30 December 2015

King's River Cottage - the studio

When I had to move house earlier this year, it was especially hard to leave behind my beautiful garden studio that I had had built in my old garden. It was my happy place. Always calm and always a great place to escape to.

My new house had a much smaller garden, but I was determined to build a new studio to house my business. Even though the garden is smaller, it has a little 'river' (shallow canal type waterway) at the end of it, and before I moved in I was imagining myself working away in the studio in the Summer, with the doors open and the swans floating past.

I decided to get used to where the sun went before working out where to build it. In the meantime, my bench was shoved into a room that had once been a garage, and that was the general dumping ground for the removal men of lots of our belongings, that we couldn't fit anywhere else.

Despite looking out over the river, I found it impossible to work in this chaos. I tried to have a sort out, but that didn't help much.

Then, when I did get on with work, I began to see the potential of this space. It had a few big advantages. Being in the house meant it felt nice and secure, and importantly, it was easy to work at night. I am single mum to two boys, so when I had the garden studio, I used to be back trying to work on the kitchen table when the boys were in bed, as down the garden seemed a million miles away. The room also has great light; windows at both ends (blind closed in below photo). One side I can see the road, and the other side has french windows looking out over and leading on to my garden with the river beyond.

Drastic action was called for. More belongings had to go (the downsize has been tough, yet liberating because of this.) The green carpet and wooden blinds were stripped out. The magnolia walls were given a coat of white paint. My 'new' studio once again oozed peace and tranquility.

I bought this whitewashed oak flooring very, very cheap in a sale and laid it myself. I bought two glass display cupboards for a steal in my local auction room, the one above I painted grey.

I arranged my workbench, tools and bits (including my 'This is my Happy Place' print especially done for me in pink by Snowden Design & Print). It has become a truly lovely work place. Importantly it also has space for me to run workshops again in the future. There's still more to do. I need to finish a bit of floor and install a longer workbench; but for now it's perfect. 

My dad bought me this little potted Christmas tree for the garden studio a couple of years ago, it moved house with us and it was lovely to bring it in to the new studio and decorate it.

Best of all, I get to look out the window, and see this sort of thing...

... Not bad hey? I'll leave you with a few more views from the studio window.


28 July 2015

My beautiful feathered friend

Arriving home on the hottest day of the year, we found this little chap on the ground. A young swift, newly fledged? There was no sign of injury, or a near nest. Swifts fly from the moment they fledge and feed, drink and sleep on the wing. They land only to breed, this chap would normally spend the first few years of his life on the wing. Swifts share our skies for just three months in the Summer before heading to Africa for the winter.

I wondered if the poor thing was suffering heat exhaustion and had simply fallen from the sky? I picked him up as to leave him on the ground left him to the mercy of the neighbourhood cats, and he rested calmly in the palm of my hand with his eyes closed.

We took him inside. With the tiniest syringe we were able to give him water that he would normally scoop up during flight. It seemed very welcome?

We found a small box and placed a tea towel in the corner to replicate the nest of a swift. We put our little friend inside, and in all honesty, I didn't expect him to survive the night.

Cautiously peeping in the box the next morning, it was such a relief to see our little swift was still with us. (In this photo he has shuffled in to another corner.)

We kept giving him water from the little syringe, and then scoured the garden for tiny spiders and midges. Swifts feed nearly constantly, so I was concerned about being able to provide enough food. Feeding our swift was hard work, as if he didn't want to eat. But I was determined to restore his seemingly ebbed strength if I could.

Over the next few days our swift rallied. It was magical to pick him up and be able to make eye contact. I definitely feel he was quite content. When we felt he was strong enough we took him outside, determined he would fly again. I spent many hours holding him aloft, or up a stepladder in the garden holding him higher still, willing him to take flight.

When I swooped my arm down, he would unfold his wings to balance himself, but seemed to want to close them quickly and just enjoy the sun. He watched with interest birds flying overhead. And he looked around taking everything in, but was happy to do this from the comfort of my palm. 

High above, other swifts wheeled and called, their scythe shape dancing acrobatically in the sky. Their high elfin cry making me feel quite emotional - so easy to imagine it was the swift's parents calling to him, as I am sure they could see him from their lofty heights. 

Although swifts fly at low levels to feed, they have been observed at over five and a half thousand meters over Ladakh in the Himalayas. Over the coming days, the best we managed was that on a couple of occasions, we managed to get him to take flight, but only to flutter down to the lawn. 

As each day passed, and the swift had no interest in leaving, I wondered how long we would be able to keep him going, I knew he was taking in such a tiny amount of food compared to what he would normally eat.

Finally on day 10, we came downstairs to find the swift was dead. I picked up his tiny body, and tucked his wings close by his sides. I marvelled still at his beauty. He was wrapped in tissue and placed in a little box and buried deep in the garden with solemn children standing by. 

It was such a magical privilege to spend so much time with such an elusive bird, that because it spends it's entire time on the wing, we know so little about.

26 May 2015

Tales from the river bank

Those that follow my blog, know that a house move has been on the cards for some time. It finally happened at the beginning of May. The job of packing up the last house was vast. There were 4 floors, 2500sq ft, a full cellar, roof space, big shed and my studio too. I needed to pack everything myself as I was moving to nearly half the size, so a massive declutter was on the cards, and only I could do that. It consumed almost a month.


On moving day I had fantastic help from two very kind friends. They kept me calm and sane, made endless tea for the removal men, packed the last bits, wiped the fridge and attempted to clean my oven, swept and hoovered floors, and each transported two chickens in their cars while I transported one traumatised cat. By the time the kids arrived home from school the new house was already looking like home. Sofas strewn with with cushions, lights and TV on to make it welcoming. The boys had requested celebratory fish and chips for tea. They washed it down with lemonade while the grown ups washed it down with celebratory fizz.


The next day, another friend pitched in to paint the boys bedrooms, while they were off at a party for the day. It's amazing what a transformation a fresh coat of white paint can make. I am so lucky to have such amazing friends.

One of the very special things about this house is at the bottom of the garden. Magically, a 'river' runs past. Strictly speaking, it's not actually a river. It is a man-made waterway that was dug a few hundred years ago to take fresh drinking water to Hampton Court Palace, but looking across to the opposite bank, and the waving willows, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a completely natural waterway.



We have fallen in love with our new house. I miss my studio, but apart from that I don't really miss the last house one bit. (Though I do miss my amazing neighbours.) I am relishing in the fresh start. 

Being here feels like being on holiday. I'm sure it helps that we have moved just as we are turning the corner towards Summer, as we have already had several barbecues and love being in the garden as there is so much to see.


I have set up my workbench in a room that was once a garage, but was converted into a room by the last owners. I had planned to build a new studio in the garden, but am seeing advantages to having my workbench in the house. When I was married, I used to be able to go down to my garden studio in the evening to work, but as a single mum I would often end up working at the dining table in the evening for the night shift. Down the garden feels a million miles away from children in bed, so I am taking my time deciding what to do, because the money I save by not building one would certainly be put to good use on the new kitchen and bathroom that this place needs.


And now, the animals have settled in like the humans. The chickens have found good dust bathing spots, and the cat has a routine for heading out adventuring and coming back and meowing to be let in. (A cat flap is on the to-do list.) I did think one of my hens had been unsettled with the move and had stopped laying, but today while we were eating supper in the sunshine, I spotted these under a bush in the border...



I feel so elated to be here, starting the next phase of my life. The fresh start has certainly left me invigorated. I am finally catching up with some overdue orders that became late because the move took so much more out of me than I could have imagined. It's lovely to have a new efficient internet connection, and to wake up in the morning to fresh on-line orders. I am happy customers have stuck by me, even though I haven't been on line so much for the last couple of months.

For now I will leave you with some of the distractions I face during my working day. There is the coot's nest that I check on daily to see how it has grown, and see what building materials Mr Coot has brought Mrs Coot to craft into her expanding home. Ducks that came to torment the chickens that had been put away for the night (cheeky)...

...and best of all, a garden visit from the swans. They munched some of the cauliflower leaves I had given to the chickens.

I think we are going to be very happy here.

17 April 2015

A 16th Birthday commission

It's lovely to take on a commission that appeals straight away. I was given free range by a mummy to design a birthday necklace for her 16 year old daughter. For a 16 year old, it needed to be young and contemporary. The daughter's name was Jasmine. 

By e-mail we agreed I would do a little J, and a tiny jasmine flower. I hand cut both and domed the little flower over a punch to give the petals some shape. I wanted to add a birthstone, but April's birthstone is a diamond. Luckily I had a small batch of rose cut diamonds that I had picked up, which fell within budget. I made a tiny silver bezel setting on a jump ring, and set the diamond with a rub over setting.

We decided on a small fine chain, and I finished it with one of my logo tags. The necklace was carefully wrapped in tissue paper, placed in a little drawstring bag, and tucked into one of my logo boxes, before being gift wrapped.

I love that the necklace still retains the feel of the things I like to design, small elements, hung together, while still hopefully meeting the customer's brief. What a super mummy to commission something so special for her daughter. I do hope Jasmine likes it.

2 April 2015

Escape to the country and coast

Bah. I was planning on moving house this school holiday. Somehow the sale and purchase are slipping and slipping, and now it will be after the holidays after all. Thinking I would be busy with packing, and moving, and painting, and unpacking, I didn't plan anything for the three weeks the kids are off. I thought there would be more than enough going on to keep us busy. But just as school broke I got the news it wasn't happening yet. (Frown) It feels like it's taking forever. I am frustrated, exhausted, and quite over conveyancing solicitors (except mine of course). I'm quite done-in with the whole house buying / selling, packing, de-cluttering, downsizing thing, all while running a business, bringing up two children, and also training for a marathon taking place in about three weeks time.

When the chance of a last minute get away came up, I jumped at it. Boy did I need to get away from it all. My kids work very hard at school and life is rather unsettled for them at the moment, so  a complete switch off and some great R&R is just what we all needed. With about 24 hours notice, we were packed, cat and chicken feeder organised (thank you lovely Rose), and were on the road West, with my wonderful parents in tow.

Our destination was the holiday let of a fellow maker Claire of Little Burrow Designs. She rents out a barn she converted on her Devon farm. 

We stopped at Lyme Regis on the way down. The family of one of my very best friends, has a house here, and visiting Lyme brings back happy memories of time spent here with her in the Summers of our teenage years.

We armed ourselves with a £10 hammer from the fossil shop and tramped off down towards the cliffs searching for fossils. This beauty was too big to bring home, and remains on the shore for others to enjoy.

Small boy and my mother went searching for the thrill of some sea spray on the Cobb. I think they got more than they bargained for. How we laughed!

We spotted pirates in the harbour...

..and fed hungry seagulls the remains of our seaside chips...

...just before we spotted this sign. (Ooops)

Home for a few nights was The Burrow at Burrow Wood Farm, near the village of Ottery St Mary. (Photo taken from Burrow Wood Farm website.) Although owner Claire currently spends her days making tiny story boxes, with beautiful vintage textiles and objects; she used to be an architect, so the Burrow is wonderfully designed, done to a really high spec, but also has a designer's touch in the way it is decorated. It definitely did not feel like your average holiday let. Claire set out to give it more of a boutique hotel type feel, and she has managed to do just that. It was perfect. I would thoroughly recommend it, and hope to visit again.

There's quite a menagerie resident at the farm - llamas, pigs, terrapins, a parrot, a multitude of cats and dogs, chickens, cockerels, ducks, the very angry geese (whose photo doesn't do justice to their head down honking as they followed me around!) sheep in the field, and currently five lambs and their mums in the barn that my boys got to bottle feed. It's fair to say Claire is a bit of a soft touch when it comes to rehoming unwanted animals. I wonder what she will take in next?

The next day we headed to Sidmouth, and the boys proved that you don't need it to be Summer to enjoy the beach. After a bit of poking about in the sand, there were stones to be skimmed, and a metal detector to test out.

We ended the day with a wander around the town, a visit to the tiny local museum, we listened to a talented busker, and then rounded off the visit with a warming coffee for the grown ups and huge Gelatos, made on the premises of Taste coffee shop, for the boys. This is one scoop(!) of Ferraro Rocher flavour for Ollie. I think he charmed them to get one this size.

It doesn't take long for weariness to be washed away, and batteries to be re-charged. Now to enjoy Easter before throwing myself headlong back into this house business again.