Sunday, 29 November 2009


This was the scene in my kitchen yesterday as our preparations for Advent kicked off, an annual ritual of making Advent wreaths, both for church and home. I love the season of Advent, as a counterpoint to all I dislike in the commercial frenzy of Christmas. Advent is about waiting, being mindful, preparation of heart. For me, it is the challenge to be still; a direct challenge to our culture and its' prevailing beliefs. I know my children are thinking about presents and Father Christmas, and of course who can deny their pleasure in this? But Advent is the chance to open their hearts to the greater, deeper story; the coming of Christ and His light and life. So, we'll enjoy the gnomes and other silly things, but I hope we'll take some moments each day to stop on our journey.

As well as the Advent wreath, this year we are trying something new (to us). We have discovered the idea of making a Jesse Tree. We're starting simply, using some bare branches, and readings from here, where you can also download some ideas for ornamnents. We'll see how time allows but I would love to make a set of durable wooden or fabric ornaments. Maybe that's something to do as a long term project - after all, I'm trying to get away from  being too busy!

To go along with that I have discovered this wonderful book, which we have started reading today. It looks like it will be really good, with a tiny chapter for each day. It is the story of a carpenter carving a Jesse Tree and his conversations with a young boy.

Other reads for Advent...One I have been reading for a few years now, and really love - it is a children's book, but I do still enjoy this story about a magical Advent Calendar that leads a small girl back through time.

And, more a challenging read, but again has become well loved over quite a few years, is this collection of writings. It includes authors such as Bonhoeffer, Annie Dillard, C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, and is a mix of prose, poetry and meditation.

Tonight I'm tired, but outside a light covering of snow has fallen, the moon is almost full and stars shine brightly in the deep blue of a winter sky. A beautiful stillness covers everything, and I'm trying to take it all into my heart. Happy Advent.

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Friday, 27 November 2009

Featherglen Christmas Gnome Tutorial

Almost at the start of Advent,  and here's a little gift for you crafty folk out there, my first ever tutorial (sound the horns!) This little chap can be made as a Christmas gnome or Santa, or indeed in any colour for other times of the year. He can made in a variety of sizes (although the tiny ones are a bit fiddly, but hey, I know some of you thrive on the fiddly stuff.

If you wish you can give him a little pocket, front or back, to hold little surprises or notes of love..

I find they are quite companionable and like hanging out together. They almost took over my studio not so long ago...

Now then..onto the tutorial...sorry, some of these pictures a bit dark, but most of this was done after night had drawn in...and I hope I can explain OK, any questions, leave me a comment.

You will need: oddments of fabric - you can use up scraps and make the body, hat and back in different colours for a patchwork effect, linen or calico for the face, ribbon or ricrac trim (optional), wool or roving for the beard (I used some leftovers of Rowan's Biggy Print), stuffing, fine tipped permanant black pen, blusher and cotton bud (optional), small soft hairbrush, plus sewing kit.

First print out a pattern..Sorry, I'm not terribly teccie, so this is not a pdf or anything, but right click on it, then 'View Image' and you should be able to print it off and make it the size you wish. My pattern just over 11 inches high. In this tutorial, my pattern is black - it's on card to make it a bit more durable and I just draw around it.

Cut a strip of fabric for the face, allowing a quarter inch either side for the seam allowance - you can see I'm eyeballing the size I need... then cut fabric pieces for the front hat and front body, again allowing an extra quarter inch on one side.

Then sew these three pieces together like so..does it make sense now? Press the seams open.

If you want to add a strip of ribbon to the hat, now is a good time to do so. Pin, then sew it in place.

Now place the pattern on top, pin it on and cut it out.

So far, so good? Now for the beard. I used a lovely chunky wool which I cut into pieces, the length of the gnome. I then unravelled the wool strands, discarding any that were not the right colour. I ended up with about 10 lovely crinkly lengths. I think wool roving would be good for this too.

 The next bit is a tad tricky, but you'll get there. You need to sew the beard on following the line on the pattern (basically a gentle U shape from halfway up the side of the face). Hold the wool flat to sew it on evenly - you can always sew on an extra strand if you have any big gaps. Make sure you don't sew the wool right up to the edge of the fabric. This is how it looks when it is done.

Then you fold the beard over, ironing it a little if need be. Give the beard a little trim.

If you want to add a little pocket, you can do this now. Take a piece of fabric as wide as your gnome and as high as the body and press it in half. I used some old white linen. Pin it to the front of you gnome, fold towards the top, trim the fabric to the shape of the gnome like so..

Then twist the beard so it is well away from the seam allowance, and place the gnome right side down on the  backing fabric. Pin in place:

Sorry, this is an awful picture! Then, sew around the gnome following the seam allowance on the pattern. The allowance tapers towards the tip of the hat so it is not too bulky. Leave a gap for stuffing. Trim away extra fabric at the point of the hat, and cut the back to match the front. Then turn the gnome right side out - a blunt knitting needle is helpful for getting the point of the hat, but poke gently or you will be making lots of cross noises if you get a hole in that hat! Stuff lightly - I stuff the face and body, but not the hat. Then sew up the gap. If you wish you can sew a little hanger on the back at this stage. I use a 5" length of twine, folded and knotted together and stitched firmly in place.

Nearly done! Give the beard a gentle brushing to fluff it up, then trim to desired length. Mark two small eyes with the black marker, then apply a bit of blusher with a cotton bud. The pocket can be turned to the front or back. Fill with some token of love. 

Phew! Here endeth the most monster posting ever. Please do let me know if you make a gnome and send me a link to your picture of it, I'd love to see what you make too!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Colour and Light

Here we are, the finished results...the weather has been a bit grim, but it was nice to grab a little bit of early morning sun to take these pictures. I would love you to be able to have a wee feel of the bags, tweed has such a lovely texture, and its beauty lies in all the different colours that you only really see close up.

Talking of touching, today we have been involved with our church checking Christmas shoeboxes. They are full of thoughtful and useful items that will be driven to Eastern Europe tomorrow, and distributed to the very poorest families. The boxes are sent with everyday things like soap and toothbrushes, hats and gloves, as well as pencils, toys and sweets. It is sobering to think that such things are still needed so badly by people living in Europe. However, it was cheering to see many boxes full of hand knitted hats, gloves, scarves and gorgeous baby jumpers. On my table we had many boxes that had come from the Orkney Islands, and so much care and skill had gone into the making of these little clothes. My boys had a wonderful time too, acting as runners for everyone, and being fed copious quantities of homebaking! It is an annual event and each year it has become more meaningful for the two of them. For me, it feels like a good way to start moving towards Christmas, in a spirit of giving and working together, rather than being dragged into the frenzy that it so easily becomes. What is bringing you a little bit of colour and light?
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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Tweed, glorious tweed

Aren't these delicious? In between the usual sweet stuff of life (Mum, can you build me a cabane? Can I have a snack? Let's do some painting, Mum! Look, I'm a baby dragon in my shell...and so on) I'm snatching moments to sort through my scraps, pull out threads, wool and buttons to start to put together my next project, a commission. It necessitated a trip to my most favourite shop in the entire world, a very old fashioned tweed emporium. It has lovely old windows full of displays of fabric, tweed skirts, jackets and hats - all very traditional, Shetland style jumpers and gloves, wonderful thick knee high socks and various other essentials of Highland paraphernalia. Inside, high wooden shelves are filled with coloured tweeds of all sorts, and big old wooden tables stacked with more rugs, jumpers and shawls. The service is impeccable, and the tweed is measured out with wooden rods before being cut on the long counter with an enormous pair of shears. Of course, everything is horribly expensive, but a little tweed goes a long way, and it is such gorgeous fabric to work with.

So, bring on the dreich weather and the howling wind, I'm all cosied up in the evenings with my radio, sewing machine and lots of wonderful cosy colour. I'll show you when it's all finished.

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Sunday, 8 November 2009

Sales and Stories

I love making things and I always have done, ever since I was quite tiny. And every now and then, someone will ask me if I have thought about selling what I make. Of course I have, but I just don't know...maybe because so much of what I make is just for the people I love, or for my home, things we need as well. Or maybe it is my slightly chaotic side that probably couldn't produce things in large batches without going a bit loopy, never mind having some sort of business sense. And there are those lurking doubts. Am I good enough? Will people really pay for things that take ages to make, when they could nip down to the shops and get something terribly cheap that was made in China? Still unanswered questions...However, I did finally stick a toe in the water and made up a batch of wee bits and bobs, robins, gnomes, bags and bunting to sell at a little stall that I mentioned in my last posting.

This was it! And you know, I think people did like them. And I even sold a fair bit too, which is terribly handy at this time of the year. So, I'm feeling quietly pleased with myself. The price to pay?

and um...

I think there'll be a fair amount of tidying up going on this week. Not just in my studio either! So, for my sweet cousin who said my life looks like a story - here's the non-fiction!

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Sunday, 1 November 2009

Work in Hand

It has been a hive of activity around here recently. It has been half term holidays - the 'Tattie Holidays' - from the days when all the local children were gainfully employed in digging up potatoes in surrounding farms; it may have been child labour, but there seems to be a lot of good memories of those times. Well, no potatoes for us. But plenty of gardening - lots of digging for me! And catching up with friends, including a very creative family. Here is a fantastic designer in the making. Mum provided the fabric, but she came with all the most definite ideas, starting with the drawing (below) and finishing with the teddy above. The two mothers were just the work force really...
Well, all that rubbed off on the boys who have made some beautiful tea light holders, which we are enjoying on the dinner table now.

And me? Well, just a sneak preview, but every evening I'm running up some ridiculous looking baby robins and other odd looking creatures, in the hope I might sell some next week at a little pre-Christmas (oh, sorry, that word. It just slipped out. I do apologise.) shopping evening to raise funds for my son's Gaelic choir. If they don't sell, well, friends and family, you know what to expect!

Happy November! May it be a cosy one for you...
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