Wednesday, 16 May 2018

My Favourite Podcasts (with info for podcast novices)


When I posted last week about my interview on While She Naps, I said that I'd hopefully put together a round-up of some of my other favourite podcasts soon. For me, a mere eight days later doesn't constitute 'soon'; eight days from thought to action feels more akin to having time-travelled into the future like a bolt of lightning - I'm quite surprised to find myself here. But self-surprise aside, before I dive into sharing my favourites, I thought I'd explain a bit about what podcasts are, because I suspect there are probably many people who are yet to be indoctrinated into the wonder of them, perhaps because they don't know how to go about listening to or finding them.

What is a podcast?
Just as blogs offer a way for people to self-publish their written thoughts, podcasts offer the same opportunity in an audible format. Although different mediums, blogs and podcasts have a few things in common: both are free for readers and listeners and both have, in my opinion, a welcome informality and diversity that comes from the content being largely uncensored and self-published. It's not just independent people that have podcasts though - just as many big businesses now have blogs, plenty also create podcasts. What separates podcasts from radio is that you don't have to listen live as things are broadcast - you can listen anytime and enjoy plundering the archives if you find one that you fall in love with. Many radio programmes are now also produced as podcasts shortly after being broadcast live.

How can I listen to one? 
You can actually listen to most podcasts just by visiting the podcast creator's website, which may feel less overwhelming at first if you find technology intimidating. But, if you have a smart phone or tablet, you may prefer to download a podcast app, which allows you to subscribe and listen to a vast array of podcasts through one app and which will automatically update each time a new episode is published. It also allows you to listen on the move - I often play podcasts on my phone when I'm cleaning the bathroom, making dinner or sewing in bed on a Sunday morning.

Downloading a podcast app
Apple has its own podcast app, which you can find here (in order to download Apple's podcast app, you'll need to click that link from your iPhone or iPad, as the app isn't available on a computer). If you have an android phone or tablet (or if you don't like Apple's own podcast app), I believe there are lots of other apps for listening, here are a few that I've seen frequently recommended: Stitcher; Acast; Overcast. Once you've downloaded a podcast app, from within that you can search for things to listen to and, with one tap, subscribe to any that you'd like to keep up to date with.

So, let's get started on some podcast recommendations. Each podcast title is also a clickable link for instant online listening, but you can also subscribe or find any of them by searching for the title in whatever podcast app you use on your phone/tablet. I've divided the podcasts into categories (like a game of Trivial Pursuits): Reading & Literature; Thought-Provoking; Interview; Storytelling; Agony Aunts (yes, really!); Documentary; and Other Podcasts of Note.

Reading and Literature

World Book Club (produced by BBC World Service)


This is probably my favourite podcast - I listen to episodes from the archive back-to-back and it's as comforting and delicious as a plate of macaroni cheese with little gem lettuce (a childhood favourite...the cool crispness of the lettuce is so good against the soft warmth of the pasta). An author takes questions about one of their novels from an invited audience and over the course of fifty-three minutes discusses everything from their writing technique and work processes to where they drew inspiration from; what they felt did and didn't work; or how they felt about particular characters. Very often, I haven't read the novel in question, but this doesn't seen to matter - it's invariably a conversation about the way people think and act, alongside some fascinating insights into an author's writing life. My favourites recently have been: Celeste Ng, Ann Tyler, Tim Winton, Anne Enright and Margaret Atwood.

The Penguin Podcast


This is a relatively new one to me, but the moment I discovered it, it headed pretty much straight to the top of my list of favourite podcasts. Published fortnightly, it features conversations with well-known authors about objects that have inspired their books, often interviewed by someone famous in their own right.

Thought-Provoking

Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell

There are now two seasons of Revisionist History available and it's one of the most well-researched and fascinating podcasts I've found. Malcolm chooses an event, saga, story or idea from history and then explores every facet of it through a mixture of interview, research studies, experiment and his own insights, to see whether our perception of it is actually correct. There's a strong focus on psychology: how people think, why we do certain things (there's an obvious common thread in the podcasts I enjoy). One episode that sticks in my head particularly is Blame Game from Season 1, but they're all excellent.

TED Talks
I imagine TED Talks need no introduction, but just incase, TED offers a stage for short talks given by a range of talented people, who between them delve into every facet of our world to offer a greater understanding of it - gobble these talks up and feel your mind growing. A few that I specifically remember enjoying over the years: Amy Cuddy's Your Body Language May Shape who you Are and Susan Cain's The Power of Introverts.

Sincerely X


Created by the aforementioned TED, this is a selection of stories they wanted to share, but which were too sensitive, painful or potentially damaging to reveal without the umbrella of anonymity. Longer and more storied than your average TED talk.

Interview

The Turnaround with Jesse Thorn


I found this podcast fascinating! In each episode, Jesse interviews a well-known interviewer (yes, you read that correctly) about their career, technique, research, and interview style and the conversation is often interspersed with anecdotes about their experience of interviewing particular people. In theory, this podcast shouldn't be of interest to anyone other than those who interview people for a living, but somehow it's completely compelling.

Desert Island Discs 


Probably one of BBC radio 4's best-loved shows, each week Kirsty Young interviews someone well-regarded or famous about their life. Episodes that have stuck in my head: David Nott, a vascular and war surgeon; John Timpson - I found it eye-opening to discover that this chain of highstreet cobblers is run in such a maverick way; Mary Berry; and Judith Kerr.

While She Naps


Abby Glassenberg has been interviewing creatives since 2014 and I'm still enjoying regularly dipping into the archives. It's tempting to pick out the names that I already know, but on the occasions where I've just plumped for someone from a different creative discipline (illustration/embroidery), I've always enjoyed listening just as much. Abby is not afraid of asking her guests hard questions (eep!) and I found this interview, where she chats to the wonderfully talented Luke Haynes about using uncredited female sewists in the making of his exhibition quilts, thought-provoking.

Blogtacular


This podcast is an offshoot of the annual Blogtacular event, hosting an array of interesting guests talking about creative businesses, blogging and social media. It's somehow accessible and fascinating listening even for those who don't tend to think those things through in an intentional way (I'd include myself in that). Kat Molesworth is an insanely knowledgeable interviewer, so the discussions often wander off in unanticipated directions, which I love. I really enjoyed Kat's interview with Kate O'Sullivan and through that I discovered her podcast, A Playful Day, mentioned below.

A Playful Day



Kate's interviews cover a diverse range of subjects from parenting a child with autism, to exploring day-to-day life for a couple running an organic vegetable farm. The interviews are thoughtful and personal, with Kate and her interviewees discussing what lies beneath the glossy surface of life.

Storytelling

The Moth


The Moth invites regular people to tell true stories in front of a live audience at venues around the world. There are stories that will make you laugh and cry and there's a delicious diversity of voices, which can feel refreshing if you've found yourself in a Radio 4 listening-spell (that's always a good spell to be in, but sometimes a change is nice...I begin to crave different voices if I listen to too much Radio 4).

Kind World


When the news is particularly bleak and depressing or if my spirits are feeling fragile, I put on an episode of Kind World. Often less than 10 minutes long, this bite-sized podcast tells true stories of kindness and compassion. Occasionally, they can begin to wander toward saccharine, but mostly they just make my heart feel nicely warmed.

Modern Love 



The Modern Love podcasts asks famous actors to read aloud stories that have been previously been published in the eponymously named New York Times column and, following that, shares an interview with the writer of the story. The 'love' covered in the stories is varied: familial love; love of animals; romantic love, lost love, self love...

Agony Aunts

Dear Viv


As children, when my sister and I bought our weekly copy of Jackie Magazine, the first page we'd turn to would be the agony aunt column. When I outgrew Jackie, I later transferred my affections to Sally Brampton's wonderful and insightful advice column in the Sunday Times. I always loved reading Sally's responses - she refused to put herself on a pedestal and frequently referenced her long battle with depression in her answers (Sally very sadly took her own life in 2016), but the advice she gave was invariably brilliant and I enjoyed reading her column to discover the unique and intelligent angle that she'd come from in attempting to help a reader solve a problem. I stumbled across Viv Groskop's agony aunt podcast by chance (I think I found it through the online magazine, The Pool, where she also writes) and have found it an oddly comforting thing to listen to. I'm aware that may sound like a curious statement, but it's the solution, rather than the problem, that I'm interested in. Viv has a down-to-earth and friendly tone that makes her enjoyable to listen to and by the end of an episode, it feels like she's taken something that initially felt scratchy and uncomfortable and repackaged it into something that the person can hopefully deal with, whether through acceptance or change. There's something lovely about finishing an episode feeling equilibrium has been restored, even though the reality is unlikely to be so easy. In a similar vein, Dear Sugars by Cheryl Strayed is wise and funny.

Documentary

This American Life


I think this was one of the first podcasts I listened to and I still love it now. It covers everything from bizarre quirky news stories to culture, politics, humanness...it's really everything and anything. The show's host, Ira Glass, tends to introduce a subject and then explore it through a series of interviews and observations. It's brilliantly researched and produced, and the archives could keep a person entertained for years. This episode about a blind man who navigates the world by clicking his tongue was incredible. I think this extended episode, where This American Life spent a month at a car dealership was the first I ever listened to and it just felt so different and extraordinary that I was smitten...no previous interest in car dealerships required.

Fresh Air


The award-winning Fresh Air podcast describes itself as 'a weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, the show features intimate conversations with today's biggest luminaries', which sounds about right. I often find interesting things on here.

Other Podcasts of Note



The Crafty Planner; Death, Sex & Money (I'm excited to listen to their recent interview with the author Tayari Jones as I'm currently reading her novel, An American Marriage); Woman's Hour; Ear Hustle (recorded inside a prison - eye-opening); Happy Place with Fearne Cotton; BBC World Service 100 Women; Hidden Brain; InvisibiliaSoul Music; Strangers (this is no longer being made, but has a fantastic archive); Loose Ends with Clive Anderson; All in the Mind.

Rather than listening to all of these regularly, I go through phases where I'll dip in and out of each podcast and listen to a few episodes back-to-back. Or I'll have a podcast break altogether and focus on an audiobook, and come back to find hundreds of new episodes to choose from - there's no real rhyme or reason to my listening...which is really the beauty of the podcast format.

I'd love to hear what you've been listening to - whether any of your own favourites are here or if there are any that you can introduce me to.

Florence x

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The While She Naps Podcast


This is just a really quick post (a rare thing indeed...let's see if that ends up being true by the time I've finished typing) to let you that I've been chatting to Abby Glassenberg over on the While She Naps podcast, if you'd like to listen. But before I tell you more about that, it's worth mentioning at the top of this post - as time to enter is short - that Abby is giving away a copy of my book over on her Instagram, entries open until 10am EST today (I think that about 3pm in the UK) - I think you just have to leave a comment to enter with no weird hoops to jump through :)

It was such an honour to be invited on to Abby's show as as I've listened for years. Across previous episodes, she's hosted a range of interesting guests from fabric designers and fibre artists, to publishers and fabric manufacturers and there's also been a lot of talk about Etsy and other larger businesses that have an impact on the craft industry too. Together, her podcasts create an insightful picture of the craft community and industry as a whole seen from a range of different viewpoints. But the interviews themselves are often also funny, thought-provoking and entertaining in equal parts - I always enjoy having more of a sense of who her interviewees are.

If you'd like to look through the back catalogue, you can find all of Abby's guests, here. You might also enjoy the archives of Abby's blog too, where she's written about the sewing community and her own creative path for well over a decade - her posts are always so well researched and often enlightening - few write as honestly as Abby does and her clear voice often prompts positive change within the industry. Most recently, over on Craft Industry Alliance, which she runs with Kristin Link, she wrote this post and the resulting pressure quickly ensured that designers were paid for their work - an amazing result).

I rarely have a conversation in everyday life where I don't say something incredibly silly or fail to order my thoughts before speaking or convey what I mean in a coherent way and this was no exception - with a podcast it's a really odd feeling to know that all those things are there on tape forever though. My sister and husband, who've both been on radio and/or podcasts before, said that I should absolutely not listen back to it, so for now I'm following their advice as I have a feeling just the sound of my own voice may make me cringe, let alone hearing the things that voice is saying! It's a very different experience to writing on my blog...although in fairness even with that, I sometimes wonder at the things I've written here if I happen to read something back months or years later, so nowhere is truly safe. Those things aside, the main memory I want to take away is the way that Abby described my book, as I was so touched by it. I'm probably going to misquote her here, but I think she said something along the lines of my book reading like a love letter to English paper piecing - I hadn't thought about it in those terms before, but the moment she said it, I realised that's exactly what it is.

This post does indeed seem to be uncharacteristically short, so I'm going to leave us all feeling slightly shocked and discombobulated and finish it right here! Although this has made me think that when I have more time to post, I'd like to put a list of my favourite podcasts together as I have so many good ones up my sleeve (an ironic expression to write while wearing a sleeveless dress) that I'd love to share.

I hope you're enjoying the sunshine,
Florence x

Updated: I couldn't actually leave it quite so short...I came back and added a few things in once I was back at home this afternoon.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The Tale of My Book Arriving


Last Thursday evening, all four of us were gathered in the hall catching up on how everyone's day had gone as I'd recently come in from a course and my daughter had just arrived home from an all-day exam. Anyway, at some point, I noticed a package had been delivered and when I picked it up, still chatting, and studied the sender's mailing address on the label, I saw that it was from my publisher. I hadn't expected an advance copy of my book for at least another few weeks, so it was an unexpectedly heart-leapy moment as I knew what must be inside. But rather than tear into the package, I put it back down and insisted that we finish the conversation before I opened it. The other three were appalled, but when they saw that I wouldn't be swayed, they agreed to finish telling me about their days, albeit at breakneck speed.

The reasons behind delaying the opening were as follows (bullet-pointed to assist in separating out the contents of my head):
  • The suspense of having a long-awaited copy of my book finally in the house, but not actually being able to see it, was quite delicious and felt worth savouring.
  • I felt inexplicably apprehensive: what if my book had suddenly grown two heads or what if the ink was smudgy? Do you ever find that you want something to be right so much that you start thinking it can't actually happen? That. 
  • Hence, while the package sat unopened, I could enjoy believing the book I was hoping for was sitting inside the box, which also felt a state worth savouring.
So we sat and chatted for a while longer, punctuated by someone saying every now and then: For goodness sake! Can't you just open it now? Until finally, when I felt we'd exhausted everything that anyone could offer up about their day, we all carried the package into the kitchen (the others were packed in so tightly around me as we walked down the hallway that it felt very much like communal carrying). On the kitchen worktop, I sliced open the sellotape on the cardboard box with a bread knife, until my husband stepped in because he felt I was at risk of inadvertently cutting a slice of my book off. There was some call for me to change implement, but after my initial reticence around opening the package, once I'd actually started I couldn't be stopped! I found my book swaddled carefully in bubblewrap with a lovely note inside.


We'd had a funny thing while I was writing this book, where each member of my family had enjoyed discussing who my book might be dedicated to and I'd sometimes overhear amusing conversations about why each of them was more worthy of that dedication than any of the others, while at other times they'd actually go into full campaigning mode telling me directly of their merits!

It's an odd thing but on the long list of Things I'd Love to Do in My Life, dedicating a book to someone has remained a constant - I think because it represents a rite of passage in book-writing that's also a really lovely way to celebrate the people who you love and who are special to you. But how do you know how many books you're going to get the opportunity to dedicate? On that basis, it could only ever have been to all of them for this first one, just in case it's the only one.


I've withheld revealing who the dedicatee might be for the nearly two years now, so in many ways I was as excited to finally share this part of the book with them as they were to see it. So after we'd all admired the cover, I flipped straight from the dedication at the front of the book (above) and then to the acknowledgements at the back where they each got a more in-depth mention (as do you, lovely blog readers).

I felt so lucky that we were somehow all in one place when I came to unparcel it as it made it extra-special.  It also surprised and delighted me to find that my husband's eyes haven't stayed entirely dry for the delivery of any of my babies, including this one.


If you have an active imagination, you may have been left wondering, after my earlier worries, if the book had magically grown two heads once it had ventured off the screen and grown into a real live papery thing. I'm pleased to report that it hadn't, but it had grown lovelier. Not only because real books are lovelier than pretend ones, or because it was exactly how I was hoping it might be, but more because Pamela Norman, who designed the inside of the book, had done such an amazing job of making it look very much better than the individual pieces of artwork I'd submitted and I could only truly appreciate all her cleverness once I had the physical book in my hands. I also adore the fonts that ended up being chosen - I'm not sure they could have picked a set of fonts that I'd be more delighted by than these.


This is the same font as the one used on the front cover. They agreed to send me a font file for it and it's a funny mix of capital and lowercase letters that surprise me with where they land as I type, although Pamela seemed able to magically change some of the lower-case to capitals if needed. I think I might update my blog banner at some point to match it. 

Nb. For clarity with the photo above, as it may not be clear out of context and use of the word 'modern' can be contentious: I've featured the work of several quilters who have passed away in the previous chapter, so the term 'Modern EPPers' was used here to to differentiate between past and present...not to create a division based on quilt-making style or age :)


And here's another font that's been used for picking out little bits from within the text or sharing quotes.

Later on Thursday night, my husband was out for the evening and both children were revising until late for exams, so I sat in bed and read my own book! I'm not sure whether it's seemly to read one's own book - it certainly felt strange, but equally it would be odd to not ever read it in its final form, wouldn't it? So I did so behind closed curtains (and perversely now seem to be sharing it here, wilfully undoing the clandestine nature of my reading).

And that is the tale of my book arriving. I'm now so looking forward to it being out in the world and being able to share a few more pictures here.

If you're interested in pre-ordering a copy (more info about what's inside in this blog post), you can find it on Amazon US, Amazon UKWaterstones or my publisher's website (it's out on 29th May in the US and the 29th June in the UK).

I happened to have a conversation with Abby yesterday where she mentioned in passing how important pre-orders were - we didn't get a chance to discuss why and I have to confess to not truly understanding the relevance of them at all before looking it up just now, but if you're interested in also discovering the thinking behind pre-orders, Kim Hooper, a novelist who came up when I googled, has written a good post that explains it. I'm really just delighted if people ever want to buy a copy of my book, irrespective of when, but I did enjoy the lightbulb moment of discovering what pre-orders were for.

Going back to the hallway gathering where this post began, don't you find some of the best conversations (or even animal cuddles - Nell loves lying on the bend in the stairs and having people sit with her there) happen in unconventional locations around the house? From time to time, we seem to end up all sitting around on the stairs or the upstairs landing and there's something about being crammed in those tiny spaces without real chairs that feels cosy and more of an 'I really want to spend time chatting with you despite the lack of chairs', rather than an 'I'm chatting to you as we both happen to be lying on the sofa at the same time, which is super-comfy'.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

Friday, 13 April 2018

Tulips in Holland


Several years ago, I became aware that at some point during spring the fields in Holland are fleetingly striped with glorious bands of colour as hundreds of thousands of tulips bloom. The images of this stayed with me and every spring I've felt quite desperate to see it with my own eyes. The window for this happening changes each year depending on the temperature - sometimes it's early March, sometimes as late as May, so ideally a tulip-viewing trip would be booked at the last minute with an eye on the flowering forecast. However, fitting in with school holidays, we decided to go when we could and keep our fingers crossed. 


It was a decision that didn't entirely pay off, but wasn't a complete failure either. When we visited, some bands of colour had started to appear, but there were still vast areas of green that in a week or two's time will be a deliciously colourful patchwork that I still feel hungry to see. 


We were rewarded with fields of daffodils though...


And perhaps even better, fields of hyacinth whose heady scent was intoxicating. We had hired bikes and were cycling through the Dutch countryside when we saw this and the scent made it feel like an immersive experience...like being bathed, or perhaps buried, in hyacinth, with every bit of fresh air eaten up by sweetness. 



I've cycled very little in England because it's such a terrifying experience: the roads are dotted with potholes ready to flip you over the handlebars if you don't have time or space to swerve around them and many English drivers are angry at having to share the road and express this by driving as close as possible as they pass. Given this experience, I was a little apprehensive about cycling in Holland, especially as not wearing a helmet is de rigueur and, added to this, my hire bike seemed to have barely functioning brakes. But the experience was oddly liberating in how incredibly safe it felt in spite of these things and I realised that our bike-unfriendly roads are an entirely cultural creation. I think, in part, the Dutch have achieved this by not only changing the infrastructure (proper cycle lanes on both sides of the road), but also the law: in the Netherlands, if you get knocked off your bike, the law assumes it's the driver's fault; in England it's the driver's word against the cyclist's. It's such a simple change, but the Dutch have forced drivers into caring. 

As a random aside...most people in the Netherlands seems to ride traditional bikes where you can sit up with a straight back...it made me wonder how these have ever gone out of favour here - so much more comfortable.  



We'd heard amazing things about a place called Keukenhof, so we also headed there, but we left with mixed feelings. It's only open for the seven weeks of the year that daffodils, tulips and hyacinth are in bloom and, without the need to focus on year-round interest, the planting is totally magical. If you could visit after hours, I think it would feel similar to some kind of wondrous fairy kingdom. In-hours though, sharing the space with most of the tourist population of Holland, it feels more like a tulip circus and we found the number of people and selfie-sticks overwhelming. It's very commercial. It would be wonderful if they limited the numbers of visitors, but it probably wouldn't be financially viable when they have such a short window for making an annual income.


The photos below were carefully composed to avoid any people in the shot, which probably perpetuates the false internet image of Keukenhof that we based our own trip on. It's nothing like these photos would lead you to believe and if you're planning a trip, I'd probably say that taking to the roads is a better way to see tulips.





Flowers aside, we stayed in an amazing house that we rented through AirBnB. The house was in the centre of Amsterdam, in a gorgeous area known as Nine Streets. It was only a fifteen minute walk to Amsterdam's central train station, but well away from the bustle of that area, set within streets of boutique shops and independent cafes and restaurants. Our apartment overlooked a canal, so it was perfect for people-watching. 


I took this photo from the living room of our apartment and it shows both the inside and the reflection outside merged together - if you have a moment, double click on the photo to enlarge it and you'll see the bookshelves disappearing into the houses in the next street. 


This photo was taken from the same window during the day, albeit in black and white. We didn't have too much time to explore the city, but we did visit the Van Gogh Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, which was showing some work by artists that my daughter is studying. We walked through the central passageway of the Rijks Museum (where we heard a five-piece playing Pachelbel's Canon, which was fairly special) and the architecture inside looked amazing, but everyone else had gallery fatigue by that point, so that's on my list for next time. As is the Anne Frank House. We'd been warned by friends to book early, but my version of early was two days before we left for Amsterdam...it's a version that wasn't rewarded with tickets. I'm always amazed by how organised other people are. 


The number of bikes in the city centre is just incredible and they seem to have priority over both cars and pedestrians. The bikes are fast and silent compared to cars, so even crossing the smallest road made me check and then double-check. During rush hour, when the offices emptied out for the day, the bikes seemed to move in swarms and I found it fascinating to watch the riders, many of whom looked at their iPhones or ate while they rode. The roads have a chaotic feel to them as a pedestrian, but we never saw any collisions or near misses. 

In other thoughts, let's talk about contact lenses. I'm increasingly finding it impossible to navigate a station or the underground without my glasses on...or to recognise people until they're a short distance away. I wear my glasses for driving, but generally I don't enjoy wearing them...they make me feel like I'm talking to people from behind a wall and they leave a red mark on the bridge of my nose, which means that once I've put them on I then have keep them on to disguise the red mark. In the house, I can no longer see the faces in the photos on our walls until I'm standing next to them and the spines on the bookshelves are a blur of muddy colours. So, with that in mind, I'm thinking I may switch to contact lenses. My mum and sister have both worn them for over thirty years, but they both wear hard lenses and soft ones seem to be more common now, so my mum said I should ask around to find out about them...so here I am, asking around :) Also, daily wear, extended wear, pay-as-you-go....so many options, so much room for indecisiveness. Tell me about your contact lenses - I'd love to hear. 

Just in case anyone doesn't already know about this piece of cleverness, my mum was telling me that her contact lens are built so that one eye's prescription corrects short-sightedness and the other corrects long-sightedness and that the brain then adapts to make her overall vision perfect in all situations. Isn't the brain amazing - that seems totally miraculous to me. 

Florence x

Monday, 26 March 2018

I've Written a Book...


I've just looked up the date and found that it's 23 months to the day since an email dropped into my inbox that was the catalyst for the book you can see at the top of this post. I did consider waiting a month to write this post when I realised that, as it would have so much more symmetry, but impatience seems to have won out.

Before I tell you about my own book, I want to rewind to 2012, when I wrote a post mentioning one about the late Lucy Boston, written by her daughter-in-law, Diana Boston. That biography very quickly became one of my favourite books about quilt-making and it didn't contain a single pattern; I loved it because at the end of the day when I finished my own sewing, I could take it to bed at night and continue to immerse myself in quilting by reading about Lucy's life and the way she thought about fabrics and the way she planned her quilts, which I found fascinating. I spent hours pouring over that book, admiring the beautiful photos of her finished piecing and looking at the trail of letters she wrote about her various quilting projects. It left me feeling that if I ever wrote a sewing book myself, I wanted it to be one that people could 'read', as well as make things from.

Fast-forward to 26th April 2016, when an email landed in my inbox from the US publisher, Fons & Porter (now the Quilting Company), inviting me to write a techniques-based book about English paper piecing, containing 8-10 hand pieced quilts. The email was so warm, friendly and personal that I was immediately interested, but two thoughts rumbled around inside my head that let me know I wouldn't be the right person to write that book for them: for me, sewing is a joyful thing, in part, because of its slowness and so the idea of sewing that many hand-pieced quilts in the space of a year left me feeling unenthused - I'm always in awe of authors whose passion only seems to be intensified by such a prospect, but I was fairly sure there was a danger it would crush mine entirely; secondly, I knew that if I were to put myself through such a thing, at the end of it, I still wouldn't have written the book that I really wanted to write.

So when I replied, it was to ask them to consider my writing a completely different book to the one they'd been hoping for. This was how I summarised what I wanted to do in one of our many emails: I’d been hoping to write a book that would feel a treat to dip in and out of: storied, thought-provoking, discursive, emotive, questioning - not only a how-to around English paper piecing, but within that, also an exploration of ‘why?’ - because it is such an odd thing that we spend so many hours fixating on cutting up small bits of fabric and then sewing them back together again, often even acquiring repetitive strain injuries in doing so. I see this exploration of ‘why?' naturally unfolding over a series of interviews, but also in looking generally around the subject of working with our hands. I then went on to make a very long list of all the specific things that I wanted to write about; several of which relied upon people - many of whom I had no idea if I could even get in touch with - agreeing to be interviewed by me.

Although I had a strong belief in my vision for a book, in all honesty I hadn't expected to find a publisher who would agree to my approach, so I was both surprised and delighted when the acquisitions editor wrote back to say that she loved the sound of it and would like to put it in front of the rest of the team to get their feedback. I feel truly lucky that they were willing to take a risk on what, at that time, was a rather underdeveloped collection of ideas.

So, let me tell you a bit about the book that eventually grew out of those initial emails. The first half is full of discussion, stories and interviews, not just about English paper piecing, but more generally about working with our hands. Amongst other things, it will take you on a journey into prisons to hear about men who hand-sew as a way of creating a new life for themselves; we'll look into why humans are so drawn to symmetry and repeating pattern; I'll bring you with me on a day trip to see Lucy Boston's English paper pieced quilts in person; we'll consider how fabric has influenced the English language; you'll find out how the acclaimed novelist Tracy Chevalier came to write a story about hand-pieced quilts; we'll explore why people feel compelled to sew and what the mental and physical benefits of doing so might be; we'll meet the granddaughter of a man whose individual quilts contained more pieces than I could ever hope to sew in a lifetime; and from there, we'll go on to discuss what drives some people to undertake (and successfully complete) such extraordinary feats of quilting. In my research, I pored over books and papers written by quilt historians, neuroscientists, physicists (Richard Feynman and quilting have more in common than you might first imagine), psychologists and mathematicians, as well as consulting with fellow quilt-makers - the result is an eclectic collection of bite-sized articles and essays (for want of better words - neither of those actually feel quite right), rounded off by a series of interviews where I'll introduce you to some of my favourite modern-day English paper piecers.

In the second half of the book, there's an extensive techniques section that covers everything from looking at how different shapes tessellate, to how to make your own templates, along with step-by-step instructions and photos walking you through every technique you might need for EPP. The book also takes an in-depth look at fussy cutting and the effects that can be achieved by cutting fabrics in a variety of different ways (there are some fun visuals to go with this bit). Finally, there are three rosette patterns, each named after a place where I've lived, and then a bigger quilt pattern that contains more advanced techniques, including tackling curves.

My book is available for pre-order now through WaterstonesAmazon UK, Amazon US and other places where you can buy books :) I may also stock it on my blog to be sent out directly if there's any interest.
This feels like a long, wordy post, not broken up by many photos, but I'll share more over the coming months. My book is out in the US on 29th May and in the UK on 29th June, which was feeling like quite a long time away, until it received its very first review in a magazine this month and now suddenly it feels like my book may not just be a figment of my imagination and as though there may be a day when it's sitting on the shelves of a real bookshop or quilt store. Above, is the review written by Julie Sheridan in Popular Patchwork magazine - I'm not sure I could ever have hoped for a more generous write-up. Just click on the image to enlarge, if you'd like to read it.

I'll hopefully follow this post up with one about the book writing process as it's always something I'm interested in reading about from others.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

Thursday, 8 March 2018

On Kew and Books


For my birthday treat this year, I'd asked if we could go to Kew Gardens - there were three exhibitions there that I wanted to see before they closed on Sunday (11th March), so in some ways, I am back to my usual thing of sharing the details of something wonderful, just before it's about to disappear...but if you happen to have a spare day before Sunday, then I'd encourage you to go.

The exhibition that I was most excited about was Life in Death, where the artist, Rebecca Louise Law, had strung an entire room with dried flowers and created a meandering path through. My expectations had been high, but the reality of the exhibition made them seem quite flat in retrospect: it was incredible. Rebecca has created a magical world with her work and it felt like a privilege to be allowed to walk through it.


This photo shows the copper wire that the flowers were strung on - knotted and tied to keep the flowers in place. With 1,000 garlands suspended from the ceiling, it was hard not to fixate on how many hours it might have taken to construct.


While some areas offered a rainbow of flowers, other zones were themed by colour.


The shadows cast on the white walls mingled with the etherealness of the garlands themselves and added to the sense of every step offering a different viewpoint.



Although there were other people in the room, their forms were softened by the veil of flowers and the dark figures you can see in the photo above seem to have become a welcome part of the display.


It was maddening to have only brought the camera on my phone along - these photos don't feel like they do the exhibition justice at all. If you go before Sunday, it's worth walking through once with your camera and once without, because the temptation to photograph every little part of it is strong (I actually gave my phone to my husband for safekeeping the second time around because I knew that I couldn't be trusted).

We also visited the International Garden Photographer of the Year exhibition, which was beautiful. We decided that the early bird really does catch the worm when it comes to photography - there were so many beautiful shots taken in the early morning mist.

We also went to the Orchids Festival. My husband's father was a botanist and, as a consequence, my husband had spent much of his early childhood hunting for orchids on hillsides around the world. Even as adults, he encouraged us to have our eyes to the ground whenever we went on country walks with him. In that context, seeing the orchids en masse meant that they lost some of their appeal for us, even though the range of orchids was impressive.


The Palm House was the unexpected treat of the day and we were both charmed by the building's rusting elegance. As the temperature inside emulates a rain forest climate, it's hard to imagine how the building's decay could be stopped. We took a spiral staircase up into the roof and walked around a balcony where we could see the structure of the building more clearly and look down at all the palms.



I loved the flowers that dotted the framework.


My phone tells me that we walked nearly 15km. It rained on and off all day, but never enough for us to feel like it was the wrong day to visit and there are enough indoor areas at Kew to escape a heavy downpour.



Outside, some early flowers were starting to bloom.


And my husband met and photographed this fine fellow. 


At Waterloo, we stopped at Natural Kitchen to pick up some food to take home for a lazy dinner (if you haven't discovered Natural Kitchen, it's wonderful - lots of vegan and vegetarian food and exceptionally delicious) and I fell asleep reading Shirley Jackson's 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' (now finished). It came recommended to me by my father, who in his retirement from work is a member of four book groups and a prolific reader. It's an ongoing challenge for my sister and me to discover authors that he hasn't already read and loved, as a memorable introduction merits many Daughter Points. My finest achievements in this area have been Kent Haruf and Nickolas Butler, but I am determined not to fall asleep on my laurels, even though these were considered to be exceptional offerings that could stand me in good stead for at least a decade. The hunt continues.

When I was out on a dog walk with my husband today, we ended up discussing the different rating systems we've been using for reviewing books and it left me interested to hear how others might be doing it. Here's how my own idiosyncratic system works:

The ratings I leave on Goodreads tend to be very different to those I'd leave on Amazon: on Amazon, when I rate something (relatively rare, but I still have a mental structure in place for it), I'm basing my star rating on whether I feel the book is a good, well-written book and fulfilled the promise of what it was offering. When I consider that my rating has the capacity to reduce the average star rating for a book at its point of sale, it seems unfair to rate it for something that's beyond the control of the author. By this I mean that if the book is autobiography when horror might be my preferred genre, or if the book is chick-lit, when I might favour literary fiction, it seems churlish to lower its rating on this basis (I should say that these are ridiculous examples - horror particularly would never be my preferred genre as I am such a scaredy cat). To me, the structure for reviews on Amazon makes it feel like it's less about what the book meant to me and more about my - still subjective - idea of whether something is good for the type of book it's intended to be (and if I didn't like it at all, then generally I wouldn't review it - I tend to only review the things I really loved on Amazon).

On Goodreads, I use an entirely different system, because of the way it's set up. Here, I've always felt that the idea is to create a personal bookshelf of what I'm reading and rate the books on it relative to one another according to my personal taste. So on Goodreads, something getting a lower mark because it doesn't fit into a favoured genre etc, feels more valid. As an overarching theme to my reading, I crave stories that offer a deeper understanding of people and what it means to be human and consequently, only books that fulfil this at some level tend to elicit a four or five star rating (for my mum, she's always looking for books that offer redemption - I expect everyone has their themes). When I was discussing this with my husband, I realised that - rightly or wrongly  - I haven't felt uncomfortable about giving a book a lower rating on Goodreads because in my mind it's not a reflection on the book itself, but more a reflection of what I'm seeking in a book generally and to what degree the book has succeeded in offering me this. I'm wondering whether most people are assuming this?

When it comes to written reviews, I'm probably more likely to write about a book here on my blog. The past month has been more about reading than sewing and as a result I seem to have made my way through quite a lot of books. In brief:

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett - my father bought me this in paperback as a Christmas gift last year, but I was struggling to get through it as I tend to read more on my Kindle, so that I don't disturb my husband by putting a light on. I really wanted to finish it though, so in the end I bought a copy on Kindle and then proceeded to romp through it - it's wonderful! A series of essays, that have all previously been published elsewhere, on a diverse range of subjects. Everything from the love of dogs, to training to join the LAPD.

The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson - I actually listened to this book on Audible, rather than reading it. I chose it because it's set in Rye, which is an area I love and know well. The story and characters were engaging, but ultimately, I probably didn't fall in love with it in the way that I do with some books.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson - this is a modern classic, first published in 1962, and probably fits into the Mystery genre, which isn't my normal stomping ground. It's a curious and unique book that I feel pleased to have read, but something about the writing or story left me feeling quite detached and I failed to become lost in it at any point.

A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler - I absolutely loved this book. It felt like it had so much to say about families and how they work. The characters were all flawed, but hugely likable - my favourite kind. Since reading it, I've often found my mind distracted by wandering around the rooms of their house (which features quite heavily in the story) and thinking about the lives of the people it contained.

Back When we were Grown-Ups, Anne Tyler - Continuing with the Anne Tyler theme, this book was more of a mixed bag for me. I loved the characters and the relationships that the book explored, but I struggled with some of the peripheral content - the central character organises a lot of parties and I found the details of those slightly excruciating and tiring to read about.

How to Break up with your Phone, Catherine Price - I pre-ordered this book after seeing the reviews. It's the perfect book for anyone who finds themselves taking their phone out to fill in a spare minute while waiting; opening Instagram for a few minutes and looking up to find twenty minutes have passed; or starting the day by reading the news in bed, when actually a book might be a better start. I've been guilty of all of these things. I enjoyed this book, which isn't saying that you should throw your phone out altogether (for photography, texts, listening to audio books, using an online shared calendar, banking, planning journeys and a whole host of other things, my phone feels indispensable and isn't something I want to forgo), but instead shares ideas of how to stop it being such a time sap. I've previously struggled with how to separate out the bits of my phone that I find useful and the bits that were stealing my time - this book has all the practical answers and a wealth of information into clever settings and apps to help. It also shines a much-needed light on how utterly bizarre the role of the phone has become in our society and why it's worth taking steps to change that. For my own part, I've had more free time since I read this book, which is a delicious luxury that I wouldn't want to unwittingly give up again. I haven't followed the 30 day plan that the book includes, but instead I've pilfered many of the ideas from it and instigated them straight away. It's an excellent resource and worth the cover price.

The Creative Writing Course Book, Julia Bell & Andrew Motion - At the start of this year, a friend and I enrolled on an creative writing class at the local adult education centre and I've enjoyed it so much that I bought a few books to supplement the course and I've been working my way through the exercises inside. I'm not sure which book I prefer yet, so I'll withhold judgment until I've finished working my way through the other one.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett - Ann Patchett is one of my favourite writers and I'm currently listening to this one on Audible. It's set in the Amazon rain forest and I'm finding the atmosphere and storyline somewhat claustrophobic and stifling, which is making me love it a little less than her other books, but I'm keen to see it to the end despite that. It feels a little like cheating to add it to this list when I haven't yet finished it, but as I'm two-thirds of the way through and will probably finish it before the end of the week, so it's going on to avoid being missed off at a later date.

I'd love to hear what you're currently reading and what your own system for rating books is.

Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.