Monday, 27 July 2015

Swan Upping!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to take an extended lunch break this week to see the Swan Uppers passing through my home town - enjoying some of the delights of the river along the way.

What on Earth is Swan Upping, you ask?

It's a historic ceremony, hundreds of years old, where the Queen's Swan Marker and the Royal Swan Uppers row down the Thames to conduct an annual census of the swan population - crying "All-Up!" when a family of swans is located. The Royal Swan Uppers wear traditional red uniforms, row traditional wooden boats, and (as they pass Windsor Castle) stand to attention and salute "Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans".

I love quirky traditions like this! I unfortunately missed seeing the Swan Uppers last year (I was too busy working towards a deadline to take the time off) so I was determined to see them this year as they passed through Boulters Lock.

As the scheduled arrival time approached, the sides of the lock began to get crowded as people showed up to watch. From snippets of conversations I overheard it seems some people come back every year to see the Swan Uppers and others follow them along their route up the Thames. How nice!

Just past 1pm the first boats came into view. The Royal Swan Uppers (in red) and Swan Uppers from the Vintners’ and Dyers’ livery companies (white and blue) rowing in traditional wooden skiffs, with support boats behind.

The Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers are two of the only three bodies with rights to own swans apart from the Crown. The Companies' swans are marked with leg rings and the Crown's swans are left unmarked. Together, the livery companies and the Crown maintain the tradition of Swan Upping in the third week of July each year.

Many years ago swans were valuable as food to be served at banquets and feasts, but these days swans are no longer eaten and the emphasis is on conservation and education. The Queen's Swan Warden examines the birds for disease or injury, cygnets are weighed and measured and the swan population is thus recorded. The Uppers meet with school groups along the route, teaching children about the history of Swan Upping and how they can help protect the river and its wildlife.

The boats waited for the lock to open, then made their way through the gate...

... and into the lock. Check out the Queen's initials on the oars in the Royal boat and the swan feather in the Queen's Swan Marker's cap!

The support boats fly special flags so the lock keepers can easily identify them. I loved the swan vases filled with flowers on the top of each boat.

We all had plenty of time to admire the boats and the flags as the crews waited for the water level to adjust.

Then the lock gates opened and they were off again!

Next stop: Cookham Bridge (immortalised in Stanley Spencer's famous Swan Upping -inspired painting).

My next stop? Home and my work To Do list... via a leisurely stroll back along the river, of course.

P.S. Can you spot me in these photos from the day? (Tip: I was wearing a floppy black hat!)

If you're interested you can read more about Swan Upping and watch a video of the Swan Uppers in action here. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A Visit to Boulters Lock & Ray Mill Island

Earlier this week I took an extended lunch break and headed down to the river to see the Swan Uppers pass by. Even though I live walking distance from the Thames, do I ever go for a stroll along the riverside? No, I do not. Going to see the Swan Upping was a great opportunity to (re)discover just what I've been missing.

I reached the river at Maidenhead Bridge (built 1772-77, apparently!) and headed towards Boulters Lock where the Swan Uppers were scheduled to arrive at about 1pm.

Maidenhead was a fashionable resort in the late 19th and early 20th Century, with people boating along the Thames and taking tea at the riverside hotels. The Thames at Maidenhead pops up in a W.H. Auden poem about love and the area appears in one of my favourite films, Kind Hearts and Coronets, as the place where Ascoyne D'Ascoyne takes his mistress for their (fateful) weekend away.

Just next to the bridge is the now derelict Skindles Hotel which used to be notorious as a place visited by people having affairs!

It was a gorgeous sunny day, perfect for a walk along the river - though it was a bit breezy so I had to keep a firm hold on my hat to stop it blowing in the water.

I love that Three Men in a Boat -themed weather vane. Jerome K. Jerome was not a fan of Maidenhead, judging from the mention it gets in the book!

Boulters Lock was immortalised in this painting by Edward John Gregory. When I was a kid, there was a big re-enactment of the painting for the 100th anniversary (so much fun!). I was rather sad that the painting wasn't on display when I visited the Lady Lever Art Gallery this spring (the gallery was undergoing renovations at the time, boo).

Next to the lock is a very unusual telephone box - a green one! This type of kiosk was the first standard type introduced by the Post Office. The box was installed by the lock in 1926, then restored and moved to its current location in 1979. Apparently there are now fewer than 50 green kiosks left and very few as old as this one.

I arrived at Boulters Lock with plenty of time to spare, so I went for a wander around Ray Mill Island. This part of the Thames has lots of small islands on it, and Ray Mill Island (formerly the site of a flour mill - as you might have guessed from the name) is now a public park.

I have fuzzy memories of feeding the ducks here when I was little and there were lots of families out enjoying the park when I visited - including one kid who loudly announced that this was "the best day ever!"(so cute).

The park is a lovely place to explore and you get a great view of Boulters Weir from the island.

There's also an aviary!

And lots of cute guinea pigs! 

After a good look round the island, it was nearly time for the Swan Uppers to arrive so I headed back to the lock to buy an icecream and wait for them to arrive.

You'll have to wait until my next post to see photos of that... so be sure to pop back on Monday! :)

Thursday, 23 July 2015

PDF Patterns are Back in My Etsy Shop - Hurrah!

I was delighted to find an email in my inbox from Etsy this morning with an update about how they're handling the new EU VAT legislation that came into effect this year.

If you live in the EU the price of instantly downloadable digital items sold on Etsy (like printable PDF sewing patterns) will now include VAT (charged at the appropriate amount for your home country).

I'm obviously not happy that my buyers will have to pay this tax on top of the price of my patterns, but I am happy that Etsy are doing this so I don't face the nightmarish mountain of paperwork that comes along with doing it myself!

So, my PDF patterns are now back for sale in my Etsy shop as instant downloads.

The new rules don't apply to files that are sent "manually" via email so if you live in the EU and are happy to wait for your patterns to be emailed to you, you can buy my patterns from my Big Cartel shop instead.

I have just a small collection of patterns at the moment, but I will be adding new ones over the next few weeks and months (and blogging about them here, of course!). The first one will be released next week :)

Saturday, 18 July 2015

All The Threes (33)

When I turned 30 a few years ago I had a nostalgic look back through old photo albums and chose a photo a year to make a "30 years of me!" collage. It was fun choosing a photo to represent each year and seeing the progression of haircuts and outfits as the years went by.

In fact, it was so much fun that I decided to keep going and choose a new photo each year to add to my collection. I picked one when I turned 31, one when I turned 32 and now it's time to pick another as I turned 33 last month. It's turning into a nice little personal tradition and a great opportunity to have a few quiet moments thinking about my year just passed, with all its ups and downs.

This year has definitely had its downs. I've not been in great health, which is always frustrating - not least because of the knock-on effect it has on my business. I've been working part-time for big chunks of the past year, taking on fewer new projects and earning less than I would have if I'd been working my usual hours.

Of course there are few things more important than your health and I'm very lucky that my job (and my current living situation) allows me to be flexible: to take care of myself while also continuing to work, just at a slightly slower pace and from the sofa instead of my desk. But it still sucks to be ill and to have to scale back my creative plans and press pause on so many things on my "plans for my business" To Do list.

On balance though, 32 was pretty great!

It was a year of family and friendship and meeting new people. Of travelling (near and far) and adventures (big and small). Of decluttering unwanted things and letting go of all the emotional baggage that went along with them. Of saying hello and yes please to some exciting new projects. Of being more confident (and of not being afraid to admit when my confidence has failed me).

I took a trip to Birmingham (which turned out to be so great I'm going back there for my summer hols this year) and another to Liverpool (which was also awesome - I really need to get round to blogging about it sometime!). When my health (and my deadlines) allowed I went on lots of relaxing, inspiring, de-stressing, energising and generally awesome Nice Days Out to parks, gardens, museums, palaces, churches, ships, galleries, exhibitions and more. Plus my diary was peppered with days jam-packed with crafty and creative goodness - at the V&A, the Festival of Quilts, the Handmade Fair, Blognix, Thread, the Knitting & Stitching Show, Renegade London, and London Craft Week.

It was also another highly enjoyable year of making and blogging (despite the odd patch of blogger's block!). I celebrated 8 years of blogging (woohoo!) and worked on lots of really fun projects during the year. Some of these I've blogged about - like these felt houses, these mini felt jumper Christmas ornaments and this happy box of sunshine - and others are still under wraps as I wait for them to be published. I got to spill the beans about some earlier projects though, like the Halloween designs I contributed to Felt-o-ween (such a cute book) and the retro cassette phone case I stitched for Mollie Makes (I still pinch myself sometimes that something I made was the featured project on the cover of a magazine).

And as if all that wasn't enough for one year, I am also now an aunt! Yay!

My chosen photo for the year?

This one, taken at the end of a long, hot shift planting poppies at the Tower of London for the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation.

The poppy installation was such an amazing thing to be part of.

I have to admit that it's also something that just a few years ago I wouldn't have been confident enough to sign up for. I would have wanted to do it, sure, but without anyone to go with me I wouldn't have had the nerve and I wouldn't have signed up and I would have regretted it. I was still a bit nervous about volunteering on my own (and it was a bit weird when almost everyone else was showing up in pairs or in big groups from their work) but it was, of course, totally fine! I chatted to people, they chatted to me, we all took part in this amazing thing together, it was all good.

So, this year's photo is me doing something awesome and a reminder to future me to not be scared and to say "yes!" to more awesomeness in the future.

P.S. I've not added the new photo into a collage/mosaic yet, but here are the photos from years 1-32 :)


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