Sunday, April 15, 2012

Off the Grid a Bit

It is entirely too long since I posted last, especially since I had vowed to start posting more regularly than my once a week routine!  However, it seems like  life is rather conspiring against me.  Major change of diet has me a bit distracted while I go wheat/dairy/corn free.  I'm getting the hang of it now and it's going well.  Then I fell into a more than full-time job and that has kept me REALLY busy.  Nothing to get excited about, but I do have to take a break from creating full-time to pay the bills back down and reassure my lonely bank account that I do not intend to abandon it (and possibly reassure my bank of same).  I am not giving up felting, just spending more time experimenting and ENJOYING felting, versus producing on such a high level.  As sales are not great in craft at the moment, I can't justify spending so much time and money there.  It's nice to enjoy the nice weather and relax a bit without last year's incredible pressure to produce and sell.  Anyone would lose their mojo in the midst of that!

Bin Ban Beach in Dingle.  The weather has been pretty
good this spring!
And, sadly, my mother passed away last Saturday, April 7th in Seattle.  She was ill for a long time, but she rallied back from death so many times that we began to think that she just wouldn't succumb.  In the end she did pass rather quickly (and mercifully) and it has been hard for me and Fionn to be so far away.  I had two rough days and now I feel numb and rather shell-shocked, like I could go to bed and sleep for two weeks straight.  But I decided not to take any time off as I thought sitting around the house thinking too much wouldn't do me any good.  I don't think its all really sunk in, to be honest, but it will.  When one or both of your parents pass, it's a milestone; the people who loved you the best and the most are gone.  Thankfully I still have my father.

For now, I am keeping it pretty simple.  Still working on a freestyle crochet cardigan that will be done soon and I need to get cracking on a baby blanket for my new niece who will be here in May at some time.  I started deep cleaning the house, which I am sure must be one of the little-talked about stages of grief.  I may not be the most mentally healthy, but dammit my house will sparkle!  I also am working on felting and patterns for new items, but its all in a muddled state--pics to follow!

Enjoy the spring and I hope to have some decent pics soon as I can't keep cleaning the house at this pace!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You're Not My Type...

What have I been doing, you say?  I have been marinating.  Thinking, reading, sleeping, changing my diet, and trying not to worry about the future.  I started craft club up again in private sessions and its nice to have something messy to do on a Saturday morning again :)  We used a resist and I taught my student how to make a pouch for her phone that evolved into a proper little handbag.  It's cute and drying now and next week we will embellish the flap and work on something new.

Pizza with gluten-free base for Fionn's birthday.  Did a
gluten-free cake also and turned out lovely!
I took the big step of making radical food changes.  I had been wondering for some time about the blood group diet and I picked up a copy of Dr. Peter D'Adamo book Eat For Your Right Type and was instantly intrigued.  I've had a hard time the last two years with fatigue and joint pain like arthritis and his theories on eating and blood type are interesting.  Historically, we are predisposed to eat and properly digest certain foods.  I am type O and we are predisposed to thyroid problems, blood clotting issues, and immune system issues.  We have a lot of acid in the stomach and so when highly acidic foods are consumed then there are problems. The program recommended removing all wheat, dairy, and corn from my diet.  So last week I made the big effort and started experimenting with non-wheat recipes.

Wheat and corn free breads are easy to make, as it turns out.  I bought a whole pantry of white rice flour, rice bran, tapioca, and potato flour and I can make a lovely brown soda bread with nuts and seeds.  It is best eaten on the same day baked, but it isn't hard work for the two of us to polish it off in the same day.  I did a little Internet hunting and found an excellent spelt bread recipe.  It bakes just the same as wheat bread but spelt is much more moist and it stays lovely for cutting for four days, which is handy for mid-week when you are busy.  I'll take pics and post the yeast recipe next time as it takes a couple days for the starter to develop, but for now here is the quick and easy soda is from Darina Allen's gluten free cookbook.

It might seem like a lot of ingredients, but once you buy them, they last a long time...

Brown Soda Bread

50g Sunflower seeds         1 t. gluten-free baking powder
50g Pumpkin seeds           1/2 t salt
110g rice flour                   1 t xanthan gum (health food stores stock it)
60g rice bran                     1 T sugar
50 g tapioca flour               1 egg, free range
25g buckwheat flour          175-200ml buttermilk
25g dried milk                    1 t baking soda

Preheat the oven to 230c/45of/gas mark 8.

Chop the seeds and place in a large bowl (I didn't and I also added sesame seeds).  Add the rest of the dry ingredients and make a well in the center.  Lightly beat the eggs and add to the well along with the buttermilk.  Mix well, but do not over stir, taking care to add a bit more rice flour if needed.

Add some rice flour to the baking tray and form a circle with the dough.  Place it on the tray and cut a cross into the bread with a serrated knife, taking care to prick the corners to let the fairies out!  Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes and then reduce to 180c/350f/gas mark 4 for 25-30 minutes.  You may wish to turn the loaf upside down for the final 5 minutes to let the bottom get crusty.  The seeds really make this loaf and you will want a piece slathered with butter straight out of the oven!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Liebster Award

I got up a couple days ago and found out that Food Fancies had nominated me for a Liebster Award for blogging.  What a great way to start the day! As a recipient--and I am in really great company!--I need to give a heartfelt thanks to my nominator Sharon, also known as Little Miss Cupcake, who has a lovely blog Food Fancies and nominate five more people myself.  Sharon is hard at work trying to get a cafe opened in Dingle in a few weeks time (!) so I do wish her the absolute best there.

Hard to do since there are such great bloggers out there, but I have to say that Nicola Brown at Clasheen is excellent. Great humour and information on felting and always news on the fibre world.  I don't know where she gets her energy.

Paper transfer tutorial
Embroidery tutorial on Carina's Craft Blog
In no particular order, I also love Carina's Craft Blog.  Lots of great crochet tutorials here and her fabric designs on Spoonflower are beautiful and colourful.  Great for when I get the itch to learn new stitches.

I want to felt like Andrea Graham when I grow up!  Her blog Andrea Graham Feltmaker has great photography and you can see a huge range of handmade felt items and she is quite on the ball about using the internet to teach students via webcam.  Majorly productive and married with kids, not easy folks!

I love the combinations of felt and velvet in Dog Daisy Chains blog.  She always has such beautiful eye candy and I get motivated to get into the studio and start messing around.

And finally A Baked Creation always inspires me to cook or bake something interesting and my son often looks over my shoulder and says "Let's go try that, Mom!"  Go find the Lemon Drizzle Cake--dead easy to bang into the oven and so, so good!  I love the texture of the cake.  My son loves the lemon icing.  Some things never change!
You really NEED this Lemon Drizzle Cake.  So easy and a little too good.

And if I can be cheeky and mention a sixth blog, I love Kathy York's Art Quilts by Kathy York.  She makes vibrant, hand-dyed fabrics and great designs and has given me some great ideas for resist-dyeing fabric.  Love her quilts and she is so inspiring!

Kathy York's story quilt "Morning Commute with Sweet Jane."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Sun is Shining!

Colour scheme of new crocheted jacket

It's been a busy week!  I've been dyeing yarns on dry days to complete a new free form crocheted jacket. A bit pricey to sell, but I did want something wow! to submit for Kerry Fashion Weekend.  The colour scheme is all reds/pinks/natural wool in a kaleidoscope of patterns.  It's starting to shape up nicely and should be done within this week, I think. Unless I get the mad idea to start beading it in parts, which is entirely possible :)

When I crochet, it gives me a chance to think a lot.  About life, about my son, about things that need to get done.  It's a kind of stream-of-consciousness thing where the hands are busy and the brain relaxes and releases random thoughts, things that have been kicking around in the back of my brain.  That's what creating does, I think: it allows you to think and feel and interpret life.  Life can get pretty hectic at times, so its good to sit down and crochet or muck about in felt and stitch and just try to understand this life we have.

Part of the jacket pattern.  This is the
front right panel.
I've a couple friends sick at the moment and I am really praying for them, hoping they find their way through it.  That they know how many people love them and have the courage to face it all, to keep going no matter how hard it gets.  Some people are blessed to know how many friends they have and to feel love all the time.  Other people resist it like they don't want to believe it, that the friendship and love are mistakenly given to them and that they can't really accept it.  This struggle is hard to witness as they are often lovely people that can't believe in themselves. I sat crocheting late last night and finally gave up and went to bed, with no great insight into how to help.

I went back to my old friend the Tunisian
crochet hook.  It's a bit like knitting &
crochet mixed. You cast on and off...
I dreamed all last night of a great friend of mine who is going through a terrible time.  I woke with entire sentences of encouragement streaming out of me and I had to get up and get a notebook and start writing it all down.  I started sketching designs and had six pages of text and sketches before I knew it.  I looked at it critically and realized that most of what I had written had been to help a friend in need, but it would also work in a more generic basis—everyone needs encouragement or a reminder every now and then when they stray off the path they travel in life.  I think I may have woken up and developed a whole series of textile collages.  The sun is streaming in the dirty windows and I see dust all over the floor and all I can think of is rummaging around my studio until I find the right colour fabric and dyeing new ones and getting started cutting and sewing and beginning the process of making these collages a reality.  I will definitely send the words of encouragement out to my friend, but it has already become something more than that.  My inspiration well is full this week.

So, I'm off to felt/dye/sew on this beautiful, sunny Spring day.  I hope you all get outside for your vitamin D!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pancake Tuesday

We got up early this morning and made a load of pancakes and sent them off to my son's school.  In Ireland, the Tuesday before Lent  begins is Pancake Tuesday, the day that extra eggs were used up before Lent commenced.  Apparently, in times of old, any luxurious or pleasurable food was also given up for the Lenten period, something that is definitely not followed in modern times!  At any rate, the boys should be full and happy by now and ready to face Ash Wednesday tomorrow.

More lovely superfine Merino scarves that will by coming at you soon!
I have been a quiet blogger lately as there is lots of new things in the works.  Not only have I been busy with part-time work, but I have also been re-designing my label and getting ready to relaunch my brand.  The fiddly bits of tweaking all the marketing text is time-consuming, but I am happy with the new results.  I am having my clothing labels printed as we speak and then I will have to remove all the old ones that I am going forward with and I am busily designing new knitwear items that I will submit for Kerry Fashion Weekend.  Lots of details to follow up on to get it right this time.

I sent off designs for Project 51 in Dublin and I am waiting hear back from them.  I was very impressed with their artisan range when I visited their booth at Showcase and I'd love to take part in their Festival of Irish Design for March 2012.  Fingers crossed there!  There are a couple more options coming soon also, but stay tuned for more details!

In the meantime, take a look at Aisling Ryan on  She is one of the first craft artisans who is pursuing funding on  Fundit has successfully launched many projects, but their crowdfunding endeavors are now helping individuals get financial assistance.  Well done to Aisling and the best of luck to her!!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Blurry Picture in the Distance

There are times in life when all seems muddy and unclear.  It's really that time of year, isn't it?  Time to wisely listen to the animals and hibernate a bit.  Its the time of year when I drag out magazines to look at new projects, new fabrics, and to think about people I want to work with and skills I need to learn.  I read a lot and cook and try to actively NOT think at times.

After a few weeks of this, something generally starts to emerge.  I am a list maker, essential for anyone balancing too much in their life, and if I lay the lists out next to each other I generally start to see a pattern of interest.  I can see now that there was no way I could sustain the amount of work that I was doing.  I think less teaching, or at least more isolated teaching, is in my future.  I love teaching, but I end up giving too much of myself and the transition between designing and teaching isn't as fluid for me right now.  I think now is a time to concentrate on design ideas and working on selling.

I went up to Showcase on Monday, just to have a look around. I was nearly certain that it wasn't for me, but I wanted to get some feedback on designs.  Not only did I get excellent feedback on my hats and scarves, but I really do think Showcase will be for me next year.  I have a lot to do to get ready, including perfecting my begging face when I have to go to the bank and look for a small business loan, but it will be worth it for the exposure.  The addition of the fashion show this year was really the clincher.  I was told that my work would have been perfect in the fashion show the night before, that I was on track with the style and textures and colours.

And I took a good hard look at what the other knitwear and felt people were doing.  There's no point replicating the same designs as we all look the same and it only creates a price war.  So I now have a fair idea of what I will make that will stand out from the crowd.  Now to just find the space to do it!  I am also seeking advice from a mentor and I am toying with the idea of changing my company name and re-branding. It's a bit fussy, but I think the name I have hasn't been connecting at all and now is the time to do it.  I have arrived at a name and mentor thinks it's good, too, so just have to think about it over the week and then order new business cards and labels for clothing.

Some progress is being made on sorting my house out.  I made a space for my dyeing microwave and now just need to find a space for all my dyeing equipment.  Not easy!!  Hopefully some space will be made available in the near future.  Meanwhile, I am working on samples to show a couple of shops who I am going to approach. I need to get all my details all organized so it looks like a cohesive package.  The mist is lifting and I can see the blurry picture in the distance!

And I also need to get taking some pics because this is all I had this week!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Bit Lost in the non-Winter

New hat.  I so wanted to bead the felt decor
after machine embroidery, but with sales
so low, I can't justify the work for the prices
I can getting.  The new economy line, I think!
It's mid-January and we are in the middle of a very mild winter, especially compared to the last two years.  My family in Seattle and friends in Boston are despairing the cold and snow and ice, but here in Ireland we are getting a reprieve from the nastiness.  I hope to God it means that we might actually have a beautiful summer also, as the rain this year has been fairly unforgiving.

I closed my studio this week and it was hard work. Condensing another house into my small house is not easy and I found a place to store my felting tables until I can find another workspace.  My house is like a bomb site. I look at the boxes and bags everywhere and I hardly know where to start, but I know I have to make a start of it or I will go nuts.  There is space in the spare bedroom to store supplies and possibly sew, but there is only room on the kitchen table to lay out small felting projects.  The full dye kitchen is much harder as there is so much STUFF to store and I think it will just have to go out to the shed and hope the weather doesn't ruin it.  Mildew seems to be breeding with alacrity and as soon as I get the clutter under control, I need to wash walls with mildew killer and start painting.

Using a lot of gray to foil brighter colours.
Since most of my colours are hand-dyed,
it really makes the vibrant ones pop.
About 5 of my framed textile pieces were damaged with mold/mildew while in my studio.  It must have happened over Christmas when I didn't have the heat on.  I need to take them apart and do repairs so that I can get them up on the wall where they will be safer from children and accidents.  They are certainly cheering my house up no end.  I am so sad about failing and burned out that I haven't even picked up my crochet hook, but that's probably the thing that I need to do.  Floundering is not good, but I am craving quiet and time alone to figure out what I will do with my felt.  I need to get Internet sales going on Etsy or somewhere else, but I need to organize the house first so I can look clearly at designs.  And I want to focus on design work as the newer designs are selling the best, so I know I am on the right track. In the meantime, I have a part-time job I started selling ads and I am hoping that this will bring in some much-needed income. Typically, it is mostly commission, so I will have to keep the head down and the Skype on to make some progress.  It is about time for SOMETHING to succeed as I will also need funds for the next attempt at a studio or flogging my felt.

In the meantime, I am heading up to Showcase tomorrow to have a look around and meet a few people.  I need feedback on my designs and time to look around and figure out where I am going next.  Can't wait to see Pat Lawless' stand as he got a commendation from the Craft Council and the fabulous Garry Marcham will be up there also.  If I can't succeed, then at least people I know and like should succeed!!

The mentor that I requested has finally arrived after three months wait and we need to put our heads together and see if we are agreed on what to do next.  He is suggesting I change my business name and re-brand.  I will have to be convinced!!!