Will Crochet Design Make Your Fortune?

Or, How do you measure success?

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OK, I’m talking about crochet design here, but this applies to all creatives. The truth is, most creative occupations won’t earn you a fortune. There are exceptions. Talent,  hard work and lucky breaks have led to a few highly successful careers in knitwear design (and other sectors).  We think that getting published in a few magazines, getting a book deal or hitting the “hot right now” stream in Ravelry* will be a spring board to fame and fortune. It might, but the chances are you won’t be able to give up the day job just yet. At least not if you’re responsible for mortgage payments, rent or  food and living expenses. Freelance crochet design will not bring you financial security. There are a few who are trying and succeeding. Talented people who have invested heavily in self publishing, mastered the art of online promotion and built a following of makers who leap on every new design with gusto. These are the lucky few. (although it isn’t really down to luck;  hard work, determination and the support of friends and family all contribute).

So, if financial security  isn’t guaranteed how else do we measure our success ?  Does it matter if money in the bank isn’t the bottom line? Freedom to live a simple life, cook from scratch, grow veg and spend time with friends and loved ones is my “success indicator”. If I worked full time, invested heavily in my brand and really, really committed myself to design then I would earn more money. But, all of the above would be neglected. I know that when I spent two days working  in London each week there were too many ready meals in the freezer, a weedy veg patch and a sulky family who  missed me. I lost touch with friends and spent weekends filled with working mother guilt trying to compensate for time spent away and  texting goodnight from trains. I felt like I failed at everything and I resented my job and my family for not being able to cope without me. The money was great, but it didn’t compensate for the things I missed.

Crochet design, writing features and occasional books won’t make my fortune, but it has brought me friendship and  job satisfaction. The money I earn feeds our family, feeds my yarn habit and most importantly sustains my creative soul. My riches aren’t money in the bank, they are small flashes of delight in an ordinary life. Of course, none of this would be possible if Mr T didn’t have a successful, rewarding job. But that doesn’t mean my work is just “play”. We have found our own “work life balance”. but it has taken us 30 years to get here!

So, will crochet make your fortune? Perhaps  not, but maybe that’s not why you crochet?

Photo Credit: Giulia Bertelli for Unsplash

 

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Can Your Blog Make You Money?

laptop.jpgA few years ago I was on a training course run by the NUJ for freelance writers. One of the subjects covered was how to make money from your blog, it was really popular among the freelancers, and for very good reasons. In this digital age it’s harder and harder to get work unless you have a great online showcase. So, the theory goes, if you’re spending all this time investing in your blog / website or social media it should earn its keep. So, how do you earn money from your blog? I stopped to think about the ways my blog makes me money and here’s just a few of the strategies I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success.

  1. Sponsored content.If a company sends you stuff for free and you write about it on your blog, that’s sponsored content. This is one of the most common ways  bloggers work for free. It’s not unusual for a craft blogger to be sent yarn, crochet hooks or books. They  might be asked to design a pattern and share it on their blog (or the company’s website) –  a great way to try out new yarns and tools – and great free endorsement for the company. Keep a note of the value of “free stuff” you’re sent, it might count as income when you complete your tax return. Ask yourself how much free work you’re prepared to undertake and look carefully at ways it might lead to a paid commission. Here’s a great post from Stephanie Lau, which shows how to credit those freebies and still create fabulous content. Most of the sponsored content on this blog is product reviews. Often I’ll approach a publisher directly and request a review copy of a new book I think my readers might like. Sometimes PR companies offer to send me stuff they think I might want to try. I’m happy with this arrangement and it works for me.
  2. Advertorial. You’ll be familiar with this if you ever read glossy magazines; when you think you’re reading a great article and suddenly realise it’s just a clever  advert. The best advertorial weaves a story  and makes you think this is a product (or products you can’t do without). If you are interested in how to write “killer” advertorial, this post is a great example of how it can be done well*. You are more likely to be paid for advertorial if you have a measurable following or can demonstrate the extent of your readership. It’s good practice to let readers know you’re being paid to write content, don’t try and pretend you just “went out and bought” that top of the range model or latest “must have” handbag, be honest and your readers will respect you more.
  3. Sidebar advertising. If there is an online shop or company you think your readers might like then a sidebar advert can be a great way to let them know about it. Decide how much you think space on your blog is worth and approach a short list of companies with your proposal. I also use the side bar to show case companies I work with as a thank you for their support. I currently have a few sidebar adverts and affiliate links (see below), I use analytics to measure how many readers click on them. I can use this to decide what kind of adverts and links are most relevant for readers of my blog and tailor content to suit.
  4. Affiliate links. There are plenty of online stores that run affiliate schemes and these can be a great way to earn extra income if you’re prepared to put in a little effort. Here’s another post by Stephanie Lau which shows just how to make affiliate links relevant to your content. Sidebar links and affiliate links can be an easy way to earn passive income (or money for doing nothing!) Once you’ve set up your links and adverts you’ll earn money every time a reader clicks through and buys. This only works successfully if you choose links and ads that are relevant to your readers. By analysing who clicks where on my website  I’ve discovered my readers are far more likely to click through to small independent shops than the “big boys” like Amazon or Love Knitting. This has helped me plan a marketing strategy for the year ahead which is more likely to bring me income.
  5. Paid Content. Unlike most  “guest blogging”, where you might be invited to write content for another  blog for free (or in return for “exposure bucks”**). Paid content actually rewards you for the work you do. There are lots of online journals and websites which pay writers. You can find lists online or get yourself a listing in online directories such as the NUJ Freelance Directory (for members only). If you are approached to write blog posts, contribute free patterns or tutorials think about how much time you spend creating that content and ask yourself how much you are prepared to give away for free.

There are literally hundreds more ways you can make money from your blog and there are lots of websites that can give you tips and ideas. You might want to head over to Kat Goldin’s blog and read this piece on passive income streams which was written with designers in mind. Also worth reading, this article from Standard Issue magazine talks about the role of “the influencer” and is well worth a read for anyone thinking of ways to make money from their online presence.

Will you lose readers if you start placing adverts, accepting sponsored content and using affiliate links? Not if you are honest about it and keep your readers entertained. Telling them about a great product and then giving them a link to where they can buy it is really helpful, and if it earns you a few pennies along the way then it’s a “win win”. Take a fresh look at your favourite blogs and podcasts, take note of how they use sponsored content, ads and affiliate links. Perhaps start with a product review or  include a recommendation in your newsletter. Try to avoid the “Yes, I’m being paid to tell you about this, but honestly,  I’d tell you anyway because I love it” trap. Instead tell your readers why you think they’d  like it and how it helped you.

Do you make money from your blog? I’d love to know what works (and what doesn’t) for you.

Photo credit: Dai KE for Unsplash

*I’ve no idea if this is a genuine post or if it’s sponsored / paid for content. But it’s  perfect example of how to weave product descriptions into your blog in an engaging way.

** Exposure bucks – a fantasy currency paid by big companies in return for your time, skills and effort. Sadly banks and supermarkets don’t accept this as legal tender so be careful how much work  you undertake for “free publicity”, links to your website or shout outs on  social media. 

 

Goodbye to Old Friends

croppedwelliesI’ve been wearing these Ilse Jacobson boots for more than 10 years. Pulled on every day they’ve been warm, reliable and incredibly comfortable. I have loved them. They’re made from natural rubber, have a thick sole and a fleecy lining. Perfect for mucking out ponies, walking dogs, gardening or scrubbed up for a photo shoot. People can’t help but comment on them –  I should really have been on commission – I must have sold at least a dozen pairs.

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Just before Christmas I realised that these beautiful,  worn in wellies would not see me through another winter. They have been patched, glued and mended too many times.  After two pairs of the same red lace up wellies I wondered if it was time to try something new and Mr T kindly bought me some Seasalt wellies  for Christmas (I’ll share when I get round to photographing them). They don’t have the same warm lining or the same style, and everyone says “Oh, Seasalt wellies – snap.” when I wear them. That’s not   bad thing of course, and I do have a deep love for all things Seasalt, but I do like to be just  a little bit different. I like to do the unexpected occasionally.

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I love these red wellies so much though, maybe I’ll just keep them as photo props. That would be OK wouldn’t it?

So, You Want to be a Writer?

s9cc2skysjm-green-chameleonWhenever I tell people I’m a writer the most common response is “I’ve always wanted to be writer, but I don’t know how”.  I have always been compelled to write, I never really stopped to think about the how. The first story I remember writing was science fiction. I was 7 years old and a babysitter had left behind a Marvel comic. I was fascinated by a picture book for grown ups  and wrote story after story about the figures sketched in its pages. In my teens I found my niche writing features and after the local paper published my first piece when I was 15 I was determined that’s what I would do for a living, it didn’t become my full time job until my 40’s, but it’s simmered along while l I did other jobs that paid the bills and put food on the table.  I still long to write a novel and there is a character inside me who insists his story should be told, but I’m not ready to give him a life of his own yet. For now, I walk briskly in the forest as his fictional life evolves in my head.

Now, I’ll let you into a secret. Writing is easy, you just pick up a pen and get on with it. Writing something other people want to read, now that’s the hard bit! I used to be a teacher, then a teacher trainer. I’ve taught everyone, from three year olds to pensioners and the same advice is relevant to all of you. Practice, practice, practice. Like riding a bike or learning the piano, writing is a skill that rewards effort. Here’s my top three tips to being a better writer, follow these and you can only get better (and if that’s prompted a D:Ream earworm click here and sing along).

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Number One: Write. Write every day. Keep a journal, write a diary, hand write a letter to an old friend. Make up a story about the couple sitting in front of you on the bus, pen a poem. Don’t worry about the spelling, the grammar or  the syntax, just type or scribble down the words. Do this every day and soon you’ll discover a style, your “voice”. You’ll find it easier to write that first sentence, If you really struggle,  there are websites with writing prompts to get you started. Make time every day to write something. Even if you can only manage ten minutes, you’ll find the discipline of daily writing soon becomes something you look forward to. Start a blog, write a daily Facebook update (my lovely friend Archies Diaries started that way and became an Amazon best seller!), make a list of far away friends and family and write them a letter. Plan your novel and give yourself a word or page target for every day. Full disclosure – some of best writing happens in my head on my daily walk and never makes it to paper – I need to learn to take my own advice.

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Number Two: Read. Read “all” the time. Honestly, being a great reader will make you a better writer. Widen your horizons, whether you borrow library books, read online or pick up your books second hand it doesn’t matter. Reading improves your vocabulary, teaches you about plot development and structure. It widens your world. If you worry about grammar, spelling or the conventions of writing then you need to read more, you’ll soon notice how great writers break the “rules”. Think about your favourite writers, study how they structure their work, what makes it so appealing to you. It’s never good form to copy another writer’s work, but being inspired by a story you’ve read and using it as  a spring board for your own work is perfectly acceptable. After I read Freya North’s The Turning Point I was so devastated by the ending that I had to write myself an alternative future for the heroine, Frankie and her children. Not because Freya North had done a bad job – the complete opposite – in three days of binge reading  I had lived and breathed with her heroine and reaching the final page  was too painful, I wasn’t ready to let her go. *

Number Three: Ignore the rules. If you spend your days stressing that your spelling is abysmal or your grammar and punctuation let you down, stop worrying. Get the words on the page and everything else can be dealt with later. Run your work through a spell checker, find a friend who will proof read and edit (don’t choose one who gets carried away with the red pen. It can be soul destroying to have your work returned with hundreds of minor corrections). If you really believe you have produced a piece of work fit to show an editor, find yourself a professional proof reader or technical editor  who will lick your work into shape (for a small fee of course). There will be days when you have nothing to say, or times when you reach a block (believe me that exists), after my last book I lost my “mojo” for several months. All I could write were hasty postcards and a few short paragraphs for patient editors who understood and gave me time to recover. My design work stalled completely. Samples were made and ready to post, but I just couldn’t type the words needed into the pattern template.

Of course, most of this advice is just stating the obvious, you knew all this already. Perhaps you’ve just been waiting for someone to give you permission to write. In which case, close this tab. Open a word document;  call it “My Writing” and type your first sentence. I look forward to an invitation to read your first blog post, attend your book launch or just get a letter, written by hand.

Go write x

*You should note that the Turning Point is the most beautifully crafted novel and it’s only if you read it that you’ll understand my sens of losse when I finished reading.

Photo Credits:

Green Chameleon for Unsplash

Parker Byrd for Unsplash

Aaron Burden for Unsplash

 

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A Weekend in Pictures

Weekends are for sitting by the fire, reading books, drinking coffee and indulgence. At least that’s the plan. It rarely happens in this house! I’ve been indulging in a lazy weekend, relishing time alone with just box sets and chick lit for company.

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I cleaned my boots – oh that colour! These boots make me smile every time I wear them. . It’s just a bonus that my scarf is all matchy matchy! Note to self, if you decide to walk over the fields to buy the weekend papers, don’t wear suede boots!

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I made a pot of coffee and sat by the fire. I read trashy chick lit on my  Kindle and I watched  Greys Anatomy (again).

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I did some weeding, and when it got dark I came inside. I opened a bottle of wine and sat by the fire. I read the  papers and I watched Greys Anatomy (again).

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I ate left overs for breakfast. I did as I pleased. I gave myself permission to step off the work / design / housework treadmill. I had the best weekend. If this is slow living I am definitely happy in the slow lane. I hope your weekend was happy too.

Here’s to Monday x

How I Fell in Love with Instagram

rkz2iypkliy-juliette-leufkeI’m a huge fan of Instagram, I resisted it’s lure for a long time. I preferred Twitter. But, things change. After 10 years on Twitter I felt I had “lost” my community, the conversations, the day to day interaction with friends far and near began to change. I needed to look in new places. I learned to love my Instagram by asking myself these questions, as I answered them,  I realised that the community I was looking for was already there, I just had to  say hello.

Disclaimer: This isn’t a post about how to “grow” your followers or make your “Insta” fortune. There are plenty of people offering paid and unpaid advice on that – you can google them!

  1. Why are you here? Ask yourself (and answer honestly). What drew you to Instagram? . I’m nosey (most writers are) and so I like to follow people who share the day to day rather than a contrived schedule of posts. If  people are kind enough to hit the “heart” button on my photos, click through to read my blog or follow me I take that as a compliment and I’ll try and reciprocate. Until I sat down to write this post I had no idea how many followers I had, to be honest I don’t look.   I’m more interested in seeing the familiar faces in my feed, people who take the time to let me know they’ve seen and enjoyed my photos. I look at their feeds too and sometimes I’ll leave a comment or “like” their pictures. I’ve met some lovely people this way and reconnected with old friends. If your bottom line is more followers, this isn’t the post for you. Stop reading now, you’ll just be disappointed.
  2. Are you striving for perfect pictures? Real life is not the same as Instagram Reality – if you don’t believe me, take a look at the “#authentic” hashtag – is that your reality? Mine’s muddy boots, dirt under the finger nails, disorderly mugs on worktops and try as I might it will never look “right”.  I post pictures that share a story of my every day life. It might be my garden, a new design I’ve published or a holiday snapshot. I don’t spend hours editing my photos or composing pithy straplines. Most of my pictures are random, spur of the moment images. If other people like them it’s nice to know. But, I don’t set out each week with a plan or a timetable. I just like sharing and I love listening to people.
  3. Do you care about the “Algorithm”? If your answer is “what algorithm?” you’re in the right place, keep reading. If beating the algorithm is your goal, stop reading now, try here instead.* Like all social media platforms, Instagram uses complex algorithms, designed to improve your viewing experience (eugh!), what you see in your feed is largely dictated by what you’ve liked and commented on, “like” cute dogs  and it’s probable these are what you’ll see first in your feed next time you log in.  There are many, many people out there who will give you free or paid for advice on “beating” the algorithm.
  4. What’s more important quality or quantity? When I used to advise clients on using social  media for their business or their charity they were often too concerned with the wrong numbers. They would constantly be checking their follower counts, getting excited when they grew and dismayed when they fell. Let’s be honest, we’re all fickle. If you don’t post interesting or relevant stories people will stop following you. perhaps, like me they aren’t comfortable following large numbers of people they will never interact with.  Over the last few months I’ve noticed the same familiar faces popping up in my feed, we’ve stuck up conversations and enjoyed shared moments of joy, laughter and frustration. If it’s “numbers” you want then go buy followers or install an app that will find followers for you. Or, read blogs like this with tips for growth.
  5. Are you using hashtags “properly”? I’ll assume you know what a hashtag is. If you don’t,  read this first. Hashtags help you share your stuff with like minded Instagrammers who don’t already follow you. I don’t have a set of hashtags I always use, nor do I set out with a plan of tags I want to include. Sometimes (and the “experts” will tell you this is wrong, wrong, wrong) I’ll go back and edit a post to include a hashtag I’ve just discovered. For example,I went through my own feed on Friday night, adding the tag #bakingandmaking to some of my pictures – some of them several weeks or months  old. Some of these even made it to “top post” status  – meaning that when people search that tag, my pictures are the first ones they see. I noticed lots of new followers and likes in my feed the next morning, many of whom share my tastes and I went over and followed them too.** A happy meeting of similar minds and (maybe) new friends made.  If you are looking to find communities of like minded people I’ve added a few hashtag suggestions to the end of this post for you to explore.

So, here’s what I want you to “take away” from this post: It’s your Instagram and you should use it in a way that works best for you. Post what you want, when you want. Whether you want to grow your audience, “monetise” your Instagram or just find like minded people,  the single most important thing you can do is post great photos which resonate with your intended audience.  Couple this with a sentence (or a long, rambling  paragraph if you wish) and you’re on to a winner.

See you on Instagram x

Photo credit:  Juliette Leufke for Unsplash

  • ps that link is just for fun, not a recommendation!
  • **Beware automated likes generated by bots – these aren’t genuine – if your follower numbers are fluctuating up and down it might be you’re using a hashtag on a “bot” list. Ignore the numbers  and focus on the people who show up in your feed a few times – they are the ones who are real!

Community hashtag suggestions:

Craftastherapy

crochetgirlgang

modernmakers

makingwinter

booklover

knittersofinstagram

writersofinstagram

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The Art of Slow Living

gathering-woodMove over Hygge, it appears 2017 is the “year of slow living”.  No-one really seems sure where this movement started. Perhaps it was inspired by the Slow Food Movement, or maybe it’s just a response to the fact that “life moves pretty fast” these days, and to paraphrase Ferris Bueller, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you might miss it. I’ve been following (and occasionally using)  the #slowliving hashtag on Instagram for a couple of years. Here you’ll find hundreds of misty, slight griege* pictures of tea in hand thrown mugs, resting on scrubbed pine tables, crumpled bed linen and carefully composed flat lays (items laid on tables, photographed from above). But, there’s more to slow living than composing a beautiful photo and scripting the perfect caption.  The trouble is, my life is messy, colourful and random, so my photos stand out like a sore thumb in the hashtag feed. My real life is not Instagram friendly!

eden-cottage-hatI like to think of my  life as a journey, not a destination. I derive pleasure form the “doing” and the “making” of life, not just life itself.  I relish the process of cooking meals from scratch, hand stitching my clothes and growing food for the table. Making time for coffee with friends, watching the goldfinches squabble over the bird feeder or just  enjoying a hug from Mr T (always time for that) when I take him a mug of tea is important to me. I try to find joy in the mundane; whether it’s filling the log basket, sorting the recycling or wrangling the laundry.  I think (and you might disagree, that’s ok), that if we’re constantly wishing we were doing something else, we’re in danger of missing out on the simple pleasure of life itself. If I didn’t wander around my garden every day to forage twigs for kindling I would miss the first snowdrops appearing at the bottom of the garden. I wouldn’t notice the bird nest in the clematis, which is only visible now the leaves have all dropped off.  If I didn’t change the bed sheets every week I wouldn’t get to relish snuggling into freshly laundered cotton (I have thing for crisp, white linen and feather pillows).  I’m interested to know how others live life in the slow lane, which is why I follow the hashtag. I tried to think about what makes my life a slow life and over the next few weeks I’ll share my own art of slow living. To kick off –  here’s the one I struggle with most – balancing my online life with “real” life.

Mastering  the art of tech life balance

I’m not talking about a digital detox (ugh what a horrible expression  that is), instead learning to balance my  life online with real world experiences. We don’t need to be constantly checking email, counting “retweets” on Twitter or scrolling through carefully curated and scripted photos on Instagram. My online life is a huge part of my interaction with others, working from home I’ve often called Twitter “my water cooler moment”, so I struggle with the concept of a “detox”. Instead I try to build time online into my day, I try to avoid constantly picking up my phone to read emails or look at Instagram. In fact, I quite often turn off the wifi on my phone and switch off my tablet for a few hours each day so I can work on designs or write undisturbed.

After tea I try to put my “devices” away, switch off the laptop and have real conversations. We’ll settle down to read books, watch a box set or spend time with friends and at these times “device checking” is frowned upon. Of course we break the rules, I might spend half an hour having a Facebook chat with a far away friend or Mr T might check out what his friends are up to on Strava. But we follow a few unspoken “rules”, no device checking at mealtimes, no jumping up to answer the phone in the middle of a conversation and the only electronic device in the bedroom is my kindle. And here’s the thing, iplayer has given us so much freedom to choose what we watch and when that I forget what life was like when you had to timetable TV watching into your day so you didn’t miss call the Midwife!  Our smart TV has given us freedom and flexibility. It is “good” technology and I won’t hear a bad word said against it!

Today I went for a walk, my phone was in my pocket but it was switched off and I relished being “uncontactable”. We’re not a technology driven family; if we want to turn down the thermostat we get up and turn a knob, we don’t reach for an app on a phone. We don’t have sat nav – we are “old school” and carry maps. Technology allows Mr T to work from home, he spends his day on Skype calls, sharing screens and logging into client databases. No wonder he’s happy to leave technology behind after a day in the office (aka the smallest bedroom). The internet allows me to sell my patterns, research ideas and keep in touch with fellow designers, editors and friends who live to far away to drop in for a cuppa.  Technology is an aid to efficiency, but it can also make us slaves.

Of course technology is not just about being “connected”. Try making a loaf of bread by hand instead of throwing everything in a bread maker, whip egg whites for a meringue by hand or make pastry. Take a map when you go for a walk instead of plugging routes into a GPS. Look up from your screen, look out of the window and talk to a real person not a Gravatar once in a while. Read your toddler a story from a book instead of passing them your ipad. Build a den under the dining table, make time to talk and to listen no matter how bored you are with reading the Very Hungry Caterpillar or singing the same song over and over again. The greatest gift you can give to your loved ones is time and technology can suck that away from us if we’re not careful.  I know this because my own daughter spent far too many hours watching Barney and playing Sims while I attempted to “work from home” in her early years (and yes, I still  carry the guilt of the working Mother). I thought technology would make me more efficient, more productive. It just made me a slave to my inbox.

How do you balance life and technology? Do you use an app to switch on your kettle / turn on the lights? Do you find yourself checking Facebook during ad breaks? I’m fascinated by how we all adapt and respond to the growing technologies that promise to make our lives easier and more  efficient. Do they? I’d love to know how you find a tech life balance –  maybe you already have the answer?

*griege – those slightly grey / sepia / muted images that are so common on Instagram. Read “everything you need to know about griege”  here.

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Five Veg Every Gardener Can Grow

20150519_102250It’s been a week of plots, plans, lists and hands deep in compost at every opportunity. Finally it’s time to start filling the windowsills with pots and seed trays. It’s a time of optimism and hope. I sprinkle seeds on warm earth, knowing that so long as I give them a little water and a little warmth tiny seedlings will appear like magic to fill me with joy and a sense of achievement.

Without fail, other gardeners will ask what I’m growing this year, not because they are interested in my plans, but it’s a chance for them to share and show off their own plans and perhaps, just maybe indulge in a bit of gardener’s one up manship. Oh yes ,were all guilty of that!

Growing fruit and veg is so easy, even when I didn’t have a garden I grew tomatoes and chillies on a sunny window ledge, pots of herbs on the doorstep and even a hanging basket by the front door of our flat filled with tumbling tomatoes. All you need is a bit of confidence, some spare cash to spend on seeds and compost and a little (or a lot) of patience. Borrow a couple of gardening books from your local library or check out some gardening blogs for ideas and inspiration. My favourite writers are Monty Don, Bob Flowerdwew and James Wong.

If you’re new to gardening, here’s my top five veg that everyone can grow without a greenhouse. If you have access to a sunny windowsill, you can start seeds off on there. Or, buy small plants online or from a garden centre. But,  for me so much of the joy comes from watching seeds germinate and flourish. It makes me feel incredibly clever!

Of course, along side these suggestions you should try and find room for a few herbs. A pot of basil on the window ledge or a small chilli plant will serve you well and are pretty reliable for beginners.

Onions

Cooks go through copious amounts of onions, and for me they are a kitchen garden essential. Choose your varieties carefully and you can have onions all year round. They’re easy to grow, relatively free of pests and the winter varieties especially, cope with a bit of neglect.

Tomatoes

These will do best if you grow them from seed on a sunny window ledge, but if that’s not possible, buy small established plants from a local garden centre (try to find one that raises their own plants from seed, they will probably be stronger and healthier). Choose tiny plum or cherry tomatoes to pluck from the plant, or big beefsteaks. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from.

Kale

While all the focus right now is on summer veg, start making plans for winter. Kale is easy to get established and will see you through the winter. I love kale raw, or  tossed in olive oil and roasted it’s delicious. Be warned, unless you want to feed your kale to the caterpillars, net it early or you’ll be left with shredded, good for nothing stalks that will make you weep in frustration (ask me how I know this).

Salads leaves

With a bit of planning you can grow fresh salads all year round. In fact, my autumn and winter lettuce do much better than summer ones, which just wilt in the heat or run to seed when I’m on holiday. You can buy packets of mixed seed. Just sprinkle a little in pots or straight on the soil every couple of weeks for regular crops.

Peas

I think almost everyone has a childhood memory of eating peas out of the pod. I grow mange tout, purple flowered ones that we steam. These are another crop that you can grow over a long season. By starting early and planting little and often you can have peas from June to late September if the weather is kind.  Mr T would sulk if there were no peas to pick as he wandered around the garden in the summer, we are like children as we sit in the sunshine with a handful of peas, shelling them from their pods.

Of course, these are just suggestions. Ask your neighbours what grows well for them, beg seeds from gardening friends and take all the advice you’re offered. You don’t have to follow it, making mistakes, experiencing crop failures and slug damage are all part of the learning process.

Now, if I haven’t put you off completely get out and grow!

Here’s a few of my favourite seed suppliers, gardening websites and sources of information.

Kings seeds

The Organic Gardening Catalogue

BBC Gardeners World Magazine

BBC Two Gardener’s World

Grow Your Own (magazine)

 

 

 

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On the Table and In the Garden in January

carrot-soupHow did it get to be February already? Every time I wander into the garden I see more signs of spring, the bulbs are peeking through and the early snowdrops are starting to flower. I know that we might still see snow, but just for today I’m thnking we might be at the tail end of winter.

January on the table was mostly about soups, hearty stews and substantial puddings. We needed “stodge” to see us through the cold, dark afternoons. I stuck pretty close to my January meal plan and it has definitely saved us money (a household bill of £193). Scroll down to the end of this post if you’re interested in what we spent and how we could save more. The highlight was Diana Henry’s book Simple, which has fed us well. Our favourite has to be the Red Lentil and Pumpkin Dal, which also wins the prize for “meal that most looked the picture in the book”. We also swapped out the pumpkin for sweet potato a couple of times, equally delicious.

diana-henry-dal

You can pop over here to Diana’s website for a list of her books and some great recipes. It’s hard to recommend just one of her books, I love them all. She “sits” on the shelf between Nigel Slater and Sophie Grigson. I like to think of it as the  “hope they are as nice in real life as they write and appear on tv” category! Talking of Nigel Slater, his easy  Hot Chocolate Pudding from Appetite has appeared on the table more than once. Served with a dollop of creme fraiche it doesn’t photograph well, but it’s so easy and delicious. The recipe is available online on the Telegraph website, so why not pop over and give it a try. It’s the perfect last minute bake and gluten free, which is a bonus.

hot-choc-pudding

As we move into February, I’m starting to think about plans for the veg plot. Last year we stuck to “old favourites” like peas, onions and potatoes. This year I’d like to be more adventurous again. Of course the fruit bushes and artichokes look after themselves, giving regular crops. This makes me a bit lazy and I must learn not to rely on the perennials. We still have a few leeks in the ground and onions in storage, and I’ve noticed the herb pots in the greenhouse are starting to look more “awake”. The parsley has seen us right through the winter and it looks like the chives and oregano I hid in a corner have fresh growth. I wish we had put more potatoes in pots, it was such a joy to have home grown “new” potatoes at Christmas, but they didn’t last long.  The daffodils and early bulbs are making strong growth, and the woodpecker is still visiting daily. The Goldfinches are still perching on the fennel heads, in the vain hope they might have missed a few seeds, and they sulk if the bird feeder gets too empty. The robins (we still have two regular visitors) are so bold now, they hop at our feet every time we venture out. Sometimes I oblige them by digging over a small patch of earth or pulling back a few dead leaves, which seems to make them very happy. I know it’s wrong to give them human characteristics, but they do seem to puff up and look so pleased with themselves when they root out a small grub from the freshly dug soil.

Indoors, I have been working hard on new designs. I still haven’t got much to share as contracts insist I keep things a secret, but work is steady and that’s a good thing. Don’t forget, if it’s mostly the knitting and crochet you’re looking for, head over here for updates on my latest pattern releases.

So, that was January. Dull, damp and gloomy it may have been. But our house was filled with laughter, good company and great food. That has to be a “win” surely?

Happy making x

 

What we ate and what we spent in January

Mostly, we stuck to the meal plan for January, and our household bills came to £193. I think that’s pretty good, especially as we both work from home, that works out at about £6 a day for all our food, cleaning products, toothpaste and toiletries. Of course we’re lucky that a well stocked freezer and larder mean we always have access to  herbs, spices and every day essentials. And, it certainly helps that we have garden produce. I did think about ways we could cut down this bill if we had to and came up with a few things I’m just not prepared to compromise on. When Mr T was made redundant many years ago, we mostly lived on value ranges –  bread (10p a loaf), beans (3p a tin) and tinned tomatoes (7p) – I feel so lucky that we came through that scary year unscathed and still able to live well. I also believe (perhaps wrongly) that supermarkets are still led by customer demand, so if I keep buying Fairtade or British products they’ll respond by offering more and better choices.

So here’s my “no compromise” list

Local meat, often from the farm gate or butchers I trust – supermarket own brand would be cheaper I know.

Decent coffee, usually Fairtrade – we only drink one cup a day and even buying top of the range is still cheaper than I’ve seen people pay in “Costabucks for a latte!

Organic, local, fresh in season veg – using what we have definitely saves us money – but I won’t give up my Fairtade bananas!

Tinned beans and pulses – yes, dried are cheaper.  After a busy day it’s so much easier to reach for a can of lentils or chick peas, these are my “ready meals”.

Indulgences we could do without

We’re still working our way through the dozen bottles of wine we bought at Christmas – dry January? Not in this house!

 

 

 

 

 

Always and Forever

mr-and-mrsThirty years ago I met this man, fell in love, built a home and made a family. We’re still together, living in harmony, wedded bliss, whatever you want to call it. As soon as I met him I knew he was “the one”. Mr T’s version might be slightly different, a beer fuelled weekend in which I snared him with my cheeky grin and my excellent aim with a snowball. It’s been hard work, how he puts up with me I’ll never know – and me – well I must have the patience of a saint!

University friends persuaded me to tag along on a weekend to Yorkshire, we stayed at the Crown. Mr T turned up (an ex student keen to catch up with friends). Something clicked and we’ve been a couple ever since. It’s a proper old fashioned love story. The photo above was taken a couple of years later when we returned for a trip down “memory lane”. I’ve watched friends fall in love, fall out of love and if I knew the “secret” to a happy marriage I’d bottle it. We fight, we make up, we disagree. I nag, he’s lazy. I can’t bear injustice, he likes to watch Dave. I can’t resist a “house” programme, he hates bullies (and wives who interrupt when the 6 Nations is on).

holding-hands

But some how it’s worked for us. We laugh ( a lot), we love (frequently) and he’s still my best friend. So this post is for Mr T. Thank you for being the most amazing, generous, kind, wickedly funny friend I could wish for.

Here’s to the next 30 years xxx

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  • Ok Saltaire, let's do this.... off for day 2 of #patchworkandplace. This will be my view for the day.. Cyanotype and crochet. One quick snap from today's workshop with @hannahlambtextileartist . Always good to step out of your comfort zone. @prettypatches_mag this may find it's way into new stitched pieces and I found a use for my extensive doily collection!!
#cyanotype #hannahlambtextileartist #saltaire #print #crochet #crochetgirlgang #igcrochet  #printing #alternativeprocess #sunprints #textileart #blueprints #stitchcraftandscissory #bakingandmaking #patchworkandplace #workshop Is it ok to have needle case envy? I'm having all kinds of crafty fun and frolics here in Saltaire, but instead of photos of early cyanotype experiments. I'll just leave you with this, it belongs to another lovely lady on the course. I think she'd notice if it fell in my bag!
#bakingandmaking #needlecraft #embroidery #ecoprint #textilesdesign #stitchcraftandscissory #slowstitch #theartofslowliving #textlearts #needlecase h Wind dropped, sun came out & I pulled on my new wellies so I could fill the log basket, pull leeks for soup & then get back to my knitting. Going offline for a couple of days as I'm off to Saltaire for a stitching workshop with the very talented @hannahlambtextileartist . See you all next week.
#sealsalt  #wearingseasalt #bakingandmaking #mysimplething #slowliving #thisthingcalledslowliving #theartofslowliving #searchwandercollect #winterstories #makingwinter #thewayweliveinthecountry  #howweliveinthecountry Books and coffee. Who cares it's too wet for a walk. Today's priorities: reading, knitting & coffee, lots of coffee... then baking...
#coffee #caffeine #coffeelover #booklover #booksforcooks #booksaremybag #bibliophile #booksandcoffee #theartofslowliving #slowlived #thisthingcalledslowliving  #bakingandmaking Throwback. One of my earliest published paterns, back when I wasn't sure my dabbling in design would come to anything, Knitting magazine commissioned these & my sabbatical turned into a full blown career change. I've never regretted my decision. Knitted in Debbie Bliss Rialto 4 ply I still wear them, sadly the gorgeous wellies are no more (link to story in profile).
#yarnlovechallenge #knitlove #socklove #sockknittersofinstagram #toeupsocks #tbt #throwbackthursday #littlestoriesofmylife #thisthingcalledslowliving  #theartofslowliving #slowlived #bakingandmaking #nestandflourish #livesimple #ilsejacobsen #myredwellies "Holding small things in your hand while wearing wrist warmers" 
Today's #yarnlovechallenge is "currently wearing" & as I don't do selfies you'll have to make like this is radio and imagine me in my handknitted socks, hat, scarf, jumper and of course wrist warmers as I try and get the veg patch into some kind of order before spring planting!
Lovely photo of my hands by my lovely friend Andrea Ellison x
#britishwool #britishyarn A hand made home. Joining in with #yarnlovechallenge today. Our home is filled with hand made "stuff", knitting, crochet, pottery, wooden furniture made by Mr T... it's all pretty understated ... no garish brights, few pastels but plenty of neutrals and texture in natural materials.
#britishwool #britishyarn #knittersofinstagram #crochetlove #slowliving #thisthingcalledslowliving #bakingandmaking #interiordesign #crochetcushion Beside the sea. Today's #yarnlovechallenge prompt is "out and about", so here's me on the beach in all the hand knits (&crochet) again. 
#knittersofinstagram #crochet #britishwool #britishyarn #slowliving #thisthingcalledslowliving
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