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.)

alliums

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!

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?

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.

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!

Why learning to make my own clothes is a feminist pursuit…

The other day, I was talking to somebody about my continuing (and often disappointing) quest to make my own clothes, whether through knitting or sewing. I was describing how I was making progress and asking my friend for her own advice when someone piped up. “But Steph, aren’t you a feminist? Why are you making your own clothes? It’s a bit… old fashioned housewife-y.” And, lo, a blogpost was born.

Image: Library of Congress

Image: Library of Congress

It was one of those moments where I wish I’d been quick and witty with an answer but alas, I wasn’t. However, the comment stayed with me for the rest of the day: was my attempt to make my own clothes a genuine feminist pursuit? There are undoubtedly some feminists who would say that I was a terrible feminist and that I’m subjugating myself to do traditional ‘women’s work’, that our predecessors managed to free us from.

But from my point of view, I believe making some of my clothes is a good thing:

  • It frees me from what society ‘thinks’ I should wear and a shape it ‘thinks’ I should be. I am therefore liberating myself from a narrow arena when it comes to buying clothes.
  • I know where my clothes have come from; I haven’t participated in the exploitation of workers in poorer parts of the world. In this vein, I am starting to seriously research where my raw materials- yarn and fabric- come from and how they are made. As well as being ethical, it’s also an environmental issue.
  • I am not forced to do this, I choose to do this. Previous generations of women had no choice but to make clothes for their families in a bid to save money. I’m lucky that I’m not in the position where I HAVE to make stuff, but I CHOOSE to make stuff. (This is clearly a “check-my-privilege” moment.) I understand that not everybody has this luxury.
  • In a funny way, I feel connected to my female ancestors: a lot of my family came from the wool mills and cotton factories of the north and these would have been prized skills. I feel like I’m learning what they did.

So, to the person who asked whether it was feminist to make my own clothes, I say yes- and that it’s fine if others think that it’s not. My feminist credentials are not affected by my ability with a knitting needle.

Knitting is my therapy

Recently, I’ve found myself retreating more and more into myself and wanting to be at home. The thought of going out has often been a bit grim, although I do force myself out for D’s sake and the exercise and fresh air. However, at the end of the day, when D’s in bed and I can relax, I find myself itching to get my knitting out.

The Artist's Wife Knitting by William James Glackens Image: WikiPaintings

The Artist’s Wife Knitting by William James Glackens
Image: WikiPaintings

In times of chaos, stress and general ‘meh’, I find that knitting really helps me focus and calm myself; the repetition, concentration and flowing movements are hypnotic to me. There really is nothing better than having a good drama on TV (although if it’s a foreign one on BBC4, I need to make the project simple!), a cup of tea and being curled up on the sofa. At the moment, I’m in a lace phase, but I’m picking patterns that I can pick up quickly.

Little Girl Knitting by Albert Anker Image: WikiPaintings

Little Girl Knitting by Albert Anker
Image: WikiPaintings

I’ve written before how knitting has helped me through bouts of depression; at the moment, it’s an enjoyable hobby, rather than a lifeline- but I’m always grateful for the fact that I have something I know can make me feel better about the world. I’m not a control freak, but I choose what I make, what I make it from and, if anything goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Also, I actually use some of the maths I learnt at school!

What makes you feel better about the world after a stressy day?

A finished OWLS jumper!

I’ve been wittering (twit-twoo-ing?) about this jumper since February and, finally, on the hottest day of the year I finished it! (Hence why there’s a surprise extra blogpost today. SO EXCITED.)

Cue a photo of me trying to look like a catalogue model, but ending up just looking smug:

It does hide a double-chin though...

It does hide a double-chin though…

I approached this jumper as a learning curve, not beating myself up if anything went slightly wrong, which it did. There were slightly too many stitches, meaning that the owls are only on the front. I also had to restart the yoke at one point, after I’d taken the stitch markers out, so my waist shaping is at the front of the jumper. Hey ho, I still love it and am quite proud of it! Had I not had a small human to look after, I probably would have done this in a couple of weeks.

Here is a close up of the owls:

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I’ll be making one of these for D, mark my words. It was SO easy!

I finished making something!

Hurrah! I’ve only been making these Cookie A Pointelle  socks since, ooooh, June. And I actually only finished them because I have a nice pair of new shoes that I think work wonderfully with them (read: clash. You’ll see on Wednesday why I’m not a fashion blogger…)

My ankles aren't really that fat. Well, they have improved since I stopped being pregnant, at any rate.

My ankles aren’t really that fat. Well, they have improved since I stopped being pregnant, at any rate.

I seem to be one of a few people who actually own Knit. Sock. Love in actual hard copy form. I must say, I love the book, it’s so pretty. Cookie’s designs look quite complex, but really I find them quite easy and rewarding. I can’t remember ever losing my temper with this design (what high praise indeed, eh?!) and a few simple stitches makes for quite a striking effect. Here’s a close up of my foot, for those of you who are interested:

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“Look, Mummy! It’s the cankle of a GIANT!”

The photo doesn’t do the yarn justice- I think it’s an Opal solid yarn, but I can’t remember exactly. In real life, the orange is MUCH brighter. If you are tempted to do one of Cookie’s patterns (and I URGE you to. If you’re a bit intimidated, start off with something like Monkey or Hedera.) Socks are lovely to knit and so easy, despite the fact that people who don’t knit them find them a bit complex/intimidating. Seriously, they are ace.

I’m not sure when I’ll next cast on a pair of socks- I have a massive list of ‘to knit’ patterns and I’m still knitting the OWLS jumper- being ill last week knocked my progress on this!

So, any chance of you picking up the needles to have a go?

 

A Pre-Raphaelite autumn

This week, a new exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite artworks opens at Tate Britain. (Annoyingly, I was offered the chance to go to the press day, but I was working so I couldn’t go. Boo.) It’s a massive exhibition of over 150 works of art by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, as well as later works by Edward Burne Jones and William Morris.

I think that autumn/winter is the perfect time to see an exhibition of the Pre-Raphaelites; their use of rich, deep colour and the often other-worldiness of their subjects are perfect fodder for gloomy, cold days.

I often find that the colours used are a perfect palette for anything I do that’s remotely autumnal as well- deep berry shades, dark velvety greens and shimmering dark blues are all colours that scream autumn to me. It’s just all so… lovely. I’m never a fan of light, summery colours anyway, so I think this is why the Pre-Raphaelites appeal to me.

Although they’re seen by some as old-hat nowadays, these paintings were utterly rebellious in their day. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was formed as a reaction to the stifling onslaught of industrial Britain and harked back to a time of mythology and nature- women feature heavily in their works and are often sensual and beautiful. Saying that, I do find that particularly in Rossetti’s work, they can be a bit… overpowering and masculine. A bit like lillies; lovely to look at in small doses but can give you an utter headache if you stare at them for too long!

In celebration of the exhibition starting this week, I’m definitely going to go for PRB inspired nail polish and try and sort my house out to fit William Morris’ view: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or consider to be beautiful.” I think it’s a good way to gear up for colder weather!

If you want to go to the exhibition, it runs from September 12th-January 14th and tickets cost £14.

If you want to read about the Pre-Raphaelites (and you should- the story is full of scandal, love affairs and, um, a bit of art!) you could do worse than read Franny Moyle’s Desperate Romantics. Which also has a picture of the rather lovely Aidan Turner on the front.

Images: ‘Veronica’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and ‘Mariana’ by John Everett Millais are both from Wikipedia. Both images can be seen at the Tate.

It’s not that I’m anti-summer, but…

… well, this is the time of year I start dreaming of cold, crisp nights and lovely evenings in lit by the warm glow of a gently scented candle. Why, I hear you ask, what on earth could tempt me to wish my life away when there are sunny days, barbecues and flowers in the garden? Why would I swap the balmy days of summer for days of living in jumpers? Because I’m planning my winter knitting.

 

There are a couple of reasons for this:

1) This is Britain we’re talking about. The summer weather here is bloody awful- it’s pretty much a given.

2) I’m a freckly red-head. These Celtic genes don’t sit well with the sun and I really hate suncream, especially on my face. I spend any warm days we have either indoors or covered in fabric, wearing a hat that would make Van Gogh look jaunty.

3) I’m a knitter. Summer is not the time of my people.

Number 3 is the main reason my mind turns to autumn and winter every year. It also doesn’t help that I felt cheated last winter, when we got very little snow or sub-zero temperatures. I got very little wear out of my handknits. So now, naturally (!) my mind turns to what I’ll be wearing when the cold weather hits. I’ve actually already bought my new winter boots (don’t judge- you can get total bargains in June; I got a pair of Rocket Dogs for £35 off!) and I’ll be off work when it all goes hopefully icy.

So, my wishlist of patterns this year, which will probably all be knitted in grey yarn, as I have a surplus of the stuff, is as follows*:

Woolly Wormhead’s Scala– since watching the terrible Liam Neeson film ‘Unknown’ a couple of weeks ago, I became obsessed with Diane Kruger’s hat. I decided that this will be a very good addition to my collection of grey hand-knitted hats. (I would also totally make a scarf like that to go with it too…)

Lace Legs legwarmers– Legwarmers have come on a long way since the 80s monstrosities worn by fitness instructors way back when. These will be brilliant with boots, or just for added warmth while schlepping round the house. I also like to think I’m one of those cute, quirky girls who could wear these with a pair of brightly coloured tights and look cool. I’m not really one of those girls. Guess what? These will also be a calm, winterly grey.

Cookie A socks– I’ve had a couple of books of Cookie A’s for a couple of years and I’ve decided that this summer is the time to tackle some of her brilliant designs. I’ve managed a dead simple pattern a couple of years ago, but not had the the  guts to try something else. I know that, come the end of October, I won’t have as much time to knit, so now is the time to have a go. These socks will be in, *gasp*, orange. I’ll decide which pattern to do when I have time to actually think.

*Disclaimer- I get really distracted, so these patterns may not get knitted in their entirety before 2017.