cow parsley under trees

Looking for Inspiration


One of the best things about having a daughter who runs printmaking workshops is that I get the chance to faff about with inks and paper and bits of lino. Ruth will call me to say the heating is on in the barn and she’s printing, so why don’t I pop over and join her. Off I trot, put on an apron, sit at a table, lay out a sheet of clean paper, sharpen my pencil, arrange the crayons in rainbow order, set out a neat line of cutting tools, make a cup of coffee … anything but commit pencil to paper as my mind has gone blank. The recent inactivity here on the blog may perhaps be reflected in my tidy and well organised desk. Even the paperclips are neatly sorted into a tin.

I’m not alone. Some of the people who take part in the printmaking workshops arrive with sketchbooks and folders filled with designs and ideas but there are also others like me who arrive with an enthusiasm to print, but no idea of what to print. We need a springboard to find our inspiration.

Looking for inspiration

This is one of the ideas we’ve had for providing a bit of a springboard.

Consequently, taking a piece of my own advice, I’ve been …

West Mersea seaside

taking a walk by the sea,

drain cover

looking down to find patterns,

horse chestnut blossom on grass

noticing the beautiful colour of the horse chestnut blossom blown onto the grass,


exploring the textures and shapes of the stones beneath my feet,

hawthorn flowers

looking up through the hawthorn blossom at the blue sky (but wishing it would turn grey and rain),

inside old farm building

peering inside empty old farm buildings, feeling the texture of the rough walls and watching the dust dance in the sunlight.

a quiet place to sit

Finally,  finding a quiet place to sit on an ivy covered tree trunk surrounded by cow parsley. I now have some ideas running through my mind for printmaking, though I’m not sure it’s helped much with blog posts.

Next, I need some inspiration for supper. Perhaps a walk first …



Where do you find your inspiration?


Diary of a Mitten Knitter

knitting mittens

Decide that Morris the fox terrier must be kept on lead  through farm yard on morning walk as he has taken to dropping heavy stone onto partially frozen pond and skidding across ice to retrieve it. Note that on cold, frosty mornings fingerless mittens do not offer enough protection when holding the lead and search out proper gloves. Find two left gloves but matching right gloves are elusive. Finally discover pair of gloves at back of drawer behind assortment of woollen hats. Try gloves on but cannot get all fingers into gloves. Curse Dupuytren’s contracture. Remember pair of Marks & Spencer sheepskin mittens received as Christmas present in 1980s and hopefully look in wardrobe for them. Curse all magazine articles encouraging us to throw out unwanted clutter.

Settle down for evening in front of fire with knitting pattern for mittens and wool left over from previous projects. Discover wool is wrong thickness for pattern. Find pattern for fingerless mittens suitable for my wool. Knit mitten using combination of patterns and possibly wrong sized needles. Try on mitten. Too short. Unravel part and reknit. Laboriously weave in and cut off loose ends. Work out there is too little pink wool left to match cuffs and thumbs on second mitten. Also did not make note of alterations. Consequence: will have two mittens not a pair of mittens.

Sidetracked by pattern for Mittens for Babies. Have correct wool and needles. Start knitting and discover it possible to knit one mitten in an evening. Knit two matching pairs during week. Try them on elder grandson. Surprised that they fit and more surprised that he wears one pair when he leaves. Without complaint.

Abandon idea of knitting second mitten for me. Resolve to hold lead only in right hand and keep left hand in pocket.


Jetting away for Christmas?


We have a number of customers who visit The Barley Barn in search of cheap and light Christmas decorations that they can pack into their suitcase as they head off on a Christmas break. I always imagine that they’re flying away to somewhere exotic, but the more likely scenario is a slow train ride or a long car journey. If they’re going somewhere exciting then they tell me in great detail.

balloon baubles and pompom holly sprig

If you too are heading away from home and need something small and portable to decorate your destination, then I have two suggestions, which will take up next to no room in your luggage. If you aren’t going away but are looking for an easy project that you could do with young children, then give these a try.

The first is to make large baubles from balloons.

How to make giant baubles from balloons

You will need balloons, aluminium foil and some short lengths of grey wool (use cotton or string if you don’t have grey wool).
Blow up the balloons to the desired size, bearing in mind that the more you inflate them, the less rounded they’ll be. But hey, sometimes size overrules aesthetics. Make a hanging loop with a short length of grey wool (use cotton or string if you don’t have wool) and tie onto the balloon.

Tear off a strip of aluminium foil five or six centimetres wide. Fold the long edges into the centre and then fold again along the length. Take your long strip and fold each end into the centre and then wind the foil around and around the knot of the balloon to make a collar. Stick down the end with a dab of glue, double sided sticky tape or fresh air if you don’t mind it working a little loose.  You now have a festive bauble to hang from a high place or fill a glass jar or vase.

make giant holly sprig with pompom berries
The second little project is to make a larger than life holly sprig. You could make the pompoms on the train, which would pass a few hours and doubtless amuse the other passengers, though pulling out a pair of scissors from your bag may be frowned upon in an aeroplane.

I make my pompoms the old-fashioned way (ie how we were taught at primary school) by wrapping wool around two doughnut discs of cardboard, then cutting the wool between the two cardboard discs and tying a length of wool around the core of wool before pulling apart the discs. Use this method or a nifty little pompom maker, a fork or some other modern technique to make two or three red berry pompoms.

Make the holly leaves by cutting out 2 holly leaf shapes from a piece of thick green paper, crease lightly down the centre and pinch the ends of each pointy bit of the leaf. Make a small hole in the end of each leaf and poke through the loose end of the pompom berries. Tie them together and you have your holly sprig.

If you get carried away with your pompoms, you could make bunting (though that’s sooo yesterday) or fill glass vases and jars with them, dangle them from the ceiling or make a bobble hat.

If you have balloons left over then fill them with water, chuck them in the freezer and you’ll have giant ice cubes. I saw a picture of this on Pinterest and thought it a wonderful idea. We filled the bottom of a large trough with water and then piled in the icy balloons, which looked fabulous in their rainbow of colours. Unfortunately, when some of the balloons hit the water they split, which looked rather unappealing. However, the ice cubes were a great success and lasted hours and hours.