Hosting a Crafternoon Tea (with super-easy and yum baking recipe!)

When I first moved to NZ, I wanted to get to know other crafty gals- or rather I’d met some crafty gals and wanted to start getting to know them better. So I started hosting monthly crafternoon teas. They were great for making my new friendships deeper, having baked goods to eat didn’t hurt, and I got a LOT of crafting done.

Since this is a year where I plan to do a LOT of crafting, and since I’m once again in a new city with women I’d like to know better and better, I plan to organise some more crafternoons. So I thought I’d share a few tips on how to do it.

What’s involved

It’s really simple:

You pick an afternoon (or an evening). Ideally this is a weekend, so people can relax a bit more and don’t have to carry big projects to work with them.

You invite friends who like to make things (or who are keen to give it a try- see below) to come and join you, bringing a project they’re working on and some baking/other food to share.

You make sure you have plenty of tea/coffee/other nice drinks on hand.

You gather, you craft, you eat, and you talk.

But my friends don’t craft/some of my friends want to come but not make anything

In the first case: Why not pick a project that interests you from, say, pinterest, that doesn’t look too difficult (if it turns out to be tricksy that actually can add to the fun), and go in together on the materials to give it a try?

In the second case, the obvious question is: Are they still bringing some food to share? If yes (and it should be) then I say the more the merrier. Just don’t let them nick all the cinnamon buns while you’re finishing another row of knitting.

Recipes

Because I promised you recipes, yes? In the past, I’ve made ooey gooey cinnamon buns for crafternoon, and my goodness they’re delicious. BUT, I recently tried out a recipe which proved SO tasty and SO damn easy that I had to share it with you all. I give you… lemonade scones!

Lemonade scones on a baking tray

 

 

Lemonade Scones

Ingredients:

4 cups Self Raising Flour

330ml Lemonade

300ml cream (liquid)

 

That’s it. You read that right. Three ingredients. I told you this was damn easy, didn’t I? Also, if you happen to only be able to find bottles of lemonade, but have a 300ml bottle of cream, use the bottle the cream came in (once you’ve poured it into the bowl) to measure out the lemonade. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 if fan-assisted or 200 if normal.

Optional: If using a gas oven, engage in mild panic about whether the damn thing has actually lit and sniff the air around the open oven door compulsively for several minutes, worrying that maybe the blue flames don’t go all the way to the back.

Mix the three ingredients together quickly with a knife.

In a bowl.

I realise I’m stating the obvious, this is just in case you’re one of those people who reads the warnings on peanut labels and genuinely things “oh, thanks for the warning!”.

If a little wet, add a bit more flour. (I found with this recipe that I needed about 1/4 cup more, but just look for it to be quite dry but still holding together nicely).

Spread the mixture to an inch thick on a baking tray, and cut into shape. Or if, like me, you don’t have a good spreading knife, tear scone-sized bits off the ball of dough, flatten them out to about an inch and put them on the baking sheet.

Place on a floured tray or baking sheet and bake in pre heated oven in  for about 15 minutes, until risen and golden brown.

Enjoy with jam and beaten cream. And by ‘enjoy’ I mean nom as many as you can until you’re out of cream.

Also don’t do what I did and accidentally over-beat the cream for serving with the scones whilst trying to get that perfect thick cream and end up with curds and whey. Not wow.

Even if you’re a baking-phobe by nature, or don’t like complicated recipes TRUST ME when I say this is the easiest and best scone recipe I’ve ever tried. The scones are soft with a lovely texture, much better than store-bought (unless you shop at MUCH fancier shops than me), and they taste just right. They also look great. That photo above? THOSE ARE MY SCONES THAT I BAKED, GUYS. I’m pretty sure that if you WANTED to, you could get fancy adding, say, rosemary, or chopped dried fruit (date scones, anyone?), or even cheese, though I’d go with a hard cheese in the mixture with maybe some grated cheddar on top… that said, they’re yummydelicious baked plain and fancied up with the filling.

They are also Best Beloved-approved (and he does love to nom things), and what more validation do you need, really?

I hope you’ll consider giving a crafternoon, and/or this scone recipe, a try- both are totally worth the effort. And I’d love to hear about either in the comments!

A story about squee, and other reactions to gifts

“Your reaction was priceless.”

That’s what my flatmate told me yesterday about Geoffery’s Grand Reveal. It’s the kind of reaction we all hope a gift will induce- especially a handmade gift.

Maurice Sendak was once asked about the greatest compliment he’d ever received about his work. He told this story:

“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

The reaction we get isn’t always the one we expect. Mostly, the reaction will suit the thought we’ve put into the gift. But then there are the times where a gift gets ignored, or used the wrong way- for example the story a knitter told about knitting a hat for her boyfriend, who used it and treasured it…as a tea cosy.

Sometimes our love and thought is thrown away. It doesn’t mean the love and thought is wasted, because in putting it into the world, little by little we make the world a better place. That’s what I think, anyway.

And note, it really is the thought, not the cost. A book found in a charity shop can be as much loved as a diamond ring.

All we can do is choose our gifts with love, and hope for the best. This, by the way, is still my favourite reaction to a gift I’ve ever seen:

May all your gifts this year score an 11 🙂

What a cross made of boxes taught me about authenticity

When I was home for the Easter holidays from university, I helped out a couple of years with the Holy Week Club at my then-church. It was mostly the kids from the Sunday School, and some of their friends, coming for a couple of hours each morning to do some activities, give their parents a break. Oh and learn about Easter.

One of the crafts we did each year was a cross made out of cardboard boxes, painted with different images from the Easter story (by the children), and then displayed in the church for the services.

One year, a particular woman, the Verger of the church, was helping.

The children duly painted the cross. While it was drying, she said she didn’t think it looked very good. Some of the images were messy, she said. People might not know what they were.

The kids who painted them will know, I told her. And it looks like children made it. Because children made it.

When I arrived at church the next day, the cross looked very different to how it had when I had left the day before.

The Verger announced to me that she just couldn’t stand that the artworks weren’t how they were ‘supposed’ to look, and had ‘neatened them up’.

It was monstrous of her. The work was no longer the children’s’. It had lost the most important qualities that any art or craft can have- authenticity (by which I mean it’s an expression of the person who made it), and love.

I talk a lot about not worrying about perfection on this blog. Because it’s important. When a child makes or paints something, they do it with joy, and they don’t worry about getting it absolutely perfect (at least not until they’re older). No matter how it looks, that makes it worth displaying.

Some of you reading this, I know, are frantically finishing your Christmas crafts. Just remember, if you’ve put love- for the person you’re giving it to, for the act of making something- into what you’re making, it’ll be beautiful.

And now for something completely different- Ellen Memes

I blame the Bloggess. I had no idea that people were going into Google and searching for their first name and ‘memes’ and seeing what shows up.

Well, first there was this:

Ellen Memes

With a name like mine, I knew what to expect. ALL the Ellen Degeneres memes. I am more than OK with that. Ellen first showed up on my radar when I was a teenager, watching her sitcom every Friday night. Sadly, Channel 4 stopped showing it when she came out. But she remained in my awareness. There was an Ellen- a famous Ellen. Who was awesome, and had self-esteem and the courage to be herself. Not only that, but to do it with humour.

labels

 

If she can do it, I can do it. If I can do it, so can you.

In the meantime, happy Thursday, please enjoy these Ellen memes.

Daniel-Radcliffe-On-Ellen_o_125556ellen-explains-the-government-shut-down

i-havent-had-a-boyfriend-in-10-years

Modern familyturn down

And my personal favourite:

just keep swimmingAnd I know it’s not a meme, but this. This is brilliant.

 

 

A Thanksgiving Day thought from someone who doesn’t celebrate it

If you are a regular reader (hello!), then you’ll know that I think gratitude is extremely important.

It’s also good business sense. I don’t often talk about business on here, not running one myself (at least not yet).

Last week, I sadly hit unsubscribe on every e-mail I had signed up for from a particular blogger. That’s not something that happens very often (the only other time I’ve unsubscribed from something I was reading regularly was the Modcloth e-mails, because they were making me want to spend all my money on shoes and dresses).

Thanksgiving was at the heart of it.

You see, it became clear to me that if they weren’t getting something from me, they weren’t interested in communicating. They had asked for applications for something, but hadn’t bothered to tell those who were unsuccessful (like myself) that someone else had been selected. There were a lot of applications (they’re submitted publicly), a lot of people putting time, effort and love into something. None of which was acknowledged, it seems, because the blogger wasn’t getting anything for it.

When I contacted them to ask about the application they were naff enough to tell me I could still purchase a spot in the course they were running- which I would have done instead of applying, if I had the money.

It smacked of lame, and I was deeply disappointed to find that this blogger simply wasn’t interested in people who couldn’t give her something for nothing- there was no gratitude there.

This same blogger has advised people to stay clear of toxic people in their lives. I’m heeding the advice. A person who can’t be graceful and acknowledge when work and love has been put into something, who doesn’t bother to say thank you- that is not a person who deserves my time.

Thanksgiving. It matters.

Wow this post got depressing. Happier one later today (to make up for my having not posted this week, sorry everyone)

A story about me

I have been making stories for as long as I can remember. I started paraphrasing nursery rhymes at the age of about 2, started writing poems and stories at school. They frequently made no sense, because my mind would race ahead of my hand, and large chunks of the story in my head simply never made it to the paper.

All through my teens I studied hard with the intention of becoming a journalist. It was the only ‘proper’ job writers could have, as far as I could see. Sure, there were authors creating and getting published but I had grown up with the same question ringing in my head- how are you going to make money? I wasn’t encouraged to set my sights higher, to take the risks. How else are you going to make money?

I was excited by crafting, and making things. But that wasn’t a job, at least not in the minds of my parents. I tried other things but kept coming back to the ‘safe’ option of admin, which bored me rigid. But how else are you going to make money?

I tried teaching high-school aged kids. I was too young, too broken from my own high-school experience to separate the two. It didn’t work. It was back to admin after less than a year. But how else are you going to make money?

I started writing flash fiction. I was pretty damn good at it. 365 Tomorrows published every story I submitted. Eventually after a stretch of writing 200-word fictions from prompts from friends on my old Livejournal blog, I was invited to write for Elephant Words, and I did until my divorce meant I didn’t have the mental space for a weekly short story, even.

I finally quit admin when it became clear to me that I couldn’t do it well because I simply didn’t care about it. I spent nearly a year puzzling over what to do with my life. But how are you going to make money?

A friend introduced me to the manager of a web team who were looking for a writer. They thought I’d be a good fit. I was hired. And I was home. I had come back to my first love, writing. I was earning a living doing something I actually enjoyed, and wanted to be good at.

I still loved craft, wanted to find a way to express that and me to others, to change their worlds in some way. But I also wanted- still want- to be really good at what I do.

That’s where Webstock comes in. My first web job sent me and it was amazing. The following year I was working for a government department who would change entire sections of a website because “the minister pulled a face”. They didn’t spend money on their staff. No Webstock for me. This year, I’m at a place which would send me, if they could afford to. Which they can’t.

I still want to be better at what I do. I still want to go. But the question again, this time not the fear asking me, but a genuine puzzle. But how are you going to make the money…for a ticket?

That’s where crowdfunding comes in. Of course, this isn’t quite an ordinary campaign. There aren’t t-shirts, or posters. Just me, and my crafts. Writing, and making. The rewards are things I can make myself- cross-stitches, portable device cosies, thank-you letters, stories. The chance to make me wear a truly hideous jumper to the convention (it’ll be a talking point, I’m sure).

How are you going to make money?

I’m going to spread happiness. I’m going to give special things to the people who offer to help me. Unique things. Crafted with love and a punk rock attitude.

If you’ll help me, I’ll give you one of them.

But how are you going to make money?

By asking people. By placing faith in the generosity of others.

Click the link to go to the Pledgeme campaign. I hope you’ll consider pledging.

Never explain, never apologise- crafting, kindness and mistakes

A month ago, I got a big beautiful tattoo. And this week I heard that my Dad is still in shock over it. In the past, this would have led to an automatic, overwhelming urge on my part to apologise.

Not this time.

I can’t apologise for something I’m not sorry about.

Not any more.

My tattoos, like my craft projects, like my writing, are how I express myself. To apologise would be to suggest there’s something wrong with who I am.

The thing about crafting is, as I’ve said before and will say again, you are going to make mistakes. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are. By its very nature, crafting is imperfect. That doesn’t make it any less awesome.

Did you know that in the beautiful, intricate geometry of Islamic art, there is always a mistake? Always. Because to Muslim crafters and artists, only God is perfect. To be human is to be imperfect. It doesn’t make their art any less beautiful, their work any less meticulous.

I read a story once about a woman who was cutting out superhero fabric for some shorts for her son. To save fabric, she ignored the pattern cutting guide, and ended up with the print for the front of them upside down. She told her son it was so he could read the comics when he was sitting down. It’s not a mistake. It’s a design feature.

Most people, even other crafters, won’t notice a mistake if you don’t point it out. But of course, if it really does bother you (or it’s big enough that the finished item just won’t work), and yes I know I’ve said this before, but you can always unpick, unravel, start again.

It’s World Kindness Day today, so where I’m going with this is simple. Be kind to yourself. Don’t ever apologise for what you create. There’s no apology needed. You’re expressing something about yourself, in the choice of colours and fabrics and papers.

You don’t have to show off the mistakes- unless you accidentally invented something awesome, of course. Just don’t let them cloud your vision of the whole. Because it’s the whole that really matters.

Craft is a feminist issue

embroidered uterus

Set of Anatomical Uterus napkins by Hey Paul Studios (at Etsy)

 

This week. Oh, this week.

We’ve had the continued harassment of women in gaming. The news that the so-called ‘Roast Busters’ are being let off with absolutely no charges laid. A “pick-up artist” who grabs women in choke holds and forces their faces up against his crotch being allowed to come and speak in Australia (too close for comfort- but then even on the other side of the world someone that disgusting would be too close for comfort).

It’s all made me angry. But the straw that broke the feminist camel’s back? A comment on a photo on Facebook. A friend of mine had put up a picture of his wife (who is expecting their baby) baking. And a misogynist acquaintance congratulated him on “doing it right”.

That got me. The idea that of all the things a woman can be, wife and mother are the only ones with real value, is one of many elements of patriarchy that I find distasteful. The pregnant wife in question is an intelligent woman in a demanding job. She’s got a lot of other accomplishments, and yet the only ones that seem to matter to Mr Sogynist and others like him are the ring on her finger and the baby in her belly.

I struggle a lot with these ideas, because as a crafter I worry I’m perpetuating a stereotype.  Crafts- at least sewing, knitting, crochet, cross-stitch and paper craft, are seen as ‘women’s stuff’ by a lot of people. I learned to do these things from the women in my family. I’ve met the odd guy who sews or knits etc, but they’re few and far between.

I love my textile crafts and scrapbooking. But I worry that I’m contributing to a tradition that both ring fences women and excludes men.

I can see how this same issue would put a lot of people- women AND men- off trying the kinds of crafts that I do. I wish it wouldn’t.

Because in the end, the only way we’re going to break these stereotypes down is by not letting them stop us doing what we love in a way that makes sense to us. Embroidered lady parts.  Knitted merkins. Making whatever the hell we want, because we want to, because it makes us happy and fuck anyone who doesn’t accept it. Molly Crabapple said in an article I saw today “I didn’t have a big break, I’ve just had tiny cracks in this wall of indifference until finally the wall wasn’t there any more”- doing our crafts, our way, regardless of gender- I think that’s how we start chipping away at the preconceived ideas about women and craft, and eventually, I hope, we’ll find that those ideas are so out-of-date as to seem ridiculous to everyone.

I think that’s the kind of crafting I can get down with.

And this is why you don’t mess with crafters before Christmas

It’s not, in fact, because we have pointy objects with us pretty much all the time, along with tiny scissors- because really, we’d have to really hulk out in rage to be able to make most knitting needles break through your skin, and the sewing needles, hey, we NEED those.

No, the real reason not to mess with crafters is this: we will make you presents.

And if you’re not careful, those presents will have hidden stuff.

I’m certain I’m not the only person who has accidentally sewn a vagina onto a plushie. That’s the sort of thing that could happen to anyone.

But here’s the thing…

What we do by accident…we can do on purpose.

I’m actually working on a quilt where most of the fabrics were chosen because they were so very yonic (the opposite of phallic- see? This post is educational.). Now I know how to sew an accidental ladygarden onto a plushie, don’t think  I won’t do it deliberately and insist it’s just a heart shape. It’s not a heart shape. 

That beautiful knitted horse hat? Not designed for what you think. WE know that. We’ll also make sure we get photos of you wearing it.

I guess what I’m saying is, be nice to your crafter. Say thank you. If we’ve made you clothes, wear the clothes (or put the baby in the clothes and take a photo). Use the thing, or display the thing. Tell people about the thing when we’re around.

If the fear of possible yonic teddybears isn’t enough, consider this: Crafting takes time. It takes effort. We could be spending that time on making something for ourselves but instead, we’re making it for you. Even at minimum wage, that represents a lot of value. As Brenda Dayne once pointed out in the Cast On podcast, “that’s a $400 sweater you’re wearing”.

Consider this a Public Service Announcement in the run-up to Christmas. Be kind. If you see us working on something, ask us about it. Say how cool it is, or how it’s coming along nicely. If you can’t think of anything nice to say try “well, that’s something.”

And also: When considering what to buy us for the holiday season, you may think we have enough craft supplies because we’re already surrounded by fabric and yarn and thread and what have you. But you would be wrong.  Craft stores. They exist. They do gift vouchers. We like gift vouchers. They let us buy more craft supplies. Which we totally need. Just saying.

Oracle Posts, 1: Art

Oracle card entitled 'art'

Silkscreen by Molly Crabapple. Card by me.

Art. It’s today’s card from the Blogging Oracle deck (see, told you I’d use it), and it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

All art forms are also crafts.

A sketch artist practices putting pencil, pen, charcoal to paper, making the lines in just the right way to create something beautiful (like Molly Crabapple’s gorgeous piece above). A painter does the same with whatever type of paint they use, and learns the different brush strokes. A sculptor has to learn the practical process of making casts, or of carving.

On Saturday, I lay on a massage table while my tattoo artist used a very specific craft, with specialised tools, that is damned hard to learn, to create art on my body that will be there for the rest of my life.

There are techniques, there are skills, mastery of which can take years of practice. You keep chipping away at it, keep trying. Again. And again.

Where art meets practical techniques, you have a craft.

Ah, but what about art for art’s sake? Art and craft are different! Crafts have a practical purpose. Art can simply be there to be beautiful!

Maybe *you* don’t think that. But there are plenty of people who do.

And yet…and yet… some of the most captivating artists- Toulouse Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, Molly Crabapple- create art with a purpose. Political posters. Advertising posters. It’s still utterly beautiful.

And embroidery, when our grandma’s learned how to do it, allowed ordinary women to turn ordinary items- clothing, handkerchiefs, pillowcases- into works of art.

Just because something is practical doesn’t mean it can’t also be beautiful.

And there are plenty of crafters who create things just to make beauty- to make art with their hands.

The most important thing that art and craft share is that they are both about putting beauty into the world. Craft is a way to create lovely things where the techniques (just like any art) are simple to begin, but with levels of high mastery that you can reach by practicing.

When you manage to get a lace pattern to work, or when your cross stitch looks like it’s supposed to or that dress you made yourself fits like a dream- you will feel like a fucking jedi ninja wizard.

But it’s not complicated to get started, and to create beauty. The real art comes when you wade in– and stick at it.