Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Solstice and sparkle

Solsice sun
So 2103, what a roller coaster of a year! My first ever Bead & Button show, teaching trips to the USA, Hamburg, Bonn and Cologne, and many more lovely classes full of students here in the UK.
A year full of old and new friends, lots of new beads, ideas and inspiration. I danced all night when Bruce Springsteen came to town and sang along so hard I lost my voice for a day or two. I saw legendary Fleetwood Mac live in London, where Christine McVie came onto the stage for just one beautiful song.
There were low points too, the hard times when you just have to go on smiling and being kind whilst feeling buffeted as one wave after another rolled over me and mine. Sometimes surfing, sometimes catching a crab.
But now is the quiet time, between the year end and the whole party revving up again for next year. Time to reflect on the highs and lows and resolve to learn and grow.
Time to do the sofa thing and catch up on movies, books, half finished knitting and to just relax.

Here at our house the nearly grown kittens are at the stage where it would be pure torment to have a sparkly christmas tree, so instead we are being a bit grown up.
I took my inspiration from this picture of the sun setting over our garden on a foggy winter day, Solstice day. From now on (although it won't seem like it for a few months) the days will get longer. It's no secret that the last couple of months of winter still ahead of us, are my least favourite, but for now it is the season to celebrate, eat, drink and be merry to offset the short dark days.

winter decorations
So instead of a tree, the window sill sports a vase full of gold and silver twigs with felt decorations, which although a kitten temptation, can do no real harm should the temptation prove too much. At worst if the twigs get nibbled there might be some sparkly poo!

On the sideboard, a bit too high for the kitties to want to explore, we have a beautifully frosty wreath of winter gatherings; pine cones twigs, fruits and berries. With room for candles in the evening. I'm loving the simplicity!

I found some little tea lights with led bulbs that twinkle enchantingly and have them scattered around the fireplace.
I am totally sold on this fireproof form of candlelight and my favourites come nestled in a realistic looking wax candle. The batteries are replaceable, and curious noses won't get singed!

Happy New Year to all my friends, near and far.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas market

Recently I was teaching for my lovely friend Petra in Bonn.
For once I treated myself to some extra time before travelling home. Petra took me to several Christmas markets in Bonn and Cologne, and I can understand now, why coaches full of shoppers make their way to Germany at this time of year. Yes, we have Christmas markets, a relatively recent addition, but they are NOTHING like!
I don't know if you get a bit Bah Humbug! in the run up to Christmas, for me it feels as though there is way too much pressure to spend money. Maybe it is my age but it all can feel horribly commercial and lacking in, well, lacking something. So, here's how I got my festive mojo back.

Wrap yourself up warm and sniff the air, first, a heady mix of warm spiced wine; Ghluwein is served throughout the day to keep the frost from the extremities. every booth seems to have it's own special recipe.
Nom Nom Nom
Next, the sweet tempting scent of nuts roasting in caramel goo with just a hint of cinnamon. Underlying this, the rich flavourful smell of roasting meats, sausages and speciality potato fritters served up with orchard fresh apple sauce.

Now look around, it's dusk and hundreds of lights sparkle, in the trees above you, around the wooden stalls, and everywhere is beautifully, colourfully decorated. In all we visited five markets during my visit.
The highlights for me were candy stalls full of sweets half remembered from childhood, the many artisan stalls selling genuinely hand made and lovely gifts; the brush makers booth with hand made brushes for every conceivable chore from brushing snow to cleaning out a pipe and many I had never seen before; ranging in size from almost doll house scale to, dare you to try and lift it, giant size.

Glass decorations, how to choose!
But the most breathtaking, eye dazzling, I want one of each please booth, was the one selling blown glass Christmas decorations. Some I recognised from my grandmother's time, inherited and treasured, others were just amazing, birds and animals, and all in the rich vibrant colours of bohemian glass at its most wonderful. Right there in a dark cobbled street my heart simply sang with the magic of Christmas.
In Cologne every district has a market and we nearly visited them all. Petra and I discovered a mutual love and indeed stamina for continuous shopping.
I could have easily spent serious money at the vintage and antiques booths. I learned a lot about the many traditional foods, raisin breads and stollen, biscuits and savouries and about the long held traditions that make these markets so special.
Cologne with bells on!

I love 4711 Eau de Cologne, have used it since forever and don't much care if it seems old fashioned, I just love the refreshing scent. So it was great to visit the home of 4711 in a side street. Right on cue the clock chimed, toy soldiers on horseback emerged and the bells chimed out a Christmas carol, enchanting.
I also discovered their new range of scents bringing the brand right up to date, to become the go to perfumery for anyone in need of a gorgeous Cologne.
The Acqua Colonia range has delicious scents, Pink pepper and Grapefruit, Blood Orange and Basil, Mandarin and Cardomom and Lemon and Ginger. We smelled divine for the rest of the day!

The Nativity Window. The Dom, Cologne.
After a pause to munch through a bag of roasted chestnuts, it was a lovely break from the crowds to step inside the soaring space of the Dom, the twin spired Cathedral. The space is peaceful, awe inspiring in scale and the sun came out just as we were there, illuminating the stain glass windows. right above us, glowing and bright, the Nativity picked out in coloured glass to remind us all.

So, there it is, how Christmas should be celebrated with dear friends, good food, beautifully made crafts, and a rich sense of tradition that is completely heartwarming.
As I wrap up the treats I brought home for everyone, ready to go under the tree, this year it really does feel good to be celebrating Christmas.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

O Pretty!

The new colours of O beads arrived! I'm in L.O.V.E with Magic Apple, all my fave colours in one tiny sequin of adorability. I have been a bit slow getting the designs out, thanks to a wander down the bramble infested byway that is the annual accounts, mind numbingly time consuming as stray bits of paper are tracked and nailed down.
Koi Bracelet
But happily, this weekend sees two new designs finished and off to their new home. My friend Lynn has the lovely life of owning StitchnCraft Beads, and so to celebrate the arrival of O beads, these two designs will be exclusively available through her shop for a while.

Koi Bracelet is a simple way to wear and see O beads. The bracelet is worked in layers with a rich texture of O beads and a neat edging. There are instructions for three variations to create very different textures. Order your O beads and the pattern here.

O Pretty Pendant, is my new favourite accessory and for this design the O beads are used as cute accents to a bezel for a cabochon. I've designed the pendant to be reversible, with the cabochon framed on one side and a pretty mandala of colourful beadwork on the other.
Once I had the design completed, I couldn't resist working in some vintage sparkle and happily discovered that the bezel will also fit a Swarovski Polaris crystal. Some antiqued chain adds to the retro finish, this is the one I'm wearing all the time! This design is going to be available in Lynn's new product section from Monday 16th December, link to the site here.
O Pretty Pendant
O Pretty Vintage style

Sunday, 1 December 2013

O beads!

O beads are perfect for bead embroidery
I just love it when a new bead begins. Happily my friend, bead artist Sabine Lippert, invited me to join in the fun right at the start of this little bead's life. Sabine has thought up a great little bead, subtle, easy to use, and a very pretty addition to the bead stash.
The first bag of samples got my creative ideas going right from the offset. O beads are, simply put, miniature do-nuts of glass, perfectly formed to nestle between beads.

Various designers around the world have put them through their paces, to check they work up well in lots of different stitches.  I'm loving them in Albion stitch, and Netting, they bring a whole new dimension to Right Angle Weave, and they are the perfect bead for bead embroidery lovers... It's been an age since I did some bead embroidery and now I can't resist!
O beads weave in nicely too

Meanwhile, whilst we've been busy testing both the beads and our ingenuity, somewhere in  Czechoslovakia ... the bead master behind the new bead has been busy cooking up recipes for a truly delicious palette of colours. It takes many months to go from the charcoal grey test beads we have to play with, to a rainbow of colours and finishes, months where we ache to try the new colours and are tormented by preview pictures that simply make our fingers itch!

Below are some of the first O beads, worked into tassels, earrings, and bracelets. I think they are destined to be one of my favourites!

O beads will be available from December 1st and I'll be creating these (and more) patterns as downloads and kits just as soon as the bags of those lovely colours arrive. I'll post the info just as soon as everything is ready.