Friday 27 March 2015

Portable Magic: the *Spanish* books I've been disappearing into.

Thank you for the warm welcome many of extended to this series after the first post last month and thanks for all chiming in with your bookmark confessions in our chat about folding down corners.

My eyes and hands may be occupied by crafty scraps much of the time but writing is what keeps my head and heart satisfied.  So it made sense to recognise that by introducing these new book-loving 'wordy' posts to my blog this year. So let's get on with today's chapter shall we?

Last month I talked about The Infatuations by Javier Marias - a book translated from Spanish and, at that time, I hadn't planned for it to kick-start a veritable Spanish literature festival on my bookshelf ... but, somehow the next two novels I read were also translated from Spanish.

So today I'll share with you the two novels which completed my Spanish literature hat-trick [or should that be my tres tantos de la literatura española? ]

I know some of you are taking part in a reading challenge this year which involves reading one translated book ... so maybe there'll be something for you here to look out for ...

Traveller of the Century :: Andres Neuman
This is a big book. In lots of ways.

For a start it's close to 600 pages. Which is fine by me. I enjoy a big book. I like the immersive feeling you get when you invest in reading something that long. Like I'm moving into another town, another era, another life for the duration.

And then there's the fact that it's so full of everything that it's very hard to describe in a short summary. The topics covered include everything from: European history, politics and the social conventions of the early 19th Century [in which the novel is set] - to love, sex, culture, the art of translating texts [the protagonist Hans is a travelling translator] and there's even a murder mystery plot thrown in for good luck.

So why did I pick it up from the library shelf? What drew me to it?

Well what caught my eye in the 'blurb' was the description of the [fictional, German/Prussian border] town of Wandernburg as having 'shifting geography' and I liked that idea. It sounded like it would, and indeed it does, give the book a slight air of magical realism.

In fact I thought it might remind me of Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves - where the house is creepily larger on the inside [and no, it's not a TARDIS.]

But it turns out that while the layout of the town does indeed keep changing [streets, building and landmarks never quite keep themselves in one fixed spot], baffling those who are unfamiliar with it, it strangely doesn't play a great part in the plot ... it just serves to keep the whole book in a slightly off-kilter, unreal, category, marking it out as being about 19th Century ... but which is happy to use more modern experimental narrative techniques.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes to give you a flavour of the prose.
"An hour later the cold was so severe that the fire no longer warmed them. [...] The wind entered the mouth of the cave and seeped into the cracks, through the gaps in their clothing, and under their nails".

I love the image of the wind being so persistent that it even makes its way under their nails!

And how about another delightfully clever visual:
"For the first time Lamberg let out a long guffaw, then seemed amazed at himself and sucked his laugh up again like a noodle".
Now then - it's time to put your hands over Granny's ears - because I want to talk about sex.

OK, I'm not actually going to talk about it [let alone quote from those scenes. Oh my!] but let me try to talk around it because as one review [from the Telegraph via the Amazon page] describes Traveller of the Century: [it's] "a big, utterly captivating murder mystery and love story, full of history and politics and the hottest sex in contemporary fiction."

To be honest I don't generally stumble across much sex [now there's a image you might not get out of your head for a while] ... I mean in the in the fiction I read so whether it's the hottest .. I don't know. But the relationship between Hans and Sophie - who wants more for her life than the stifling social codes of the day afford her - is both undeniably hot and, for me at least, an entirely unexpected interlude in the middle of this vast book about all kinds of other things!

The blurb said there was a 'love' story so I wasn't exactly prepared for any of the more ... let's call them 'energetic' scenes ...  let alone what Sophie did with those soap suds ...

But for the record, like the rest of the text, all those scenes are very well crafted and not at all cliché or exploitative. But they are graphic - so consider yourself forewarned.

Me? I'm not especially shockable so I didn't mind in the slightest except ... there was just one issue I had with those scenes ... none of which is the fault of author Andres Neuman:

I wandered into the majority of those scenes while at work.

When my student is busy working, and doesn't need any assistance, I can occupy myself with a book. Which is fine and dandy ... until you find yourself in a room full of students learning how to search the library catalogue ... and suddenly you find yourself thrust into a carriage with someone wearing tight breeches ... and then you're in a bedroom when whoops! there go the breeches ...

I was completely paranoid that everyone would know what I was reading. As if there might be a large speech bubble above my head displaying the words as I read them! And, blimey ... did I make doubly sure that no one was reading over my shoulder!

So, how can I round this review up? Well, not wishing to reduce this vast multi-layered intellectual novel down to level of discussion my sister and I tend to have over wine and Pinterest - but ...

... if there's anything that will get you through the story it'll be leading man Hans. You'll love him so much you really won't mind spending 600 pages with him.

He's intelligent, forthright, decent [he looks after an ailing old organ grinder and his dog for goodness sake] and not to mention dashing [wild hair and big white shirts, it's all there]... in fact ...

... if Aiden Turner's got time on his hands after Poldark I could happily see him in the role of our traveller Hans anyone cares to turn this into a mini-series!

Further reading:

Inferno :: Benito Perez Galdos
Like the Traveller of the Century Benito Perez Galdos's Inferno is also set in the 19th Century.
But, unlike the Neuman's novel which was published in 2012 ... this one was written and published in the century it was set [1884 to be exact] and it shows.  
Sophie in Traveller of the Century [the one enjoying herself with Hans] is a woman fighting against the social constraints of her time and making an attempt to live within the patriarchal oppression while trying to push at its boundaries. 
Meanwhile, Amparo, the protagonist in Benito Perez Galdos's Inferno is just as stifled ... but don't expect any forthright speeches on how and why things must change from her. And the relationship she develops with her leading man couldn't be more different to that of Hans and Sophie.
And that's the thing about reading something set when it was written ... it's more closely aligned to the attitudes of the day. Which is not to say that Perez Galdos is entirely unsympathetic to Amparo's plight [whose only options for a stable future are given as marriage or the nunnery!]. It's just that he's reflecting what was. Not what we - in our enlightened vantage point 130 years later - would prefer it to be.
This book contains some achingly frustrating scenes where you just want to shake the characters and tell them to get over it. To just be together. To stop caring what polite society will and won't allow.
And even more disturbingly there's a whole section of the book containing scenes of what we'd now term 'domestic violence' which I found desperately claustrophobic and uncomfortable. But then ... they were no doubt intended to be. That kind of character exploration shouldn't be easy to read. But, in a book I was already struggling to like ... this really asked a lot.
Have you ever read something set in the past but written recently and found yourself  pointing out its anachronistically feisty female characters saying "Oh that would never have happened? She would never really have been so bold, so outspoken, so emancipated" etc etc ... and you roll your eyes at the author for putting 21st Century words into 18th Century mouths? Well ..
... what reading Inferno has taught me is: when you find yourself inside a book which shows how some women really couldn't escape oppressive social conventions ... you'd really give anything for one wonderfully freeing unrealistic moment of defiance!  
Further reading: this was tricky to find, there's not a great deal out there - not that's been translated into English at least. Plus the book seems a little tricky to get hold of - I came across my copy randomly in a charity shop.
So, that's my journey into Spanish fiction over for now. Since then I've visited Nigeria, America and Sweden ... maybe I'll give you a tour of those books another time.
Until then I'll welcome your thoughts on:
  • reading translated fiction
  • reading any of the novels or themes I've mentioned
  • or even ...
  • how you've perfected your poker-face while reading sex scenes in public ... 
 I await your comments ...

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Cardmaking: with a photographic focal point

Hello hello.

How about something colourful and quick to kick-start your creative week that might also inspire you to dust off your printer to make use of all those photos you've been taking?

OK, then here's the card I made for Mother's Day this year:
The focal point - the photograph of a colourful fruit and vegetable market stall - comes from a very sweet set of mini cards and envelopes I found here at Lemon Cat Shop on Etsy. Here's a closer look:
Once I'd selected that this was the particular mini card I was going to use I drew from it the colour scheme for the whole card: lilac, bright green and orange.

For the record: I think orange is going to be a big colour trend this year. I've been thinking it for a while [I like colours ... it's the kind of thing that occupies my mind from time to time!!] and have recently started seeing it crop up in all kinds of places since. I've even spotted orange fashion displays in Marks & Spencer the other day! And surely it must be a strong trend if it's even reached M&S! So ... I'm predicting it'll be making into craft supplies soon ... *puts crystal ball back in the cupboard*.

Where were we? Oh yes ... a quick crafty card ...
  • so, I picked a pre-printed card and selected my colour-scheme from it;
  • then I gathered together a few scraps of paper in those colours and layered them up on a kraft card base;
  • I then introduced some splashes of white - via the jute mesh strip and mini peg clipped to the top - to pick up the white border in the photo;
  • my final touches came in the form of a 'love' sentiment sticker and one of my favourite ever  embellishments I created: an embossed, painted and die-cut metal heart:
I came up with the idea for these when I created a 'Metal Embossing' masterclass for Papercraft Inspirations magazine in 2014 [Issue 128 if you have any back-issues you want to flip through!] and I've enjoyed using them on my own projects ever since. This particular one was a prototype that I didn't use for my final published samples ... but I rather like its scratchy imperfections.
And that's that; a decorative card full of colour and texture, yet only made from 4 components:
  1. photo focal point
  2. coordinating paper strips
  3. a simple sentiment
  4. and a single eye-catching embellishment ... and you're done!
Here [again] is how it all mixed together:
Feel free to take the merest whiff of inspiration from it ... or else copy the whole thing outright. I don't mind. [Drop in to share your version with me anytime]. 
And if you don't have the mini photo cards that I used ...
  • then why not print one of your own photos on to some white cardstock and use that instead?
  • It'll not only make a wonderfully bespoke focal feature ... it'll also give you the chance to show off snaps of your favourite holidays, scenery, pets or family members!  
And, if you're brave / egotistical enough you could even stick a selfie centre-stage on a card!
Julie ;-)

Thursday 19 March 2015

Portable Magic: Tell me you're not a corner folder: a few thoughts on bookmarks.

Hi, hi.

I know that many of you reading this are book lovers. Me too. Hence this ...
... and yet, although we may share that same 'bibliophile' label ... there are areas where our reading habits no doubt differ.
  • Some of us will enjoy reading big books [hello, that'll be me]; while some might prefer a book they can carry in their handbag without the handbag having to be a suitcase.
  • Some of us will have a shelf bulging beneath the weight of their book collection; while others will save their shelves [and pockets] by draining their local library shelves dry. 
  • And some may use a bookmark; while others, although I can't believe you would do such a thing, some ... mark their place in a book by folding over the corner of the page! 
Oh the horror.

I may very well chop books into tiny scraps for the sake of my collage and mixed media work but that's usually damaged books and books which have been gathering dust for years and which deserve a new lease of life.

You'll never catch me creasing a virgin corner into submission ... not on a book I'm currently reading!

So yes, I'm claiming the moral high ground with this one, but, just because I'm a smug bookmark user it doesn't always mean I have one on hand. And, as I absolutelywillnot fold a corner over ... I do find myself resorting to almost anything else almost to keep my spot.

Despite being a crafter in possession of any amount of paper that could easily be used as a fancy bookmark I tend to just reach for what's nearest; which usually means tearing off straggly corners from newspapers or magazines [unlike books, these corners are fair game when I need a placeholder! In fact, they're such a familiar sight in my house that James even has a pet name for them: he calls them my 'mingy bits of paper' which just about sums it up.]

And recently, in the library at work, I even resorted to using a packet of Monster Munch crisps to keep my place.

Roast Beef flavour, if you're interested.   

But if this glorious illustration by Grant Snider of Incidental Comics is anything to go by ... I guess I'm not alone in my creative bookmark improvisation:
Come on ... admit it ... how many of those have you used to keep your place?

[p.s: if you're new to Grant Snider's work before I urge you to visit his Incidental Comics site as it's an absolute treat.]

I'll admit to 3 of those ... plus the aforementioned 'mingy bits of paper' and beefy flavour corn snacks and yet ... this year all of my library books have been spared the indignity of having any of these things inserted into them because ...

 ... in what may yet turn out to have been some kind of bookmark-'intervention', two of my friends gifted me 'proper' bookmarks for Christmas/ my birthday.

Kirsty made these origami-folded lovelies for me:
Which I've been slotting over my non-folded corners ever since ...
If you'd like to make some for yourself then check out Kirsty's instructions by following the link on her blog.
I'll leave it up to you whether or not you choose to believe the rumour that I select which one to use based on how well it matches the book cover ...
And then, for my birthday, my friend Jean gave me a pad of these: 
And they too have been gracing my pages lately. Although I've yet to make notes directly on to one it would definitely be a fun way to keep track of what I've been reading. Imagine these, with all the details filled out, fixed to a scrapbook page or tucked inside a reading journal ... certainly something to think about and a fun way to combine my love of reading with my fondness for memory keeping.
If you quite fancy the look of these - I'm sorry but I don't know the manufacturer, I threw away the packaging, but if you Google: yes i'm actually reading this bookmark pad you'll find lots of places that stock them. 
So ... that's what's currently keeping my pages ... but what about yours? It's true-bookmarking-confessional time ... 
  • What do you regularly use to keep your page?
  • Are you one of those delinquent corner folders? Dare you admit to it here?
  • What's the strangest things you've used or seen someone else use to mark a place?
Who knows ... maybe one day I'll compile all your responses into a book. And you can use whatever you like to mark your place in it ...

Julie :-)

[p.s: if you enjoyed this post or think it would strike a chord with someone you know ... please do share, save or Pin it. Thankyouinadvanceyoulovelypersonyou.]

Monday 16 March 2015

I can sing a rainbow [and buy one, and gift-wrap it too].

 Hi hi.
If you caught my rainbow craft tutorial last week then today's post will explain a little more about why rainbows are on my mind right now. And it's not because of St.Patrick's day tomorrow ... because, until last week, I didn't know rainbow crafts were a big thing for that ... no, here's the reason why I've been chasing rainbows in the last few months ...
It's that time of year again, when I head off to a converted barn in the most picturesque of countryside locations. Think Spring lambs gambolling in rolling fields; think dry-stone walls and trickling brooks; think waking to the sound of cows mooing in the milk shed; think having to walk to the end of the drive to get any kind of reliable phone reception.
Both the route to the phone signal and the whole crafting-weekend-away is a well trodden path by now. Our March 2015 trip marks the 12th time I've been away with the same group of friends, to the same area of the North Yorkshire countryside, and every year we've had something of a running theme for the weekend.
And every year we wonder if maybe we should maybe stop picking a theme.
Then every year ... we pick another theme!
So far our themes  - which have an effect on everything from our menu to our projects and also the gifts we buy to exchange - have included: Afternoon Tea Party, Alice in Wonderland [remember me in that dress?!!!], Halloween, Easter, Christmas [both in November and March ... which thereafter became known as Marchmas] and America. And our latest was: the Rainbow.
And so, no sooner had we finished with our Christmas theme during last October ['Octomas' didn't catch on] then we were thrown into plotting and planning to hunt out:
  • 7 suitable gifts,
  • one in each of the colours of the rainbow [the ROYGBIV version] 
  • with a maximum spend of £10.
And so ... after some bargain-hunting and colour-seeking here's what I ended up buying:
  • A RED Pritt-Stick.
  • A box of ORANGE scented toiletries heavily reduced in the post-Christmas sales. [They're called Orangegasm; so clearly we're not the only ones who like to glue two words together to create a new one a la 'Marchmas'!]
  • Rolls of washi-tape in YELLOW and GREEN.
  • Flowers in BLUE felt and INDIGO paper, and finally ...
  • A packet of fudge sweets  ... because the packet was VIOLET!
I thought it was a decent mix of something that [hopefully!!] smells nice with some useful crafty bits that whoever gets my gift can use while we're away; plus some sugar to keep them going if they feel like crafting until bedtime!

The second half of the task was to wrap each of the gifts in matching colours and fortunately I had a pack of issue paper on hand to help me with that part:
Then I dropped everything into a kraft gift bag which I customised using patterned papers [the rainbow fish design is actually some Paperchase wrapping paper I've been saving for about a decade!]:
And, of course, the tag is the one I made using the rainbow embellishment from my tutorial last week. If you missed the tutorial last week, here it is again, just click the image to be taken to it [it should open in a new window for you].

By now [this is a post I've scheduled ahead of time] not only will those 7 gifts be in the hands of their new recipient ... I too will be on my way home with a rainbow of gifts in my bag.

And as our thoughts turn to what the theme for next time might be ... I feel it's only right that we should go for gold ... after all isn't that what you're meant to find at the end of a rainbow?

I know that my group of friends isn't the only one that takes itself off for a creative weekend at this time of year. So do feel free to share any blog posts you've written sharing your springtime crafting adventures in the comments and we can all drop by and compare converted barns and  craft projects!

Julie :-)

Thursday 12 March 2015

Make your own colourful rainbow embellishments [I can't promise a pot of gold at the end of it so 'self-satisfaction' will have to do!]

Hello hello.

I've had this 'how to' planned for months ... ever since one of these, that I made years ago, dropped out of a crafty-bits-bag and I was reminded of its colourful cuteness:
Then, just this week I received an email from Pinterest filled with rainbow craft ideas for a St.Patrick's day* party and decided that now was definitely the time to get this post written ... as it's St.Patrick's day on Tuesday 17th March.  
So, if you are planning a St.Patrick's day party:
  •  you've still got plenty of time to make a few of these to use as cup-cake toppers, decorations, bunting etc
And if you're not:
  • and you just want to use them on birthday cards, get well cards, scrapbook pages, tags and more ... then you've got all the time in the world!
*BTW: Until that Pinterest email landed in my inbox I had no idea that rainbow crafts were a big part of St.Pat's. I did know about the green Guinness ... but I don't have a tutorial for making that ... so this will just have to do for today.
If you like what you see then please do save, Pin or share!
If you don't have a die-cutting machine or dies then ...
  • I'm sorry, genuinely. It's annoying when you don't have all the things used to make something you quite fancied trying isn't it? But not all of my crafting tutorials use a die-cutter ... so maybe have a browse around my Pinterest tutorial board or just generally through my blog. 
  • You could always draw around 7 different sized glasses, plates, bowls etc
  • OR draw 7 different sized 'Auto-shapes' in Microsoft Word then print and cut them out and use them as templates.
  • OR ... you could always be friendly to someone who does have a die-cutter! Maybe your local crop or crafting group has one for anyone to use [ours does]. It might just be the push you need to get out there and meet some fellow creatives!
Here's a gift tag I made featuring one of my happy handmade embellishments:
I thought that using it alongside the mix of kraft and black helped add a smart counterpoint to the whole Technicolor spectrum aspect!

I'd love for this quick and easy rainbow-craft 'how to' to reach lots of creative eyes [and hands] so, if you liked it, please do pin it to Pinterest or share the post with friends. Thank you!

And be sure to send me links to your own versions either here on my blog or via my Facebook page. [If it's a bit quiet over there this weekend it's because I'm going to be offline for a short while - I'll reply as soon as I can].

Happy rainbow-making my little leprechauns!

Julie :-D

Monday 9 March 2015

A dozen lessons I learned at a bookbinding workshop [hint: they're not all about binding books].

Hello you.

As I mentioned in February's Month in Numbers post, I extended my bookmaking skills last month by taking two workshops. One was online, in the form of videos created by Christy Tomlinson but the second was offline, in the real world, alongside other living breathing people who moved.

This one was hosted at the Navigator North studios in Dundas House Middlesbrough and was taught by artist Chris Morton and, because I'm part over-thinker and part introvert, I left it until the last minute to take the plunge and book myself into the class.

Heading out to a new environment always has its stresses; the previous week I went to check I could definitely find the entrance to it on my own. Twice.

But after applying my usual rule "if you miss out on the opportunity will you be more relieved ... or frustrated?' [otherwise known as - pardon my asterisk -'sh*t or get off the pot'] I decided that I'd kick myself if I didn't go. Plus ... it had been a while since I scared myself ... and that's what I need from time to time to keep moving!

And, because it's what bloggers do, I'm going to share the experience with you here:

And, because that's what I do ... I'm going to share all of the experience, and not just the shiny end results. Which, by the way, were these:
I know ... impressive isn't it? Like, super-professional-did-she-really-make-that? impressive.

I wouldn't blame you if you're sceptically thinking that, as someone pathologically allergic to precision [I make Junk Journals for goodness sake, the clue's in the name!], I couldn't possibly have made those myself. And, to be frank, if I hadn't been present when I made them, I'd have doubted it myself ...

And yet I did.

But hang on, we're leaping ahead, let's begin looking at what I learned from the experience by rolling back to a few days before the workshop ...

Lesson 1: When I'm anxious I might, maybe, sort of, have a tendency toward the hyperbolic ...

Exhibit A: a conversation in the kitchen:

Me: "Will I be OK?"
Him: "Of course you'll be OK, why wouldn't you be?"
Me: "Because I'm going to be trapped in a room with strangers for 7 hours."
Him: [Laughing, shaking his head, wondering how he got so lucky to be living with  me.]
Me: "What?"
Him: "'Trapped'??"

OK, so maybe the notion of being 'trapped' was somewhat melodramatic but I just like to think things through thoroughly beforehand.

And, for the record, while, fortunately I didn't feel trapped with my fellow bookbinders ... I did however get locked out when I went to the toilet! And I had to knock, pathetically, to be let back in. So, y'know ... I was sort of right to be worried after all .... ;-)

For my next lesson let's hop  to the night before the workshop ...

Lesson 2: That radiator pipe in our bathroom is lethal! 
I know that - as tips and hints go - this one is pretty specific. But, while reaching for a clean towel after my shower, I burned my leg. And it hurt. A lot.

I was so shocked by the pain I burst into tears and had to be consoled by James [whose jumper took the brunt of the mucus-filled hysteria] and then spent 4 hours holding a bag of ice against the burn wondering how I was going to be able to sit through a workshop with a blistered knee rubbing against my jeans.

Subsequently my shoulder 'went' over night, [probably from holding an ice pack against my knee for 4 hours!] leaving me waiting for pestilence, or a plague of frogs to arrive to show me that this enterprise was doomed and I'd be better off just staying home.

[Apologies if you hoped this post was going to be useful to you in a general way. Or even in a specifically bookbinding-related way. But, hey, if you're ever in my bathroom with bare legs, you'll thank me for this warning.

Although, FYI, if you are ever in my bathroom with bare legs ... you'll better be sure I invited you. If not, there'll be police involved].

Lesson 3: Strangers are just as recognisable as familiar faces.
When Vicky, one of the Navigator North directors, and organiser of the days events, came down to let me into the building she looked at me, looked down at her clipboard and said cheerily "Are you Julie?" then ticked me off the register.

Seeing as how we'd never met before, and how I didn't chat to her on Facebook beforehand, and how there were no photos or links to my blog in my email to her when I signed up for the workshop ... I stood there wondering how on earth she knew I was 'Julie'.

Did she somehow know my blog? Had she seen my avatar somewhere? Well, no.

When all the other participants arrived, they all started chatting to one another and to Vicky which is when I realised: she knew who I was ... because I was the only one she didn't already know! 

So erm, I guess I'm not famous after all ...

Lesson 4: I don't have to try to be someone I'm not.
So, yes, everyone there seemingly knew everyone else but  there's been enough clear sky between me and the school playground for it not to lead to a spiralling panic about feeling left out!

But I am aware that when amongst a group of people I tend to be quiet ... and that some people think that quiet people, introverted people, people like me should 'make the effort' or [worse still] 'come out of their shell'.  The same people clearly use themselves as the benchmark for 'normal' and would no doubt be baffled by the thought that they should sometimes make the effort to say less...

And at first, I wondered what people would think of me if was quiet ... and I almost pushed myself into 'making an effort' ... but then I thought:
  • Y'know what? This is my Saturday, my day off, it's something I'm looking forward to learning about and I paid for this with my money ...
  • So no - I'm not going to stretch myself or push myself and my shell will stay just where it is thank you. I'm going to enjoy this workshop for me, in my own way and if that means being quiet most of the time ... then that's just fine.  
This doesn't mean I took a vow of silence!

I was perfectly friendly - after all I do really like people! And I spoke, and laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed the class alongside the others [here's my workspace]

I just let myself off the hook and did it in my own way ... like everybody else does.

Lesson 5: Japanese 'midori' style folders are following me around.
I wasn't entirely certain what it was I'd be making a this class, there'd been a description, but no example images, but I didn't mind, I was happy to be surprised and just pick up some new skills.

[And when I say 'happy' obviously I mean I'd eventually be happy after having worried that we'd be making something really complicated and I'd never be able to follow the instructions and I'd feel silly and make a mess and everyone would do better than me. But yeah 'happy'.] ;-)

Anyway ...this is what I ended up successfully constructing [woo, yay, go me!] for our first main project:
While Chris Morton's instructions [below] call it a 'rubber band bound book cover':
... it was, to all intents and purposes, a 'midori' style folder.

The idea is that rather than make a notebook / sketchbook etc which when you fill it you have to replace the whole thing, these kinds of folders can hold separate smaller books, which, when filled, can simply be swapped out for a fresh one. They're also great for keeping various different style of books [eg. a journal, a sketchbook, a planner] together in one handy decorative folder for travelling.

Chris showed us how, in this particular style of hard-backed folder he'd created to teach us, the internal booklets [which I haven't yet made] are simply held into place with elastic bands!
It's a great idea - a bit like a Fileofax I suppose - and, serendipitously enough ... midori folders were also the focus of the Christy Tomlinson class I downloaded earlier in the week! Clearly I'm meant to be making these; there's no escaping it!

[If this has intrigued your journal loving gene then there are lots more 'midori' examples on Pinterest].

Lesson 6: I can be precise when I need to be!
I mean ... in the 6 hours we worked on our two projects [the small folder above and this larger, to fit A4, sized one]:
I didn't once tear anything, drop anything, get glue where glue wasn't needed or glue anything to the wrong side of anything. Or my clothes. In fact ... 

... the tutor commented that we'd all done really well saying that not only were we 'the fastest' group he'd taught but that we'd also 'used the least amount of wet wipes'. 
I could have wept with pride ... 

Heck, I even managed to finish off my corners like this. 
How'd that happen? 

That said ... Chris had already cut everything to size for us all beforehand ... I can't vouch for the accuracy of it all if I'd had to measure everything myself! 

But, yes, I was surprisingly competent. A thought which leads me on to my next few lessons ...  
Lesson 7: I don't know what I am ... but I knew that already. 
Naturally, it being an arts organisation and all, the word 'artists' flew about from time to time during the workshop and there were definitely a few people there who fitted into the category of 'artist'. and one of those asked me 'So, are you an artist?'. 

And I couldn't find it in me to say 'yes'. So I said 'I think that's stretching it a bit' and gave her a brief list of the kind of things I make. 

Now, don't think this is a case of false modesty on my part, I'm not fishing for compliments here - I just don't particularly see myself as an 'artist'. 
So what am I
Well, I've been pondering on this not only since she asked, but since I was about 7 and, appropriately enough .. like the folder we made ... my career is rather 'portfolio' in character!
  • An 'Academic Support Assistant' ? - well, that's what it says on my University contract, but I'm only one of those for 2 days a week in term time ... so what about the rest of the time?
  • A 'crafter' - for sure. I'll take that. I have room full of paper and sticky tape to back me up on this one.
  • A 'creative entrepreneur' - mmm, well, apart from not liking the word much, yeah, OK, I suppose running my Etsy shop fits that category and then there's ... 
  • A 'blogger' / 'writer' - well I hope so, because here I am, blogging, writing, And if I had to pick one thing that defined me ... I think I'd go with this one.
Funny how thinking about what doesn't feel like a good fit can lead to finding something comfier ...

But, hey, fellow crafters, maybe we need to celebrate our craftiness a bit more ...

Lesson 8: We 'crafters' don't give ourselves enough credit for how skilled we are. [I don't think it's just me!]

I've been writing tutorials for craft magazines for years now, and making mini-books, journals, altered books and 'stuff' for longer than that.

And yet why did I go into this workshop feeling like I'd be out of my depth?

OK, yes, it's partly because I'm an over-thinking-over-achieving type but I don't think I'm alone amongst those of us who are comfortable with the term 'crafters' ... in not taking time to reflect on just how accomplished we are!
  • Lots of the techniques we used in the workshop were already familiar to me: I'd picked them up along the 'crafty' way.
  • Some call them 'artists books', pamphlets, or refer to it as bookbinding and it all sounds 'proper' and 'arty': and we do the same things and just call them 'mini-books'.  
  • We have so many transferable skills, learned form 'crafting' but which can be applied far and wide in the creative realm that I wonder ...  if those of us who say we're 'just a crafter' are really doing ourselves justice.
Remember my Push-Up Bra Approach to Blogging class? Well, in the 'lesson' called 'The McFly Approach - Part 2'  I listed many of the technical skills we pick up simply by 'dabbling' as a blogger ... and seeing it in black and white really brought home just how much we've taken our skills for granted!

Maybe it's now time we did the same for our crafting capacities! If you wrote down all the techniques you've tried as a crafter I'd be happy to bet that the list would be as long as your ink-splattered arm!!

Lesson 9: I need a Japanese Book Screw.
Who sniggered?

I'm having something of a bookmaking extravaganza at the moment and I'd spent much of the week running up to the workshop reading online reviews about long arm staplers and Japanese hole making tools trying to decide if I needed either, or both, and if so which particular brand. Which is where I'd built on my vague knowledge of just what a Japanese book screw [also known as a 'screw punch' or a 'book drill'] was good for.

But if you've never heard of one then it's basically it's a Silent Setter crossed with a Yankee screwdriver [if that helps you any?] and it's used for creating the holes in pages and covers which you then stitch through in bookbinding.
And now, after using one at the workshop, I really do want one. Just look at the sharp clean hole it created:
A word to the wise ... by all means, if you want to know more about these intriguing tools, do an online search. But be aware that, as I began typing the phrase 'Japanese Screw Punch' into Google I got up to 'Japanese Sc ...' when Google wanted to know if I was looking for 'Japanese school uniforms'.

And I really wasn't.

So, y'know, for the sake of your internet history ... just be careful out there ...

Lesson 10: It's good to be reminded that artistic endeavours can have a deeper purpose!
While demonstrating some of the various small, folded, booklets he teaches, tutor Chris Morton discussed how he's spent a lot of time working in prisons, mainly with women, finding ways to help them maintain contact with their children and families.

These small books are the same ones he uses with the women, encouraging them to write down stories, memories or letters and then, as they're small and light, they can easily be sent home for children to add in their own drawings which they then return:
The case he made for using arts to help people really struck a chord with me and with things I've been pondering recently too.

You know how I like to pass on a wider message as well as a technique; after all ... this very blog post began simply as a way to share photos of the books I made ... and yet somehow it morphed into a discussion on introversion and a rally-cry for crafters to blow their own trumpets!

So with Chris's explanations about how his work ties in with his socio-political philosophies I was reminded again of how it makes my day when after reading one of my tutorials people let me know they were encouraged to try something new.  And when one of my blog posts makes someone laugh on a day they needed one ... it erases every doubt I may have had about what I'm doing here spending hours blogging ... without a business plan!

Lesson 11: [at the risk of sounding like Amazon ...] People interested in bookbinding also like: turn-ups on their jeans.
This may not pass any objective scientific tests but ... I know hardly anyone else who wears turn-ups on their jeans and yet at the workshop I found myself around a table of four where three of us were wearing turn-ups. What do you make of that then?
And, finally ...
Lesson 12: The Navigator North 'Hub' room made a perfect workshop space.  
I know that Navigator North intends to offer more workshops in future, although I'm not sure how many as I know it's not the prime focus of their organisation. But it would be nice to think that it's an area they could expand into, especially as the space was ideal.  
With windows on three sides there was lots of light - essential if you're trying to turn perfect corners [which, unbelievably I was!]. And there was a kitchen, for even-more-essential tea-making and a comfy corner to sit in and eat lunch ... and its entrance sits in the same shopping centre directly opposite a Boyes store which has a craft + haberdashery department inside! So if you ever ran out of anything you needed you wouldn't even have to go outside to stock up!
Plus it has great transport links; the A66 runs right behind it, there's plenty of parking beneath the building, and there's a train station and a bus station just a stone's throw away. Oh  and it comes complete with view of the Transporter bridge, which is essential for any visit to Middlesbrough:
And no ... no one is paying me to say any of this. I paid for the workshop with my own money and no one from the organisation is aware I'm writing this post.

I'm just saying this as, while I was still debating whether or not to attend the workshop I said to myself 'You can't complain that there are never any decent things to do round here ... and then not attend when there finally is!'.

And so I went, and I'm sharing my experiences with you in case you too want to keep an eye out for future events either here - at Navigator North - or maybe near to where you live. There may be more than you first thought.

My first thoughts on visiting Navigator North made me think it would be interesting if it developed into something like what Art from the Heart have built up in Harrogate ... only with this having the treat, for me at least, of being a lot nearer home! 

[Please help a blogger out and 'Pin' or share this post! Thanks in advance!]
So ... there's my dozen 'lessons' for you ...
  • if you were expecting more on the actual nitty-gritty of bookbinding ... apologies. Maybe go to a class like I did ... or drop into Youtube.
  • if you recognised something of yourself in my angsty moment, or my quiet-loving side ... Hi! You're not alone after all! If I can go somewhere and enjoy myself like that, you probably can too.
  • and if you were actually at the same workshop ... Hi ... I was Julie. Still am in fact. I wore turn-ups and was pretty quiet and didn't need a wet wipe. And ...
  • if you too recently found a new venue for artistic workshops in your area ... feel free to share your experiences / links in the comments.
In fact ... feel free to chat in the comments about anything this post has sparked up in you .... it'll be interesting to hear from you.
I might even write up your thoughts in one of my new - ahem - handmade books ...
Julie :-)

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Memory Keeping: Work Hard, Be Nice.


Today's is the 3rd [and, yes, final] of the 3 scrapbook pages I made documenting the 2.5hours I [and an audience of many!] spent in the company of Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss.

You can find the earlier pages here and here. And after this I'll never* mention it again.

[* And by 'never' I mean ... y'know, not for a whole wellllllll ... month? Maybe. It depends really ... ].

But for now ... indulge me?
It can be dangerous, meeting the people you admire. So they say.

Because well ... to put it bluntly: they might turn out to be a bit of a knob and you'll never be able to love whatever it was you loved about them ever again.

And when it's Sherlock that you love ... the stakes are high. So there was some mild peril involved in going to see Mark Gatiss 'in conversation' last December.

Fortunately for all in general he was every bit as charming and loveable as you could have wished him to be ... and, more specifically, he was wonderful for two things in particular: 

1. The first is that, throughout the interview, when talking about his childhood in Sedgefield [around 20 miles from where I live] he referred to his mother as his 'Mam'.

And so do my sister and I. [Well that's how refer to  our own mother ... not his ... that would be weird ...].

And 'Mam' is not a term everyone uses  to refer to their mother,  not even in our same local area. And you won't find it on greetings cards as a matter of course. And when you don't hear something very often you can begin to feel like you yourself should use something different. Something 'posher'. Like 'Mum'.

Then you hear Mycroft say it ... and that makes everything better! ;-)

2. The second thing is not only how patient he was answering questions - from 'young people' who basically asked the same question over and over again without listening to his last answer - but also for what was his ultimate advice to them.

Here it is as written on my page:

So, there you have it, advice from a man whose successes go before him: Work hard, be nice.

All very doable and comforting too ...

You don't need any special equipment to make a start.

In fact ... forget about those young folk who were asking ... I'm happy to take his advice myself:


I'd love to use the comments section here to compile the benefit of your combined wisdom so ... won't you share with us all:
  • What's the best - or maybe the simplest - piece of advice you've been given? 
  • And who offered it?  

See you soon. [Without Mark Gatiss for company this time ... I swear].


Monday 2 March 2015

My Month in Numbers 2015: February

Hello hello.

February always manages to trick me.

It's only slightly shorter than average [I know the feeling] and yet somehow those few missing days really make an impact. I really hadn't given my February numbers much thought at all ... until the point where I realised I had only 7 days to get thinking [and counting!]

In short [again, I know the feeling ...] what I'm trying to say is that I can't believe we've already bid farewell to another month; or that one sixth of 2015 is now just a vapour trail in our wake ...

So, before it vanishes all together, let's have a closer look at the moments that were worth counting in February:

£5 = the donation a happy blogger made to Save the Children after enjoying my free Push-Up Bra Approach  blogging workshop.
In a fortnight it will be 2 years since I launched the series and yet still, from time to time, my inbox is brightened with a message telling me someone new made their way to my Just Giving page to leave a token of their appreciation for the FREE series!

£585.57 = the total contributed by 75 people since March 2013!
And so, to donor No.75 and all 73 of the rest of you Thank you thank you thank you!

[Note: In case you're wondering about my calculations ... I was donor No.1 myself ... and it seemed a bit odd to thank myself - hence only thanking 74 of you!]

4,830 = another number that dropped into my inbox during February:
From looking at my blog statistics I knew that Pinterest was the biggest referral site to my blog ... but I'm not sure I'd have guessed it was quite so high as 4,830! All that traffic is thanks to the 3 'Art journal page from start to finish' tutorials I created. To view those, plus lots more tutorials I've created, then drop by here.

28 = the number of days after my birthday that I received another wave of gifts.
They were from my friends at our monthly crafting get-together and amongst them there included:
several zebra related items, geeky paperclips, washi-tape design stamps, a bird ornament and brooch .... and a nice big bag to carry them all home in:
It's almost like they know me isn't it?

Also Jean had baked piña colada cupcakes. Of which I had 2. Well, it was my fake-birthday!

[Fake-birthday is not to be confused with fake-Christmas although ... I'll admit I'm not entirely averse to making a tradition out of something that spreads out gift-receiving opportunities throughout the year!]

£5.00 ish = how much was eventually paid for a copy of the 1985 Tim Curry film Clue on DVD.
My sister and I almost wore out our VHS recording of Clue when we were teenagers and last month I got it into my head to find a DVD copy so we could see just how much of the script we could still remember. But, when I started looking on Ebay I soon realised that copies were selling for over £15! Clearly - in its 30th year - there's not just me looking forward to seeing it again!

We haven't got around to watching it yet though ... I'm wondering if I need a costume first. Who should I be? Mrs White? Miss Scarlet? The Singing Telegram? ...

24 = the number of tracks on the Guys & Dolls soundtrack James secretly bought me 'just because'.
Entirely coincidentally a day after he'd ordered it online I was in the hallway giving a rendition of Sit Down You're Rockin the Boat while putting on my coat and boots [you're never too far away from one show tune or another when you're with me] ... and apparently he'd paused to wonder 'Does she know I've bought her the CD?' .. and to reflect on just how much I could read his mind ...

Some mini-book related numbers:
9 = how many teeny tiny notebooks I made with old postcards for covers:

Oh ... while we're on the subject of postcards I received 6 as part of the Valentine's Postcard Swap hosted by my friend Sian at From High in the Sky. Thank you all!!

25 = the number of new Junk Journals I put together [which are now on sale in my Etsy shop].
25 = the number of new hand-sewn mini-junk-books I started - these are my current love! They're sooooo tactile, full of everything, with reclaimed covers and fabric spines and general lovely ephemeral splendour!!!
4 = how many I'm keeping for myself / to give to friends with the remaining 21 heading towards the shop in March/April.

And, clearly February was Official Non-Stop Book-Making Month because ...

2 = the number of bookmaking workshops I invested in:
Even though I've made lots of mini-books and journals in the past - it never hurts to pick up additional skills and new perspectives. And actually, I'd never made anything quite like the projects taught in the 2 classes:
  • The 1st was a video-based workshop created by Christy Tomlinson all about making your own 'midori' style folders and books to slot inside. [If you're interested the workshop was the February edition of her 'Art Society' - and you can find the details here.] BTW: the workshop gives you a great excuse to browse for colourful elastics ... and if that floats your boat [it did mine] then you'll love the class!!
  • And the 2nd was a rare thing indeed ... a workshop 'in-the-flesh' so to speak. By which I don't mean we were all naked .. I just mean it wasn't online. It was in a real room with a real tutor - Chris Morton.
And here's the real room in question - a perfect workshop space: lots of room, plenty of light, with a kitchen for essential tea-making and a comfy spot to eat lunch:
It's part of the Navigator North studios, situated 3 floors up above the Dundas Arcade in Middlesbrough town centre.

I'd pondered whether or not to go and left signing up to the last minute ... but you can't really complain that there's never anything like this near to where you live ... and then not go along when there is can you?!

I'll share more about this particular class in a post of its own soon, along with the items I made ... but, until then ...

I'm handing over to you ....
  • if you'd like to join me by sharing your own numbers on your blog,  you're welcome!! Have a quick speed-read of the protocols [Oh my! How official sounding! Don't worry, it's not so scary!]
  • OR if you'd simply like to leave me a comment to say Hi - maybe one of my numbers sparked a memory of your own? - then I'll look forward to hearing from you.
Wishing you a magical March. From my window I see that this afternoon's flurries have left my hilltops with a powdery dusting -  so maybe Spring's not here quite yet ...

Julie :-)