Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Thoughts about blogs


Thank you so much for all the entries on my book giveaway over the last few days. It was really lovely to read all your comments. The eyes-closed-and-pointy-finger-while-scrolling method means that the winner here on my blog was Fran Apolon (do get in touch with your address, Fran), and over on Instagram, @nickifranklin_needlework.

After a bumpy start (you can read more here if you're interested and didn't catch my last post), I'm delighted to say that my book is now finally available in all the usual places. If you'd like a copy and want to shop online, here are a few links: Amazon UK, Book Depository, Waterstones or Foyles, otherwise it's lovely if you'd like to request a copy at your local bookshop or library. I am so grateful to the UK arm of my publisher who went the extra mile to get my book back in stock so quickly. The photo above, by the way, is part of the quilt pattern that features in my book.

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Moving on, some scattered thoughts about blogs and blogging. A few months ago, I had an email from a reader that began: "I know housekeeping is something everyone hates but could I put in a polite request for you to check and update the links to other blogs? I just tried out three at random. Only one is still current, with one being a blog that has been removed and another is no longer current." I didn't have time to look into it right away, but recently I took some time out to click through the links in my sidebar. Many of the blog names there felt like old friends and I can still remember a time when they were updated several times a week, so it came as a shock to realise that many hadn't actually posted since 2015.

Many of those bloggers I now follow on Instagram, so I hadn't had a true sense of them going missing (more just a sense of my feedreader having less and less content) but I was sad to realise that one by one so many had abandoned their blogs. It felt like the end of an era realising this. For anyone on intimate terms with every scene of Dirty Dancing (my sister and I spent our teenage years ensuring we were), at this point you can think of me as Max Kellerman, the owner of Kellerman's Holiday Resort standing stage left, saying: You think kids want to come with their parents and take fox-trot lessons? Trips to Europe, that's what the kids want. Twenty-two countries in three days. It feels like it's all slipping away. (But we all know what happens shortly after he utters those rueful words: Johnny Castle comes and takes Baby out of the corner and sweeps Max Kellerman's nostalgia-fuelled misery to one side as the dance floor becomes a wonderous hotbed of wild moves and gyrating dancers of all ages. It has to be one of the best scenes in the history of film-making, even though I can hear my husband in my head vehemently disputing this as I type. But I have never trusted his judgment on this matter; anything that makes your cheeks ache from over-smiling as you watch it has to be good, no?)

But why does it even matter if blogs disappear when the same sense of community and friendships being built across the globe is on offer at Instagram? Well, in many ways it doesn't, but as I seem to have an abundance of thoughts around the subject, I thought I might share some of them here. To clarify, I am a most enthusiastic Instagram user, but as it's primarily Instagram that seems to have taken the place of many blogs (and the frequency of blog posts....I know I used to write more here before it existed), an element of comparison naturally creeps in when discussing this, but it's not intended to an either/or argument...more highlighting why I'm in favour of using both.


Increasingly, I'm trying to think of things not in terms of how much instant enjoyment something might offer, but more in terms of the residual feeling that doing that thing leaves me with. When I think about it in those terms, the things that leave me relaxed, happy and fulfilled can actually be boiled down to a relatively simple list: spending time with family and friends, walking Nell, reading books, writing, sewing, photography, eating scrambled eggs at my favourite coffee shop, listening to podcasts and audio books, cooking, pottering in the garden, and yes, writing my blog and reading other people's blogs too. Although I really love Instagram and social media while I'm actually using them, the residual feeling they leave me with is of having done things fast - as though I've attended a big party where I've stopped to talk to people for a few minutes, while flipping backwards and forwards simultaneously having different conversations with other people also at the party. It's fun, but its freneticism means there will probably always be room in my life for slower-paced mediums, like blogs, too.

In terms of how I view people's work on Instagram, while it's a delicious pool of awe and inspiration, it's also easy to scroll past something never knowing the meaning behind it, the process or journey the maker went on as they made it or what was going on around them as they sewed and what they were thinking, simply because it isn't the right medium for sharing the whole story. Without those things, I think the work seems to lose some of its value for the onlooker. There might be clues in the photos surrounding the picture of their finished quilt if you stop to click through to their profile and look, but it's harder to link all those things together from the default scrolling position. Divorced from these things, it's easy for amazing works of art or beautifully crafted clothing to carry less weight and for us to be less invested in their story as an onlooker. When people make things, it's all the geeky details that I want to hear about...somehow that doesn't happen in the same way on Instagram. To me, the mixture of words, photos and more words offers another layer that invites people in a little more.

I also think blogs offer something special in terms of their format - the banner, side bars and layout make every blog unique - when I arrive at one it feels like I've called in at a friend's house where I'm fondly familiar with their sofa and wallpaper...they might not have updated those things for over a decade, but there's something lovely in that. With Instagram, our photos sit within their brand's framework of evenly spaced squares against a white background - it's enormously appealing from an aesthetic point of view, but doesn't offer the same feeling of visiting someone's house.

And in terms of being the actual poster, I love spending an hour or two writing a blog post - thinking back over a project or formulating my thoughts into some kind of order that's fit for sharing with others (debatable at times, but I try). I rarely know what I'm going to write about when I sit down, so it's always a surprise to find out what's been sitting in my head bubbling away without my even realising. And sometimes, I'll wonder when something happened and search for the answer on my blog and in rereading the old post I'm reminded of a thousand tiny details that would have been lost forever in the sieve of my memory had I not recorded them here.

And then there's the issue of ownership and control. On Instagram, I've chosen to follow particular people because I want to keep in touch with what they're making and what's happening in their life, but invariably Instagram allows only a limited number of those people to show up in my feed and when they do the content is often several days old (it's strange to see people hopefully placing their vote two days after election results have been announced). When I check into someone's profile directly, I often find I've missed the most amazing things because Instagram's algorithm has chosen not to show it to me, which seems a real shame as it stops me from building up a complete picture of who that person is and how their projects have unfolded and developed.


My feeling is that the main issue with blogs is that it's more time-consuming to leave a comment - I'm guilty myself of leaving so many more comments on people's instagram photos than on blogposts...I wish the blogging platforms would make some changes to simplify that, as I'm sure that's part of the problem. A case in point is the giveaway at the top of this post: there were 444 entries over on Instagram and 107 over here on my blog.

I know services like Bloglovin' allow people to comment within their blog reading platform, but I'm not sure that's a solution - it's not always easy to keep track of comments there and it feels sad to take the conversation away from the home of the actual blog - I love the conversations that begin in the comments section here and I like that they're all still there for people to read through when they look through my archives, rather than split up over different locations that aren't a part of my blog. And how to keep up with replying to comments on all those possible platforms too?

So, with that rather random collection of thoughts on the page, let's return to talk of the sidebar and the original request for housekeeping. My links list has always been divided into four types of blog: quilting, dressmaking, general sewing goodness, and 'other things', so I set about visiting each blog in these sections and deleting them from my sidebar if they hadn't posted for several months. There were some that were harder to do this for than others...and I actually allowed myself to leave two in there, on the basis that they are pieces of history, excellent resources irrespective of how recently they've posted, and also because I'm not willing quite yet to let go of the idea that they might actually return to their blogs. By the end of this exercise, some of these sections had only one blog left standing though.

But when I stopped to think about it, I realised that many of my favourite bloggers were still writing on blogs that I'd somehow never added to my sidebar, so I started putting them in and it was one of those strange mind webs where more and more names popped into my head and I discovered that many had blogs I either didn't know about or wasn't following in my feedreader. If you want to take a look at my links list now (scroll down all the way past the patterns and tutorials in the left-hand column), you'll find it updated with so much goodness and I've added in a little widget that shows when people last posted so that you can also see instantly if there's anything new. When I first started blogging, I actually used to use the links list on my blog in place of a feedreader (I don't think such a thing actually existed until about eight years ago...or maybe I just hadn't discovered them).

So, although so many blogs have disappeared, there are still lots of good ones around and I've noticed an increasing number of people saying recently that they've realised they're missing writing their blogs and are thinking of starting them back up again. It feels like Johnny Castle really could be about to burst through the doors and take Baby out of the corner.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on all this (although I'm not sure I can enter into a reasonable debate about the merits of Dirty Dancing...my mind is not for changing on that).

Florence x

Friday, 29 June 2018

A book give-away

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As I posted on Instagram earlier today, my book has been available elsewhere for a month now, but today it was finally published in the UK, which feels special for me because of it being my home country. My husband and I celebrated with a trip to the park at lunchtime where we sat and ate feta and olives in the sunshine and bought cake to take home with us.  

I've been surprised and in turn totally delighted by the love and support my book has received from our creative community over the last month - the generous words, reviews, emails, messages and the pictures of it arriving in people's homes have made me pinch myself with how incredibly lucky I've been to have had such an enthusiastic initial response to it - I am so grateful.

Here in the UK, people have shown their support so wholeheartedly that I know many who pre-ordered are now receiving emails from Amazon saying that they're not yet able to fulfil those orders. I'm so sorry for this delay - the copies that came over on the boat from the US were very quickly spoken for (so many thank yous!). However, the wonderful UK branch of my publisher have taken the step of printing locally to fulfil the rest of the preorders as soon as possible, with hopefully some to spare for regular orders and the good news is that those freshly-printed copies were due in their warehouse today and I'm told that it should be back in stock at Amazon for fulfilling orders next week. Apologies and huge thank yous if you're one of the people who kindly pre-ordered and is now being asked to wait a little longer - I'm so grateful both for your order and now your patience. 

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While we wait, I thought it might be fun to do a giveaway. I'll be giving away two copies - one here, and one over on Instagram. You can comment on either post or both for a double chance of winning :) No hoops to jump through - just leave a comment and I'd be happy to post to anywhere in the world. I'll announce a winner early next week.

Wishing you a sunshiniest of weekends, 
Florence x

Ps. I've heard from a few people overseas who are having a difficult time getting hold of a copy too, so just as a quick fyi, at the time of writing in Australia Can Do Books have stock; in America, Barnes & Noble have copies; and the UK-based Book Depository ship worldwide and also show stock (I know someone in Scandinavia who ordered from them and magically received her copy a few weeks ago, even though it wasn't released in the UK at that point...it seems there is no fathomable rhyme or reason to it...although their despatch time is currently listed as being a few days). If you're a quilt shop or independent book shop who has stock, do let me know (along with what country you're in) as it's always handy to have somewhere lovely to direct people if asked - a direct message on Instagram is easiest for me to keep track of, but otherwise email is fine. x

ENTRIES NOW CLOSED. Thank you. x

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Exhibitions, films and magazines


There are so many exciting exhibitions on at the moment that I thought I might share a few here, but first, for immediate sofa-based consumption, The Quilter, the quarterly magazine produced by The Quilter's Guild for its members. The magazine is always packed full of interesting articles, features and news about quilt-related events and shows, but being a Guild member is also an investment in our country's quilt-based heritage and sustaining the collection that the Guild holds in York. Since 1979 when the Guild first began, they've been buying quilts to bring together a collection of over 800 today. It feels important that not only does the UK have some central point for curating a history of our quilting, but also a place that works to preserve those examples and uncover some of the history behind each piece. When I was researching my book, I spent an afternoon at the Guild's headquarters in York, studying some of the quilts alongside curator Heather Audin, and it's quite a dreamy place and Heather has so much knowledge to share - from memory, I think they hold regular study days where people can go and look at the quilts.

One of the quilts that the Guild owns is the 1718 Coverlet, which contains the oldest known example of English paper piecing in The British Isles. It's currently being displayed at The America Museum, where I just happened to be recently as my daughter and I had gone up to Bath for a few days as a post-GCSE treat. The museum has a shuttle bus that takes you up from the centre of town and it's a gorgeous location with amazing views from the back of the building.


The coverlet is displayed on a raised platform on the floor, presumably to avoid stressing the fabrics by hanging it, and it feels a very unusual way of viewing a quilt in a museum, but really quite lovely and intimate. The quilt is covered by a sheet of plastic to protect it from light and fingers - I've never actually touched a quilt in a museum or exhibition, but it's an exercise in self-restraint...a momentary slip in concentration and I could quite easily imagine my hand being sucked down into the quilt-stroking vortex.

The blocks in the quilt are placed with vertical symmetry, with each block mirrored across onto the other side of the quilt, although there's no symmetry top to bottom. From this viewpoint, it was interesting to look at which fabrics had deteriorated on one side and to see that the same was usually true on the other side.



The central fabric on these blocks had sadly worn away on both sides of the quilt to reveal the papers beneath - it was quite thrilling to see some handwriting on one of them though. And look at all those little stitches.


These circles have such perfectly smooth outlines and gorgeous colours too. It's amazing to think those stitches were made 300 years ago - the fabrics are still so vibrant. It's rare for this quilt to make an outing as it's so fragile, but to celebrate it's 300th anniversary it will also be on display at Festival of Quilts this year in August, where the Guild will also be sharing some replicas of the coverlet made by its members. I'm so looking forward to seeing the reproductions (and relieved to have already seen the original coverlet in a deserted room, as I imagine it will be swamped at the festival - worth a trip to Bath if you're nearby).


Upstairs at the American Museum, the quilts are hung in enormous frames that you can flip through, or creak through...they are heavy and with each turn sound like an unoiled door opening, which is quite atmospheric.


This was my favourite quilt - a Grandmother's Flower Garden from 1840 - the colours are beautiful and I love the way that they've pieced the borders.


We were also fascinated to find that each individual hexagon wasn't individually wrapped and pieced - in many places two or three hexagons were combined, which you can see in the photo above. It seemed quite ingenious and I couldn't stop looking at it and hunting out the combined pieces, but when I thought about making some myself this way, I found it would feel like cheating. Looking at this weird moral quirk objectively, I realised that it's based purely on an inexplicable 'instinct' as I have no idea who or what it would be 'cheating', particularly when surely it's just actually a new elongated shape in its own right, a bit like the body of a caterpillar. As an aside to this kind of over-analysis, last night at my writing class we were looking at the Myers Briggs questionnaire with the idea that you could complete it on behalf of one of your characters and in doing so get a firmer idea of who they are as you consider what their response would be to each statement. One of the statements to be agreed or disagreed with was something along the lines of: I believe that everything can be analysed. Typing up this post just now and realising that I'm even analysing why I wouldn't combine hexagons, I guess that one is curiously strong in me. The website we used in class wasn't great, but if you're interested in doing a personality test yourself, my husband and I have done this one before and found the results freakily accurate, so much so that our children ended up doing it too and really enjoyed it.


Onwards. Also in Bath, Kaffe Fassett has just opened an exhibition at the Victoria Gallery entitled A Celebration of Flowers. Kaffe had asked that people didn't take any photos inside the exhibition, so I don't have any photos of my own, but he shared this one on his Instagram feed and it gives you a sense of the vibrant colour. The walls had been repainted to Kaffe's specifications in delicious shades of pinks and greens and they really set off the quilts beautifully.  I don't feel I can look at Kaffe Fassett's work without learning something new about colour every time, although the quilts I loved the best were actually made by Kim McClean using Kaffe Fassett's fabrics. Most of Kim's quilts in the exhibition were English paper pieced and they were just exquisite - I'm quite traumatised that I don't have photos of them to re-study them at home (although that's one of them in the background to this photo). This exhibition is so worth making a very long pilgrimage for and it only costs £4.50 to get in and children go free. It's small, so entirely doable in fifteen minutes if you have your family in tow, but they will probably be the best 15 minutes of your day.

We stayed at a really lovely hotel while we were in Bath and that was wonderfully quirky and eccentric in its decor. This was a mural painted on the wall in the bar...


And this was on our bedroom wall, by a local sixth form student, Jamie Mount, aged 17. Our bedroom was up in the attic and really lovely, but even with a Dyson fan we nearly melted and died in our bed at night (it was only about 18 degrees during the day, so I think this may be an all-summer issue). If you're considering staying, it would be worth paying a bit more and going for a room on a lower floor. All guests were free to raid the larder, which was a small room full of soft drinks, sweets, brownies and a freezer full of ice-cream...this detail and the amazing art all over the hotel somehow made up for overheating each night.


It was worth taking the stairs rather than the lift as the staircases are covered in treats. 


We liked these framed pom-poms.


We went to an amazing vegetarian cafe called The Green Rocket a few times where we had wonderful salads and cakes; we also visited The Boston Tea Party for scrambled eggs and had pizzas at Dough Pizza. I can't eat gluten and they had four types of gluten free base, which seemed quite incredible. I went for the gluten free hemp base topped with aubergine and gorgonzola (my own combination, but a winning one) and it was one of the best things I've ever tasted. My daughter said her full-gluten version was amazing too.

One evening we went to the Bath Thermae Spa. The lilac woggles, which people place beneath their arms to enjoy floating around with, are in very hot demand and waiting for a woggle to be abandoned is an amusing situation: both us and others we noticed, watched furtively, not wanting to look too desperate and then not wanting to appear too fast and grabby when one does finally become free, but underneath feeling so very keen to have that damn woggle! We were privately scandalised by one woman who saw fit to hog a woggle beneath each arm when all around her people stood utterly woggleless. Surely there is a clear woggle etiquette. This is only the second spa I've been to and I think ultimately although I find spas fun for very brief periods, I really like to either be 'doing' things while relaxing (i.e. hand-sewing) or to do things to relax (i.e. the hand-sewing becomes the vehicle to relaxation). Passive floating just makes me feel restless. My daughter seemed to feel the same, so we were both ready to relinquish our woggles long before our two hour slot was up and went off to forage for pizza (using a knife and fork: curiously relaxing).


Back in London, at the always wonderful Fashion & Textiles Museum, Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern. I'm really looking forward to visiting this one.


Then over at the V&A, Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up. I am more than a little in love with Frida, so I'm really excited about this one. I really enjoyed watching the eponymously named film about Frida's life too (trailer here), although discovering what went on behind the scenes of that movie when the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfolded left a bitter taste in the mouth and took the edge off the movie. You can find Frida in stunning quilt-form here.

Finally, coming full circle to finish where we started, back on the sofa, here's an interesting talk about how our clothes are made and whether we have anything to feel uncomfortable about within that, given on the TED stage by Patrick Grant.

 

Patrick mentions a few things within the video that you might like to take a look at if you're interested to find out more: his maverick clothing factory, Community Clothing (with gorgeous raincoats); a film called The True Cost about the cost of the fashion industry in terms of human lives; Machines, a film by Rahul Jain, which goes inside a sweatshop in India. I haven't had a chance to watch more than the trailers for the latter two yet, but I'm steeling myself to watch them soon.

Florence x

Ps. Yes, dear readers! I have contact lens and I'm so grateful for all your input in the comments on this post where I was pondering them. I have an astigmatism in my left eye, which meant that they had to do all kinds of weird things to get them to work for me, first with a differently-shaped contact lens that felt hideously uncomfortable and then by compensating within the prescription to allow me to wear regular ones, but they really do work and I feel I've been given the gift of sight. It's always a shock at the end of a day wearing them to take them out and realise that that gift isn't actually permanent or truly mine to keep. I don't wear them every day, as they throw my near vision out, so if I'm having a day at home on my laptop or sewing, then they I leave them out, but they're fun for going out into the world with. 


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
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.