How to wear your cats on your ears

Some time ago, the wonderful Laura Sparling created a limited edition run of custom cat lampwork beads – you could choose all the options and they would look, more or less, like your cats.

Lampwork cat earrings | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

LOOK AT THEM…. they even have the right colour eyes!! 

Obviously I thought this was the best thing ever, and proceeded to buy lampwork portraits of Luna and Clover.

And then I bought a house and everything went to hell in a handcart for eighteen months while I rebuilt it.

This morning, I had a pet portrait shoot booked that sadly had to be rescheduled due to miserable weather, so instead I decided to have a mini artist date – and turn these cats into earrings! (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d type…)

Lampwork cat earrings | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

It wasn’t a complicated make – extra ingredients were sterling silver ear wires and 3mm jump rings. I removed the lobster clasps from the cats and added the extra jump ring and the wire – the extra ring makes them hang the right way more easily.

And here are the finished earrings:

Lampwork cat earrings | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

Plus of course the close up at the top.

It was lovely to make something for me – and even lovelier to now be able to take my idiot felines with me wherever I go!

A very unexpected announcement

unexpected announcement

Yes, that’s a diamond solitaire.

Yes, it’s real.

Yes, it’s on THAT finger.

After a long, long time – I finally said yes.

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To time for myself.

To better self care.

To finally letting go and outsourcing – editing, cleaning, and an amazing VA (or two) who will lighten my admin load.

To a proper break from my businesses.

Yes, that’s my unexpected announcement – after seven years, I am having some time off!

Some background, for new friends & readers

I started blogging in November of 2004, as an extension of my diary, a way for my far away friends and family to follow my adventures at university, and to process and document my new life in Loughborough as an undergrad student.

Blogging was still in its infancy, and much of what I wrote then is now for my eyes only – I think even my imported posts from a couple of blogs ago only go back to 2011 now.

Following uni, I knew I wanted to run my own business eventually, and after a tentative look at buying an established business, I decided I’d much prefer to create my own from scratch, alongside the smorgasbord of random day jobs.

I launched my first one in 2008, selling handmade jewellery at local craft fairs and farmers markets. It didn’t even have a name until its third outing in, when the Christmas fair I’d applied to wanted to know what name to put on the stand. I happened to be looking at the rubber duck mascot in my car when they phoned to ask me, and I said Ducking Fabulous as a joke.

When I got round to checking in January 2009 and realised that the domain and all the social handles were available (of course they were – it was seven years ago!), I registered them and never looked back.

Since then, I have done something for my businesses every single day.

Every. Single. Day.

For 2,739 days and counting. (No, I haven’t counted each day, I did a rough calculation. But it’s still a staggering number of days without a break!)

I still believe this is the way to grow slowly and achieve more than you think possible, but after 7 years, it’s time for a breather.

I opened and closed various businesses and passion projects in between (Letters from my Twenties, The Website Beautician, Girl Meets Van, Lotta Fiero, Project Pin Up, the London Pin Up School, and others I can’t remember off the top of my head). Bank holidays, plane flights and proper holidays, weekends and any other time off the day job were all opportunities to do more for my beloved businessses.

Following the exciting-but-vulnerable launch of the Unfurling Your Wings alter ego course and sessions last year, eventually I was brave enough to do something with the carlawatkins.com site I’d owned for years but never used, which has become the hub for my business advice and photography. I also finally made the leap into mermaiding after several years of fruitless daydreaming.

I had a whole list of goals at the start of 2016, with two standout things on that list.

The first was to get Run Away Days up and running, which I have done by starting with the mermaid parties and experiences, and will eventually expand into other retreats and workshops, letting you quite literally run away for a day (or more) and spend some time on yourself and/or your beloved business.

The second was to get my photography confidence back, and through a lot of introspection, some amazing friends and support (more on them in another post) and a flurry of shoots in the last six months, I’ve done that too, both at Unfurling Your Wings and with the Business Soloists sessions at Carla Watkins Photography, alongside some personal work. There’s always more to learn, but I was happy with almost every single image from the most recent shoot I did (which is of course thanks to my fabulous client too!) and that’s never happened before.

So why the break? And wtf is with the ring?

I’ve achieved what I set out to do this year at warp speed – and I have come very close to burn out in the process.

2016 has already yielded greater success, emotionally if not yet financially, than I could have imagined on 1st January, and I am feeling a very strong pull to stop, and take a step back, and breathe.

I didn’t realise quite how devoted to my businesses I’d become until four people in ten days asked for my advice on starting up a new business, “because it’s what you do, isn’t it?” and I didn’t know how wrung out and exhausted I was until I found myself sobbing in my work car park over a broken car key.

(Welcome to the rollercoaster of self employment – it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever embarked upon, and yet I wouldn’t change it for the world.)

There’s work to do on my systems and processes, there are decisions about outsourcing, all kinds of admin and accounting and general tidying up of loose ends to do so that when I step back in, it will be smooth.

While I’m away, my lovely VAs will pick up emails and deal with bookings, so really nothing on the surface will change. I’m also quite certain that it will be impossible for me to stay away completely, because I LOVE working in and on my businesses – I created them because I couldn’t not.

I’ve done some serious thinking about my other commitments (my family, my day job, my mortgage) and the things I love the most (my family, my friends, my kitties and my home) and how all of that balances with working more or less 7 days a week for 7 years.

I love my businesses, I’m in love with them most of the time, but I created them to give me freedom, and I need a break. And I believe they will flourish more for that break, and the time I can spend working on them, instead of in them.

I want to shoot for myself, blog for the joy of blogging, finish my house & garden and get my studio conversion done, have friends over for dinner, do some of the amazing training I’ve bought and not started, play around with creating art, get art & photos up on my walls, fix my sleep patterns, dive into my to-read list, sit around with my kitties and do nothing in particular…

During the time I’m technically away, I’ll still be around sporadically on social, very possibly a lot more on my blogs, and either I or my lovely VAs will pick up emails across all businesses and arrange bookings and print delivery and such things. It’ll also be business as usual at Ink Drops, because Anna and I have a great monthly routine in place, and a girl can’t ever divorce herself from her love of stationery…!

But in my own businesses, aside from fulfilling existing bookings and making sure my clients have the best time ever, I will be stepping back and focusing on working out how to make this all work in the long term.

And the ring?

diamond ring on blue tulle

The ring is my symbol of saying Yes to myself. It was made by the very talented Chris Worle, and is the second of his pieces I’ve bought this year. The first was a London Blue topaz solitaire, the colour of the ocean, and of my mermaid tail, to commemorate the first Run Away Days mermaid event and remind me I can totally do this.

The diamond marks the return of my confidence as a photographer, and the start of what I hope will be a lustrous chapter of my life. It usually lives on my middle finger – but it’s staying on my wedding finger for now, to remind me of the promise I made to myself.

Which is needed, as in the week between officially starting my break and writing this post, I have advised two more people on starting businesses and dreamed up another couple of projects of my own! All of which is a much-needed indication that my creativity flourishes when it’s given a bit of space and time to do its own thing.

And of course I couldn’t resist messing with you all, as I know an engagement announcement from me is the very last thing in the world any of you would expect to see without knowing anything about it first. #sorrynotsorry!

Here’s to whatever happens over the next month or two – though in true Carla style, I’ve imagined so much through this post that I already can’t wait to plunge back into the whitewater rapids of self employed insanity with loads of new ideas and excitement and plans!

With love and unicorns,

Carla xxx

Why being interested in ALL THE THINGS is actually a good thing

Discovering, a couple of years ago, that I was a Scanner, was a turning point in my life.

If you’ve never come across the word in this context before, alternative names include Renaissance woman/man/soul, polymath, da Vinci personality, multipassionate, multipotentialite, and some that are less complimentary – dilettante, flake, Jack-of-all-trades, fantasist.

Barbara Sher, who coined the term Scanner, goes into it in much more depth in her books, but the gist is that it’s someone who has many interests, usually moves jobs often, can’t seem to settle on one thing to do and who has ideas all the time, and frequently leaves projects seemingly unfinished.

I’m not normally one for labels, but I’d struggled for years with my many, many interests, and my attention span waxing and waning depending on what I was doing, but also on when I was doing it and what other things were currently on my radar. I had more hobbies than the rest of my group of friends put together, and found it utterly impossible to stay in a job for more than 18 months or so without being bored to tears. By the time I was 24 I had a CV which spanned as many pages as my Dad’s did – he was 66 at the time.

Even the line dancing I adored, I stopped once I’d reached a certain level. I qualified for, competed in and placed in the World Championships in Nashville in 2000, and it has taken me fifteen years to rekindle my love affair with line dancing. I got what I wanted out of it, and then I quit. (Though I’ve worn cowboy (girl?) boots ever since I was nine.)

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Modern Western society expects us all to be specialists, and to choose one thing to do for the rest of our lives. Even at 16 I raised eyebrows by choosing English, French, German and Physics for my A levels. So many people told me that I should have taken another Humanities subject. I’d have taken something arty (photography or textiles or something like that), but I was told at school, repeatedly from childhood, that I was academic and not creative. So I did what I could at the time, while dreading the thought of refining my choices even further.

My tendency to stop completely and move on, once whatever I was doing ceased to be interesting or fun, has been frowned upon over the years too – because in our society, whether at work or at play, quitting is seen as giving up, as being unreliable and therefore as a bad thing. I couldn’t understand why people would continue with all sorts of things, most of which were either supposed to be fun or which took up a considerable chunk of precious life –  work, relationships, hobbies, projects – long after they stopped enjoying them.

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Discovering blogs (or weblogs, as they were known in the misty recesses of 2005) was a revelation – here at last was somewhere where I could write about and share the day to day stories of being me, of everything I did – and instead of simply recording it in a diary, I found likeminded people! Other people’s writing, blog comments, forums for incredibly niche hobbies like collecting model horses – for the first time, no one judged me for having a series of bursts of enthusiasm for something, then taking a break and returning to it later.

(A vaguely relevant side note – I found it hilarious when people started extolling the virtues and wonder of internet dating, and meeting people online, a few years ago – because these were the same people that gave me repeated lectures on how stupid I was to go to London to meet new friends I’d met online through my hobbies… whether Wheel of Time fans, model horse collectors or photographers. My first internet meetup was with Chloe in London when I was 19, back in 2006 – and it was apparently far from normal to do that then. She’s now one of my dearest friends. Who knew something held in such suspicion would become so mainstream so fast?!)

Regardless of the type of project, idea or pastime, I followed (follow!) a pattern of sorts – I’d have an idea or something would pique my interest, I’d research it a bit and decide I wanted to learn about it or learn to do it. I’d do some more research, meet some people who already did it, buy some things related to it (craft materials, jewellery tools, small collectable resin horses, typewriters…) and then throw myself into it with an all-consuming passion. Until the next thing caught my attention.

An example – at the time I write, I have just found the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series. I ADORED MLP when I was younger, and had avoided the new style ones in case I hated them. Then I saw an episode on YouTube and am now devouring the first and second series on DVD, while scouring shops and the internet for MLP memorabilia to keep on my desk, pin up in my studio, and hang from my handbag.

I’ve driven both my (now ex) partners and my parents, and probably my friends too, up the wall for decades with my wild enthusiasm for a new project which dwindles into inertia just as they’re starting to come round to the idea of me having chosen My Thing, at last.

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So after the best part of a decade of doing this and blogging, and trying to justify my inability to choose or find that One Thing to do with my career and free time that was supposed to keep me interested for the rest of my life, I found one of Barbara Sher’s books in the library.

And I read it, and I cried… because there at last was proof that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t a flake and that I wasn’t broken. I just had a different kind of brain – and there were other people out there like me.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’ve actively sought out other people who get it, though the majority of people I know still don’t. Which is ok – we’re just wired differently! Lots of the solopreneurs I now count among my dearest friends (the internet is a properly magical thing!) are also scanners, and we’re learning how to make our personalities work with our businesses rather than forcing ourselves into a box.

When I find a new thing, the time I spend engaged with it varies – from a few days to a few years, and I am never without several things on the go. (if I’d had a £1 for every time someone asked me how I fit so much in and follow so many hobbies, I could probably retire tomorrow). And I have a noticeable cycle, though the timing isn’t consistent – generally, if it’s something I discover and like enough to chuck myself into it, I make friends within it and then continue to return to it after intervals, throughout my life.

Examples of these include collecting, painting and showing model horses; my car Poppy and the club I belong to through her; roller skating (started at age 6 and I go through phases of being addicted to it every few years); horse riding; jewellery making; papercraft and scrapbooking; customising shoes and clothes; reworking the interior of my home; sewing; camper vans; cross stitching, baking, wanting to write a book… the list is endless (almost literally).

The only things which are consistent are writing and photography. Which brings me to the heart of this post.

When it became apparent at an absurdly early age that I was going to write, and read, far more than I was going to do anything else consistently (the photography came later), it’s been suggested repeatedly that I should be an author and write books, or a journalist and write articles, or a travel writer, or [insert traditional writing-related-job here].

And they’re all good ideas on the surface. But the trouble is, I don’t want to write whole books (well, I do, but I know myself well enough now to know that completing more than one is highly unlikely – the kick I’ll get when I finish Unfurling is highly likely to be enough for me to move onto something else instead of writing a second book).

I don’t want to dive so deeply into one subject that I don’t have time or energy left over to explore all the other amazing things out there – which, if I pursued a traditional writing career, I would have to do. Even journalists, who write short to medium articles instead of whole books, usually specialise in a broad topic – business, or travel, or cookery, or lifestyle.

And while thinking about my blog, and where it’s headed over the next few years, and how I got into blogging in the first place, it occurred to me that it really is the perfect place for my scanner personality to develop, grow and flourish.

It takes the two things I do naturally and consistently, and applies them to the ever-changing series of things that I do equally naturally, but much less consistently. I can write one-sentence posts, or 2,000 word epics like this one – and I get to choose, rather than an editor.

Since I very first started blogging back in 2006, and in a more structured way since the inception of Ducking Fabulous in 2010, I have used my very own space on the internet to record, write, think out loud and muse about life, learning and all the things that catch my fancy.

moodboard

To explore and investigate my passing enthusiasms, catch ideas I’d like to follow up in the future, and record my journey through learning and practising and discovering. It gives me a self-made library to refer to when I come back to something I’ve done before, and means I have tangible evidence of how I’ve improved, changed, or grown in a particular area.

Through my writing I’ve learned to give myself permission not to finish things, and to hop, if I want to, between interests. I allow myself to stop doing things if they’re not working – a complete antithesis to the previous generation’s work ethic, which tends to be along the power-through-and-keep-going-even-if-it’s-hard-and-it-should-be-worth-it-in-the-end lines.

Credit is also due to the rise of blogging in popularity and as a career choice – I no longer have to explain what a blog is, and it’s the best excuse I’ve ever had for trying out new things – all in the name of fresh content for my lovely readers. Yet this blog, seemingly uniquely for a blog that supports a business, is still very much my little space on the internet. I’m forever reading articles which tell you what you must and mustn’t do in order for your blog to be businesslike, or relevant, or grow your readership… and I stand by my belief that a blog is the equivalent of your home online.

I want people to see me for who I am, and if they resonate with me and like my writing, then some part of my business will probably be a good fit for them. Whether it’s jewellery, tarot decks or courses depends very much on them and what they’re looking for.

I’m trying this year for the first time to schedule my posts and write them in advance, and while it works for some types of post, it’s failing miserably for others. Like these. I need to write them when the inspiration strikes, and then I want them out there so I can have the conversations they spark while the subject is still fresh in my mind.

So what about you? Are you also a scanner, or beginning to realise you could be one? Let me know in the comments (or email me if you’d prefer it not to be public) – I’d love to know.

With love and unicorns,

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52 Project, Week 3: jewellery experiments

stamped talismans | carlalouise.com

This week I got my creative mojo back in buckets and have been making jewellery, and experimenting with new techniques. And I’ve finally applied to the Secret Vintage Fair – a fair I’ve wanted to be at since they started, but life has got in the way. Fingers crossed my application will be accepted and I’ll be able to take my new stock out in April!

The other contenders for this week are in my Flickr stream, including my first ever Cornish pasty……


Created with flickr slideshow.

Wordsmith or witch?

charm-necklace

My jewellery has always symbolised what’s important to me – a birthstone, my Aes Sedai ring (the books the ring is inspired by changed my life), friendship rings, and most recently one reminding me of my intentions to photograph more of life. I create my talisman jewellery so that other people can do the same – keep their beliefs or dreams or hopes close by, always.

For day to day wear, I have various charms representing parts of my life or intentions which I wear separately or together on a silver chain – inspired by my Mum, who wears her cross, her evil eye protection, a camel and some other significant charms all together on a gold chain. I love that her beliefs and superstitions sit so easily next to each other like that.

As 2014 draws to a close, I’d like to add to my charms. A pentacle, for my spiritual side and for the witches in Discworld; a hare, for my connection with nature and also for Tiffany Aching (another Discworld reference) and the courage I hope I too have; and cats, to symbolise my two fluffy con artists who have so quickly become so central to my world.

talisman jewellery by Carla | carlalouise.com

But almost every online shop which sells charms goes on at length about pentacles being a Wiccan symbol, and the Wiccan rede or tradition. Which is fine, but also quite annoying, as I’m not Wiccan. I don’t particularly identify as a witch in the traditional sense, either – only that an amalgam of the pagan/hedge witch/nature/druid traditions is what most calls to me from all the religious and spiritual paths out there.

And then that got me thinking – I have always, always been fascinated with magic, witchcraft, spells, the fae, the Other. I am unusually intuitive and more than usually aware of how others are feeling and the potential or actual impact of words and actions – mine and those of others. I feel other people’s pain in a way that is draining – my heart quite literally hurts for a friend who’s suffering emotionally or physically. I’m instinctively aware of the moon’s phases and their effects on me (if not perfectly versed in all their names), and I have a collection of crystals and tarot cards which I use fairly regularly. (I sell them, too – I wouldn’t do that unless I believed in them.) All of that makes me Carla, not Wiccan, or any other particular religion.

But words – now words have incredible power. I love, and I firmly believe, in words working magic. As spells, manifesting, crystallising intention or just putting yourself out there – whatever you call it, you will have noticed at some point in your life the power of declaring what you truly believe, voicing your dreams, giving life to that which you most crave through words, whether spoken or written. (It’s said that millionaires write their goals down every day, and billionaires twice a day.) And symbols like the pentacle or the hare (or a typewriter, a flower, whatever works for you) are just as powerful – they create words and associations in your mind. Which is the first step to making your dreams real.

And though I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a witch, I do use words and symbols and rituals, every day, to create my magical life. A life which I’m told inspires others (a concept I find humbling and exhilarating in equal measure). A life which is an evolving creation in itself – a journey, not a destination. A life made out of words.

So am I a wordsmith, or a witch? Or a little bit of both?

Traditionally, witches have a terrible reputation. The definition usually involves evil spells and an ugly old crone. In my life, as with all women, I’ll be maiden, mother and crone – in age if not in actuality. Beauty is subjective – but while I don’t for a moment believe I’m ugly, neither am I about to claim the alternative title of enchantress – the dictionary definition of “captivatingly attractive” is not something that could be consistently said about any human being I’ve ever met, and especially not me first thing in the morning. Plus I don’t put spells on people.

Instead, I believe in magic like most people believe in the sun rising each day. I refuse to let being an adult dull my imagination and sense of wonder. I listen to people and I share stories and I create words and symbols and images – in the hope that these things will encourage other people to live out their own dreams.

I am not a Wiccan. I am not an enchantress.

But I am magic, I am creative and I love words. And so I suppose I might just be a witch… by my own definition.

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With love and unicorns,

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P.S. Want to find your own alter ego, witchy or otherwise? Hop over to Unfurling Your Wings and get your name on the list – the list for early access closes soon!

 

Jewellery and happiness

I’m sure I start every post like this, but how fast is 2014 disappearing to?! It’s turning out to be such a funny year – a mixture of ups and downs both big and small.

A few days away from the day job, in theory to work on my businesses and get myself organised again after some reshuffling, have ended up being gorgeous but not as business focused as I’d originally planned.

I’ve house hunted with a dear friend (and found one!), discovered I can drive a Luton van, experimented with glow in the dark paint, got Poppy through her MOT, visited my Gran, had a whole day with Mum mooching round the independent and charity shops of Maldon, fixed some jewellery, had lots and lots of kitty cuddles and started sketching out and playing with new jewellery designs. Which is exciting, as that’s been on hold since about February.

I’m planning to focus my new work on the printed pieces (wooden and dominoes) as talisman jewellery, to go in my shop here and also probably over on my Etsy shop at some stage. From trees to keys and owls to ravens (and of course typewriters and campervans and wings!), I hope that everyone will find something that helps them keep their beliefs and secret wishes by their side always.

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Annastasia and I have also been having a glorious time choosing new stock for Ink Drops, and one of our new artists lives just down the road from me – truly local!

Back to the day job tomorrow but I’m feeling ok about that – campus is so beautiful as we approach autumn and though there’s a huge amount of work to be done between now and Christmas, at least I’m busy… my Creator and Scanner selves don’t deal well with boredom!

And this afternoon I’ll be adding more stock to my shop… so keep your eyes peeled.

Have a wonderful Wednesday afternoon!

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My first jewellery class

Yep, my first! Though I made and sold jewellery for a few years, I’d never actually taken a formal class – or even an informal class. I was totally self-taught from the internet, books and occasionally squeaking at lovely fellow makers who would show me how to get past anything I was having a wobble with.

So I was delighted when my friend Emma suggested we go to a beginners’ jewellery class at Deborah Beads in Fingringhoe, just up the road from me.

After coaxing the kittens in from outside a little earlier than normal, we set off up the winding countryside roads to where Debbie’s shop is. It was dark by the time we got there so I didn’t get any pics of the outside, but oh, indoors was like being let loose in a sweet shop!

LOOK AT ALL THE SHINY BEADS…

There were just four of us plus our teacher Diane, which made for a really friendly, relaxed evening where we could all ask questions and get individual help when we needed it.

I found that I knew some of the techniques but not others, and it was actually lovely to sit and create and know I didn’t have to get it listed in my Etsy shop the following day, as so often when I’ve been making jewellery before. (Not that I hated it – just it was good to be away from the pressure).

And much to our surprise, we came away with five different pieces of jewellery… two necklaces, two bracelets and a pair of earrings.

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I was so inspired that I proceeded to get my own long-neglected beading supplies (I’ve always been more of a stamper) out of the drawer they live in and sort them out while on Skype to Anna on Monday (that doesn’t count as multi-tasking – our Skypes are always so epic that both of us do useful stuff while we’re chatting), and then found myself inspired to create two more bracelets and a rather experimental necklace. Which I actually think turned out to be the best of the bunch!

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Certainly some of my favourite pieces I’ve ever made for myself.

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We’re looking forward to going back for the next level workshop – cluster jewellery. And I’m delighted I’ve rediscovered my jewellery mojo – and this time, I’m not feeling any urge to turn it into a business!

 

Jewellery stories – the Tiffany ring and the typewriter charm

Currently gracing my neck most days:

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The ring:

My 21st birthday present from Julia. She and I had wanted Tiffany rings for as long as we could remember. And now we have matching ones – identical, except that mine has a blue sapphire and hers has a pink sapphire. I wear it almost constantly – either on a finger or on a chain. Six and a half years on, it would feel very odd to be without it. It’s a symbol of the friendship that will be twenty five years old this year, and which I couldn’t imagine being without.

The typewriter:

A very pretty little charm which I fell for at a craft fair I did, back in April. I usually have a very strict rule of not spending until I’ve sold, but when I saw that they had a typewriter, vintage camera and an ice skate charm, I had to be very sneaky and buy them all. And given that my collection of real typewriters has accidentally doubled (from two to four, lol) in the last few months thanks to the generosity of a fab friend and a colleague, it seems appropriate.

Jewellery stories: heart brooch

While moving and doing all the associated clearing out, I realised that lots of pieces of my jewellery have stories of their own. Some short and sweet, some more involved… I’d like to have a record of them and I thought they’d be quite nice to occasionally feature on the blog 🙂

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This heart brooch is a familiar sight on lapels, collars and sometimes bags. It came to me as part of the very first Curiosity Box swap I did, back in October 2011. Nicola from Yallop Skin Care was my anonymous swap partner – it was a lovely project to be part of, and this was my favourite thing from my box!