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.