A Very Special Surprise

At the end of last year, I was super-thrilled to work with my transatlantic cross stitch counterpart, the wonderful Julie Jackson of Subversive Cross Stitch on a very special commission.

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Julie tells it better than me, so you should read the story behind it here. It was a really cool collaboration and I’m pleased to say that the commissioner and the recipient were bloody delighted with it. Yay!

Take It As Red

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This is what my hair looks like now. I stopped procrastinating and finally did it, having told no one of my plans. I really like it! I’m told it will fade quickly, so I’ve got all sorts of potions to try and keep it vibrant. I keep catching sight of myself, or my hair out of the corner of my eye and wondering what that red thing is…

You Want The Truth? You Can’t Handle The Truth!

Honesty is the best policy, so they say, and honesty and transparency in small, indie business is something that you don’t see a lot of. So many one-man bands portray the image of “we” and “us” when it’s just one person in their pyjama bottoms all day at a laptop.

I guess they feel that they have to project this image to appear professional, but NEWSFLASH – people LIKE supporting small businesses. They like your personality and they want your stuff BECAUSE it’s made by you. If they wanted another faceless corporation, I assure you, they’d still be on Amazon. They want the “I” and the “me”.

Personally, as a business owner and an indie shopper, I actively seek out the behind the scenes snaps, the true reflection of life in the creative lane, and it all adds value to my purchase or sales. I like to get to know the person behind the brand, how they work, and all the love and sweat and tears that go into producing their ace work.

Yesterday, I spotted Kim from Finest Imaginary‘s snap of her workspace – she was, ironically, supposed to be taking a photo for a magazine of her workspace – and this is what it looked like:

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Firstly, let’s take a moment to pause and respect the majesty of that mug.

Secondly – and I am sure Kim won’t mind me saying this – what a mess! A happily creative clutter of things. You can almost sense the activity just looking at it. This is what the desk of a busy, creative person looks like. Just like their brain, it’s got 18 things going on at once, and although to the outsider it doesn’t look ordered, I bet she knows exactly where everything is.

I mean, I do love a neat and tidy desk as much as the next guy, but the reality is that very few people live and work in a Pinterest fantasy. Here’s my spare room office from 2 weeks ago, before we floored the loft:

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Truly a mess.Not even much of a creative one, at that. I couldn’t do anything in there, but have since rearranged it so whilst it’s still busy, it’s a bit less bomb-sitey. It did make things a bit more ordered in my mind to tidy up, but really, I think I’ve accepted now that I’ll never be featured as anyone’s Desk Idol. I’m happy with my creative clutter. It’s better than idle neatness, as another wise Kim once said!

Hit me up with your own messy desks!

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Super-Easy Desk Lunch

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I am so bored of lunches eaten at my desk, another cardboard sandwich from the Co-op hastily stuffed down whilst working on something or other. Last night, I thought about what I really wanted to eat. I love ramen noodle soup and haven’t had any for eons. I could eat it every day. Plain-ish, sure, but tasty and sustaining. And, as it turns out, super-easy to make in the hovel of a kitchen we have at work.

You will need

  • One packet of straight-to-wok noodles (I used Amoy fine noodles)
  • Chicken stock powder (I used Knorr reduced-salt)
  • Two spring onions
  • Cooked chicken (optional)
  • Boiling water

To make…

  • Cut up the spring onion into small slices. Cut on the diagonal if you’re feeling fancy!
  • Add to a large soup bowl.
  • Add the noodles.
  • Add a dessert spoon of chicken powder to the bowl and pour over a cup’s worth of boiling water fresh from the kettle.
  • Tear up some of your chicken and add to the bowl.
  • Add some soy sauce if you have any to hand, or some pepper, or just enjoy as is.

Tasty, quick, hot and fresher than those supermarket sandwiches. You could add chillis or something, if that is your bag, too.  I’m going to keep a stash of noodles in my drawer for lunch all the time! My colleagues were envious.

Let’s Hear It For Breakfast!

Have you seen Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt yet? I really loved it. It’s on Netflix, give it a go.

A few catchphrases from the show caught my attention, and I decided to make a free cross stitch chart from one of them for you. I know, I’m too good to you. Let’s hear it for breakfast!

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If you feel inspired to cross stitch this one, you can clickez here – LetsHearItForBreakfastChart.

I’ve also finally fixed the problem of the disappearing free cross stitch charts and put them all on a static page together – you’ll find all my free cross stitch charts here. There’s also a link at the top of the page here, if you’re not viewing on a reader.Apologies to anyone who has recently tried to download a chart and not received the chart!

I made some badges for some pals who also loved the show and added a few sets to the shop. I was so chuffed when Netflix instagramed them, look!

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Yay! If you’d like your own set, you’ll find them here.

Vote For Pedro

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About 10 years ago, my best friend Jo made herself a cross stitch pattern to stitch up Napoleon Dynamite. It was simpler times, and cross stitch software wasn’t quite as sophisticated as it is now (ho ho). Anyway, it was a labour of love, but about half way through, she put it aside to start something else and it got forgotten.

A few years ago, we randomly got to talking about it and I said I’d take it and finish it. I did a little of it, then our nomadic lifestyle of the past while took over, I put it in a box and I had no idea where it even was for a long time.

It was Jo’s birthday recently and a few weeks before, I came across the abandoned project again and thought it was the perfect time to finish him off. So, I did, and made him into a cushion and presented him to the birthday girl. I’m pleased she loved it, and I think we’re both happy to finally finish this project after 10 whole years!

#BEDM 10. Wishlist

The theme today is wishlist and when I think of things that I wish I could do, they are invariably related to travel. There are so many places I wish I could visit, and if I stop to think about it too much, I get a little panicked that I’ll never fit it all in (realistically, I will never fit it all in, but let’s not dwell on that).

Part of the problem with fitting it in is that some of the places I’ve already been to, I really want to go back to, so it’s a fine balancing act of exploring the new and revisiting the familiar. I should never have started my San Francisco Pinterest board, let’s face it.

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Of course, the one place I do keep returning to is Cincinnati, Ohio. My cousin and her husband are there and are just the best company and so generous to host us so often. We always have a great time, we tend to save all our shopping up until we’re there, so the time always passes in a whirlwind of shopping, eating, drinking and general merriment.

Even though we’ve visited loads of times now, there is still so much we haven’t done yet. Cincinnati is situated in such a handy location that it’s within easy striking distance of loads of places – we’ve taken the Megabus to Chicago, driven to Nashville, Cleveland, Louisville, stopped off in New York on our way home, not to mention taking in a large part of the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky – Lee’s a big bourbon fan and collector.

I decided to use this post to update my wishlist for our next trip:

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This donut tour of Cincinnati looks awesome, although it’s a crime that Busken’s is not on the list. I’ve never tasted a donut quite like a Busken’s – so light and airy and delicious. SO GOOD.

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Yeah, another food post but check out some of the things on this list – I’ve not even done half of them yet. I’ve never been to Tom + Chee, but check this donut sandwich – my arteries are clogging just looking at it.

front roomThe American Sign Museum has been on my to-see list for a few years now, but we’ve never gotten round to it. Definitely has to be done next time!

This little @rookwoodpottery owl flew into our new home today, a gift from my beautiful cousins in #cincinnati. A little piece of our second home, here with us in Scotland. Such a lovely piece, so finely crafted. Love it ❤️

A visit to the Rookwood Pottery factory, where this little guy is from. I’ve seen lots of it in the wild, but I’d love to see behind the scenes.

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To be honest, most of the things I want to do are food-based. What can I say, I’m a trougher. I’ve never been to Montgomery Inn, a Cincinnati institution. Lee has, and never tires of telling me how much I’ve missed out! Definitely going next time.

The Florence water tower is my favourite thing to see when I’m there (though it’s technically in Kentucky).

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There’s loads more stuff on the list, of course. Check out my Cincinnati Pinterest board for more stuff. Cincinnati is such a dynamic city – always new businesses, shops, restaurants, bars etc opening to try out. I heartily recommend it!

Honest Business – Returning To My Nemesis

I have expounded at great length in the past about why I fell out of love with Etsy. You’re probably sick of me talking about it by now. Perhaps you see my name or twitter handle and think, oh, her, the one who hates Etsy. I wouldn’t blame you, because it’s pretty much been my nemesis for a few years now.

The whole descent into Chinese reseller promotion and twee-as-fuck antler headbands straight from Alibaba really grated on me. I wrote extensively about how selling “vintage” iPhones was damaging to people who do genuinely design and make awesome products. And I definitely voiced my annoyance and deep disdain for Etsy putting profit before their apparent ethos of being all about the makers. I think I’ve even argued with them on Twitter about it in the past few months (though sometimes I just do that in my head, so it’s hard to recall).

My opinion on this aspect of Etsy hasn’t changed at all. I still think Etsy are drifting further and further away from what they say their ethos was about and that they lack transparency in some areas. Their recent floating on stock exchange hasn’t really quelled my concerns either. I just read this post by Piddix this morning that really sums up the situation very succinctly.

However, what has changed is the way I think about Etsy. My viewpoint was challenged considerably when I read this article by Danielle Spurge about a different version of Etsy success.I read that back in March and it has really stuck with me and resonated. As Danielle says, Etsy has changed considerably but the way in which many people view it hasn’t, myself included. I guess I wish they were just more honest about turning into a multi-national company who are all about profit-making first and foremost, with the nurture of creative entrepreneurship second. They report to their investors first, their customers (both sellers and buyers) second. That is entirely fine and acceptable if you start to think of Etsy as a profit-making company and not as your friendly community leaders.  I cannot change that, so I should really stop trying to. I don’t even want to change it, I just maybe now want to reconsider how I could possibly make it work for me.

I got to thinking – what is really that different to, for example, Not On The High Street now to Etsy? When I think about the way I list products there, the sales I make, the communication with customers and the business/ethos balance there, it’s really not so different. Does it annoy me that people sale mass-produced stuff on NOTHS, an apparently curated collection of products? Of course it does. Does my annoyance make any difference to the customers viewing those or my products? Not a sausage. Are they also a profit-making entity who has grown from being a small, community type affair to a big company who has to count the beans before anything else? Sure they are. There are obvious differences, but the underlying principle is the same.

So, I’ve been thinking – maybe it’s time I climbed down off my high hand-carved, hand-painted dala horse and explored how I can make it work for me instead of what might appear to be cutting off my nose to spite my face. Hell, if Etsy has sold out, why shouldn’t I, too?!

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Can I expand my idea of success and the way I think of exposure for my business? Yes, I can. I’m still pondering how best to leverage it, but it’s no longer off my agenda. I’ll still be annoyed about everything I’ve mentioned, about the endless being ripped off by people who cross stitch one Me To You kit and think they’re Jane Greenoff and all that shite. But it’s every man for themselves, really, innit? Being ripped off is something that has happened loads to me in the past, and I don’t see that changing whether I am on or off selling platforms.

The other thing that has coloured my views on this since the turn of the year is the VATMOSS debacle. I had to stop selling my instant-download patterns which was a nice, easy revenue stream for me. Not huge volumes, but still. Now that Etsy are  going to be collecting the VAT and processing it without seller intervention, it seems a no-brainer to use that facility over other options that don’t get the traffic looking for the charts in the first place. See, something else that has recently changed that has changed my opinions. Something to consider on the balance sheet of pros and cons.

Am I big fat hypocrite? I am sure at least one person will think that of me. But no, I don’t think so. Things have changed a lot and I’ve re-examined my position and found it to have shifted a bit from where it was nearly 5 years ago. If you’ve never changed your mind about anything at all, then please feel free to think of me as massively hypocritical. Maybe I’ll even change my mind again. Who knows?

Ooh, I feel like a guilty secret has been let out! Not earth-shattering but I wanted to share this because people don’t talk about mistakes or changing views enough in our business. It’s OK to change! I haven’t made any decisions yet, but expanding my horizons, or un-narrowing them can’t help a little.

#BEDM 8. Day In The Life

My day (08/05/15) begins reaaaaaally early, when my alarm goes off at 03.30. I’ve been awake off and on for the past couple of hours anyway, partly as I’m worried I’ll sleep in and partly because I’m curious about the election results. I snooze it a couple of times and then I get out of bed and have a shower and get ready as quietly as possible and leave the house around 04.45. I roll into work just after 5am and check in with my colleagues who have been working over night to ensure our election coverage on all the various channels has been OK. It’s all been pretty smooth, which is good news.
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The next few hours are spent monitoring and organising the subtitlers and keeping an eye on overrunning regions and that sort of thing. At 0830, my pal Lindsay, goddess that she is, shows up bearing McDonalds breakfast and a hot chocolate. I could lick her face in happiness, but I restrain myself to wolfing it down and being grateful. Mid-morning, we gather round the TV to watch Fuck Face Farage lose his seat and then resign (him, not us). We give a small cheer and have a celebratory peppermint tea. There may have been a high five.
I have a short break around 12 to grab a Coke and do a bunch of admin, coerce a few people to extend their shifts and generally prepare for the afternoon’s programming. I’m feeling remarkably chipper for someone who had about 4 hours sleep. My office has no windows, so it’s quite jarring to pop out of my cubbyhole to go to the bathroom and realise it’s proper daylight outside. I notice in the mirror that the new Kiehls moisturiser I’m using has indeed reduced shine like the nice lady said it would.
The afternoon passes in a haze of fairly hectic rejigging of plans and smoothing of troubled televisual waters. It’s been an interesting day, news-wise. Scotland chose wisely in the election, but sadly, no one else did, so we’re stuck with the Tories for another 5 years, regardless. Now the rest of the UK knows how we felt in September after the Independence Referendum! Around 1545, I hand over to my incumbent colleague, tell him what to look out for in the next few hours and merrily skip out the door to freeeeedommmmmmmm.
I find these early shifts really hard, if I’m honest, and I usually struggle to do basic things like count or work out sums after a run of them. The past couple of weeks, I have done a few earlies, had a few days off and then back on them, so I am pretty much all over the place, body clock-wise. I get in the car and drive to Bishopton via Renfrew, which is a far less stressful experience than last Friday when I got stuck in traffic for about an hour on the M8 trying to get home. I alight at the post office and post a bunch of orders that I packaged last night and some Imperial Leather soap to my mum, who is in America just now. One of my cousin’s friends really loves it, weirdly.
I then mosey home and Lee and Max are both not long back from their respective business – Lee at work, in Edinburgh, and Max, out walking with my dad in Paisley. We have a catch up, I do some dishes and then I go upstairs and take a bath. It’s veeeeerry hard to stay awake, but I’m determined not to fall asleep before bedtime, or I will not sleep tonight. I don’t do naps, really. Afterwards, in some clean jim jams, I go downstairs and consider doing some sewing, but my eyes can’t take it, so I watch last night’s Eastenders (rubbish) and Lee sources a Chinese takeaway from one of the local places we haven’t tried yet. We feast upon it whilst watching some Netflix and then I lie on the floor for a while, with the dog, revelling in the new carpets. Max has taken to licking the living room carpet for some unfathomable reason. Also realise that we missed his 6th birthday a few days ago, and feel mildly guilty.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m in bed by 2130, as I have to be up at 0430 again the next day. I can’t wait for this run of shifts to be over. Just the weekend, then one more next Friday and I’ll be back on lates…yay.
What did you get up to?

#BEDM 1. Intro

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I did the Blog Every Day In May challenge last time around (or was it two times ago? I can’t remember) and quite enjoyed it, so I signed up again this year. Of course, I’ve had a pretty busy week since I decided to do so, so haven’t gotten round to even starting it until now. So I’m blogging retrospectively every day in May for a bit.

The first set topic is to introduce yourself, so for anyone who hasn’t been reading this for years, firstly, you’ve really missed out (ho ho, not) and secondly, here’s some fascinating facts you might not know about me already.

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1. My day job is in television – it sounds exciting but it’s really not anything than a relentless endurance test of the soul, mind and body. I work in Access Services which is providing subtitles, audio description and sign language translation for most of the UK’s broadcasting companies (everything except ITV and Channel 5, basically). I used to be a live and pre-recorded subtitler but I’m now a duty manager, planning who does what and then making sure it all happens. It’s all the stress of live television but none of the glamour.It’s long hours, stressful at times but you do get to watch a lot of telly. Sometimes, I remember that we’re providing a magical service to some people who would be lost without it and that makes me happy. I’m really great in a crisis though, as a result of my job. It’s the one thing I can blow my own trumpet about without cringing – bring me a problem and I can think of 5 ways to creatively tackle it quickly. It’s why I think I am pretty awesome at my job.

2. I’ve been running my own business for over 10 years. Some aspects of it I really like, some I don’t. Some days, I have an overwhelming urge to pack it all in and never think of it again and others I want to drop everything and immerse myself in it. Lately, I’ve been enjoying not worrying much about it and taking time to create things for myself or friends. It’s made me remember that it can be fun and relaxing to cross stitch!

3. After vowing never to buy another house, I recently did. Other things I’ve vowed never to do include: get married (11 years this year), sell on Etsy again (considering a return for the VATMOSS headache for my patterns), go in a hot air balloon (so far, so good).

4. My brother lives in Siberia. I was hoping that he’d blog/instagram more when he moved there, but so far, all he’s done is talk about the weather and ask us to post him gravy granules. It’s not as cold as you’d think it is there but it is apparently a lot harder to make a stew than you’d guess.

5. My husband and my dog are both Welsh. I’m outnumbered by Welsh males in our house. We sort of rescued our dog, Max. He was taken in by a 93 year-old lady in the Lake District after his original owners had to give him up the day they were moving house. He’s a big Labrador, and quite active, so he soon proved too much for even a sprightly almost-centenarian. We were starting to think about getting a puppy when my friend Sarah suggested that we drive down and meet Max. We agreed, on the understanding that we were not taking him home with us that day. A few hours later, we were driving back with him in the back because he was just adorable. He’s really a massive part of the family and I can’t imagine life without him. I’m forever grateful to Sarah’s parents living next door to the old lady who took him in.

6. I really like giving things to people, gifts, unwanted possessions, etc. I am always the one who brings cakes into work. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I am forever giving things away. I just like making people happy in small ways.The joy of gift-giving is something I’ll never tire of. I like helping people find great gifts for people that are really well-suited to them.

7. I really like driving. I only passed my test a few years ago, later in life, and since then, I’ve become quite a confident driver. However, the past month or so, I’ve had a string of incidents where I’ve been completely abiding by the rules of the road and other drivers (all male, all white BMW/Audi/van drivers) have cut me up and then verbally abused me rather rigorously, which has knocked my confidence a bit. I’ve started driving different routes to work to mix it up a bit, but it’s really stuck with me and I hope my stupid brain lets me forget it soon or it will be sad that I’ve let them fuck my mojo up.

8. I do all my best thinking in water. I can spend hours in the bath, or in a pool, and a lot of my best ideas have come from wallowing in water. I’d love to swim more but I don’t often get the time. I’m a Pisces, of course.

9. I’d love to live in America one day. My family in Cincinnati really want us to go out there, too, but we’ve been unable to secure jobs/visas so far. I firmly believe that it will happen one day though. Until then, we’ll just make do with frequent trips there. Next time, I might even pluck up the courage to try driving on the wrong side of the road.

10. I really like horses. I enjoy a trip to the baseball. I love the beach. I’m addicted to Coca Cola. I lived in Thailand for a bit a few years back. I have an irrational hatred of lollipop ladies. I could happily eat soup for breakfast and toast for dinner. I’m a bit addicted to Netflix, too.I don’t eat fish or seafood of any kind because ewww, it’s been in the sea and I’ve peed in there. I just want everyone to get along and have a quiet life, really.

FIN.

May The Fourth Be With You

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The irony of me having written this tutorial for a Star Wars themed cross stitch sampler is, of course, that I haven’t seen Star Wars. My talented colleague Stephen helped me to inject the tutorial with references and in-jokes. It’s a couple of years old now, but still a good project for any geeks in your life for Monday!

An Open Letter to NYC

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Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan
Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin
Black, White, New York you make it happen

-An Open Letter to NYC – Beastie Boys

I have literally been working on this cushion for years. It’s not that it took forever to make so much as it just took a long time for me to finish it as something else kept getting in the way. I’m pleased with how it turned out. Once I got to freestyling that skyline, it was a breeze to finish it off, as I was excited to see how it turned out. It’s funny how you can have something hanging around for so long, and then finish it off quite quickly in the end. Over-thinking, I suppose.

My love of the B-Boys knows no bounds. I remember a friend gave me a loan of Ill Communication on CD not long after it came out, and I was hooked. Um, sorry, Darren, I still have it. I’ve only seen them live once, but it was a definite highlight of my gig-going career.

This cushion is now available to purchase here and will be re-produced intermittently in small numbers.