Sunday, 16 November 2014

Pilgrimage to Purl Soho

Purl Soho shop
The Purl Bee is a blog and a website that I hold very dear to my heart.  Years ago when Toby and I were building our van, I started exploring the amazing world of arts & crafts blogs, and The Purl Bee was one that has helped me learn to knit and crochet – and provided continuous inspiration to me.  Their free tutorials made from their delicious high grade craft supplies practically makes me drool every time I see a new post, and as a maker their blog has shaped me – I’ve made so many of their projects, from knitted mitts & cowls, to sewn and quilted blankets.

The Purl Bee has a physical shop that is always all the way over in New York and though I knew I could never travel across the globe just to visit a knitting shop….well hang on a minute, wasn’t that where I was headed?! 

Purl Soho yarn wall
As you can guess, with much excitement and a silly amount of anticipation, my sister Ellie, my friend Elsa, and I made a plan to visit the holy grail of arts & crafts shops on our recent trip to New York.  The shop is called Purl Soho, as it’s located in the sophisticated Soho area of New York.

Purl Soho ribbons
Stepping inside the shop was like stepping into Santa’s grotto.  Beautiful fabrics are displayed on the wall of the entrance, framed in embroidery hoops of different sizes.  Next to that, an entire wall boasts skeins of yarn of every colour, thickness, texture and natural fibre imaginable.

Purl Soho Ellie & wool
Everywhere you turn in the shop, you are greeted with flashes of mouth-watering colours – pure wool felt in the colours of a crisp, autumn country walk.  Fat squishy skeins of handspun wool with flowers and glitter spun into them, everything demanding your attention,  everything begging to be touched, turned over, considered, held, loved.

Purl Soho autumn felt
As I was rifling through a bowl of Liberty’s fabric off-cuts, unable to decide – the agony of choice – one of the shop assistants came to add more pieces to the bowl, and I told him I just love them all.  He turned to me and confessed, “I know – me too!”, with genuine love for these fabric scraps.  He is one of us – a craft nut!  I told him about our pilgrimage and he was delighted, and welcomed us warmly to the store.  We received a few admiring smiles and thumbs up, signs of acceptance from these crafty New Yorkers to us intrepid and determined explorers from Europe!

Purl Soho wall of yarn
As we browsed the stunning, carefully curated collection of fabrics that had the loveliest patterns and designs on them, Ellie decided then and there that she is going to become a seamstress, because she simply cannot leave (or live) without purchasing some of these fabrics.  “I CANNOT LEAVE THIS SHOP…EVER!” I howled, as I discovered maps of cities that you can embroider on and make into a quilt.  We all experienced a pang of longing and desire – not ready to go until every single item in this shop had been carefully inspected and the correct choices made for our purchases and future projects.  “You don’t even have to leave, not for like two and a half hours – that’s when we close!” calls out one of the friendly assistants, “you can just come and hang out over here with me!”

Purl Soho felt
I eventually completed my tour of the shop, content with having tried to commit the entire contents of it to memory.  There seemed to be a general air of warmth, of contentment, craftsmanship and well-being in that store – a creative haven where dreams can be realised!

Purl Soho shop 2
I decided on a huge skein of chunky forest green yarn, and a thinner kettle dyed skein, to make new winter hats with – and one of the pieces of Liberty’s fabric (possibly to make notebook covers or pouches with)

Purl Soho Elsa yarn
We eventually managed to tear ourselves away from the shop – taking away a small piece of it in the form of a yard of fabric, or a skein of wool, as a souvenir of this magical place.

Purl Soho shopfront
You can visit the wonderful folks at Purl Soho at 459 Broome Street, New York; or visit them online at The Purl Bee.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Thoughts on Photography

I find no photographs superior to the decency of a man’s feelings and his right to those feelings.  When there is such a conflict, I…put the camera down and take no pictures.” – W. Eugene Smith (photojournalist)

An internal debate has been raging in my head about the street photography I admire and crave to do – but am so terrified of pointing my camera’s into people’s faces.  I take my best photographs with my eyes, without my camera – whether it’s because the moment passes too quickly to capture, or that to take it would be too much of an intrusion.  I think this quote is the external permission slip I needed to confirm what I had decided on the matter.  Just because I have not captured a moment with my camera, does not mean that it didn’t happen.  It does not mean that I didn’t witness or observe it. 

Last month I took an online photography course with Kellie Hatcher and a real-life poetry course with Donna Stonecipher.  Taking both classes at the same time has helped me to “see” and observe more – and both crafts are worth working on – most importantly because I love them both, but also because they compliment each other: what I cannot capture on camera, I can describe with words.  What I cannot say with words, I can capture with an image.

In the 10 years that I have been making photographs, I have learnt a lot from photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.  He says “I try to reveal, but not to interpret.  I observe but do not intrude".

The Define School held a competition on Instagram to win a place on Kellie Hatcher’s photography course Light + Life.  They asked for submissions of awkward childhood photographs.  I have a photo album at home that my parents put together, of photographs from the first few years of my life.  There are a lot of shots with me with my face painted, I guess I went to a lot of parties in those days!  There is one in which my face paint is not so professionally done – as I did it myself – and look very pleased with my decision to have coloured in each part of my face a different colour.
When Toby saw this, he couldn’t stop laughing, and suggested that in black and white, I might look like a bloke who owns a kebab shop!…..

Well would you believe it – this picture won me the spot on the photography course!  I learnt so many things about finding the light and using the quality of it to tell a story, as well as the narrative itself.  I learnt things about my camera that I didn’t know about before, like metering and how the camera “sees” light.  I had so much fun with Kellie’s lessons and assignments and I highly recommend the course to anyone who wants to capture light and life!  The moral of this story is, ensure that you always keep a photo handy of you looking like a kebab shop bloke!  Here are some of the shots I took as part of the course:

DSC_0079 Toby  bikes dog stairs  Jameswash 2
Just before taking these photographs, we watched the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” which is a totally brilliant story about discovering the photographs of an unknown photographer, Vivian Maier, and trying to piece together the details of her life and who she was.  She shot the most amazing street photographs on a twin lens reflex camera, so as soon as we’d watched the film, we all set our cameras to monochrome and ran out to the park to shoot photos of each other.

I think I realised that I feel more comfortable taking photographs of people when they are allowing me to interact with them.  When I was in New York, I spent a day with Helen’s friends PJ and June.  PJ is a photographer and film maker who encouraged me to get my camera out on East 9th Street as it was such a good looking area.  I felt shy, but he coaxed me into it, and even offered to back me up if I wanted to try some street photography.  We went into a shop called Mr. Throwback (a vintage sportswear detective!) and The Upper Rust which sells antiques and curiosities.  I started chatting with the shop owners.  I was framing photographs with my eyes, so I asked if I could take a photo or two.  Both shop owners warmly invited me to photograph the whole shop, that they loved seeing people’s photos of their wares!  That made me feel much braver, so I took my time composing photographs in the shops, and even made portraits of the shop owners too.

Mr Throwback
Mr. Throwback2  Mr. Throwback PJ & June in Mr. Throwback
The Upper Rust 6  The Upper Rust2
The Upper Rust

Friday, 7 November 2014


Manhattan Skyline  
Ellie and I stayed in an Air B&B in Brooklyn for three nights, right next to Prospect Park.  We had a fine time romping through the beautiful park in the hot autumn sun, and decided it was our favourite park in the world.  We met up with Eloise, another dear friend of mine, who is studying for a Masters in Art History in New York, and enjoyed a culinary tour of Brooklyn together.  One day we met her in Park Slope where we ate delicious vegetarian wraps in S’nice and ate amazing gelato from a cafe nearby. Another day we sampled gorgeous tacos and cocktails at a Mexican restaurant and finally we ate ourselves silly at a Cajun restaurant where I ate biscuits & gravy (which strangely enough, are neither biscuits, nor gravy), cornbread, grits and chicken fried steak!!!  mmmMMM!!!  All washed down with a pecan harvest ale. 

Bosher and mushrooms
We caught up with my Berlin flatmates Elsa and Joey in Williamsburg and ate delicious Japanese food together.  We explored the handmade boutiques and admired the Manhattan skyline.
fill a jar with candy
squirrel graf
coffee love
Essex whadizzon

Brooklyn Bridge
Ella and meSpending time with Eloise on three consecutive days was an absolute treat, and we realised that it was the longest time we had spent together since we were at school together, 15 years ago!  I was so glad that I made the decision to buy a plane ticket to New York, because even better than exploring this amazing city, I got to spend time with my best friends and my little sister who I rarely see in person.  I made a promise to myself to take every opportunity I can to see my friends and family, and keep in touch with them, even if we don’t live in the same country. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

New York: Books, Bikes and a circus in The Bronx

On the 7th of October I took my first ever solo long-haul flight, from Berlin to New York to visit my very dear friend Helen, who has been touring the East Coast of America for the past year with the circus!  We missed each other at the airport as she had to get back for a show, but I managed to figure out the subway (which is not as complicated as I first thought!) and made my way over to The Bronx and found Helen’s trailer in the circus camp – which was a bit like Pikey Park on glittery steroids!

My sister Ellie arrived from London and we watched the circus show – it’s so glitzy and exciting, and I was definitely squealing at the trapeze act!  It was funny getting to see the show from the audience and from back stage.  The music and the lights and the costumes and the humungous smiles make the show so exciting.  The acts make your eyes boggle – there are a pair of sisters who balance each other on top of their heads and a trio of contortionists who tangle themselves into gravity-defying positions.  I loved the clowns because they made me laugh so much with their expressiveness and slap stick comedy, and it was amazing to see my friend Helen dressed in full feathers and showgirl regalia.  Backstage, she was in her tracksuit, sipping tea and giggling with us in her trailer.  In between acts we all contributed our artistic talents to Helen’s colouring in book – it’s very therapeutic!  Every Sunday the circus performers take it in turns to deliver a motivational speech.  They’ve been touring the US for the past year, doing 11 shows a week and not many days off.  The end is in sight, and to keep everyone’s spirits up, Helen made a silent speech by holding up paper that she’d written on, celebrating the crew of people and the mixture of nationalities that come together to make the magic of the circus.

Clowns  Hula slinky
Melon colouring in 
Ryan the Clown
Showgirls and Clowns Helen's speech
The following day, Ellie and I took the subway to Manhattan and hired bike in Central Park.  The park is huge and lovely, and it was fun to ride a bike – except you’re not allowed to actually ride inside most of the park – you have to stick to the road that runs around the park, and you’re only allowed to cycle in one direction!

Manhattan buildings
We walked around Manhattan all day, people watching and absorbing the city.  I felt like I recognised so many people because of seeing people like them in films!  We met up with Helen and her brother David to visit the Museum of the City of New York, which has an amazing chandelier of lights in the lobby.  Here, we watched a film that showed how New York came into being, from its geography as a port, to the different groups of people arriving and spreading out into the different “villages” of Brooklyn and “The Bronck’s” which later became The Bronx.  The city was originally Dutch, and called New Amsterdam, but the English came in and renamed it New York after the (grand old?!) Duke of York.  In the museum there is a quote from Abraham Lincoln which reads “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.

One day we took the subway to the East Village.  We weren’t heading anywhere in particular, but someone had mentioned it as being a cool place.  When we popped out of the station, we spied the Strand Book Store that over 4 floors, boasts 18 miles of new and second hand books.  Before I went to New York, I was looking at my tiny bookshelf in Berlin (which is full of books that I can acquire faster than I can read!) and was ruthlessly downsizing in my head.  Toby helped me realise that some books are keepers.  The ones that you can’t get on a kindle, or ones that are special editions, or with beautiful pictures in it.  The few books I do own in physical format are special to me, and act as reminders of times and places – books I bought in my favourite bookshops in Paris and Berlin; books that have been given to me as gifts by other people; and my own well thumbed and heavily annotated copies of books like Women Who Run With The Wolves and Bird by Bird.  These books lend themselves to the paper form and demand to be held, and have a pen taken to their margins.  These books which give such feeling deserve to be manhandled!  He also pointed out that if I was to start letting go of books, then I should make sure I’d at least read them first (!) and only give away books that are “just” books – that are replaceable.  The rest are treasures, to be treasured.

I was happy to add four new treasures to my collection today: The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky, which is a deeper explanation of the things I have learnt in the poetry class I took in Berlin.  “Words for Breakfast” is a collection of prose & poetry from the National Book Foundation’s summer camps – I love to read collections of amateur writing because it makes me think that I could achieve something similar.  I found a second hand copy of The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg, which has been pre-loved and well thumbed and is full of notes, highlights and underlining.  I had to own it, and be part of a long distance handshake with a stranger.  I also found a beautifully illustrated copy of Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself, which is full of colour and captivating graphic quality.  Four new treasures :)

After delighting ourselves in this wonderful book mecca, Ellie and I dived into the streets of the East Village, where we discovered East 9th Street that has lots of little boutiques selling clothes, antiques and all sorts of wonders.  At the end of the street was a shabby, cosy little cafe called Pick Me Up Cafe, where we rested and recharged on tea and green juice, and chilled out a while, exploring the worlds of our new books and having lovely conversations.  It occurred to me that during this 10 day trip to New York, I would get to spend more time in the company of my sister and my best friend than I had in about the last 7 years.  I treasured these moments.  The day was exactly how I wanted it to be – to explore a cool neighbourhood with Ellie and hang out, and observe the New Yorkers around us.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Luscious Links: Stories and Art

Big Bird and us
Hey friendly Monstres,

I just returned from a trip to New York with my sister Ellie to visit our amazing friend Helen Victoria who has run away with the circus!  Helen has been touring the East Coast of the US for the past year, as a dancer with the Circo Hermano Vazquez, and their final stop was in New York.  I was desperate to see my friend do what she does, and Ellie had already booked her flight…so I decided it would be rude not to!  We were lucky to be able to stay with Helen in her circus trailer, in The Bronx.  It was a bit like Pikey Park, but with more glitter and less 'ard-tech! ;)

It was a real treat to spend so much time together – the three of us probably spent more time together on this trip than we have done in the last 10 years!

I’ve got hundreds of photos to sort through, and I’ll be sharing my favourite ones here on the blog soon.  In the meantime, here are some links to articles I’ve been reading and loving recently.
Although Helen tours with the circus, she is actually a professional dancer and choreographer, a writer, great thinker and artist.  Her latest post, Clarity And Wombats is a powerful and thought-provoking read. 

As Toby and I start packing up our big room in Berlin and preparing to move back into our tiny van home in the Alps, Tammy and Logan are making a much more sensible move, transferring their lives from their tiny home into a small cottage for winter.  Read Tammy’s lovely ideas on how she champions simple living, over the dimensions of a home.

My friend Izzy wrote a very entertaining report of our Polish trip together: This Poland Is Making A Big Noise In My Head.  It was cool to read about the trip from the perspective of my travel companion, and to re-visit some of the adventures we had.  Izzy is contemporary dancer, poet and writer, and her blog Izzabella Necessary encompasses all the great things she is interested in.

Wonderful words and an animation from Brain Pickings about what books do for the human soul.

Artist Cathy McMurray has been playing with her food, and creating stunning mandalas with it.

Language-learning site Babbel challenges you to master (or even attempt!) some of these tongue twisters from around the world.  I love their animations of the riddles!

Interviews with two of my favourite questers from Chris Guillebeau’s latest book, The Happiness of Pursuit. Sasha Martin cooked one meal a week from every country in the world, and Tom Allen rode his mountain bike all around the globe!

Over in my Etsy shop, there are still a few days left to grab yourself a half-price Hoop-la in a huge range of beautiful colours.  This offer is on until the 31st of October, so now is the time to place an order for you (and a friend!) to keep yourselves cosy in style! 

Hoop-la Colour Chart

I’ll see you back here soon with tales and photos from New York, New York! X

Monday, 6 October 2014

I'm off to the Big Apple!

katie and ellie in haystacks
Hello friends,
I’ve got some exciting news: I’m on my way to the U.S of A!  I’m going with my little sister Ellie (there we are playing hide and seek in a haystack) to visit our dear friend Helen who ran away with the circus and has been touring the East Coast for the past year.  Their final stop is in New York, so Ellie and I are hopping across the pond to explore the Big Apple together and give Helen a REALLY BIG CUDDLE!  That’s Helen and I having a good cuddle when she came to visit me in France.

melon et kattee
You might recognise her as the very lovely person who is wearing my Hoop-la Scarf.  Which reminds me – shop announcement! – That for the whole of October, all Hoop-la Scarves are 50% off!  The gorgeous colours of autumn made me so happy, I had to celebrate and offer something to you.  All orders placed now will be made at the end of October, and sent out at the beginning of November, so it’s a great chance to treat yourself or a friend, if you’ve had one of these on your wish list…Head over to the shop now!

Harvest hoop-la 2

I'm joining Shannon Trindade on her 30 days writing challenge.

I love this illustrated list of 10 Foreign Words that we don't have in English.  I often go 'ahiki' and am guilty of 'tsundoku'.  I do enjoy a spot of 'wabi-sabi' :)

In September I wrote an article for online Berlin magazine, Rosegarten.  It's a little story about reclaiming time, called Time is Life Itself, and Life Resides in the Human Heart.

I'll meet you back here at the end of October, to report on my New York adventures, and to bring you a guest post series of bicycle stories!

Over and out. X