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!

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Knit for Winter campaign

Back before Christmas I was asked to take part in the Knit for Winter campaign, launched by Sunrise Senior Living, a group of care homes for older people (jokes aside that I’m a young-old-lady, it’s a great project to be involved with.)

The project is hoping to get knitters to make either blankets or bonnets for premature babies supported by the charity First Touch, which looks after preemie babies in St George’s Hospital. Babies born prematurely need extra help in the first stage of their lives and First Touch is there to help babies and parents at such a tough time.

I was asked what I’d like to make and I chose to make the bonnets. I was kindly sent some yarn and set to. As you can see, they’re SUPER bright, but I think they’re cheery!

IMG_20160207_201936(They remind me a bit of the hats I used to wear at festivals in my mis-spent youth..)

Anyway, the pattern took a bit of working out at the start, but nothing too strenuous. They were a quick knit and, had life not got in the way, I would have knit more. I knit the smallest three sizes and they took about an hour and a half- and would be good to use up any odds and ends you might have.

You can get the pattern here (scroll to the bottom).

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.

Handmade sale!

I was looking through some bits and pieces and realised that I had a lot of stock left from when I used to make and sell things at craft fairs in Brighton and I really would like to clear the decks- I only have so much storage and if I keep everything, Benn will eventually have to divorce me due to hoarding… So I’ve decided to start small.

I’ve made all these items myself with a range of materials. If there’s anything you fancy, leave me a note in the comments with what you want and a way to contact you once I’ve worked out postage. Everything is sold as seen- any questions, get in touch!

Bracelets- 

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  1. Rock Music- Paper, lava rock, goldstone. Was: £9 Now: £4

2. Sahara- Large porcelain beads, goldstone. Was £10 Now £4.50

3. Tiger- Mookite (the irregular shaped beads; it’s a gemstone), tiger’s eye. Was: £9 Now £4

bracelets24. Ice and Fire- Lava beads, blue sodalite. Was £10 Now £4.50

5. Marrakech- Paper beads, clay. Was £7 Now £3

6. Waterlillies- Vintage (1950s and 1960s) Czech glass beads. Was £10 Now £5

bracelets37. Beachball- Glass beads. Was £9 Now £4

8. Gatsby- Murano glass beads. Was £9 Now £4

9. Clash- Plastic beads, freshwater pearls (runs slightly large). Was £6 Now £2.50

bracelets410. Aphrodite- rose quartz, glass. Was £8.50 Now £3.50

11. Christabel- Chalk turquoise, purple glass. Was £8.50 Now £3.50

12. Old Lace- Large 1960s Lucite beads, blue sodalite and moonstones. Was £9 Now £4.50

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13. Picasso- Glass beads and moonstone. Was £8 Now £3.50

14. Chaos in Tokyo- Japanese paper beads, plastic beads. Was £6 Now £2.50

15. The Nile- Chalk turquoise, glass. Was £7 Now £3

Scarves– These long, skinny scarves would be great in early autumn and are made from organic Merino wool, hand-dyed by me (it’s really hard to capture the colours, but they are quite bright. Ask if you’d like further photos.) I designed and knitted the scarves myself. Originally £17.50, these are the last two: Sherbert Pink and Awesome Orange (SOLD). Now £8 each

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Vintage Stamp Brooches– Made by a friend of mine, these simple badges feature genuine stamps from the 1970s to the 1990s (and many are from countries that no longer exist!) £1.50 each or three for £3, please state clearly which number you would like when ordering.

The following numbers have been SOLD: 1,2,3, 11,16,19.

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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?