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!

How I left my job and changed career

DollyParton-9to5

A year ago today, I resigned from my ten-year teaching career. I remember it well, mainly because it was the day of Trump’s inauguration and I’d had no sleep the night before. I’d been planning on resigning later in the term (Benn and I had talked about me resigning the year before and agreed that the best time would be when D started school- no more nursery fees), but for some reason I found myself pouring out my thoughts to my line manager, who was amazingly supportive. I wrote my letter there and then, although I decided I would stay til the end of the year: this would give me time to sort myself out, but also I wanted to see my students through the year.

I then began to plan. I saved as much money (read: not much) as I could every month and joined agencies specialising in helping parents find work (spoiler: they were crap.) I spoke to people who could help me- one friend gave me really good advice about CVs. I researched, planned and saved. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty terrified- I was leaving a job I’d done since I was 23, with relatively good money for the days I was in work (but not those I was working outside of school hours) and school holidays guaranteed. I had never looked for a job as a parent. Hell, I hadn’t seriously looked for a new job in eight years.

The time went REALLY fast. I took the summer off and started looking for work the week after D started school. I wrote a skills-based CV, which showed what I could do (and is easier to adapt for the skills required by each job description.) I also narrowed down the sort of places I wanted to work- charities, public sector- and signed up for job alerts. I scoured job boards for the NHS, the council, universities and the civil service. I applied for three jobs and was offered interviews for them all (I accepted the second job and got excellent feedback from the first. I didn’t attend the third interview.) I bought a basic black dress in the summer sales, which I wore with a plain cardigan (I felt like a younger Miss Marple, tbh), but it looked smart and presentable.

I was lucky in that I got a temp job for a few weeks, which brought in a bit of money, but I budgeted HARD. I cut all non-essential costs and used the library. During times when I wasn’t working, I kept myself busy: looking after the sheep, learning French, going to a free weekly knitting group.

I started my job in the public sector in December and it’s very different. I’m also working five days a week until the end of next month, which has brought a temporary boost in money but headaches with childcare. I’ll be a lot less well-off once I go down to three days, but better in terms of health. I sleep better, I’m happier and Benn and D have noticed a huge difference.

I have had to deal with an odd side-effect though: losing a sense of identity that was tied up with my job. It’s liberating and less scary now, but it’s definitely taken a while.

For anyone looking to change lanes, I will tell you it’s potentially hard- I was lucky that Benn was happy to pick up the slack, even if it means a change in lifestyle for us for a while- but the rewards can be utterly worth it.

Resolutions for 2016

Good morning, Sunshine- welcome to 2016!

Happy-New-Year-vintage-17956626-501-324

I’ve been thinking about resolutions. They have to be a) quite easy and b) quite quick to achieve some kind of result because I am essentially lazy and have the willpower of a small child. Also, I don’t believe in detoxes and all that jazz (despite owning books with titles like ‘I Quit Sugar’! Which is hilarious, as it ain’t ever gonna happen.)

Anyway, so I was thinking about what I wanted to achieve in terms of small, manageable goals and this is what I came up with:

  1. Declutter the house. I’ve actually started this already, but it’s definitely an ongoing process, especially with a three year old. I’m going to try and be ruthless with books, clothes and other things- and I’ll be looking at D’s stuff to root anything out that he’s too big for. No doubt most of the stuff will go to charity shops, but as it is a rolling thing, I may do a few car boot sales and eBay auctions too.
  2. Go veggie for a month. I’ve been vegetarian, on and off, since my teens. The reason I want to do this now is not so much a ‘post-Christmas detox’, but more about making me (and my family) a bit more adventurous when it comes to cooking vegetables. Benn is not keen on joining me in this, as he’s training for a marathon and is a massive carnivore. I, on the other hand, don’t eat that much meat, but I’m not varied in the vegetables I eat. Plus, this will give me an idea for what I’d like to grow in the garden this year. I’m open to this becoming a more permanent thing, but think that a month is a manageable start.
  3. Buying bans. Ack, I hate this term, but I can’t think of another term. I’m going to stop buying books (which I’ve done before, with some success) and yarn. You can read about how I’m going to go about a book buying ban on my book blog, but in terms of my yarn buying ban, I have to use my stash as much as possible. I’ll talk about this in a future blogpost.

I think three resolutions is enough for now. I like to see the year as a work in progress and that resolutions are not set in stone. We’ll see how it goes.

What are your resolutions?

Finally- I’d like to wish you a happy, peaceful 2016.

 

The Thrifty Knitter (and Reader… and Other Things Too)

I am at that awkward stage of the month where I have enough money to get to and from work-with maybe the odd Diet Coke thrown in- and to pay my phone bill. It’s OK, though, because I don’t need anything extra and the house bills are paid; I know I’m in a fortunate position. I have started thinking though, because D is now in nursery, which is more expensive than our previous childcare and we don’t get the extra help that comes when he turns three (in October) until January. So, with birthdays and (whisper it) Christmas on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about how to save a bit of money. I have form for this- when on my maternity leave three years ago, I had to do some financial gymnastics- but now we own our own house, have a car and live further out of town, so things are a bit more complicated. I’ve written in the past about my love of eBay shopping for clothes, but here are some more ideas I’ve had.

money-vintage

For example, take knitting and my other crafty pursuits. I have loads of basic materials- yarns, needles, fabric, patterns and books. Do I usually buy more without too much thought? Yes. Could I instead think about what I have and use that instead? Yes. I have tons of knitting books and yarn stashed in most rooms of the house (and garage). I need to start using this up instead of automatically going on Ravelry to find something and then buy new wool. If I don’t have the wool, I don’t make it. Simple. I am going to finally start knitting the jumpers I’ve promised D and finish off a few WIPs.

books

I am a huge believer in libraries. I credit them with helping me through the dark days of early motherhood, when often the library was the only place I could get to. Most of the books reviewed on my book blog are library books and I’m lucky that Brighton and Hove has a brilliant library service. I also have TONS of books on my shelves that have yet to be read. But still, I am a compulsive book buyer and I buy every book with the intention of reading it. People buy me books too, as they know how much I love them. So my goal is to read more of what I have. I’m thinking for every three of my own books for every book I bring into the house- library or new.

vintage-woman-makeup

One of the hangovers from maternity leave is that my makeup budget is still quite modest. I generally buy cheaper brands (but, oh, I dream of owning a Chanel lipstick in the ‘Pirate’ shade, because who wouldn’t?) I do have a tendency though to go a bit mad when the new A/W shades are released though… so this year, I have decided that I won’t buy anything new until something is used up. Also, one of the first things to go in any lean period is my Lush habit. I can forgo bubble bars!

These are small ideas and kind of buy into (ha! PUNS!) the idea of consuming less, which is always a good thing. I’ll also be thinking about when and why I go into town- if I want to see friends, can I invite them here and bake a cake, instead of going out and buying a slice for the same amount it would’ve cost to make a whole one? Do I need more tea if I have some at home? I’m finding myself questioning whether I NEED or WANT stuff and find that, often, I can take or leave what I’m looking at. If I can leave it, then I can save a bit more money.

What are your thrifty tips?

How to shop for clothes on eBay

shopping

I buy most of my clothes secondhand- and a lot of them come from eBay; I’ve been doing so since I was a sixth former and I like to think my game is fierce. Often, when I tell someone one of my dresses came from eBay, I get an answer like ‘Oh, I have no idea where to start with online shopping!’ or ‘How do you know it’s going to fit?’

So wonder no more, mystery friends! I thought I’d share my tips on how to navigate the online thrift shop with ease and (hopefully) style.

1. Know your size

It’s really handy to know what size you are in certain shops- for example, I know I’m a 14 in some and 16 in others. I also make decisions based on whether I think a particular garment will be comfy/flattering in a bigger or smaller size. Be warned though- some shops’ sizes have got smaller in recent years. Damn recession.

Vintage-shopping-6

2. Have a brand in mind

I love Monsoon clothes, but am rarely able to afford to buy from the store- so I often keep an eye on what’s new on eBay. I know that Next, M&S and Dorothy Perkins often offer things I like and I always avoid Primark on eBay. It never lasts and is often priced way up more than it should be. I also find H+M to be hit and miss with sizing, so I try to avoid it if I can. It’s often handy to have a saved search for these things.

17-02-2012-191121

3. Buy out of season

I just bought a brand new Next winter coat for a tenner (and £3 p+p). Last year I bought some calf length DMs in the middle of July for £50. Buying out of season means you beat demand and can snag some bargains.

4. Consider a budget… and stick to it

It’s really easy to get carried away on eBay, so I think of what I’m after and how much I want to spend. Then I take a look at the Buy It Now options first, as you’re paying a fixed price. I’m also a great fan of seeing these lots from the ‘lowest price first + P+P’ angle.

5. Think about what you like- and will you really wear this dress?

Some of the eBay mistakes I’ve made have been when I’ve bought something that is really not my thing (for example- high heels. I never wear high heels, so why I thought I’d wear some patent pink stilettos is beyond me. Yellow makes me look washed out if I wear too much of it and pleated skirts make me look like I have the legs of a wrestler. So if anyone can explain why I bought a mustard dress with pleated skirt, I’d be interested.) So I stick to things I like. Mostly skater dresses with birds on. Also, never fall for that part of your brain that says ‘Oh, I’ll alter it!’ 1) You won’t and 2) that way, madness lies.

6. Be zen when mistakes happen

Sometimes, no matter how well you’ve planned your shopping spree, you end up with a dud. It happens. If it does, I either resell, give to a friend, or (more likely) donate it to a charity shop.

Do you buy from eBay? What are your top tips?

Why I’ll never be fashionable- and I’m OK with that.

Earlier on today, I read this piece by Hadley Freeman in The Guardian about that bloody M&S suede skirt. It made me think and I reached an epiphany: I am never going to be fashionable. And do you know what? Despite the fact that I read fashion websites, follow the Twitter accounts of fashionable ladies and read magazines almost obsessively, I have made my peace with that fact.

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (the film that launched a thousand fashionistas)

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (the film that launched a thousand fashionistas)

I’ve been obsessed with Audrey Hepburn since I was a teenager (and before she was trendy and appearing posthumously in creepy chocolate adverts), but I always knew I’d never look like her. Similarly, I’m reading every book I can about Alexander McQueen before I go to the exhibition in a couple of months, but I know I’ll never wear couture.

It’s nothing to do with being a mum- I was never particularly interested even when I had disposable income/a house free of suspicious smears- but I do know that if I bought The Bloody Skirt, it’d have jam smears and highlighter ink on it within seconds of putting it about my person, and those stains would have absolutely nothing to do with D.

As a kid, I grew up in the shell suited 90s and loved my knock-off version of a Global Hypercolour t-shirt. My hair stuck out, in unruly mockery of my mum’s efforts to try and make me look vaguely neat for school (I remember the other kids laughing at a photo I’d had taken in Year 2 because- gasp- my pony tail was more electro-shock than Elnett smooth. I didn’t really give a monkeys, IIRC.)

I never had the confidence, or (I thought) the figure for fashion when I was a teenager. I dressed baggily, or in HUGE flares that I bought from the Corn Exchange in Leeds before it went all gentrified. I wore a t-shirt with the original line up of Charlie’s Angels on it without really knowing who they were. I had pink hair and I was free of the constraints of fashion, as I thought at the time.

I'm not even as trendy as Anne Hathaway at the start of The Devil Wears Prada

I’m not even as trendy as Anne Hathaway at the start of The Devil Wears Prada

Now I like to keep it simple, although also very much in the confines of my “secondhand dress/less than a fiver, thanks” philosophy of clothes. I knit stuff, I don’t own a Breton top and, despite my repeated attempts, I still can’t sew a seam straight. As much as I’d like to say I’m channelling Stevie Nicks, it’s probably safer to say I’m more bargain basement. And I’m cool with that. I’ve had 31 years to get my head around it, after all.

So what about the M&S skirt that so repulses me? It reminds me of my GCSE maths teacher, a woman who was probably very well meaning, but a total cow- and she LOVED skirts in that shape and cut. She had all the flare of a frustrated nun (we had a much cooler maths teacher, who I never had the luck to be taught by, who the girls found MUCH more exciting- she was all birds’ nest hair, slightly dishevelled glamour and there were rumours of a very French seeming illicit affair with a married Science teacher) and I think she disliked me as much as I disliked maths. So not even the apparently divine touch of The Patron Saint of Fashion, Alexa Chung, could make that skirt appealing to me.

Oh, and it costs nearly £150. I could buy a ton of dresses on eBay for that.

What I learnt by sorting out my wardrobe

What do me and a New York socialite have in common?

As of today, we both have wardrobes sorted according to season. I was inspired by this post to get myself organised.

hollygolightlyflat

If left to my own devices, my home would probably resemble something like this.

I am queen of the floordrobe. I drive Benn mad with my disorganisation and me ironing ANYTHING is pretty much unheard of. So I surprised myself with my desire to sort my clothes out according to season- I think it was a culmination of the post above and the fact that I have a spare drawer under the bed.

As I sorted things, I found clothes I hadn’t seen in month; the jumper I knitted myself, my favourite eBay bargain dress. I organised my scarves on a coathanger in a way that is TOTALLY worthy of Pinterest.

I also noticed some things:

  1. Most of my clothes are secondhand- bought from charity shops, eBay and cast-offs from friends.
  2. Of those that I bought myself, lots of them are very old. Many pre-date having D by a couple of years at least.
  3. The newest item of non-workout clothing is a pair of jeans that I bought in the ASOS sale and hated on first sight. I really like them now.
  4. I have fifteen long sleeved black t-shirts. FIFTEEN.
  5. I have dozens of scarves, but I will happily keep collecting them.
  6. I used to wear a lot of skirts (hence the t-shirts) but now I’m more into dresses with leggings.
  7. I tend to wear the same things regardless of season, but make them ‘season appropriate’ with knitwear and accessories.
  8. I have a lot of knitwear.
  9. Despite what I would have expected, due to my fondness for grey, most of my clothes are relatively colourful.
  10. I am much better at being ruthless than I used to be- one dress is on eBay and I have a bag for the charity shop ready to go.

I have yet to tackle my chest of drawers, but that is in my near future. I would like some new clothes, but whether I’ll get round to buying any is another thing. I would also like to have more handmade clothes (I have loads of accessories, but few actual garments.)

Tips:

  1. Have the eBay app on your phone ready to take photos and sell stuff straight away.
  2. Have loads of coathangers- more than you expect you’ll need, as they double up for hanging stuff like scarves, tights, belts and bras (I guess, if you were so inclined!)
  3. Have a good, sturdy bag to hand for charity shop donations.

It’s actually quite theraputic and, dare I say it, enjoyable!