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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A New Website I Love

Once in a while I come across a new blog, when I do I try to let my friends know how great it is. Here’s one I’ve been talking about a lot this week.

Mrs Steel’s School of Stitchcraft and Scissory was set up by Emma Friedlander –  Collins, a crochet designer,  all round lovely person and champion of all things creative. Her designs regularly appear in print and she has written a couple of rather marvellous crochet books (you can visit Emma’s blog to discover more about her). This new website is a celebration of all things crafty, with tutorials, recipes, patterns and all kinds of great ways to share the crafty love.

Emma says:

The school motto is ‘Make More, Take Less’, and that’s exactly what we’re going to try and do.  Rather than buying ‘throw-away’ things from stores, we’re going to find creative and exciting ways to make and re-make things to create treasured, heirloom pieces.

Now of course, that resonates with me. As many of you know, sustainability and reducing waste is a big part of my philosophy.  With a nod to Hogwarts, you can place yourself in one of  five  “houses”. I’m struggling a bit as I think I’d be at home in any one of them. The houses are listed as:

Yarnistry – crochet, knitting, weaving, macrame and the fibre arts
Stitchery – sewing, embroidery, dressmaking, cross stitch
Stationery  Cupboard – paper cutting, painting, drawing, origami and anything paper based
Greenhouse – flower arranging, photography, growing and gardening
The Pantry – dyer, baker, candlestick maker? Anything with a bit of hardware!

Emma promises that over the coming weeks there will be lots to discover based around these themes. Of course, the best way to discover what Mrs Steel’s school is all about is to pop over and take a look for yourself.  Today’s post is a rather delicious looking chocolate brownie recipe, which I must admit had my mouth watering.

And, if you have a favourite blog or website (or would just like me to take a look at yours). Leave a comment and I’ll drop by.

Happy making x

So, British Hygge Is a Thing Now?

hygge-handsLast year’s obsession with all things Hygge in the UK fascinated me. Everyone it seemed was trying to find a way “do hygge”.  Knitters and crocheters were posting almost daily photos on Instagram of themselves with candles, blankets and knitting. If they could factor in a woodburning stove as well, and a glass of wine it seemed they must be in Hygge heaven. Almost  every yarn enthusiast I follow on social media got a book about “It” for Christmas, and my Danish friends (there is a quite a big middle aged Danish contingent in Cheshire – not sure why), were equally amused and aghast at the phenomenon. One friend showed me a clip of a knitting podcaster struggling to pronounce the word, trying “higgy”  and “higg yee” before settling on “higg”. “Well, she clearly hasn’t read the book she’s reviewing – there is a guide to pronunciation on page 7″ said my grumpy friend Trine.

So, why are the English (and it does seem to be a thing I’ve noticed among English friends rather than Scottish or Welsh), so obsessed with this idea? Have we fought against cold, wet winters for so long that the sudden idea of getting cosy and embracing winter is appealing? I am usually immune to trends and fashion (I still wear boot leg jeans and my phone is 8 years old) and so I have observed the growing interest in all things Scandi from a distance. I watched Borgen, but I’ve never seen the Killing or the Bridge. I’ve been to Copenhagen and loved it, but the idea of deliberately trying to”make” or “do” Hygge had never occurred to me. Then,  I posted a photo on twitter and someone commented “That is so British Hygge”. I think it was meant to be a compliment.  Here’s the offending photo.

woodburner

It seems I am the epitome of British  Hygge without even realising it.  I’m still not sure if it’s a compliment or an observation. But my immediate reaction is one of  denial. This is just what I do, I work from home, I have Reynauds, I need to be warm. The woodburner is our main source of heating, this is just our “normal”.   In an effort to discover more about this new phenomenon, I googled “British Hygge”.  Try it for yourself, you’ll be swept down a rabbit hole of blogs, articles and page upon page of advice for how to bring the H word into your life.

There is even a helpful blog, full of tips and advice on creating a cosy existence the British way.  Eager Brits have stolen the frankly, untranslatable concept of Hygge and created a version for themselves in which the deliberate act of making yourself cosy is celebrated. It seems the antithesis of what my Danish friends have tried to convey. One said “Hygge is a feeling of bliss and contentment you get when everything is just right, it is a state of mind”. The lovely Trine, a 63 year old Dane who has lived here for almost 40 years told me that “Hygge happens”, you can’t buy it or make it. “It’s a state of being” she told me, not a product you can buy or make at will.

So has Hygge been hijacked by the British media to sell us an idea. Is it the “new mindfulness”? Or just a publishing ploy  to make us buy self help books disguised as  how to be Hygge? Or is the fascination with all things Nordic part of a wider desire to find happiness and contentment in the every day? I’m still unsure.  My first encounter with the term came in 2015 when I read Helen Russell’s book “The Year of Living Danishly”. I am drawn to books about ex pats (maybe it’s my innate curiosity about other people’s lives, or maybe I’m just plain nosy), and Helen Russell’s account of trying to fit in to life in Denmark, while her husband worked for Lego is engaging and amusing.  If you really want an insight into Danish life and values, forget the “how to” books and read this instead.

gathering-wood

As for me, I shall live the life I’ve always lived. I shall remain satisfied with what I have and   enjoy the simple things.  I shall spend time with people who make me happy, who value me as I am, not for what I can do for them. Above all, you will still find me hunkering down under a blanket, warmed by the fire in a room lit by candles and soft lighting until Spring. Then I shall leap forth, weed the garden, marvel at the spring bulbs and embrace  the daylight. If that makes me the epitome of British Hygge, then so be it.

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But First, Coffee

eric-barbeau

Photo by Eric Barbeau for Unsplash

I’ve mentioned here before that Mr T and I are keen on a decent cup of coffee, so it might come as a surprise to know we only just discovered Pact Coffee. I’ve seen the ads and plenty of friends had posted discount codes on social media, but I had never been tempted to try it for myself. Recently I shared a great cup of coffee at a friend’s and was surprised when she told me they have been subscribers to Pact for a couple of years. Not long after I saw a link online and went off to do some research. Unlike our favourite brand, Pact isn’t Fairtrade, but they do work directly with coffee farmers and I was impressed with how much information they give about where the coffee is grown, how it’s harvested and processed. The choice of blends was impressive and the flexibility to choose how often our coffee is delivered was definitely appealing (there is even a post now button if you really need a coffee fix in a hurry).  I chose the Planalto blend, ground for my cafetiere. My order arrived just a couple days later. Freshly roasted, securely packed and ready to brew.

It’s a great tasting coffee, the customer service was friendly and my order arrived promptly. I’ve set up a repeat order, but Mr T and I are going to spend some time perusing the different blends, so if you’re already a Pact Coffee fan, do let us know your favourite. If you would like to try Pact Coffee for yourself, you can get a whopping £5 off your first order by using my referral link*.  Or, you can type this code in when you visit the Pact Coffee website (TRACEY-698BF3). And, just so you know, this isn’t a sponsored post, I’m writing this because I really liked the coffee and I’m just a bit sorry Mr T and I are so late to the Pact Coffee party!

*Offer for new customers only, discount is applied to your first purchase of any regular priced coffee

 

Bargain Book Finds

hooked-cover-imaage1Book bargains are great news for readers, especially if you’re on a tight budget like me. And as a writer, I am happy that my books might be picked up by readers who might not want, or be able to pay full price. I have discovered some brilliant designers by shopping in  bargain book shops and my local charity shop and I can never pass the door of a second hand bookshop without peeking inside for “just a minute”. Luckily, Mr T shares by book love, so he’s happy to accompany me.

Lately, I have snagged some absolute bargains while mooching in The Works. These include the wonderful Claire Montgomerie’s book Hooked, which I picked up for the bargain price of £4 and Knitting from the North by Hilary Grant for just a fiver!

Both books are excellent and I love them both. I noticed both are also on offer at other online bookshops (including Amazon and The Book Depository), so if you still have Christmas money to spend, these are both perfect choices – you won’t be disappointed. Even at full price they are both excellent value and will earn their keep on your crafting bookshelf as you dip into them time and again.

So, what makes them such great books?

let’s start with Hooked by Claire Montgomerie. Once Editor of Inside Crochet magazine, Claire has a long list of successful knitting and crochet books. Hooked, published in May 2016 is her latest and perhaps best crochet book (that’s just my opinion). It is filled with beautifull projects aimed at beginners, but even the more experienced hooker will find themselves wanting to make almost everything. The styling and photography are fresh and modern. I love the colour palette Claire has chosen – and can’t help noticing she’s sneaked in several projects with her own favourite colours – the Chevron Clutch, Granny Square Blanket and Tiny Coin Purse are stunning.

As you would expect, the first chapter takes you through the basics, holding your hook, reading a pattern and basic techniques. Subsequent chapters are designed to extend your skills and challenge you to try new techniques. The Striped Pencil Case for example has a useful tip about avoiding “jogs” in your stripes. There is a useful glossary at the back and a well designed index so you can look up projects and techniques easily.

I have recommended this book to lots of crocheters (new and more experienced) and I know a couple found a copy under their tree, so I’m looking forward to seeing their makes. So, congratulations Claire on producing another beautiful and useful book to add to my groaning bookshelf!

Next,  Knitting from the North by Hilary Grant. I just adore this book. Filled with colour work patterns inspired by Fair Isle and Icelandic knitting techniques this isn’t a book for beginners. It’s light on technical advice, although there are a few pages at the beginning which skim over double knitting, grafting and making a pom pom. You’ll also find advice on caring for your knits and how to prevent moth damage. If you haven’t tried stranded colour work before I’d recommend a good technique book or a patient friend to guide you through some simple techniques, and you might find yourself looking up provisional cast on tutorials and working from charts if these aren’t already aprt of your knitting skill set. But, few knitters will be picking this up expecting a “how to”, it’s a snapshot into Hilary Grant’s creative process, her design inspiration and a chance to knit some truly beautiful accessories.

The real beauty of this book lies in  the short text that accompanies each pattern and of course the photography. Each pattern is accompanied by a stunning collection of images which are  almost a love letter to the Scottish landscape. The first project, Beacon Pom Pom Hat is less than half a page, but the 3 pages of photographs which accompany it had me gasping at how such a simple knit can be so beautiful. It is also a perfect project for the less confident knitter to begin with.

This collection adapts some of Hilary’s most popular machine knits and  is filled with graphic patterns, flattering shapes and simple designs that hand knitters can recreate at home. Practical hats, snoods and sweaters suitable for all skill levels will inspire you  and no doubt (like me) you’ll find yourself googling trips to  Orkney to see for yourself the stunning backgrounds showcased in the photographs. The colours chosen for each design are beautiful, although it’s rare for me to knit anything in exactly the same colours as shown in the pattern, this is one book where I would be tempted to make everything just as it is.

In short, I love this book. I have spent hours just gazing at the photographs, planning projects and colour schemes. It’s a book I will buy for friends and certainly not one I shall be lending out. It will sit with me for years, and every now and again I shall knit myself something beautiful from it’s pages.

 

 

A quick lunch on a cold day

hoummous6

Hummus and crunchy veg, summer 2016

It really was a day for soup. A biting wind and a hard frost kept me indoors. Only a fool would have ventured out today! I craved soup, but the cupboards are bare. We only came back from a few days away last night and the only fresh veg we have is a sad looking cauliflower, and a couple of onions. We didn’t even have a can of soup or a stray tupperware tub lurking in the freezer.

Instead I made a big bowl of hummus. Served up with crackers and crunchy cauliflower it was a delicious lunch. I make mine with lots of garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. It might not be the genuine article but it passes muster in this house. Everyone has their own favourite recipe for this tasty dip. I use canned chick peas for convenience and a big dollop of tahini. It’s easy to make if you have a food processor. You might like to try this recipe from Jamie Oliver as a starting point. If you have ten minutes to spare, Felicity Cloake wrote a piece for the Guardian about making the “perfect hummus”, which is a great read if you want to experiment.

Tonight we’re eating from the freezer, left over sausage rolls and Christmas Day veg fried up bubble and squeak style. Tomorrow the monthly “big” Ocado shop arrives and I’ll make a trip to the green grocers and the butcher to stock up – but I shall definitely be wearing “all the hand knits” if it’s as cold as it’s been today!

 

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  • Pretty!
 Took Mr T to Chester Maker's Market today. Ho got pie, I came home with pretty yarn from @joannawoodpaint (oh and cheese, curry sauce, cake, more cheese, smoked salmon and secret presents for lovely friends oh and cheese -with rioja and caramelised onion - have you guessed we love cheese!!)! Really hope you make this a regular @_makersmarket xxx
#knittersofinstagram #handdyed #indiedyer #sockyarn #madenotmanufactured #100daysofwool Gin! Not just any old gin - Scottish gin from @inshriach now available. Sorry Walter - photo shamelessly nicked from your feed - but oh my - how fabulous! Go check this one out ladies (& gents) I just know it's going to be fabulous!
I'll be pouring myself a large g&t later and raising a glass to everyone who read or commented on my last post. We're definitely stronger together. Have a lovely weekend everyone xxx

#knitterslovegin #gin #scottishgin #gincredible #ginfriday #ginoclock #inshriach #madenotmanufactured Ruby chard, freshly picked. Going to saute it with chorizo for tea...
In other news I've got a new blog post up (link in profile) if you want to know what it's like living with a chronic illness start here...going to a bit more honest about my real life from now on.
#slowlived #thisthingcalledslowliving #bakingandmaking #ediblegarden #mygardenrightnow #permaculture #plottoplate Sometimes the best view is the one right on your doorstep. Just before I hung the washing on the line I decided to sit down, drink my coffee & be grateful... #bakingandmaking #thisthingcalledslowliving #slowlived #theartofslowliving #morningslikethese #mygardenrightnow #permaculture Old socks, new socks. Can't resist trying on newly cast off socks. On the left "old" socks in @kingcoleltd zig zag & on the right "new" socks in @coopknits Socks Yeah. 
#operationsockdrawer #toeupsocks #socksyeah #igknitters #madenotmanufactured #makeitwearit #toeuptuesday #toeupsocks #100daysofwool Weathered and worn... Beautiful, even in the rain... No knitting, just walking & enjoying the view xxx The sun is trying to come out. Wool in all it's natural undyed glory. Local, breed specific wools are the best! 
#100daysofwool #britishwool #britishyarn #herdwick #hebridean #choosewool #britishsheepbreeds 100 days of wool ... Found these lurking in my stash left over from one of last year's designs. I love all @thefibrecompany yarns, but this one is my favourite, it's a blend of wool and mohair (even a bit of British wool in there) soft to knit with, washes well & comes on all my favourite colours. Now I'm off to visit my favourite coffee shop & plan some Easter knitting...
#igknitters #100daysofwool #britishwool #lovewool #madenotmanufactured #shoplocal #notjustlakes Waste nothing. Even the tiniest bits of leftover wool can make stuff that is useful & beautiful. Collect your scraps, follow your favourite sleeve pattern and make arm warmers! 
#lovewool #loveknitting #lovewoolhatewaste #choosewool #madenotmanufactured #makersgonnamake #choosewool #zerowaste #permaculture #reloved #repurposed #upcycle #100daysofwool A good day to dry socks! I love wearing wool & knit most of my own socks (toe up, fleegle heel because I'm too lazy to graft toes or pick up stitches!!) My favourite yarns are Eden Cottage ayarns Milburn 4 ply, Sirdar Heart & Sole, Patons Kroy & West Yorkshire Spinners sock wool.
#100daysofwool #toeupsocksrock #toeuptuesday #fleegleheel #choosewool #igknitters #sockknittersofinstagram #makeitwearit Sunday blues. A gorgeous blend of merino & cotton called Coast, bought from @tangledyarnuk . I love wool / cotton blends, especially when they come in such fabulous denim shades. 
#100daysofwool #choosewool #yarnlove #tangledyarnuk #doubledenim #denim #sundayblues Hands wearing handmade things holding little things... pattern for the Cavendish beanie & wristwarmers now up on love crochet & ravelry (follow link in profile). Credits: yarn is gorgeous @westyorkshirespinners beautiful styling by @clairemontyknits & photo  @mavricphotography
#crochetaddict #britishwool #100daysofwool #makersgonnamake #lovecrochet #horgolás  #uncinetto #crochetconcupiscence #crochetgirlgang #choosewool Frivolous flowers! I loved using @bordertart 's indigo yarn for this design. It has such gorgeous sheen. The pattern first appeared in @insidecrochet & is now available to download online (link in profile). I just love everything about this beautiful photo!
Credits: photo @lucymakesmyheartskip styling @clairemontyknits 
#lovecrochet #indiedyer #choosewool #crochetaddict #uncinetto  #insidecrochetmagazine #indigo #naturaldye  #merino More garter stitch love. Stripes & garter stitch are perfect partners. Knitted on the bias using simple increases & decreases makes a perfect draping wrap.Knitted with 1 ball each of Wendy Ramsdale & Louisa Harding's Grace hand dyed from my stash.
#100daysproject #100daysofwool #wipwednesday #britishwool Playing hooky! I'm suposes to be working on a crochet commission (a huge cabled blanket that's taking forever), but I am giving myself the afternoon off to enjoy this gorgeous blend of natural fibres.  I've just ordered more because it knits & crochets like a dream.
 #madewiththefibreco #tangledyarnuk #the100dayproject #100daysofwool
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