Scandinavian home craft

Lotta Jansdotter has a worldwide reputation for handprinting patterns which are used on textiles, notebooks and household interiors.

“Can’t find what you want?  Make it!  Don’t know how?  Learn it!” is how her website describes her pragmatic approach, much of her printing based on simple potato cut prints, in repeating patterns.

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Her fabrics are stocked by Windham Fabrics but you can learn the techniques of handprinting fabrics in workshops – this year, she ran several in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Brooklyn.

She is planning a source trip to Japan in 2018, and if you’d like join up with her in Tokyo for a workshop, her website are taking names and email addresses for contacting.

On the other hand, if she’s still off your beaten track, any library or good bookshop is likely to be able to quickly source one of her books, where she shows you how to print fabric, make it into a cushion cover or apron, with simple sewing skills.

If you like this Scandinavian style, you might also enjoy the graphic drawings of “children’s” book characters the Moomins.  There’s a immersive exhibition of the Moomins just opened today in the South Bank Centre, London.  The exhibition is obviously geared towards families with kids – but the Moomins (written by Tove Jansson) have an appeal and iconic status for adults also.

Exhibition details at:


Crowdfunding a Craft Book

Patricia Van den Akker crowdfunded a craft book and told us how in seminar “The Birth of a book: Dream Plan Do” at Xponorth 2017 festival.

Main points:

  • “Writing the book was the easy bit”
  • “Don’t wait for the ‘right’ time”
  • “Marry a graphic designer”

When I heard Patricia begin to speak, my heart sank as she spoke English with a Continental accent – I was concerned this might make her not so easy to understand or listen to.  But she turned out to be terrifically engaging, a good sense of humour and fairly indomitable.

Anyone who thinks writing a book is a lovely little dreamy state will benefit from her practical insights.  At the beginning, she asked for a show of hands of who in the room were makers/crafters and who would describe themselves as writers.  She had a good mix of both.  I wonder what would have happened if she asked at the end if the writers now felt less likely to produce a book.  She was very clear on the challenges:

Don’t wait for the right time

At the time she wrote the book,

  • there was an extension being built on her house in London – which was meant to take weeks but took months of work, so she was working on the book all that time in a noisy construction site
  • Brexit happened – and she is a European national
  • the American election took place near the end of the crowdfunding date – the dollar was anticipated to plummet in value if Trump became President and she was anxious that this would not affect her crowdfunding (the dollar value was stable)


Marry a Graphic Designer

She had done so.  There is a great deal of design and layout with a book – and of course hers was a craft book, and therefore style and visual layout was key.


Writing the book was the easy bit

Perhaps surprisingly, a great deal of the effort was in distribution.  The books weigh 800 grammes each and she had hundreds to distribute.  Quite a logistical problem as she doesn’t drive.  Multiple taxis and trips to the post office were involved.

Other tasks were displayed in an intimidatingly long list on a slide: (a few of these tasks relate to the crowdfunding)


The task she found particularly intimidating was being interviewed on video – her brain just went blank.  In person, however, she is very likeable and an engaging presenter.

Patricia planned the book for 3 months – but the writing of it took a small part of the whole project and was easy for her to write because of her interests.

You can see more information on her organization (including the dreaded video) over at

New TV writers advice – Scotland


The tone of this seminar at Xponorth2017 was very positive – passionate about encouraging new writing and with

3 new major opportunities:

  1. from October, the Writersroom based in England changed to have separate writersroom in the regions – so more local knowledge and chance to become known
  2. there is an upcoming new TV channel, BBC Scotland, which will need more content (begins broadcasting Autumn 2018) more on this at
  3. there is a new scheme coming up in August for 4 writers to become Shadow Writers for River City (ie be given the same brief as the professional writers, and given a chance to do the same work, in a separate stream).



Main advice for new writers:

  • Look at the website BBC Writersroom for writing opportunities in BBC but also theatres
  • When there’s an open call for submissions, send in your scripts.
  • Keep sending them your work so they get a sense of your writing style and you are on their database for future reference
  • Easier to be a writer/performer (you already have your own audience)
  • If you get your writing onto podcasts or youtube videos or theatre or radio – it will be spotted by these TV producers
  • “The Break” is a great opportunity for new writers with no writing record
  • If you want to write for River City get to know the show and its twenty-odd characters so you can write quickly and appropriately for them
  • Write a sample script of an hour’s length – but make the first 10 pages fantastic – as these are definitely read
  • make and send videos to the BBC Social programme
  • find out the names of producers of TV programmes you like and try to contact them (they’re always looking for new content)
  • an upcoming script editor is a great person to show work to, as they will champion you as a writer if they like your work (there was an example given where this got a writer noticed)
  • be prepared to begin work in children or continuing drama (e.g. River city) as starting points, learning to write drama – many wellknown writers started out that way
  • even tiny bits of experience on your c.v. (e.g sold a comedy sketch) will count towards getting you noticed
  • the BBC Writersroom website has tons of resources – video interviews with writers, blogs, a script library with examples of layout – do use itIMG_2890.JPG(Lto R: Audrey, Keiran, Rab, Angela)

What are the BBC looking for in a new writer?

  • characters seem full and engaging
  • characters are fresh
  • you can write domestic (ie the ordinary) scenes well and make them exciting
  • a unique voice in the writer
  • you can write a full-length script for 30 mins drama
  • clear story
  • not derivative, something original
  • the reader instantly feels s/he cares about the characters

(notes from a panel discussion at #Xponorth2017 in June 2017)


THE chocolate cake with cigarrillos

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From the moment I watched “Baking is Easy” It could only be a matter of time till I attempted to bake the lavish chocolate cake piled with raspberries and framed with cigarrilloes…. it looked wildly impressive, frivolous and colourful, had expensive ingredients, was unusual, involved multiple stages of making, and was well outside my range of skills and tools. Typical. When I open a new book on cookery/bakery/knitting/photography/crafts, I can’t see the opening chapters of useful everyday projects because my eyes are fixated on something fiendishly difficult on page 171 that would bring tears to the eyes of a professional.


And so, the urge to make The Cake grew upon me, like Some Thing which grows.


My enthusiasm sagged slightly in the supermarket when I saw the cost of some of the ingredients: raspberries a mere £1.99 per punnet and I needed TWO. Chocolate fingers as a substitute for cigarrilloes – again nearly £2 a box and I guessed I needed TWO….. But by now, cool-eyed logic was gone, and I was in the grip of a fervent compulsion.


Unusually for me, I put out all the ingredients first on the work surface (usually I’m up to my elbows in flour when I discover a key ingredient is missing) – so I knew I had the stuff. I hopefully set the oven temperature, although I know that it’s as accurate as a melting icecream in sunshine – and resolved to try and sidestep its evil overcooking ploy by cooking for the shorter recommended time. Aha!


Cake mix – unbelievably simple. There seems to be more coccoa in the mix than normal, because the chocolate ‘hit’ in the nostrils was more powerful than I get from my usual Chocolate cake mix. So far so good. Into the oven “for 30-40 minutes”. Right, so that would be 30, knowing my evil oven. But the moment I opened the door after 30 minutes, I saw a slight wobble on the top of the cake, and closed the door again. I rechecked at 5 minute intervals and finally, after 45 minutes, the magical skewer came out clean and lo and behold, the usual sign of cooking was right there – the sides were slightly burnt. There are baking standards – and mine are fortunately below perfect. At this point, the most important fact was I was certain it wasn’t going to give anyone raw food poisoning.


I set to, to make the buttercream icing. The recipe wanted softened butter, I used room temperature butter, and attempted to add the icing sugar while holding a teatowel over the mixer. That brief statement made it sound simple but, as in so much with baking, there is a knack to it. And if you don’t use that knack, it becomes difficult. No matter how loosely I held the teatowel, the revolving bowl tried to drag the towel into the revolving beaters and create a “what went wrong here” health and safety scenario. After varying my grip on the tea towel, some icing powder cunningly escaped and drifted onto the counter and floor. Not a vast quantity, just enough to be annoying.


The mixed buttercream wasn’t promising. It just looked like buttercrumbs. Surely it shouldn’t?


I checked the video of the make again – Lorraine’s icing not only had the consistency of softly whipped cream, she had also employed a cunning loose-handed grip on teatowel and revolving bowl rim at the same time and spilt nary a drop of icing sugar. So why did I have buttercrumbs? Not enough liquidity? Possibly the butter hadn’t been warmed enough? I microwaved it a little, added a little more butter for liquidity and finally the melted chocolate. Well, it got a little gritty, quite probably overbeaten (?) but at least it was spreadable. I’ll have to sort out that problem for next time.


Then it was time to cut the cake – horizonally, in half. Lorraine Pascale had a neat revolving cake stand for this, whereas I revolved the cake by hand on a flat surface, slicing it before my brain realised the disaster potential. For the icing, Lorraine had a cake base, the revolving cake stand (which was looking more useful by the minute) and a large palette knife. My local supermarket had kind of knife for cutting food but not even a tiny palette one I could purchase – so I was working with a serving plate and a spatula.


Because I was icing with basic tools, the cake was less than perfectly round in shape once covered with icing. Once again, I suspect that a knack and constant practice is what’s really needed here.


Now for the side decoration of the chocolate fingers. Firstly, I would say that on the BBC Good Food website, the chef does say that chocolate fingers are acceptable as an instant substitute for those who don’t have time to order cigarrilloes – she may as well have looked directly to camera and said “especially those of you who get compulsive urges to bake a difficult thing NOW and are undeterred by lacking the right tools or brain”. However, the two boxes of chocolate fingers were not Quite enough to go round the circumference of the cake (boo) and they do look reminiscent of a Fort shaped birthday cake for a child. So not at all the same level of sophistication and finish as the original. I had assumed the cigarilloes would be hideously expensive but probably not much worse than the chocolate fingers. I should at least have bought Bournville fingers, richer look and taste.


Finally, the 2 raspberry punnets. Again, these were just about enough to cover most of the cake’s top and give a little pile in the centre – but for a properly luxuriant covering I’d suggest you need two and a half. At £2 a punnet, I think I’ll relegate this to being a summer cake and hope the fruit is cheaper in season. I’d also consider sourcing from a local market/shop rather than supermarket.


IMG_6278.JPGHowever, the cake looked well, in a slightly more amateurish way than the polished perfection of the cake on TV. It certainly looked better than my usual homely aesthetic of buttercreamed small chocolate cake with Smarties on top.


And it cut like a dream. It is a cake which looks like it has Presence and does not disappoint once sliced. The cake took the cut accurately an

IMG_6280.JPGd cleanly, without the whole edifice splodging or the cake layers splitting on the plate, and the chocolate fingers behaved well and mostly remained stuck to the edge. The icing was made with 70% chocolate, normally too rich and dark an ingredient for this household – but it went fine. And thefreshness of the raspberries, although hideously expensive, was perfect to cut through the unctiousness. But it is party food – as an 8 inch cake it cuts at least 16 plus slices.


Recipe and video of how it should be made over at BBC Good food website:

“Invisible College” – writing advice

The Invisible College” is a BBC series of programme, available free on i-tunes as podcasts, or listenable to on half-hour programmes.  They encourage creative writing and are now on series 2 (broadcasting Mondays, 4 pm, Radio4 FM).  Catch all previous episodes on BBC i-player, titled “Invisible College”.

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Dr Cathy FitzGerald – keeping it all lively and easy to understand

Brilliantly, the BBC are pulling on their recordings of all sorts of writers in many different styles, over decades, so it’s a mixed bag of voices and advice, ringmastered by Dr Cathy FitzGerald – we hear Maya Angelou, Eudora Welty, Ted Hughes, Susan Sontag, P G Wodehouse….. such a variety of writing genres and styles are covered.

The radio recordings are around 30 minutes each – but as podcasts (on i-Tunes) they are broken up into lessons averaging 10 minutes.  So you can learn a lot in pocket-sized parts of time!

This is the BBC doing what it does best: educating, informing and being entertaining while it does so.

Here’s a wee sample 2 minute extract – Ted Hughes advising on word choice:


The radio Series 1 episode 1 starts here:

Topics covered include: inspiration, routine, time off, concentration, character, plot and style, the importance of reading lots, choosing right words… and the joy, the joy, of writing and the written word.

What’s your life advice?

Yes, it’s that time of year again – 20 years ago, a journalist, Mary Schmich, on the way to work saw a young woman with her face tilted towards the May sunlight and thought “I hope she’s wearing sunscreen…” and went on to write an article based on the life advice she would give, if she were asked to give a commencement speech at College (at that point, she was 43 herself).

The article was printed as usual, but unusually, someone posted it on the internet without Mary’s byline and it became an internet sensation, with Baz Luhrmann making it into this musical hit the following year.  Thankfully, the writer was track41jOy67ZN6L._AC_US218_ed down and royalties now go to Mary Schmich.  Her decades of journalism won her the Pulitzer prize for commentary in 2012.  In 2013, her writings were gathered into a substantial book (over 300 pages) of quick to read articles, “Even the Terrible Things Seem Beautiful to Me Now”, by Agate Publishing – it is still in print.

Interestingly, she published the original article under the title “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.”  Today, she still receives emails from people who were inspired by what she wrote – “fuelled by coffee and M&Ms”.

Incidentally, one of the lines in the article is wrongly ascribed to Eleanor Roosevelt (I have a much-cherished greetings card to prove it) – but it was an original comment by Mary:

“Do one thing every day which scares you”

(Full text of the original article is still viewable on the Chicago Tribune’s website) at

Through writing the article, Mary came to realize what her life lessons would be – and it was such a positive experience that she encouraged her readers to sit down and write out theirs.  What have you learned?  What wisdom would you pass on, to a younger generation? 


Poet with L plates

Advice on beginning to write poetry by US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins.  (Video under 3 mins.)


Read other people’s poetry.  Read widely.  Read.  Read.  A lot.    ABout 10,000 hours worth, to get a sense of what has gone before.  As you read, you are naturally absorbing the technique and rhythms of poetry.  It’s like learning to play the cello – you don’t just get one and play brilliantly, you practice and do classes.

Your first writings will probably be for self-expression.  This is for yourself.  But if you want your work to be read and enjoyed by others – then you have that in mind as you write – “I am making something for someone else”.  There are 3 parts to a poem – line, sentence stanza (or verse).  You are trying to make all of them good.

The wastebasket is the writer’s best friend.  If a poem isn’t working, don’t force it, start another.

“If I’m writing for a while and I’m writing maybe a failure and another failure … a poem will come, often a little poem,” he said. “It has nothing to do with what I’ve written but it would not have occurred had I not been failing.”

Painting after Stroke – Andrew Marr

Exhibition opening 15 June in Liverpool at the Corke Gallery (til end of July) – paintings by Andrew Marr, the former BBC political editor.  These paintings were made after his stroke, when his style changed from representational to vivid coloured mostly nonrepresentational or still life. Artworks are priced from £375 upwards, with proceeds going to the Action for Rehabilitation from Neurological Injury.

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before the stroke
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after the stroke

“My temperament has loosened up since the stroke – I’m very aware that we’re only on this planet for a very short period of time – I am much less tolerant of losing a day or losing an hour – I want to be in the moment and therefore when it comes to painting, I want to be more extreme.”

At the point of choosing a career, Andrew Marr could have gone to Art School but chose journalism, so he has a lifelong interest in art.  Using his journalistic and intelligent mindset, Andrew made a documentary about his stroke experience called “Me and my brain”.  There is a short video clip from it viewable on the UK BBC website at:

In this clip, you can see him at his neighbour (Zandra’s) house where she lets him use one room as his painting studio.

On now – film festival on creating

Real to Reel craft film festival. 3 days, 44 films.

2-4th May at Playhouse Cinema, London then

5-7th May to The Bureau in Blackburn.

includes films on getting more people to knit through MC, painting roadmarkings, dropping pottery from a great height, basket weaving, far Eastern women’s traditional crafting….

In Lancashire 6th/7th it is part of the First Festival of Making, more details at: