Stuff I learnt in floristry class

Hello!

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve been going to a beginner’s floristry class since January. I’m not very good at it, but I don’t even care because I really enjoy it. I’ve even made my peace with the fact that my nemesis is florists’ foam (also known as oasis, which does make me think of the Gallaghers.)

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I do, however, enjoy putting bunches of flowers together (although I think I’m not allowed to call them ‘bunches’ now that I’m *sort of* trained. I think I’m meant to refer to them as bouquets…) I’ve learnt some great tips about choosing flowers and putting them together, which I would have liked to have known before I started putting stuff together.

  1. Bleach your vases and change your water

28235344_10155296869792267_8276381645575148795_oEvery time you have an empty vase, fill it with water and put a few drops of bleach in it and leave it overnight (although I forget and sometimes leave it a few days…) Empty it and rinse it out. This will kill any bacteria and means that you’re starting with a clean, germ-free vase. It’ll mean that your flowers last longer from the get-go. In a similar vein, make sure you change your water every couple of days.

Some people swear blind that a drop of bleach in the water works to keep flowers looking fresh, although I would only do that for roses; for anything else I use a teaspoon of sugar or, if I have it, the packets of flower food you get with supermarket flowers.

2. There’s nothing wrong with supermarket flowers! 

27021216_10155227044562267_3429879072351896780_oI do love going to the florist, but it is expensive. There’s nowt wrong with supermarket flowers- I use them quite a bit for class, and a florist recently recommended I buy focal flowers (i.e. the main flowers in an arrangement) from a florist, the secondary flowers from a supermarket and the greenery from a garden. To be honest, it depends on time/money as to whether I have time to do all of that. But you can definitely gussy up a couple of bunches of Aldi’s finest- arrange them in a symmetrical pattern, twisting the stalks if you can, any foliage on the outside, and tying off with string. Chop the bottoms of the stalks off evenly- et voila! A tied bouquet! The only thing I would say is that supermarket flowers do not tend to last as long as florist bought flowers, but when they’re cheap as chips, who cares?

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment

IMG_20180214_083541_236I think one of the reasons I’m not terribly good at the lessons is that I’m not very keen on the formality of what we’re being shown. This is just my thing and no judgement on the teacher (who I love) or the whole world of floristry. It’s just me being an awkward sod. I tend to prefer smaller arrangements that suit a more vintage taste, which have a country garden look to them. This is what I will continue to make once I finish my course, and what I enjoy making. As one of Brighton’s top florists told me, ‘It’s not rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules.’ (He was quite dismissive of a lot of the formal structure of floristry- and seeing as he did my wedding bouquet, I tend to trust him!) One thing I would say: supermarket flowers tend not to smell much. If you want that, consider buying some broom or something like stocks from a florist- even one stem of these will lift your bunch of flowers into something a bit more special.

4. A few tweaks can make a bouquet look way more expensive

IMG_20180311_131728_492Around Valentines and Mother’s Day, flowers will be at their most expensive. If you wanted to make something flowery in the run up to those, I would heartily recommend you buy supermarket flowers for the bulk of it (especially if you want roses or tulips) and then go to a florist for a few finishing touches. The bouquet about was commissioned by Benn for his mum and I did go to a florist where I know I will get a good deal (and a discount for being a student, hurrah!) This is more my style- I love stuff that looks like I could just pluck it from my garden on a sunny June day and it’s nicely balanced, I think. Anyway, there are a few things I’ve noticed when you put together a bouquet:

  1. If you want roses, but not the expense, you could try lisianthus (the deep purple flowers above) or ranunculas, which are pretty in a similar way but often without such a steep price tag (although they will never be as cheap as daffodils or carnations!)
  2. Eucalyptus is having a moment. You can get the traditional varieties, with large silver leaves, or the smaller leafed variety, which is in the arrangement above. The good thing about eucalyptus, especially the bigger type, is that it will literally make any bunch of flowers look more expensive. Probably because it is quite expensive, but it would be a price I would consider paying for something special. To be honest, though, I’d just have vases full of it round the house I love it so much. If you want nice foliage, consider pistachio leaf, which is nice and half the price. Foliage is super important and I almost never have enough.
  3. If you want to make something look vintage, go with wax flowers. These tiny pink or white flowers are a bit of a discovery for me and also seem to be having a bit of a ‘moment’. Oh my god, I love them. They look like something from a Victorian wedding and they last an AGE. They aren’t hugely cheap, but they are cheerful and really add something to the flower arrangements I make. These would go in my vases with the eucalyptus.

5. Use Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration

I have a Pinterest board where I keep all things floristry- I love looking at flower combos, as well as different colours and presentation options. I’m also obsessed with the language of flowers and what different flowers meant in Victorian times. I then use this as a starting point for ideas. There are also some really great Instagram accounts run by florists, with different styles and specialities. Have a hunt around and find your style. Then, go and have a go. It’s really, honestly, not that hard. Seriously- look at some of the mistakes I’ve made!

If there’s anything you’d like to know, but I may have missed, let me know either in the comments or on Twitter. Enjoy your flowers!

The madness of making Christmas presents

Oh, Reader, I’ve done a mad thing. I’ve started knitting Christmas presents.

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Every year, I make vague plans to knit at least a few presents, but this year a lack of money has led me to raiding my beautiful, beautiful stash of excellent yarns and planning to make presents for three of my friends. I must really like them to a) knit for them and b) use some of my carefully collected yarn on them. Also, I’m knitting socks for one of them and she has bigger feet than me. Other knitters will tell you that this is a big deal (I only usually ever make socks for people who have the same sized feet or smaller, otherwise the maths is just a headache. So, like I say, it’s LOVE.)

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Thing is, people can get sniffy about handmade gifts, or wonder if they’re as valuable as shop-bought. But the thing is, handmade is a GOOD THING. If I make you something, I’ve made a very clear choice as to what I’m going to make you and what I’m going to make it from. I’ve thought about colours you like and that look good on you; I’ve considered where you live- yarn choice can make or break a gift; I’ve also thought about what I should make for you. And all this is even before we get into how much time it’ll take to make it for you. Even a basic pair of socks can take anywhere up to 20 hours to make by hand, on needles (I don’t have a knitting machine.) That’s without factoring in other stuff, like the fact I have to work and make sure my three-year-old isn’t hurting himself on his frequent kamikaze missions around the house.

My theory, then, this year is to keep it simple. Stocking stitch and garter stitch items done well, in beautiful materials are just as good as any fancy lace work, but don’t require mass concentration or tantrums when I frequently muck up more complex designs. This plan also means that I can manage my time a bit more effectively and that I’m not still making stuff on Christmas Day (as happened last year with my friend Marine’s fingerless gloves. She was very sweet and diplomatic about it, though.)

So, if you see me in the next few weeks looking harassed, bits of fluff stuck to my clothes and knitting needles poking out behind my ears as I frantically search for them, pay me no heed. I’m just trying to meet self-imposed Christmas knitting deadlines. Again.

The Happiness Project #7: Make something

One of my all time favourite actresses, Jean Harlow, knits on set.

One of my all time favourite actresses, Jean Harlow, sews on set.

This week has been a real test of my positive thinking exercises. It’s been hard- I’ve been potty training D (which means barely leaving the house) and a family member is very, very ill. So being indoors with lots of time on my hands has meant that I’ve had to fight my inner negativity. So I’ve done what I usually: make stuff.

I’m a bit of a crafting jack of all trades, master of none. I mainly knit and bake, but I’m teaching myself to sew on a machine and to dabble in cross stitch, embroidery and crochet. For me, I don’t really count writing as part of this process, as I find (for me) that the creativity I use for writing is slightly different, but YMMV.

I first started crafting properly ten years ago and never really looked back. Making stuff with my hands feels good. Yes, it’s more expensive than going to Primark and buying something, but there’s a real connection with what I’m making. If I’m feeling sad, or angry, or stressed, or frustrated, all those feelings become wrapped up in the fabric of what I’m doing.

There’s also the feeling of letting my mind focus on something else; if I’m focusing on a pattern or trying to perfect a recipe (at the moment, I’m slightly obsessing over producing a decent home version of a Millie’s cookie), I can leave whatever is upsetting me to one side. It definitely feels like I’m using a different part of my brain.

Finally, there’s the finished product. If it’s successful, I can be proud and feel like my time has been spent productively- or at least, more productively than if I’d just spent my time watching TV and worrying. If it’s gone wrong, I then have something I can explore- why did it go wrong? What can I do differently? Again, it’s all about helping my mind think about something else and not letting myself be consumed by the darker bits of my brain.

Anyway, I’m going to go and work on my Hitofude cardigan. Are you making anything at the moment? Or do you want to learn a craft?

What’s on my needles… Hitofude and letting D choose

Summer holidays mean that I can really focus on getting some knitting done. I just finished the back panel and am about to start the main body part.

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As a pattern, Hitofude is a really lovely pattern- straightforward, easy to memorise. Having to gear myself up for a three needle bind off for the armholes (although I’m pretty sure I’ve done it before, ages ago…) Apparently, in Japanese ‘hitofude’ means a few lines. The idea behind this pattern is that it’s all done in a continuous strand.

Here’s a close up of the pattern. It kind of reminds me of sandwiches. Or mountains. Whatever, it’s pretty:

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I was also recently asked to take a look at Little Lamb Wool, an online retailer specialising particularly in children’s patterns and yarn. I decided to let D choose a jumper pattern and asked him what colour he’d like his jumper to be. “PINK!” I’m cool with this, although he later said he liked some grey yarn I have too- so it’ll be a pink/grey combo. Little Lamb Wool kindly sent me a pattern and some pink yarn to get cracking- so keep your eyes peeled here and on Twitter for progress!

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I’ve fallen back in love with knitting

Katharine Hepburn knitting

Katharine Hepburn knitting, 1930s

I’ve found myself desperate to get home and knit recently. This is not new, but it is a renewed sense of longing.

Despite the warmer weather, I love knitting at the moment. My pattern of choice is a light and airy cardigan, Hitofude, which is designed along Japanese principles. It’s a deceptively simple (well, so far) knit and the pattern is satisfying. But is it just the pattern that’s sparked my interest?

I don’t think so. I think it is a symptom of the fact that, at the moment, I am quite content with my lot in life. I’m finally feeling relaxed and work is not dominating my life for the first time in a while. At a time when mindfulness is de rigeur, knitting is definitely a kind of yoga for the mind (I apologise for the description, but it’s true.) I like to get out the knitting, make a good cup of tea and just sit down in front of Netflix. At the moment I’m knitting to RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s fabulous.

I'm not sure anyone can top Marilyn in the glamorous knitting stakes.

I’m not sure anyone can top Marilyn in the glamorous knitting stakes.

Knitting also means I’m looking ahead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the good weather, despite not being a summer girl, but I’m designed for cooler climes and making knitwear means that a time that can be grim, cold and depressing can be a time that’s cozy, warm and pretty. I can pick patterns and yarn and imagine the finished product.

There’s also the element of love. D has asked me to make a jumper for him- and matching ones for his toy monkeys, Larry and Barry. And I’ll do it, because if I make you something- whether it’s knitted, stitched, grown or baked- it’s because I like/love you.

I’m devouring knitting magazine, scouring blogs and Pinterest and revisiting my quite large library of knitting books for inspiration. What’s in your queue at the moment?

Half term plans: gardening, crafting and a bit of socialising

February half term is always super busy, but in a personal way rather than a ‘oh-my-god-I-have-so-much-to-do-because-it’s-Christmas/D’s birthday.’ I plan to see friends, people come visit and I like to get the garden started. This year I have a HUGE garden and so the work is equally huge.

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He ain’t seen NOTHING yet.

I’ve got loads of seeds and I started a few off with D on Saturday, so on our windowsill we have runner beans, three types of tomatoes, two types of chilli, a type of sweet pepper and two types of potatoes. Benn is slightly bemused at how he appears to suddenly be living in a crap greenhouse. I say he’ll be grateful once he has lots of fresh fruit and veg.

In terms of crafting, I’m planning lots of things- mainly by looking on the ASOS website, working out what I would like to wear and whether I could make it. Of course, now Sewing Bee is back on, my annual, ‘let’s try and learn to sew’ enthusiasm is back. I’m planning on finally making the pyjama bottoms from Tilly and the Buttons– I have some amazing fabric and I need to get cracking and stop making excuses.

Add to this, I’m seeing friends, my sister and her boyfriend (also called Ben) are visiting and it’s nearly spring- all in all, a good week.

#PaperHaul box #2 has arrived- and this month it’s all about orange

Ah, the second #PaperHaul box has arrived and I really like it! Whereas last month’s travel theme wasn’t really ‘me’, this month’s is more my sort of thing. So, what’s in this month’s box?

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These tags are cute and I like that they’re included- they are the sort of thing I won’t use straight away, but will be perfect for presents. I never have enough gift tags to hand normally and these are quirky while still being grown up. (Similarly, last month’s tags are being used for presents for some car-mad little boys.)

The same applies to the cards- these are the sort of thing I like to have around, ready to use at a moment’s notice. This month’s cards are a cool 70’s dude and a pretty princess. I already have someone in mind for both!

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As well as these cards, there’s some notecards and postcards, as last month. These will be great for surprising friends via snail-mail!

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The washi tape this month is fun too- I love polka dots and I didn’t get to use my car washi from last month, as a certain small boy coveted it for himself! So this one is MINE:

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There’s also the double sided papers this month, which are very ‘Scarborough-hotel-in-the-70s’. (This is a good thing.)I’m not sure what I would use these for, but I’m sure Pinterest will come to my aid when I have time to look. Who knows, maybe I’ll take up origami or something? (Answer: probably not.)

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The best bit for me are the stickers- I love foxes (see the scarf used as a background!) and I love stickers for decorating pretty much anything, so these are going to be used quite swiftly, I think:

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Finally, these cool stickers were included- again, I reckon they’ll be used swiftly.

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So, that’s this month’s #PaperHaul box! You can sign up here for £10 a month plus p+p (there is also an international subscription option available.)

Disclosure: I get my box at a discounted rate in return for a review.

So, I think I’ve made the most perfect winter hat ever

I love hats. I love grey. I love cold winter weather and the fact that I have to wear hats most days (as my hair grooming is minimal, hat hair is actually a useful frizz tamer in my case. Seriously.) Anyway, for many years, my go-to hat has been a version of Ysolda’s Snapdragon Tam I knitted at least five years ago. I remember knitting it in a camel/merino blend that was lovely and warm and the pattern was the first complex design I attempted. I loved that hat.

However, it was getting old and I couldn’t find it after the move anyway. The winter of 2014-15 required a new hat. I set about searching Ravelry for a new hat that I could knit in grey (it is my favourite colour for knitwear, after all.) I found and fell in love with the unisex Dustland hat by Stephen West/Westknits.

How it should look. Image: Stephen West/www.westknits.com

How it should look.
Image: Stephen West/www.westknits.com

I eagerly bought the pattern and the yarn- I chose Drops Merino Extra Fine in Light Grey mix. I bought two balls and used one and a half when making the small size.

I LOVED this pattern. It’s simple, but with enough stitch variation in the construction- knit and purl used to make interesting patterns that WOULD NOT BE PHOTOGRAPHED BY ME FOR LOVE NOR BLOODY MONEY- that I stayed interested. I love the style too; it’s a slouchy, relaxed hat that can have the addition of a button to tack down the extra fabric if need be, but I chose not to add this, as I liked the style as it was. It’s a smart, yet comfy and sloppy-in-a-good-way hat that I think I will be wearing for years to come. You have to make it.

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This was the best photo I could take of me wearing the hat, but at least it’s proof I finished it! Anyway, knit it. Even if you’ve not knit much before, you should be OK with this. Trust me, I’m a knitter.

Oh, hai 2015

Do you have any rituals you do on New Year’s Day? I take down the tree, order some new seeds for the garden and have a good tidy up. It makes me feel like I’m ushering out the old year and letting the new one in with a cheery, productive welcome. This year, I’ll be pleased to bring a new year into the house.

Let’s face it, 2014 wasn’t a great year in general, was it?

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I mean, I started the year with such high hopes, only to have all of them dashed. So this new year, I’m keeping it simple. Rather than setting resolutions- which we all know I won’t bloody stick to anyway- I’m going to have a few ideas as to what I would like to achieve and then see whether they’re manageable or need adjusting.

Fitness

2014 was the year I started running. Although I’m not a running junkie like Benn (who does 5k in less than 17 minutes- huh), I do like being able to eat whatever I like- within reason- and not care about it. However, I DO NOT like running in the cold and dark. So I have a few tricks up my sleeve: a combination of dance, yoga and… Davina McCall. I’m going to alternate them with running so that I don’t get bored. It will be interesting to see how I manage by February… At the moment, I’m tempted by 30 Days of Yoga with Adrienne, but knowing me it’ll end up being Three and a Half Days of Yoga Over The Course of a Month. We’ll see.

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Crafting

I’d like to make more stuff this year- especially for me, as the bulk of the items I made in 2014 were gifts. I might even try my hands at something new. And I WILL get back on the sewing machine. Probably around the time of Sewing Bee being back on. Again.

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Money

I’d like to save some money this year; having the kitchen ceiling fall in the other day (really) made me realise I should really have some contingency money and also, if nothing else, I’d like to offset some of the cost of Christmas or save up for a holiday or something. Or maybe just a FitBit. Let’s not aim too high.

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Blogging and writing

I’ll keep going my own merry way with the blog, although I think I’ll include more experience posts as opposed to being just review post heavy. But again, we’ll see how it all evolves.

In the meantime, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

I love Christmas. I especially love it at the moment because D is find the whole thing equal parts interesting and bewildering (I’ll refrain from saying ‘magical’. He thinks the Universal logo at the start of a film is ‘beautiful’. The kid has no concept of magic.) Unfortunately, he also has a penchant for helping himself to decorations off the tree, so my beautiful Nordman Fir is frequently denuded and its carefully placed* baubles are now all over the place. Between the toddler and the cat- who likes to see if it’s possible to climb up the tree without me noticing- my poor tree looks like it was decorated by aliens with no concept of taste.

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Christmas has also coincided with the onset of the Terrible Twos, which have come about WITH FORCE. Hooray.

I used the garden to good effect the other day, by gathering some evergreen plants we have. One of the main plants is a huge holly tree that has lots of foliage and berries. I also figured that by taking some of the bottom of the tree, I was saving the birds from Bronte’s inept ‘hunting’ efforts. I also included a little ivy, some twigs from an old Christmas tree at the bottom of the garden and some rosemary (we have at least two good-sized bushes.)

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I tied the whole shebang together with some cheap cinnamon sticks (50p for two at the local spice shop- it’s there for looks, rather than smell, as it doesn’t smell much at all) and some glittery red ribbon which I picked up from Tiger for £1. My friends and family are actually asking me to make up there own bunches of evergreens, so I think a new Christmas tradition has been born. It was also really nice stepping out into the garden for the first time in weeks, although I did feel a little overwhelmed at how much I want to do out there- but that’s another post for another time…

I’ve also done a little Christmas knitting, but decided to limit myself to one present, as I left it too late to co-ordinate myself efficiently. So I’m making a pair of Fallberry mitts in Drops Alpaca for a friend- lovely pattern and lovely yarn! I’ve knitted this pattern before, so I know it’s a quick(ish) knit that looks lovely.

Image: Knitty

Image: Knitty

How are you preparing for Christmas? On Wednesday, I’m going to post about how I’m getting organised for hosting Christmas this year… Leave any tips in the comments!