochet (as you do) but it had to be something new (of course it did). So I fished out some of the leftover yarn from my Helicopter blanket and started making a quick cowl.

I'm going to edge it a variegated black yarn and then I think I'll make a quick pair of cuffs to match. The crochet is very simple so I think they can go in one pattern together.

I also bought some more sock yarn when I went to Bourton-on-the-Water last week. There's a very nice little yarn and needlework shop there called The Bourton Basket and they had a good selection.

The two on the left are going to be Christmas socks for my son and my daughter's partner. As you can see, one is happier with bright colours than the other. The one on the right is for me but I think I might use it for some exciting pin loom weaving that I've got planned. More of that soon.

As if all this wasn't enough, I'm still working hard on my new Ten Stitch. I haven't got at all fed up with it yet which has got to be a first and I can't wait to be able to share it with everyone. I know that it will look better if it's really big though so you'll have to be patient while I keep knitting.

I still don't feel comfortable choosing the colours as I go along. I'm definitely a planner when it comes to colours (and most things, actually) but I decided it would be good for me to try something new. I think it's working although I can't help thinking of lots of exciting ways you could plan the colours for this one.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018


In my part of the world, place names with lots of hyphens are pretty common. Driving to Bourton-on-the-Water yesterday, I went through both Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold. It's not difficult to see where Bourton got its name ...

The river Windrush flows through the centre of the town and is crossed by little footbridges. It's a clear, shallow river and ideal for paddling. Naturally enough, it's a popular tourist spot and every other building seems to be a tea room or gift shop (or sometimes both).

My son and I were there to re-visit a couple of places we remember going to nearly twenty years ago when he and his sister were small. First of all, a maze with a difference.

As well as finding your way to the centre of The Dragonfly Maze, you also have to collect clues from numbered rebus stones along the way. This is trickier than it sounds, it took us quite a while to find them all and then a bit longer to make sense of them. Every time we came to a junction in the maze, we took it in turns to choose which way to go. I kept taking us down the same paths - I have no sense of direction at all.

Finally, we arrived in the centre of the maze to find the treasure hidden in this building.

I shan't show you what was inside but it was lovely and yes, there was a dragonfly.

After the maze, we walked down the road to Birdland, a beautifully landscaped park with over 100 different bird species to see. There were King Penguins (smaller than Emperors, in case you wondering) ...

... Pelicans ...

... and this very friendly bird whose name I've forgotten ...

I was very taken by some Weaver Birds, tiny little yellow birds who were busy weaving rushes into round nests.

Part of the park is a woodland nature reserve where you might spot a kingfisher or an otter ... or something a bit older ...

Well, dinosaurs are related to birds after all. We had our picnic next to this tortoise who was taking his lunchtime constitutional. Here's a shot of him in action. Now there's a prehistoric looking animal.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day and I got a bit more practice with my new camera. It keeps cropping thins without my permission but, apart from that, I'm getting the hang of it. At least knitting tends to stay in one place when you're taking its picture.