Thursday, 23 April 2015

Sewing - director's chair covers and my fabric stash (which you should see dwindling soon!)


We bought two directors chairs from Habitat yonks ago. So long that they don't even make this style any more. The oak frames are still going strong but the natural canvas covers were stained and holey. You can buy new covers from about a tenner, but where's the fun in that? So I ordered some canvas from Deckchair Stripes (now called The Stripes Company) and got sewing. Not only do I love the cobalt blue, but I think they look really professional (sorry, I don't know how to say that without sounding like I'm blowing my own trumpet!). And, best of all, we've all sat in them and nothing broke! Triple win.
I've been thinking a lot about my sewing recently. I've had a big sort-out of my fabric stash (see new neat-ish folded piles in the cupboard above). I've had a general tidy up. I've been thinking about the importance, in the early days of starting a new business, of focusing on your core business versus diversifying to a 'portfolio' approach. I think I'm the sort of person who responds best to diversity, and so I've been sewing up a number of different products to get some customer research on, cost up and time out, and to develop a sense of my style and interests. Watch this space.

Friday, 17 April 2015

9 tips on how to thrive as a mother


Perhaps I'm not the best person to give 'advice' on motherhood. I've been a mother since I was eighteen, and so I don't really know of an adult me without it, nor do I remember having lost anything by becoming it. How can I tell you how to thrive as a mother when that's all I've ever been? But then I've had to create room for myself within motherhood for over sixteen years now, and three children in I've learnt a little too.

The first thing I want to tell you is that the last sentence I wrote is not entirely true. Yes, you need to find room and time for yourself when a mother - a cup of coffee in silence while your children watch their favourite programme; a bath after they've gone to bed. But better than that, you need to find ways to be yourself and a mother at the same time. There's not 'the normal you' and 'the mother you', and a day full of lurches from one to the other. In the fullest sense, a mother is who you are as well as what you are. And the mother you are is because of the true, real you filling every corner of that mould.

Here are some of the ways I thrive in motherhood. I hope some of them are useful to you. I hope you know that there are many, many times when I feel like I'm drowning or failing in motherhood too!

  1. Sleep is the number one rule. Sacrifice other things to get more of it. Pick a nap over a clean house. Pick an early night over the washing up. The more sleep you've had, the better you'll feel, the more you'll accomplish, and the nicer you'll be to your children.
  2. Be yourself all the time, and find ways to involve your children in what makes you happy. Mine still aren't that into art galleries, but I still take them (and give them challenges like 'how many horses can you see in the paintings in this room?' because art galleries feed my heart). We love to walk, so we have found ways to get sometimes reluctant children to love it too (a future post, I think!).
  3. But also find time to be yourself apart from your children, if you can. I don't feel bad about the half hour or so I let my four-year-old watch tv after lunch so I can read blogs and drink my coffee, because it refuels me every day. Although your love for your children is limitless, your ability to treat them lovingly can run out if you don't give to yourself too. They need the best of you, and that requires you to be kind to yourself.
  4. Write to do lists because you'll kick yourself for forgetting things. Always put a couple of things on it that you've just done, as those first ticks just feel so good. Include little tasks, and break bigger ones up - put washing in machine, unload machine, do ironing etc, rather than 'do laundry'. If you're like me, little successes are key to your wellbeing, and so the more little ticks your day includes, the better you'll feel.
  5. Start the day with some successes already under your belt. If you're a night owl, tidy up once the children are in bed so that you start the day without the weight of that job already over you. If you can rise early (and your children aren't also up before dawn!), get a little done then. Playing catch-up on your day is demoralising and disheartening. It's always easier to start your day with your children without a weight or a chip on your shoulder.
  6. All those things that you beat yourself up about as a mother? Stop it. If you forget to brush their teeth today but remember every other day, they'll be fine. Trust me, the kind of parent who worries how a missed teeth-brushing will affect their child is not the kind of parent that the dentist dreads to see. It's the parents that don't worry about those things that are a problem. If you worry whether you're a good mother, that in itself means you are a good mother.
  7. Remember that your parenting is a function both of who you are and who they are. That equation is unique to the pair of you. Parenting books can give you tips but no one knows your child as well as you. The longer you parent them, and the more children you parent, the more you'll wish you knew that at the start.
  8. A change of scene is almost always the answer. Get them outdoors. Get yourself outdoors. Visit the park, go to the library, whatever it is - change things up and you'll find their cranky moods, their fighting, or your stir-craziness is forgotten or cured.
  9. Above all else, and I've said it before, be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself lots. Know tomorrow is another day. Know that the times you lose your temper or don't have the energy to play are not the times they'll remember, or the things that will damage them. Know your children really do think you're the best mum in the world, and force yourself to believe that. You're the best mum for them. Know that though you could do better, you could do worse - much worse. Give yourself a break when you need it. Fill your heart up so that you have more to give each day. Suck in all those cuddles they give you. Cuddle back.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Sewing: a windmill zoo reading cushion, for my tiniest four-year-old boy

front side windmill patchwork reading cushion, featuring Alexander Henry 2D Zoo fabric

reverse side envelope reading cushion cover, Alexander Henry 2D zoo

I don't know if I'm allowed to gush about my own work. Am I? But I just love this cushion so much. It's 65cm square, using a cheap cushion pad from Ikea that's not very puffy - on purpose. I didn't want a big squidge of a cushion that you roll off of. I wanted a nice big flattish square that you sink into and look at books, build train tracks, and colour pirate ships on. And all of those things have been done.

The blue stripy fabric is thrifted. The yellow dots are Art Gallery Chromatics Pointelle in yellow, bought from Celtic Fusion Fabrics. And all three zoo prints are different colourways of the lovely Alexander Henry 2D Zoo which I adore and had shipped over from Fabricworm in the US (couldn't find it in the UK at the time) a couple of years ago for the Tiny One's bed quilt.

The cushion was a gift for the Tiny One's fourth birthday. Four, people. Time just keeps marching forward, doesn't it? He is such a sunshiny boy: bright and sparky, joyful and warm. I love him to the sun and back, and even further than that. There were so many times before I got to hold him in my arms, four years ago, when we thought we had lost him. And there were times when he was small and I was so, so afraid that he had lost me. I just feel so lucky now that we're both here, part of this family, all loving each other and getting to stride forward into the future. It's why I'll never say 'I wish he could stay this little', because I know how lucky I am to be here, watching him growing up.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Sewing for money - a little small business post

I'm in the early days of my business, Sparrow Stitch. Sometimes I'm working on curtains for weeks, and sometimes things are a little lean and I'm taking on smaller projects. I don't actually mind. While I'm not trying to reach a certain income level month-to-month, the leaner times are good for business admin and a bit of sewing variety.
You may recall, from last summer, that I made one of these cushions before. A few weeks ago I made its twin, for Ava's little sister Eadie. I love a bit of girly sewing, and there's something quite therapeutic about running the seams of a square through the zig-zag stitch of my sewing machine.
I also made some bandanas to fit on a couple of dog collars. A friend's mother commissioned me and gave me some detailed parameters, but again it was a satisfying project. Neat, precise, tidy. Kind of what I needed at the time.

It's the Easter holidays at the moment, so my sewing's hit a bit of a standstill while we spend most of our time outdoors. I wouldn't wish the time away, but I'm looking forward to Monday coming round, school and nursery starting up again, and hearing the sound of my sewing machine coming back to life.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Spring has sprung

Yes it rains a lot, and gosh hasn't it been windy? But every few days we wake up to this:
And though the frost is there, the sun is singing that old song, "Morning has broken....", and I know it won't be long before the frost turns back to dancing beads of dew. If I step outside to look at that rising sun - and I often do - the birds are carolling about it at the top of their little lungs, as if they too feel like skipping.
We take a walk along the river that runs through our village, and the stream too is singing in its babbling voice, chuckling to itself with the glee of new life. The riverbanks are still largely void of growth, but look closer and you'll see that the sunshine with its warm breath has blown a message into the soil, and shoots are appearing. Trees are beginning to bud. Rabbits are scampering in the still-vacant campsite. And the birds are still singing in giddy chorus.
Walk a little further, away from the shade of the riverbank, and these glorious fellows meet you. That's my littlest, the Tiny One, in the distance there. He's exploring the farm lane, looking for new spring flowers, searching for lambs in the fields, grabbing every stick he can find with his brother.

It's such a good time of year. Everything has promise, hope and beginnings. While the winds are still often cold and the frosts plenty, the rains still flying in our faces; even on these days the nature around us is standing firm and believing in the spring days to come.

Friday, 20 February 2015

the end of winter?

I didn't think I suffered from SAD. 

I think it's the snow that bothers me most, in the way that it's so restricting up here and lasts so long, slowly turning into ice. And I'm not the biggest winter fan, but few are. I dance my way to Christmas and then idly twiddle my fingers and circle my ankles while I wait for winter to slope off, tail between its legs.

But a few days ago, before it turned chilly again, there was the littlest touch, the daintiest spring of Spring in the air. And oh my goodness. I virtually skipped everywhere rather than walking. I unbuttoned my coat. The boys took theirs off. The green tips of emergent daffodils were beginning to whisper their yellow secret. And you should have heard the birds. They weren't singing to communicate they were singing a song. Suddenly it was like the whole of our little, 200m-above-sea-level world stopped, stood up and listened. From cheery daffodils still hidden in their winter coats, to small boys throwing theirs off and whooping: we all heard the sound of Spring.

I knew that morning that the day was going to be good. I knew I was going to tick a whole raft of limpets off my to-do list. That I would be a lovely mother. That I would smile at the villagers as I walked past, that I would be airy and cheery when my husband came home at the hungry-boys-witching-hour, that everything would be so gosh-darned lovely.

And afterwards, when the next day dawned swathed in cloud and washing cold air past my ears, I thought: perhaps that SAD thing affects me after all. Or affects most of us. And actually, I'm done with treading water while the world tips over the bottom end of the year. We're 5/6th's of the way through winter. The snowdrops have already popped up to say goodbye to it. The daffodils are waiting impatiently in the wings. I expect I'll spot some crocuses soon. We're all done with winter. Let's all tell it to head off where the sun don't shine.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Bringing nature in: walking, foraging, collecting and displaying - the journey of myevergreen sprigs

Walking in the Peak District
We walk a lot with our children. If they're not in school, we're off out with them. We love the outdoors; but on a purely practical note, we have boys and they need a daily dose of fresh air and exercise to stop us all going crazy! And sometimes when we walk, when my kitchen table is a little bare and I need a little outside in my indoors, I go armed with a shoulder bag and a pair of secateurs.

Forage and collect evergreen leaves and sprigs
I have a theme in mind: wild flowers, seed heads, or in this case evergreens. There's not much about in January but the often ignored evergreens are sculptural and succulent, making a great centrepiece. Cut a sprig of holly here, some laurel there, ivy with its buds out, pine for its needles. Wear gloves: it's cold but a lot of your fodder is prickly. Cut the right sort of length for your vase and don't take more than you need - apart from anything else, detangling it all from your bag is a nightmare if you've not loosely packed!

Bringing nature in: evergreen sprigs displayed in a vase
Come home, warm up, put the kettle on. Fill your jug with water and detangle those evergreen sprigs that you've foraged. Arrange them in your vase, and suddenly your kitchen is - for free, yes, gratis people - adorned with a bit of the outside, a bit of nature, a bit of life. They'll be happy for several weeks if you're lucky. And so will you. 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Cooking a little healthier, a little more gluten-free: Sarah's Big Comfy Sweet Potato and Simple Gourmet Granola

I'd say I eat well 80% of the time, and the other 20% is basically cakes, biscuits and chocolate. I tried giving up the latter for January and got about half-way through. At least I joined the masses with that one! But I've noticed that I'm basically a bread-and-cheese girl at lunchtimes and that my breakfast is the time of day I most crave healthy, bolstering food. And coming from a family afflicted with various gastro-malfunctions, I figure these two meals are ripe for a bit of a nutrition punch. The chocolate in the evenings, well, that'll have to wait!

My New Roots Big Comfy Sweet Potato

This is a preamble to me introducing you to the My New Roots website that I recently discovered (via an oblique reference on instagram). I don't think I could eat this way all the time but I'm up for a lot of it for breakfast and a fair amount at lunch too. I've actually been feeling really inspired on the food front recently. You may know that I cook from recipe books about 95% of the time for dinner, and for a lot of our weekend lunches too, but while it's always nutritious and homemade it can often involve less healthy fare (beef pie anyone?). We've eaten mostly wholegrain and wholewheat for years but it'll do us good to rely less on the wheat family. And I hardly ever go to the recipe books for breakfast or my weekday lunches with the Tiny One. So it's nice to have a new focus to reinvigorate my recipe love. I'll keep you updated.

My New Roots Simple Gourmet Granola

(Top picture, My New Roots Big Comfy Sweet Potato for lunch; and bottom picture, My New Roots Simple Gourmet Granola, out of the oven and waiting for the raisins to be stirred in - or whatever other dried fruit you prefer.)

Monday, 26 January 2015

A treat of a weekend: gardening, bringing nature indoors, re-upholstering an armchair, and other winter comforts

It's been a beautiful treat of a weekend. The weather has, for the first time in over a month, had a tinge of warmth to it. I got into the garden and cleared, planted and dug and it felt good. I don't know a lot about gardening but I do know that I really love it. It has the same feel as sewing for me - that when I'm engaged in the process it absorbs me and grounds me, and it's where I find my full self when I'm feeling a little off-kilter. I brought the last green fern indoors: I love their prehistoric sculptural shape, and it's best appreciated individually.

Fern and clementines on the table

I've also been slowly plugging away at a re-upholstery project our bedroom. We were donated a lovely old armchair that needed updating and I thought, 'well I'll just have a go and do it myself'. It is far from a conventional re-upholstery job! But it's working nonetheless and I'm enjoying the slow, purposeful rigor of the process. (I'm using Anna Maria Horner's Raindrops Poppies in bronze, from her Field Study collection) (My three-year-old took that picture of me without me knowing!)

Re-upholstery armchair Anna Maria Horner Field Study Raindrops Poppies in Bronze

We've also had dear friends to stay, good walks in the last remnants of iced snow, warming soups and an unheard-of afternoon of reading papers and chatting while the boys played (courtesy of one of those soulless soft play places that children always adore and parents get a little peace at!) It's been a good weekend. I hope yours was too.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Arranging by colour : a rainbow to counter Blue Monday

Today is supposedly Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Depressing? Bah humbug.
Arranging bookcase by colour color rainbow
I have a solution! Now that's a bit of an exaggeration. You can't fix your life by organising by rainbow colour order can you? But you can brighten it. And if you can bring together order and conformity on the one hand with expression and creativity on the other, so much the better. So I removed all the books in our bookcase (arranged by genre and in height order because I am a card-carrying very-slight-little-bit-obsessive-compulsive-in-a-creative-organised-not-turn-the-lightbulb-on-and-off-thirty-six-times-kind-of-way. And then I took said books, and put them back in said bookcase, in rainbow colour order. And suddenly life was better. Organised but bright and cheery.
Arrange wardrobe clothes by colour color rainbow

And because I was also in a bit of a clothing funk, I did the same with my wardrobe. Oh how I wish I could get you a picture to show the bright shiny goodness of a wardrobe arranged by rainbow colour order, but my wardrobe is next to my bedroom window, in the shadiest part of my bedroom, batting the light back even more with a wardrobe door that opens across the window. So this grainy picture will have to do. Or I could use a flash. But apparently that would be the photography equivalent of taking a vegan wholefoods food blogger into a McDonalds for dinner.

Arrange books bookcase by colour color rainbow
So here's a collage of close-up and less close-up bookshelf pictures instead. You can't see a whole other shelf at the top full of white books and another shelf at the bottom full of black. But you can maybe read a few of my books and play spot-the-book-I-have-too with it. If your life is really exciting just like mine.

I saw an actual rainbow in a snow cloud over the weekend but my phone wouldn't work in the below freezing temperatures. No matter: I get a rainbow every morning in my bedroom and every time I walk through my hallway. Yah boo sucks Blue Monday.