Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Little Monster

Today I finished the first in a series of Little Monsters. This one's called Eric and he is an eco Halloween monster!

He is looking for a good home and is for sale in my etsy shop:

Bonne journée!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Joining together

I have been very preoccupied with the needs of others recently. I wrote a post about knit-a-square a while back and I have been absorbed in knitting for them. There was a July challenge - knit a whole blanket to keep a newborn warm and I decided that I would do that. It is taking me so long, it is now August! But it is satisfying, sitting, thinking, whilst making each stitch, about a baby who would be wrapped in the blanket soon. My five-year-old son asked me what I was doing and I explained that I was making a blanket for a baby in South Africa. He asked why they didn't already have blankets and when I told him that they didn't have money or families like we do, he said after a pause, "I have a great idea mummy, I could send some money to those children so they can buy blankets!". I was really moved that my little boy could not only empathise with these children who are so far away, but also realised that he could do something to help.

I thought that it would be good to look into sponsoring a child. I had been thinking about it for a long time, but my son inspired me to act. So I found a French charity called Un Enfant Par la Main (a child by the hand), and we requested to sponsor a little boy. We were so excited when the envelope arrived from the charity and we learnt that we were sponsoring Muthukumar from India. We have to wait a month before writing our first letter to him but we are looking forward to it.

I posted this on Facebook because the charity encourage you to invite others to sponsor a child. I had several comments in return, one from a friend who said that she sponsors a woman through Women for Women International. I looked them up. They are an amazing charity, based in the USA, who work with women who have survived war and their programmes help these women set up businesses and become strong members of their communities. I was so moved when I read the testimonies on the website. I am going to try to find a way to raise the money so I can sponsor a woman too. (Having already committed to sponsoring Muthukumar, it is difficult to find the funds to do both.) So, I have decided that money from anything I sell on etsy will go towards sponsorship with this organisation. So please take a look and see if there is anything you'd like to purchase!

Thank you and bon dimanche. x

Friday, 31 July 2009

My latest Etsy friend

Sorry for the long absence. Summer is always busy. So many people come to our village on holiday and so there are always parties and of course we are not on holiday so we find ourselves juggling work, visitors, parties...!

I am pleased to post today because I am bringing you work from Kerryn who has an etsy shop. She makes the most beautiful jewellery: necklaces, earrings, bracelets. She certainly has an eye for design and colour, choosing wonderful beads, some vintage. She lives in France, a bit further away from me than the shops I've previously featured, near Lyon. However, this is an area I know well as I used to live just south, in the lovely town of Vienne.

Kerryn says about her work:

"Hmmmm... when did my compulsiveness for handmade items start? When I was a child I remember fondly holding my grandmom's earrings that she had made herself in the 1940s. They were made from bread, rolled into tiny shapes to resemble flowers and then glazed into gorgeous colours. I spent many hours at her dressing table playing with her masterpieces made during war time. She also had a box full of 1940s Lucite Jewellery. I wish I still had that box....... the beads alone would be pure delight to play with now.

Then, I would sit for hours and watch my mom sew and draw, she would make all 30 costumes for the dance troupe! I guess that is where my patience comes from, and the love of watching something I make evolve from my own hands.

My own handmade journey started with paper mâché characters, painting wall murals in high school, I have attempted pottery, tile mosaic's, and even painted large hat boxes in folkart flowers. My latest artistic adventures have been making Lampwork Beads and dabbling with PMC/Art Silver Clay to make pendants and rings.

The jewellery designing started about 8 years ago when I was forced to sit still whilst pregnant (sitting still was easy, keeping my hands and mind still wasn't!!), and I haven't looked back since. I just love it, and the people I meet who start as customers / suppliers are now friends. I move globally every few years with hubby's job (like a nomad, but without the cattle!), and I am very fortunate to see this wonderful world we live in, and meet some amazing people who do have an effect on my jewellery designs... and of course my life!

My dear grandmom has recently had a stroke, she sometimes doesn't recognize me, but she always remembers those little gorgeous earrings she made from bread, all those years ago!

I am currently based in Lyon, France......... a very very beautiful part of the world."

So please take a look at this gorgeous shop. The pieces are very reasonably priced , so treat yourself or someone else today!


Helen x

Monday, 6 July 2009


I was recently looking for a charity project and I came across this website: http://www.knit-a-square.com/ It is a great idea. You knit a 20x 20cm / 8x8" square (or more than one) and send it off to South Africa where there are teams who sew them together into blankets for babies and children in need. Often these are orphans who have lost their parents to AIDS. The initiative was started by Sandy. She says on the website:

They [the children] live in terrible poverty. They need love, shelter, food, education and warmth. Many children's charities are working hard to provide the first four. Charity knitting and crocheting can provide the last.

The website has a wealth of information about the children who are helped, the charities involved, instructions for the knitting and crocheting (you can also make hats and jumpers), there is a blog, a forum, a list of those who have made squares so far and much more. So please check it out.

I have started knitting some squares as you will see from the photo. I have also got my mum knitting again after about 20 years! This is such a great project because even if you are beginner knitter or crocheter you can make a square. You can make squares in acrylic or wool, it's also a great way to use up those odds and ends of yarn which you have lying around!

They are aiming for 400 000 squares (10 000 blankets) this year so they need YOU! Please spread the word and support this great charity.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Epilepsy and knitting

I use the website Ravelry.com which is a knitting community website where you can find free patterns, discuss your projects with other knitters, join groups and much more. A couple of days ago I noticed that there was a new group called "Knitters with Epilepsy and Seizure disorders". This was of interest to me, as I have epilepsy. As it is well under control I now live my life normally and rarely think about it. But I was shocked to read other people's experiences where they have had bad reactions from family, friends and strangers, from being told they were possessed to being thought of as mentally defective! It is shocking that in our enlightened and tolerant society there are still so many misconceptions.

For me, it all started just over 10 years ago when I had a stressful job and did lots of commuting. I was having a normal week, too busy, not much time to eat, not enough sleep and I was driving home on a fast dual-carriageway, going the maximum speed on the outside lane, overtaking a lorry. Suddenly I found myself in a ditch with people around me. I was very confused. The police arrived and then an ambulance. The first ambulance man who spoke to me asked me for his lottery numbers for the week. I didn't understand why. He said that it was my lucky week as I should have been dead. I was just so thankful that no one else was involved in the accident.

I was taken to Oxford's Radcliffe hospital for tests but no one really know what was wrong with me. I had been alone in the car and and so no one had witnessed what had happened to me. However, a few days later, at home with my husband, I had a seizure which he witnessed. It wasn't long before I saw a neurologist and was diagnosed with epilepsy.

I was told that I had had epilepsy all my life. However, up until that point my seizures only consisted of a feeling of "deja vu". I didn't lose consciousness or even have absences. Since I heard people talking about "deja vu" I thought that it was normal.

I was devastated. On a practical level I had lost all confidence to go out alone, I could no longer drive (one must be seizure-free for at least a year before getting one's licence back), was told not to contemplate having children whilst the search was on for the "right" medication.

After a difficult period of trying different medications with horrible side-effects, we finally found one that suited me and I have been seizure-free ever since. Even though I take medication everyday, it doesn't really affect my life. Now I can drive, work, I have two healthy children, I just get on with my life. But there is something in me which avoids telling people unless I have to, some fear that people will judge me, there is still a stigma attached to it. When I was first diagnosed, I remember telling someone that I had epilepsy and they said, "But you don't look like you have epilepsy", like I should have two heads!

So maybe being more open about this condition can help people understand. I will write more ...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Zen and the Art of Knitting

I have been reading "Zen and the Art of Knitting" and I am finding it very interesting. The idea that knitting can be meditative, that it can draw you out of your situation and towards something "other" is fascinating to me. The author, Bernadette Murphy, looks at the links between spirituality and creativity. She has researched very thoroughly through interviews with some interesting people. I feel that, as I work my way through it, it may feature again on my blog!

I was inspired to begin knitting (or I suppose I should say taking it up again after around 30 years, having learnt as a very young girl) by the birth of my daughter. I saw a gorgeous book of baby clothes which I subsequently received as a gift. They looked impossibly hard but with the encouragement of my mum I made a little cardigan, a bit misshapen but a great achievement! And I haven't looked back.

I do feel, when making something for a certain person, that I knit each stitch with love. And, perhaps in a fanciful way, I hope that they can feel that when they wear the item. We have, as a society, moved away from creating our own clothes, it is more convenient to buy what we need. I remember that when I was a child, sometimes the jumper knitted by grannie was a source of embarrassment among friends. I was really pleased to hear how my son's teacher complimented him on a lovely aran sweater made by a friend of mine and told him that jumpers made by hand with real wool were the best. What a great philosophy to learn from nursery school! When you actually make something yourself you then appreciate the efforts of others, how working out a pattern or inventing a design involves time and dedication.

What I am learning too is not to be impatient, that it doesn't matter if I have to unravel a piece to get it just right, that through each mistake or imperfection I am growing in understanding. Learning about the technique of knitting, that almost mystical art where just two stitches are used to create unlimited possibilities of design. Learning about myself and my impatience, my frustrations, my restlessness ...

By the way, I obtained the book through bookmooch.com which is the most amazing website. It is a system of book exchange and I have found that people are extraordinarily generous. This book came from the USA and from someone who couldn't afford to post it to me right away - of course I didn't mind - but she could have just said that it was too expensive to send to France and turned down my request. Instead she made a personal sacrifice and through that I am blessed.

Photo: a scarf I made especially for my mum

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Cocon on Etsy

Here is my second featured Etsy artist! I am so happy to be showing off the work of Cocon-a from Céret, France. I discovered Masami (who created the Cocon label) on Etsy when I was looking for a present for my sister-in-law and I found such a gorgeous bag, hand woven in red and white yarn. I didn't realise until later that we were "neighbours"!

When I received the bag, it was wrapped in the most beautiful packaging and finished to a very high standard. My sister-in-law loves it!

Masami not only makes bags but also adorable children's clothes, hats, mobiles and super cute quirky Cocon dolls. All of these designs are conceived by Masami and, as you can see from the photos, she has great talent.

On her blog Masami has a list of things she likes, among them: the dawn, the smell of the sea, hand-made chocolate ice-cream, jumping in virgin snow, things which have a history... I think that this, along with the piece Masami wrote about her work (below) speaks volumes about the poetic, gentle world of Cocon, the inspiration behind the creations and her attention to detail.

A world of freedom
I let my ideas come and they are carried on the wind,
this is how Cocon creations come to life,

I want each Cocon creation to hold good
and not drift away on the current
"Constant existence"
this is what I seek to achieve with the creations of my hands
through which my thoughts are imparted.

(Translated from French)

Masami's etsy shop is: http://www.cocon.etsy.com
She also has a blog (in French) here:
And her own online store here: http://cocon-shop-ete.blogspot.com/
(Look out especially for the Coin de Cocon where you will find sale items (yippee!) as well as vintage articles for sale: http://lecoindecocon.blogspot.com/)

Please have a look, I know you will be delighted by these charming items.

Bonne journée et à bientôt

Friday, 5 June 2009

Melì Melòn on Etsy

I am really excited to be bringing you my very first featured artist. Melì-Melòn is based in Barcelona and so not far from where I live, just a couple of hours over the border.

She makes the most beautiful dresses, as you can see from the photographs. I met her on an Etsy forum where she was asking for help with her English (which she didn't need by the way) and we have been communicating through Etsy conversations. I now have a dress for my little girl and when it arrived she wanted to try it on immediately, it is soooo cute. I can testify that her pieces are extremely well-designed, well-made and she pays so much attention to detail.

I asked Melì-Melòn to write about her work and her ideas and she sent me this lovely text:

"When I was a little girl, I spent hours looking at how my mother was sewing dresses for my older sister and me, every single dress was special, unique and made with lots of love. She left us five years ago and then I became the new owner of her sewing machine and her vintage fabric collection, so I started sewing my own handmade dresses for my 2 daughters. With every finished dress, I remember my mother and how proud she would be. A lot of people and friends were surprised at my girls' clothes designs and encouraged me to sell them. Last summer, my sister discovered Etsy, a wonderful place where you can meet lovely people from everywhere and find really unique handmade items at affordable prices, so I've recently open my little shop there. I really love sewing, for me is like going back to my childhood and playing with dolls again. I want every one of my designs to be unique and different from what I could buy in a conventional shop, so I usually work with high-quality vintage fabrics or Japanese imported fabrics, I love them!"

I hope that you will take the time to look at her Etsy shop. It is certainly worth a visit (and worth making a purchase for the little princess in your life).

Bonne journée to you all and bonne continuation Melì-Melòn!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

In this little corner of the world

Since having a shop on etsy I have met so many lovely people who live just near me. And they have great shops with amazing products. So, as there seems to be a bit of a tradition of featuring people on your blog, I thought I would join in. On some Fridays I will feature people who make handmade items from Languedoc in France or over the border into Spain. The first one will be this Friday when I will show you the work of MeliMelon from Barcelona.

If you would like to be featured on my blog, please let me know. As I said, I am initially looking for people who live near to me, so please pass the word around. I would love for the world to see the talent in this little corner of the world!

Bonne journée

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

More "nice"

One of things I love about French is that there are so many expressions wishing people well. Of course everyone knows "Bon appetit" which translates as "Enjoy your meal". Here everyone eats at midday so when my class finishes at 12 and my students leave, everyone wishes each other "bon appetit", which is so nice.

Then there is "bonne journée" - have a nice day. Bonne soirée - have a nice evening. Another famous one: "Bon voyage" - have a good trip. "Bon retour", have a safe journey home. Bon séjour - have a good stay. There are many more which translate directly: Bon anniversaire (Happy birthday), Bonne Année (Happy New Year).

Less well-known expressions include: "Bon courage" - good courage literally. This is a great, encouraging phrase which we might translate as "good luck" but really has nothing to do with luck. Bon courage for your exams for example ("break a leg"), bon courage when dealing with a tricky problem ("chin up"), bon courage when carrying out some particularly difficult task ("hang in there").

"Bonne continuation" means a whole load of things too: keep up the good work, all the best, enjoy the rest of your meal (when it is said at the beginning of the second course), enjoy the rest of your day, the rest of your holiday ...

And then many of my friends use "bon" in almost any situation: bonne promenade (have a good walk), bon mariage (have a good time at the wedding), bon bricolage (enjoy your DIY)!

How lovely to find so many ways of wishing people well!

By the way, here is a photo of an inhabitant of our little village who we saw on a walk today.

Bonne soirée

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


Today I came across an interesting blog on "Artists Newsletter". An artist, Rachel Gomme, is carrying out a cumulative performance in which she unravels and re-knits the same small piece of knitting each day throughout the month of May. She says that she is interested in how the yarn changes and how it affects the work and, linked to that, how we mark and assess time.

I love the idea that knitting is used in art, as art. Some people laugh at me (or try not to, but I notice that!) when I say that I knit. It is still sometimes seen as a kind of irrelevant activity for older people. Some people say how great it is, as though they admire me but wouldn't dare to do it themselves. So artists using knitting can only be a good thing in raising its profile.

I am always trying to find new ways of using knitting. I know that there are others out there who make knitted jewellery, and probably in more innovative ways than me. However, I have so many ideas and I feel that as I create I will understand more fully how the medium can be used. I recognise that it has certain constraints, for example it is much easier to crochet a circular shape than to knit one, but I like the idea of working within these confines and finding ways of solving these types of problems. I think that the fact that I am quite inexperienced in knitting can be an advantage as I don't have a strong idea of what should and shouldn't be done, I just try to go with what I like.

Today I have finished a new necklace and bracelet. The weather was overcast, rainy and dull so I couldn't take proper photos for etsy, but here is a sneak preview of the necklace before I list it tomorrow.

See Rachel Gomme's blog here:

Monday, 25 May 2009

Nice people

Today I have found out about Operation Nice. I saw a badge on la marquise des ange's blog which said "I am very nice". I thought to myself, "Well, this seems to be true", because I met la marquise on etsy yesterday evening and we had a very lovely chat through convos. "I wonder what happens when I click on the badge?", I thought to myself. Will I find a list of nice people? I was very curious. What I actually found was a website which was actively encouraging people to be proactively nice. Check it out for yourself.

This got me thinking. First thought: how great that someone is putting out such a positive message. Second thought: how sad that people have to be encouraged to be nice. Third thought: how great that someone's blog reports and recognises unseen little kindnesses which make a huge difference to our lives. Fourth thought: I should get a badge. Fifth thought: is it strange to call myself nice? Sixth thought: the badge might help others to discover this great idea! So - see the badge on my blog!

By the way, this doesn't mean that I'm nice all the time. But I'm trying to be!

Bonne journée

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Long weekend

So this was a long weekend and for some of it the weather has been gorgeous. I have been working on a new knitting project with some lovely green/blue yarn. Watch this space!

We visited a few of the art exhibitions which were part of the "Artistes à Suivre" events. The most memorable was a group of artists exhibiting at a Domaine which was a beautiful setting with a view over the mountains, some of which are still snow-capped. There was a collective exhibiting in a barn with some interesting photomontages and also pen drawings, but our favourite was an artist from Lille who exhibited in the chapel. He had just finished a residency in the north of France exploring the theme of eating and the meal (very apt in France, I thought!). He took some photographs looking down onto the table while his guests were eating. Visually they worked really well and he explained how he carefully chose the food so that it worked visually in terms of colour and form.

The work he prepared especially for this exhibition was a series of what looked like communion wafers with images printed on them. He explained to us that this had been a very controversial work and many people had discussed it and even been offended by it. He had the idea when he found out that he would be exhibiting in a chapel. There were a variety of images, some more controversial than others, images from art, a photo of the Pope, quotations... all printed with vegetable dye so that they could be eaten. It was interesting work and also interesting to hear that it sparked debate. Art still has the power to shock it seems.

Today was a complete contrast - the 60th birthday party of a friend in a nearby chateau. We spent a happy time relaxing, eating and drinking. Now we're getting ready psychologically for work and school tomorrow!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A week of firsts

Yesterday I had some good news. I had my first etsy sale! Yeay! Even though it was for a small item (see photo) it feels like I am making a start.

I also found out that my daisy chain necklace is on the front page of the website "indie spotting". It can be seen here:

The other piece of good news was that I am going to be translating a book (from French into English). Although I've done translations before, but this will be the first time I have done a whole book, so that will be interesting. It is about healing through the use of Tibetan singing bowls, so I am sure to learn something too. I have been told that the Dalai Lama will be receiving a copy of the book when it is finished. I am not sure whether to believe this or not but if it is true it is awesome!

Today is the first day of the Artists' Open Studio event I spoke about in my last post. This evening we are going to a "vernissage" or exhibition opening, literally "varnishing". The expression comes from the tradition in the 19th century of putting the last coat of varnish on a painting on the day of the exhibition opening. Apparently at the Royal Academy Turner put the finishing touches on his works (or even repainted them completely) once they were hung. The exhibition we are going to this evening is two villages away from us where there is a little gallery. It will be a time to see friends as well as view the art.

I am making contact with some other people who have etsy shops and are based in France. My plan is to promote them on this blog so watch out for the very first feature coming soon.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Following the artists

Here in France it is Ascension Day tomorrow, which is a public holiday. The French have a great tradition which is called "faire le pont". This means that when a public holiday falls on a Thursday people take Friday off as well and make it a long weekend. (Not so good when you're self-employed and have to work anyway!) So, usually there is no nursery school on Wednesdays but today my son has school so that everyone can have an extra day off on Friday!

So this weekend there are a few events going on in the area. One is called "Artistes à Suivre" (Follow the Artists). This is like an Open Studio event where local artists open their studios and accept visitors. My husband Jonathan usually participates and our village rallies round, offering lunch for sale made with local produce (delicious fresh cheese made with ewe's milk, hand-made sausages ... mmmm). However, this year the committee has changed and they decided that the circuit was getting too large and that is was not possible for people to visit all the artists. So this year the event is taking place on the other side of the valley and maybe next year over here again.

The downside of this is that we won't be involved in all the festivities but the upside is that we can finally go and visit fellow artists in the area, whereas usually we have to stay in the studio to receive visitors.

I will report on how the weekend goes, it is usually quite interesting. Meanwhile, since my husband isn't exhibiting this year I'll give his etsy shop a little promotion. He sells etchings, dry-points and paintings of landscapes, vineyards, vessels, vases and bowls. Check it out here:

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Here comes the sun

We have finally had a sunny weekend here in the south of France. It has changed the mood of everything, we move from interior to exterior spaces with ease, the children are enjoying the freedom of running in and out. Although we've had a lot of rain that's not all bad as the landscape is lush and verdant and the fruit trees we planted this year (apples, cherries, plums and pears) are becoming well-established. Every Spring we complain about the rain and then when summer comes we worry about water shortage. Our village is dependent on a water source coming from the mountains and at the driest time the population of this tiny village swells with holiday makers. Since we have lived here we have been much more aware of the preciousness of basic requirements for life such as water, wood for heating etc.

To celebrate the arrival of the sun this weekend I have made a sunny sunflower necklace which can be found in my etsy shop. (http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=25173712)
I hope that you like it.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Etsy addiction

Is there anyone out there like me? I start a new etsy shop and I have to check it every 10 minutes to see if I've got any hearts! It's become a bit of an addiction. When am I going to have time to make my jewellery?!

Today started grey and dull. But by lunchtime the sun came through the clouds and I spent some of the afternoon (in between watching magic tricks) sitting in the sun working on my daisy chain bracelet which will match the necklace in my shop. Knitting and soaking up the sun - bliss.

A friend came round and saw my jewellery. He liked it a lot but wondered whether I could sell enough to make it worthwhile. I tried to explain that it was something I loved and selling it would be a bonus. Creating is something I have to do and if I can share my creations with others who appreciate them that makes me happy.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Announcing New Etsy Shop

I have a new etsy shop called Tramontane Designs. I make accessories for children and adults, mostly knitted, but also using felt and fabrics. I am busy getting feedback and trying to promote it and I would be grateful for your feedback. You will find it here:



Welcome to my blog. I have been thinking for a while that I should start one but have been unsure as to whether my life is interesting enough and my writing eloquent enough. But now I have taken the plunge and will have to learn as I go along.

I really wanted a place to share my passion for knitting and other crafts as well as being able to post images of my creations in order to get feedback. As many of my projects are in the early stages that will have to come later. In the meantime, a little more about me...

I am an English lass living in France with my artist husband and 2 kids. We moved here four years ago (having bought our house 4 years previously and tried to be sensible by taking time to prepare for our new life). I make a living through teaching English to the local French and French to the many local English as well as doing some translation and also design (websites, leaflets, books). One thing I have learned is that you have to be able to multi-task here in order to make a living. So that's what we do. It allows us to have a more laid-back life, spend more time with the kids and live out in the countryside. It doesn't mean that life has no pressures, there are always things to deal with, but we are content here.

So that's me and I look forward to sharing more with you and also receiving your comments.