• Books

    What I Read in April

    Miss Beatrix Anna Reading

    April was the month I rediscovered reading. Not-so-coincidentally, the desire to read wandered casually back in as if it had never left immediately that I did three things:

    1. I finally succumbed to buying a Kindle

    2. I closed my personal Facebook account and

    3. I bought a new car (bear with me on that one).

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  • Books

    Reading Lately


    I can’t tell you how happy I still am to be back in a reading phase after a couple of years of having the attention span of a distracted moth. I decided not to make these ‘books I have read’ posts regular because I simply don’t know when I am going to get time to read, but luckily, the last couple of months have been kind on that score – I’ve done lots of reading in my lunch breaks and on lazy Sunday mornings.

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  • Books/ crafts

    A Book About Adventures and Craftspeople

    One of the speakers at Folksy Summer School was Nick Hand, of The Department of Small Works. Out of all of the talks over the weekend, his most captured my imagination, as he stood in front of his audience and told us about his cycling journey of discovery around the coast of the British Isles in 2009. During his journey he met many artists and craftspeople, and made photofilms of his conversations with them. In one summer he made over 100 of these films and uploaded them to the Slowcoast website.  

  • Books/ creative life series/ creativity

    Creative Life Series: My Favourite Books on Creativity

    As we start to near the end of my Creative Life series, I’d like to bring your attention to one of the main pillars of my own creative soul – books. You all know how much I love books, and I really love books about creativity. I’ve racked up quite a reading list over the past few years, and here are some titles that I return to over and over. It’s so comforting to think that if you have any of these to hand, you need never be without inspiration or your creative mojo ever again!

    I love Keri Smith. I bought this book, Living Out Loud: Activities to Fuel a Creative Life in 2007, and it changed my whole perception on how grown ups create and view the world. I realised I had lost that unique magical perspective kids take on life, and I was inspired to start embracing creativity through play once again. This book contains all sorts of fun activities (and stickers. STICKERS!) and I must have come back to it dozens of times in the last six years.
    Speaking of which…

  • Books/ craft books/ crafts/ feathered friends/ mollie makes/ sewing

    Book Review: Mollie Makes Feathered Friends

    My heart flutters for bird motifs, so I took advantage of an introductory offer for Mollie Makes’ latest hardback publication recently as it centres around this very theme! I don’t own any of their previous books so wasn’t sure what sort of standard to expect. 
    It was a bit of a gamble as I was a little worried that it might be a regurgitation (mm… owl pellets) of projects featured in the magazine, but I wasn’t disappointed.
    The book features bird-design projects using a wide range of media, from crochet to paper cutting, sewing to felt, embroidery to stamping. The range of ideas was wide enough to include ideas that were entirely new to me, as well as new takes on familiar makes. 
    This parrot reminds me of the secretary bird from Bedknobs and Broomsticks!
    Including over 20 projects, displayed against inspiring backdrops, with detailed instructions, I’m now pretty excited about trying some of these ideas out. 
    The book is officially out on 6th June, but I took advantage of a newsletter special offer, buying it for £7.00 with free p+p. Find out more about the book and offer here. (This is not a sponsored post).

    Are you a fan of bird motifs? I’ve got plans to make a perching parrot before long!

  • beatrix potter/ Books/ crafts/ toys

    The Beatrix Potter Toys and Designs Book

    I was lucky enough to receive this book from my aunt last week; it’s an ex-library book and someone had passed it onto her. Little did she know that it has been on my eBay watch list for quite some time!
    What I find fascinating about books like this is knowing that Beatrix Potter herself was such a clever lady, that seeing the success of The Tale of Peter Rabbit it was her own idea to make merchandise to accompany it, and her other stories that came later. It’s an interesting thought when you see Beatrix Potter themed goods wherever you go, and tut at the commercialisation of literature.
    Beatrix and Benjamin.
    Here is the first Peter that Beatrix made with her own fair hands. He was registered at the Patent Office in 1903.
    So this book appeals to my crafty and Beatrix Potter-loving nature. It’s quite dated now, having been published in 1992, but when I think about how much commercial fabrics – especially plush and velour – have improved in the last twenty years, I get excited about how much better these projects could look today than they do in these images!
    So here are some of the projects in the book: 
    Plush fur fabric is much nicer than this now
    A typical nineties image. What amuses me is that while the girl in this photo is about the same age I was in 1992, I have a jumper and tights remarkably like hers today. And I often put puppet shows on for my dog. (I don’t.) (I do.) I so want that Peter puppet on the left. 
    Think of these in today’s velour fabrics! Squidgy!
    Anyone else have one of these cloth animals in a bag?
    I had completely forgotten about mine until I saw this.
    Probably another weird nineties thing.
    I also had a dressing gown a bit like that, also blue, but with Noddy on it.
    A disturbing thought now!

    If you fancy a copy of this book so you can make your very own Beatrix Potter goodies copies still quite regularly wash up on eBay, and there are currently a number on Amazon Marketplace. 
    Beatrix Potter merchandise, while always around, does seem to come in waves. As a child I remember it being everywhere, with seemingly every other nursery being done out with a Beatrix Potter frieze, Beatrix Potter baby toys, and Beatrix Potter christening gifts. So it’s funny that I should receive this book now, while we seem to be at the peak of another wave of popularity. 
    My own childhood Beatrix Potter mug.
    I have a cheap copy too which I now use as my water pot for button painting.
    Did you have Beatrix Potter items in your home when you were growing up? Or perhaps, like me, you have more now!

  • Books/ jewellery/ literary emporium/ literature. coryographies/ style

    Wearing Literature on Your Sleeve

    I’m very much a person who likes to wear my passions on my sleeve. Or collar. So it was pretty exciting to treat myself to this little beauty from Etsy recently, having had it sitting in my favourites list for quite some time. It’s made by a lady called Rio, of LiteraryEmporioum
    These also accidentally fell into my virtual basket…
    Well this one was for my mum, so I had the perfect excuse! 

    For me this is all about using beautiful handmade items to express something I’m really passionate about. And I’m not alone. I got in touch with Cory of Coryograpies and asked her why she chose books as the main theme for her gorgeous handmade jewellery.

    “I’ve always been a big reader, a geeky nerd who likes non-fiction, but I stumbled on making book themed jewellery quite by accident.  I had been making little pieces of sushi out of Fimo for jewellery, and bought some little pieces of wood so I could make a bento box.  I was thinking about what other things I could make out of wood and a bookshelf came to mind!  I ended up finding a niche in the market, as there was no other seller that made necklaces that looked like bookshelves.  Out of their popularity I expanded into books made of Fimo for earrings, rings, etc.  They’ve always been my most popular items, and I meet so many interesting librarians, authors and bookworms who want to wear something that shows off how important books and reading is to them.”

    Etsy is full of amazing literary-themed items, and a few more of my favourites are below.
    Got Books Book Charm Bracelet Literary Themed Bookish Jewelry
    From here
    Literary Origami Rose Flower Post Earrings
    From here
    The Great Gatsby Jewelry, Literary Cuff Bracelet, Great Gatsby Quote, F. Scott Fitzgerald
    From here

    Thomas Jefferson Quote on Colonial Style Literary Art Print in China Blue - "I cannot live without books"
    From here
    Literary Hair Pins - Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy and Elizabeth
    From here
    How about you, do you like to wear your interests on your sleeve?

  • book club/ Books/ literature/ pretty nostalgic magazine/ reading/ vintage/ wind in the willows

    Pretty Nostalgic Vintage Book Club

    Some of you may know I have been a contributor to a fantastic magazine a number of times in the past called Pretty Nostalgic, an independent publication celebrating all things vintage, handmade and brilliantly British. Their latest venture is the Vintage Book Club, and when they asked me whether I’d be interested in starting one well… let’s just say I broke my promise to myself that I wasn’t going to take anything else on without a moment’s thought!
    Thanks go to Amy Farry for helping me sort a fab venue in Sheffield on a pretty tight deadline, and between us we recruited the book club’s first members, meeting at The Old House bar, to talk about our first vintage read. The theme of this meeting was Children’s Adventure Classics, and the title, The Wind in the Willows. 
    I chose this book because although I knew the story well, I had never actually read it. Also, I loved the idea of the book starting in Spring and going full circle through the seasons, and as we’ve been waiting for our own warmer weather to arrive for so long it seemed to be a good fit! 
    So I dug out my grand grandfather’s copy of the book from the 1920s, together with my more recent edition, and got stuck into this tale of friendship, adventure and British nature. And oh, how I loved getting lost in this story! It quickly became apparent during our meeting that we had all enjoyed it, and we had a good giggle imagining Mr. Toad as a sort of Russell Brand character! 

    The Old House were the perfect host for our little gathering. Good food, a cosy and friendly atmosphere and one (very Mr. Toad) flaming cocktail on the part of one of our members and we were happy bookworms!
    I have wanted to join a book club for such a long time, and I think the vintage element makes for a interesting twist. As it turns out, Amy and I are both BA Hons. English graduates of the same university, so I think we both enjoyed the chance to chat about old books with new friends… without a tutor demanding deeper and more insightful interpretations of our chosen text…
     Mind you, all of us did come up with some thought-provoking theories on the true meaning of The Wind in the Willows and the relationships between its much-loved characters. I really enjoyed getting stuck into a good conversation about this tale.
    I’m looking forward to the next meeting already, and will keep you posted on our group’s bookish journey right here. And if you’re ever in Sheffield, do pay The Old House a visit. You can read all about the other Pretty Nostalgic Book Club’s meetings up and down the country in the magazine itself and on their blog soon.
    I’d love to know whether you have read The Wind in the Willows and if so, what you thought of it. And how about Kenneth Grahame’s lesser known classic, The Reluctant Dragon? It’s one of my all-time favourites!

  • Books/ reading

    What I’ve Been Reading

    The Bought New

    I’m not going to go into detail on this first read as I’ll be sharing the fun of our first Sheffield vintage book club meeting next week. I knew the story of The Wind in the Willows well as a child through an abridged audio version of the book and the David Jason animated film, but I had never actually read it. I absolutely loved it and found it a really relaxing read.

    The Thrifted

    Way back in the mists of time, when this blog was but a mere dot on the blogging landscape, I think I may have mentioned my weakness – nay love affair – with the very lengthy and epic Outlander saga, the tale of Claire, a woman from the 1940’s who stumbles through a stone circle near Loch Ness and finds herself in 1743. There she gets married off against her will to a dashing young scotsman named Jamie Fraser, and so far there have been nine – soon to be ten – whopping volumes telling of their adventures. Oh, and the four spin off books that you can start halfway through the Outlander series.
     Yes, the plot at face value seems a little clichéd, but what I love about these books is that Diana Gabaldon never meant for the first book, Cross Stitch (American title Outlander), to be published. Struggling to find a book she wanted to read, she decided to write one for herself, and because no one was going to read it she threw everything imaginable in there: adventure, battles, pirates, time travel, a romance I dare you not to become completely absorbed in, death, history… you name it, it’s in there. 
    The Fiery Cross is the fifth in the series, and I tend to read lots of other books and then treat myself to the next in the sequence as I come across them, because I know I will be instantly drawn in. This one is no exception. Anything to do with history – and particularly the Battle of Culloden – is a hit for me, and I never get tired of reading about Jamie and Claire. Claire in particular fascinates me as a strong modern doctor finding herself in a time where women should be seen but not heard. By this book her own time is the 1960’s, and man has just walked on the moon. In the 1700’s she’s still struggling to convince her patients that they need to brush their teeth.
    If you like historical fiction you won’t be disappointed – the historical research for these books is second to none – so I urge you to try these books. Buy Outlander, and as Gabaldon says, read three pages. If you can put it down again she’ll give you a dollar.

    The Audiobook

    March’s Audible download came as a recommendation by Jo of The Dexterous Diva. The title immediately piqued my curiosity and I looked it up. I loved the concept Marianne Cantwell puts forth on her website so I knew I wanted to give this book my full attention. And I’m so pleased I did! It’s a simple concept. So many of us feel ‘caged’ into our careers – we have to go to work to make money to live, and we live so we can go to work so we can live. Quite often someone else dictates where we work, whether we work, how much we get paid and how our working life looks. Too many of us are miserable spending hours each week commuting and being stuck in offices, dreaming of more freedom and counting down the days until our next bit of time off. Quite rightly, Cantwell argues that this entire concept is bonkers, and her book sets out a range of ways by which it’s possible to break free of the cage and become a free range human. 
    Have I quit my job? Well… no. But I found myself nodding and shouting ‘that’s my life!’ more times than I can count throughout this book, and it really made me think about my dreams and plans for the future. I think the greatest gift this book has is the ability to change mindsets. It changed my thinking  from ‘it would be great to be one of those people who could do that’ to ‘why not me?’ I’ll definitely be giving it another listen and working through the exercises, and if you’ve ever wondered what wondrous things you could be doing to earn a living instead of turning up to work for someone else every day, I’d recommend you give this a read/listen. It makes a lot of sense. 
    As for the audio version, it’s read by Caroline Lennon, and although she reads well, she seems a little well-spoken for Cantwell’s enthusiastic tone and language so sentences such as ‘right freakin’ now!’ sound positively comedic. For me, this book worked well in audio form though, as I was able to listen while exercising or in the bath, which helped me to finish the book where otherwise annoying things like getting to work on time (!) would have meant I put the book down and didn’t return to it as often as I should.

    Have you read any ripping good yarns over the last few weeks?

  • Books/ reading

    What I’ve Been Reading

    If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I adore books. You may have gleaned this through the knowledge that I’m a big fan of Beatrix Potter, that I’ve featured my six hundred strong book collection, or that I mention children’s books quite a lot. The thing is, while I talk about books a fair bit, I don’t actually blog about the actual reading of them. Odd, eh?
    Well, I’ve decided to remedy this with a new monthly feature where I share with you the books I have been reading. Not just stacking up on my groaning bookshelves, but actually reading. I’m hoping that it will be a trap for myself, too, as I don’t make enough time to read these days. So here goes, the following constitutes my reading matter since Christmas:

    The Bought New

    Bird Brain ~ Guy Kennaway

    This was an impulse buy – part of the good old Waterstones 3 for 2. The very jolly chap who served me gave a hearty chuckle when I went to pay, saying this was ‘quite definitely’ on his own reading list for Christmas. I always imagine bookshop staff to be connoisseurs of the paper world, so this gave a little validation to my impulsive ways. 
    I wasn’t disappointed. It’s an odd story, all about a  grumpy, none-too-nice aristocrat called Basil ‘Banger’ Peyton-Crumbe. He is proud to have shot over forty-one thousand birds in his shooting career, but dies in a shooting accident practically on page one…and is reincarnated as a pheasant. What follows is a very humorous sort of murder mystery, mostly told through one confused and frightened pompous pheasant and his ex-pet dogs. 
    This book was like a cross between Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World and PG Wodehouse, so I was one happy reader. I’m really glad I gave into my impulses and bought this book, and it made a nice light read, too.

    The Borrowed

    The Art of Non-Conformity ~ Chris Guillebeau
    I have been following Chris Guillebeau on Twitter for a while now, and was curious about his life philosophy, especially for one so young. Essentially he believes is escaping the rat race, making a living through unconventional means, and helping others in the process. He is also on a mission to visit every country in the world. Having spent some time reading his blog I then spotted this book at my local library, so I knew I had to find out more. (I also liked the typography on the cover. Yes, I am that easily drawn in). 
    I wouldn’t really call this a self-help book*. It’s more of a case of Guillebeau dancing around in front of his reader shouting, ‘Yes! There is more to life! No! You don’t have to do what society expects you to in order to be successful! It’s a book full of ideas and pokes to re-assess what you want out of life, rather than a guide to doing it, but then a book can’t tell you what to do in your personal circumstances, can it? I’d recommend this if you’re after some inspiration and motivation, some reassurance that there is another way to live your life and earn money, but don’t expect a step by step to actually doing it. I have his other book The $100 Startup waiting to be read too.
    Slim for Life ~ Jason Vale
    Now, this is a book which turned up in the internal post at work, loaned to me by a colleague. It had a post-it slapped on the front which read, ‘this is not a hint that you need to lose weight. It’s because you kept going on about reducing the sugar in your diet!!!’ Ahem, yes well, it could be said that I have been ‘harping on’ about sugar a lot lately. I was a little dubious about this book simply because the title put me off and I was worried it would be one of those ‘ The government is evil. They are pumping us all full of chemicals and brainwashing us and we’re all going to die!‘ sorts of books. For all I know the food industry is evil, but I don’t want to be all depressed over my evening (now nonsugared) cuppa either!
    So…it is one of those ‘the government is trying to kill us’ books. And I do now suspect that many of the foods we have been told – or have told ourselves – are good for us for decades now, are in fact terrible for our health. Like many, I’ve had worries about processed foods for some time. What I don’t like is that this book made me incensed and angry, and confused about the reality of the food we eat. Instead I’d like to calmly take these ideas on board, then start making small changes like perhaps growing more of my own veg and eating less processed food, as well as accepting that I can’t control the content of everything food I come across. This book is written from a point of view – just one point of view – and although it argues for the reader’s health and liberation from the unhealthy concepts around what we eat, it’s in danger of being as brainwashing and scaremongering as the food industry Vale hates so much. 
    That said, it admits all this on the back cover. It states that this book exposes the sugar and food industry, and the true nature of drug-like food and drinks. If I don’t like it, maybe I shouldn’t read it. And did it make me change my ways with sugar? Yes. So it must have done some good. 

    The Thrifted

    Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell ~ Susanna Clarke
    This is a title which has been swimming around since 2004. If you haven’t read it, you’ve quite possibly heard of it. I had heard of it, knew it involved magicians and Yorkshire, and knew it had to go on my list. I bagged this copy for 70p in a charity shop, and was doubly smug at the knowledge that it will also make an excellent doorstop. 
    I really enjoyed this book. It was a really good, absorbing yarn full of mysterious dark houses, wintry adventures and mystery, magic and nineteenth-century history. It made me want a weekend in York and to listen to legends in front of the fire. I also thought Clarke’s writing was spellbinding. Neil Gaiman liked it and so did I. 
    A Taste of the Country ~ Jimmy Doherty
    Another charity shop steal in autumn last year. The week I got this I had brought home a large bag full of wild garlic and another of field mushrooms. My thoughts were turning to bonfires, homecooked hearty meals and harvesting, and a quick flick through this book by the best friend of Jamie Oliver promised ideas for foodie blog posts and simple recipe ideas for all year round.
    Yes, it is a recipe book, but I do like the concept of cooking with thrifted and homegrown ingredients, something many of us are interested in since food prices soared. I’d like to cook with more seasonal ingredients, and I’m not a fan of complicated cookery, so this gave me some good ideas. There are sections on gathering, growing, pickling and preserving, cooking on an open fire, and even smoking foods, which I found interesting. If nothing else, if you dream of a country smallholding like me, and simple meals by the fire in good company (and some sloe gin) you’ll like the lifestyle that this book represents. 

    The Audiobook

    Is It Just Me? ~ Miranda Hart
    I’m a member of Audible, so for £8 per month (though they often have offers of £3.99 for the first three months) I get one audiobook. Seeing as buying audiobooks full price can leave little change out of fifty squid at times, I like this service a lot. I download my book to my iPhone, and listen while doing housework, driving, exercising, etc., and it’s a good way to listen to long or heavy-going books which I would like to read but know I will never make the time to sit down and pay my full attention to.

    That said… there was no way on earth that this month’s audiobook could be called a heavy-going book! I have wanted Is It Just Me? since it came out, then decided it would be fun to listen to Miranda Hart reading her book to me. You know, like a few hours of her sitcom to listen to while cleaning out the guinea pig and hoovering the dog. Perfection.

    I really, really enjoyed it. Listening to this cheered me up after a long day. I laughed out loud. I nodded in recognition, then frightened myself that I could identify quite so well with Miranda’s social awkwardness, quirks and her chapter on the relationship between a woman and her dog (yes, I celebrate my dog’s birthday too). The book is not an autobiography, but more of a dialogue between grown up Miranda and her eighteen year-old self ‘Little M’ on various big life subjects like technology, working life, relationships and… family Christmas.  My only gripe with this book – and maybe this was more apparent in the audio version – was that Little M is presented as eighteen, yet she’s a gawky, naive public school girl filled with questions about kissing boys, an obsession with Jason Donovan and excelling at lacrosse. The idea of Little M driving, drinking alcohol or being at university seems a long way off in this book, which I found a little unbelievable, and think she would have been better off being presented as fourteen. Nonetheless I loved this book and reckon it’s a read for anyone wanting a giggle and some reassurance that life can be a baffling and awkward experience for us all. I really found the last chapter very moving. 

    I hope you enjoyed this first romp through my recent reading matter. I am under no illusions that the list will be as long next month, but then Easter isn’t far away, so I am hoping for some more relaxation time.

    Have you read any corkers of the paper variety lately?

    *If we might clear up the whole thing many people seem to have with self-help books while I’m here. I like self-help books, that is to say I like some self-help books. I have learned and continue to learn a lot from them, they help me take a different perspective on my own life, and through that shift in attitudes about myself and my surroundings they have enabled me to go ahead and make positive changes. What I really dislike is the term ‘self-help books’ and all the connotations of desperation, human weakness and the stampede for perfection that come with the label. It makes me think of Bridget Jones on New Year’s Day. It’s like a hangover term from the 1990’s.  I will continue to use the term ‘self-help’ because then we all know what sort of book – or guide – I’m talking about in this series. There are a lot of truly abominable self-help books out there, like those that encourage us to go on fad diets, or ‘fake it ’til you make it’, but I have no problem with the concept of a book which aims to facilitate an intelligent person to make positive changes in their own life. After all, a book can’t make you do anything! One of the reasons I love to read is that both fiction and non-fiction allow me to experience the world through the eyes of others, to learn how other people perceive situations both familiar and alien to myself. I’d have to meet and get to know a lot of people to get the same results without the help of books. 

  • Books/ charity shops/ childhood/ thrifting/ vintage/ vintage childrens books

    Guest Post: Beautiful Clutter on Vintage Children’s Books

    Welcoming my good friend, fellow tea supper and collector of pretty treasures, Jem, of Beautiful Clutter…

    Charity shops in general can be treasure troves for magpies like me, but charity bookshops are fantastic places!  Books have been my chief addiction for as long as I can remember, as a child it didn’t take me long to work out that by hunting for the books I wanted in the local charity bookshop my pocket money would stretch that much further.  Today these are where I tend to find most of the vintage and retro children’s books I come home with – especially with jumbles and car boot sales thin on the ground in my area.
    My reading diet is generally a mixture of classics, contemporary fiction and fantasy – so the old children’s books I find are a brilliant palate cleanser between lengthier reads, besides which they put me in such a cheerful mood. I recently re-read my whole Beatrix Potter collection – one of the many things Anna and I have in common is a love of Miss Potter – as a January blues beater, and it worked! I think the NHS ought to look into handing out bundles of half a dozen childhood favourites to everyone having a miserable time in hospital, I can’t testify to their effectiveness as a painkiller but as a mood-booster they score very well!
    With anything second (or third, or fourth!) hand comes a quirk or two; I’ll often find an exuberant crayon annotation, dog-eared pages, or a handwritten dedication on the inside front cover. Once I found a perfectly flat daisy, obviously left over from a flower-pressing experiment, in the middle of an Enid Blyton book, which made my heart sing.  These little things just add to the charm, because in general old copies of children’s books are beautiful things – the vivid covers, the illustrations inside, even the typography – are all wonderfully nostalgic. It seems funny to say that when most of the books I pick up were printed decades before I came into the world, but I’ve always felt I was  born into the wrong era!
    There is a line in one of my favourite films ‘You’ve Got Mail’ from Kathleen Kelly (played by Meg Ryan) the owner of The Shop Around the Corner. Her children’s bookshop in New York is under threat of closure with a behemoth of a discount bookstore opening across the street, she said something that has always stayed with me:
    ‘I started helping my mother after school here when I was six years old. And I used to watch her. And it wasn’t just that she was selling books, it was that she was helping people become whoever it was (that) they were going to turn out to be. Because when you read a book as a child it becomes part of your identity in a way no other reading in your whole life does . . .’ 

    To my mind she hit the nail right on the head, and I think that goes some way to explaining why children’s books are so very special!

    Thank you for taking the time to read my ramble! Another thank you to Anna for having me, I hope she is having a lovely time of her well-earned break!
    Jem xXx

    Oh Jem, you write so poetically about the wonders of these childhood delights! A whole world within each, with many more memories besides. I’m off to lovingly stroke my Enid Blyton collection. Thank you for sharing your lovely collection with us.

  • Books/ crafts/ creative/ gifts/ handmade/ hardbacks/ ideas/ juliette goggin/ junk/ junk genius/ making/ stacy sirk/ thrifting/ upcycling/ vintage

    Junk Genius: A Book Review

    Junk Genius: Stylish Ways to Repurpose Everyday Objects, with Over 80 Projects and Ideas, by Juliette Goggin and Stacy Sirk. 
    I stumbled upon this upcycling craft book on Amazon while adding others to my wishlist. I hadn’t heard of it before and wondered why, only to realise my discovery must have been an early one, it only having been published in September, as it’s popped up in several craft magazines since! So when a Waterstones voucher came my way, I knew exactly what I wanted to spend it on.
    You may recognise Juliette Goggin’s name as she’s a regular on the channel 4 tv programme Super Scrimpers, in which you’ll find her patiently showing young sorts how to makeover their clothes and home furnishings. Her career includes designing her own gift and home collection, and sourcing products for names such as Cath Kidston and French Connection. 
    Stacy Sirk works in product development alongside some huge brands, such as Urban Outfitters, Macy’s and Nike. The pair wrote this book from opposite sides of the pond, reminding me of another very successful craft book of 2012! Terminology throughout the book is primarily American with the British alternative term in brackets, and this pleased me, because we all want to feel a book is written ‘for us’. 
     The first section of this rather sensual (yes, I said sensual) hardback is dedicated to ‘finding junk’. This reminded me of Sarah Moore’s Homemade Gifts Vintage Style and I always find it handy to get an author’s viewpoint on the best ways to find lovely treasures to upcycle. I get really excited about thrifting, so a section dedicated to this filled me with enthusiasm. There then follows a list of ’40 Common Items’ – perfect if you’re like me and carry round a shopping list of the things you’re after, only to become overwhelmed.
    The projects themselves are divided into sections, Jewelry and Decoration, Fabric and Trims, Paper and Card, China and Wood, Glass and Mirror, Metal and Wire and Furniture and Furnishings.
    So the all important question here, is what did I think of the content – the projects themselves? Well there are certainly some projects where the idea is quite well worn; decorated decanters, for example, covered notebooks and flower brooches. BUT I think that depends on how much a seasoned upcycling/craft book reader you are, and there were many, many more projects that were new ideas to me and got me adding them to my ‘to try’ list. The tweed laptop bag (recently in Mollie Makes), thimble pendants, bunting made from ties, and a rather beautiful medicine cabinet all gave me ‘aha’ moments. If you have never tried upcycling before or are new to the vintage-infused lifestyle, you’ll find plenty of ideas, presented in a fresh way. 
    If you’re already a crafter, I’d say many of the projects don’t need a how-to, simply the images will be enough to spark the idea and get you thinking of new ways to use thrifted finds. However, if you’re new to this sort of thing, or wouldn’t know, like me, how to make a laptop bag, you’ll find the instructions full and clear. 
    The images throughout the book are beautiful, adding value as an idea generator and source of inspiration as much as anything. This book’s about introducing you to a new lifestyle, a new way of thinking, as well as providing ideas for a quick gift for Aunt Mildred. I really like the fact that the projects aren’t overly feminine. Although many will inevitably appeal only to women, if you’re looking for a gift idea for a chap you’ll find plenty, and male readers can be inspired too. 
    All in all I was really pleased with this book. A brand new hardback isn’t something I would have bought without a voucher, so I most certainly would have returned it if it couldn’t bring something to my life that others in my collection can’t. I’ll be using it for inspiration and as a resource for fresh ideas, and think it would be a real revelation to those who are new to the idea of making new from old, especially on a budget. 
    It’s difficult not to compare it to Granny Chic as there are a number of similarities other than the geographical space between the authors. A curtain embellished with doilies, and a lace-covered lampshade, for example. This is either unfortunate timing – no one’s fault, after all – or a bonus, as it just shows how popular vintage and upcycling are right now. For me it was a good thing, and as I don’t see vintage and making new from old as a passing craze in my own life, for me, this is just more of the stuff I love to read about. To be fair, this book was published [just] first!
    Junk Genius left me with a warm, homely feeling, a renewed excitement about getting out there and tracking down finds – especially little ones to make into quirky jewellery – and lots of new ideas. It would also make that most pointless and hated of things… an ‘ideal coffee table book’. Gah. Pretentious, moi? My copy has certainly being hanging around my living room over the festive period, being picked up and passed around. Just what these sorts of books are perfect for. 
    Have you stumbled across any cracking craft/vintage books lately? 

  • Books/ books tag/ bookshops/ collection/ literature/ reading/ tag

    My Book Collection

    Back in early October blogging friend Miss Imogen Smith started a new tag, inviting her readers to share what’s on their bookshelves. I’ve finally got round to showing you mine! Brace yourselves and please excuse some of the photos being slighty fuzzy – I’ve been having a few camera problems this week and this one wasn’t my usual.

    I think my book collection is getting near the six hundred mark now. Like many book collectors I didn’t actually set out to collect them at all; I just love reading. As a child I owned only a few much-loved books, but used to borrow and devour six books from my local library each week. When I moved to Sheffield aged nine and joined a new library I couldn’t believe I was only allowed to borrow three, and had to get more on my mum’s ticket!

    My book collection only started to really grow when I won a writing competition at the age of sixteen. Part of the prize was a £100 Waterstones voucher. That, followed by a growing fascination with literature gained while studying for a degree in English… and well, the collection just kept on growing…

    Reading and writing have always been my ‘things’. I love stories of all shapes and sizes and think this is reflected in the variety of genres I own. Everything from historical fiction to classics to children’s books live on my shelves. 

    I’m not fussy about collecting certain editions, though the nicest editions I own have been birthday and Christmas gifts. I buy from second hand bookshops, Amazon, The Book People, charity shops, car boot sales and independent bookshops. Some books have been passed onto me by relatives.

    I own a lot of fiction, but this is interspersed with non-fiction on all sorts of subjects, from social history to crafts, business to poetry. Although I hate the desperate term ‘self-help books’ I do own several and have always found them inspiring, especially because they allow me to look at life’s problems and possible solutions from a different perspective. The only genre I own very little of is biographies – I’m not sure why but I’m irritated by the way celebrities start to churn them out around Christmas time!

    As Anthony Powell said, ‘books do a furnish a room’ and I love how cosy mine make my living space look. I have two large bookcases – one in my sitting room and one in my office. They don’t match, and I have plans to back at least one of them with vintage wallpaper at some stage. 
    These days my books have to live more or less in alphabetical order otherwise they’d be a mess. It’s funny though, that even if I’m looking for a book and can’t remember the author I can usually put my hand on it without thinking, which just shows how the colours and shapes of a book collection can settle in the subconscious so I know it better than I think. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a bookshop and been unable to remember whether I already have a title – each book I own is treasured.
    People tend to assume that I never get rid of a book, and though it’s true that there are plenty of books I would like to keep forever, if I read a book and don’t think I’ll read it again I have no qualms about moving it on to a grateful new owner. I think books are for sharing and enjoying. 
    That said, I hope I’ve built a book collection that future generations of my family will love to explore, that I might inspire a young reader one day… and what a gift to pass on books are!
    (And yes, they are hoovered regularly. It’s a mammoth job each time!)
    If you fancy taking part in the book tag please send a link to Imogen and me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed noseying around my collection.
    Have a bookish Friday,

  • beatrix potter/ Books/ childrens books/ guinea pigs/ stories/ the fairy caravan/ vintage books/ watercolour

    The Fairy Caravan by Beatrix Potter

    It’s no wonder that I’ve been after a copy of The Fairy Caravan by Beatrix Potter for so long. Firstly, Beatrix Potter. Need I say more? Secondly, it’s a tale about guinea pigs. Third, there is magic afoot in this book! 
    Every copy I had come across on eBay had been £40 or more, so you can imagine how excited I was to bag this 1952 copy for £2.99, and such a beautiful copy it is too! 
    A novel at 225 pages long, it was first published in 1929, making it one of Potter’s later books. And this was because it was never intended to be published at all:
    Through many changing seasons these tales have walked and talked with me. They were not meant for printing; I have left them in the homely idiom of our old north country speech. I send them on the insistence of friends beyond the sea.

                                                                                                                   BEATRIX POTTER.

    In the Land of Green Ginger there is a town called Marmalade, which is inhabited exclusively by guinea-pigs. They are of all colours, and of two sorts. The common, or garden, guinea-pigs are the most numerous. They have short hair, and they run errands and twitter. The guinea-pigs of the other variety are called Abyssinian Cavies. They have long hair and side whiskers, and they walk upon their toes. 

    When an attempt by Tuppenny the common guinea pig to grow his hair using a mis-sold elixir goes horribly wrong, he runs away into the big wide world to join the circus, making new friends along the way.
    The book is beautifully illustrated by the author, as you would expect, with a combination of watercolour and black and white ink drawings. The story is set in Potter’s favourite landscape – the Lake District – like her other stories. It retains its original dialect, to the delight of her intended American audience, who loved her tales of the English countryside. 

    The book is divided into chapters to form a whole novel, yet each chapter could almost stand alone as a single story in its own right. Fairies are littered throughout the book, and the animal kingdom operates as a society, just like in Potter’s more famous tales. 
    Despite being a very different format to her other tales, I’m so pleased I finally managed to own a copy of The Fairy Caravan because this is Potter as she was when she wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit, writing for her friends and her own entertainment, and not necessarily for publication. 
    Having been a life-long owner of guinea pigs myself I think she captures their sociable, brave – yet sometimes naive – personalities perfectly, and her love and respect for animals, as always, shines through. 
    All this talk of guinea pig adventures inspired Alfie to go on one of his own. He was still back by teatime though, as guinea pigs always are. 
    Do you have a favourite Beatrix Potter story? 
    Enjoy your Monday!

  • Books/ craft books/ crafts/ reviews/ scarves/ vintage

    Three Craft Book Reviews

    I have braved the camera to bring you reviews of three craft books today:

    Knitting vintage: 30 Knitting Projects Inspired by Period Fashions ~ Claire Montgomerie
    Craft Challenge: Dozens of Ways to Repurpose Scarves ~ Nathalie Mornu
    The Crafter’s Guide to Taking Great Photos ~ Heidi Adnum

    If you’re having trouble viewing the video you can watch it here instead.

    Homemade Gifts Vintage Style ~ Sarah Moore review is here

    P.S: Have you entered the Miss Beatrix Perfect Night In giveaway yet?

  • beatrix potter/ Books/ collecting/ family/ history/ literature/ stories

    A Beatrix Potter Collection

    Beatrix Potter’s stories have always played a quiet yet significant part in my life. I’ve always loved reading  The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tailor of Gloucester and The Tale of Mrs. Tiggywinkle, loved the life-like watercolour illustrations, and how each story was the perfect length to be read before bedtime.
    My mum loves Beatrix Potter too, and although neither of us set out to collect Beatrix Potter items, she’s ended up with quite a stash, and I find myself turning to the stories time and again for artistic inspiration, or escapism. They always make me want to leave my busy life behind and go on a country adventure.
    These books were given to my mum by her grandparents when she was small.
    My mum collects the Beswick Beatrix Potter figurines, though because they’re highly sought after they’ve always been kept by my parents as investment pieces. Their number has swung between three and two hundred, according to demand at the time! Peter here is a limited edition, and is special because of his gold buttons.
    My childhood Beatrix Potter treasury.
    This is the only figure I own, and I chose her because I love the original illustration from my favourite of the tales, The Tailor of Gloucester.

    These buttons have been hanging around my parents’ house since the 1970s. I’d like to use them on a special  project, but the right one hasn’t come along yet!
    When I visited a friend’s hometown in Wales I thought this edition of Mrs Tiggywinkle would made a quirky addition to my mum’s library.
    This picture hangs on the wall in my parents’ dining room. It always makes me smile.
    This cup was a gift to celebrate my birth.
    I remember watching the television series at my grandparents’ when I was little. After a day of scampering around the welsh beaches and woods they were such a tranquil way to end the day.
    As well as admiring her stories, Beatrix Potter was a lady of many talents, and you can read my blog post about why I find her so inspiring here. Her furry namesake now wears her name on her ID tag with pride!
    Miss Beatrix herself

    Are you a fan of the Beatrix Potter stories?