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The City Chicken Keeper

An inquisitive Sybil!

This is the story of the woman who had the romantic notion of keeping chickens in her back garden and collecting fresh eggs each morning. Last July, that notion became a reality. Welcome to the City Chicken Keeper and her 3 chickens, Julia, Sybil and Margot.

The idea of keeping chickens to be honest happened a few years ago and I was reluctant to pursue the idea as I was sure I would come down one morning to feathers and dead chickens, courtesy of a fox. However, I saw an article in a magazine about a fox proof chicken run from a company called Omlet. After talking about it, we decided to give chicken keeping a go.

Fun in my veg box!

Julia sampling the delights of the veg patch! Margot and Sybil looking on

First decision, how to go about adopting hens. I contacted the British Hen Welfare Trust and explained the situation. They said that they only rehomed 3 hens at a time as they were fairly social creatures, plus if one died, the others would have each other! Nice. The BHWT operates throughout the UK and there were 2 collection points fairly near to us that we could pick the chickens up with. However, we couldn’t apply for hens until we had a run, so we had to wait. Secondly where was the run going to go? We have a fairly narrow and long back garden, pretty spacious for South Birmingham. There is a deck, then a lawn and then a gravel part up the top. The obvious location was the lawn as I remember reading that chickens like the feel of grass underneath their feet. Sorted.

Finally D Day came and in June last year, the run arrived; all 9 boxes of it. The DHL man asked what on earth we had ordered. We started building that weekend. It was a fairly straightforward build if a little fiddly. We had ordered the Eglu Go Chicken Coop with a 3m run. When it was finally built, we looked at it and said how on earth would be move it around the lawn so that the grass would grow back. Answer – we wouldn’t! So back to the drawing board. Eventually it was decided to move the run to the top gravel part of the garden, which would be good for the chickens in the summer as it was part shady. So, back to dismantling and erecting. Now that had been decided, the nice part of reserving the chickens came. We had to wait a couple of weeks to collect our chickens from the Warwickshire collection farm. In the meantime, all the food and bedding and grit and oystershell and the numerous other things that you have to buy as a first time chicken keeper were purchased. All set.

Having fun in the coop!

On an extremely hot Sunday at the end of June, we arrived with the cats vet box and some cardboard boxes to collect our chickens. Lots of other people had arrived too, all obviously had been through this before – we were the newbies. At first sight, there were hundreds of chickens milling around in the farmyard. I looked at my husband and he looked at me and we both said, ” they are big, arenty they”. I don’t really know what I expected, but these chickens looked very scary and big. I said, “have we made a mistake?” “No, dont be silly!”, was the reply and we waited in turn to be handed our 3 chickens. Three were unceremoniously plucked from the floor and placed into our boxes, 2 in the one box and 1 in the cat carrier. Rather bewildered, we went back to the car, with my teenager son sitting in the middle of the chickens worrying that they would pee on him! (Lots of newspaper lined the boxes), so no unexpected accidents happened. When we got home we released the hens into their new home. We must have spent most ot the evening watching them and trying to decide names.

I had read in my research that there was always a pecking order amongst hens and that they also had their own little personalities! Over the days, both of these statements became clear. Julia (named after the lead character in Motherland) was obviously leader of the pack, followed by Sybil (Sybil Fawlty – she is very noisy and sqwarks alot!). Finally little Margot (named after Queen Margot of Navarre – I have a passion for female historical figures!), bought up the rear. The first day, Margot laid an egg for us! We were over the moon! I wasn’t really expecting eggs, i was just happy to save them from death and to give them a home. After that, they laid regularly and we had 3 eggs every day. Amazing to go out and pick up a warm egg from the roost – the simple pleasures of life…

Sybil – the one who will find her way into anything and everything!

The chicken obsession continued for quite a while, with all of us going out to see them during the day and giving them healthy treats – cabbage hung up on a string is especially popular! We let them out late afternoon so they could roam the garden and have some freedom. I was a soft touch and thought, ah they’ve been cooped up and never seen fresh air so why not let them have some fun. However, I love my garden and hadn’t bargained on the amount of destruction a chicken can manage. We would go out in the summer evenings and sit with them and try to stop them getting into my flower borders and veg patch. I lost count of the barriers we put up to contain them.. They just seemed to find a way through. Indeed this culminated one evening last year when we were herding them into their roost and my husband yelled out to me that he had lost a chicken! It turned out Sybil (its always her – the one in trouble – the miscreant!) had squeezed through a gap in the fence and went into next doors garden. Unfortunately next doors were away. We Whats App our street to get them to look our for a wandering chicken – even though its suburban Birmingham, a few of us keep chickens on the road, so people were very helpful. I decided to go to the neighbour 2 doors down in case Sybil had gone through to them. Luckily I found her and managed to pick her up and carry her back home – she was not a happy chicken!).

That’s one thing that i’ve got used to – picking chickens up! When we first had them, I never thought i would be able to do it, but as your confidence grows around them, it just happens. They are extremely light really, you just have to hold them so their wings can’t flap in your face. We even give them a bath! They do give themselves a dust bath but occasionally we get the old pond liner out and give them a sponge down and a gentle hose down. Never in a million years did I think i would be bathing chickens! They’re surprisingly good about it really – they don’t seem to mind too much.

Anyway, going back to the garden bit – I finally had enough of half eaten plants and vegetables dug up so we decided to fence off the borders so they couldn’t get in and destroy my lovely plants. This worked well for a week then lo and behold one day, Sybil appeared in the flower border having a lovely time eating my plants. This went on for quite a while, we would block where we thought they were getting in and even put chicken wire on the top of the fence only to be thwarted yet again with an escaped chicken. I felt like i was forever checking up on them and removing them from spaces they weren’t allowed in. Finally it was sorted and the chickens were kept at bay, only to find out that avian flu had struck the UK and we had to keep our hens locked up. So be warned, if you, like me, love your garden, either be prepared to lose lots of plants or make sure you have a secure fence area where they can’t get into! Actually reading about it, there are some plants that chickens don’t like, namely rosemary and lavender to name just a few.

After having the chicken for a couple of months, we went on holiday with our lovely cat sitter company, Kitty’s Angels looking after all our animals. (By then we had 10 outdoor goldfish too)!. Before we went, I began to feel sorry for the chickens in that they wouldn’t have a huge amount of space to roam around in while we were away or for that matter in the winter and in the rain etc. so we decided to buy from Omlet a 6 ft x 6 ft walk in chicken run in the form of a cage. Again, construction took place over a weekend and the new extension was both loved by the chickens and also by us as we didn’t need to keep bending down to sort food and water out.

I love our chickens and Sybil, Julia and Margot are part of our family, their eggs are like no other i’ve tasted and I always bought organic eggs too as I was so opposed to battery farming. I love going out to see them and observe their little personalities – Its great to think that we’ve given these 3 chickens a home and saved them from death and that they seem to like their new home and of course its a thousand times better than the conditions they were used to.

The chicken’s eggs have an amazing large yolk and taste delicious.

There are of course negative aspects. Its great cleaning them out in summer mornings, but in the winter when its raining (the worse) and cold, it’s not great fun. Also, we have spent a small fortune on these 3 little chickens. Okay, you could buy cheaper and smaller runs etc but there is still the cost of the food and the bedding, grit and oystershell etc. Our chickens love Poultry Porridge so that gets ordered most weeks. I know i’m a soft touch when it comes to my pets. (The cat is currently reclining in his heated cat bed!). but the chickens are so worth it with the pleasure they give our family. Plus the eggs are a bonus! If you are thinking of adopting chickens, just be prepared and don’t hesitate.

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Agatha Christie, Greenway

I had always wanted to visit Greenway, the picturesque summer house of Agatha Christie in Devon. On a recent weekend away in the lovely Dartmouth, I was lucky enough to fulfill that wish.

The magic that is Greenway

My obsession with Agatha Christie really started in the 1980’s with the BBC TV adaptation of the Miss Marple books, with the fabulous Joan Hickson. I absolutely loved them! Loved the nostalgic era, the clothes, locations etc. My favourite adaptation was and still is Sleeping Murder, set in Dilmouth which is of course Sidmouth. I’ve been to Sidmouth so many times and actually found the location of Guy and Gwendas house which was situated in nearby Budleigh Salterton. So being just a slightly obsessive, I couldn’t wait to visit the house where Agatha Christie spent her summers and even reputedly used as a location for “Dead Man’s Folly” and “Five Little Pigs”.

View down to the Boathouse

Greenway did not disappoint. Agatha Christie acquired the house in 1938 for a total of £6,000. £41,426 in today’s money. Built as a Tudor mansion in the 16th century, the house passed through several owners before Agatha Christie bought Greenway. Indeed it was requisitioned during the second world war by the War Department. Today Greenway is in the hands of the National Trust, who were gifted the house in 2000.

I wish I could grow these exotics all year round!

Although due to COVID restrictions it wasn’t possible to visit the house, the garden was a still a joy to walk around, even in the rain! The place has a romantic woodland feeling about it. From the superb views down to the Dart estuary to the walled gardens and the Peach House and Vinery. Especially the Boathouse with its historic plunge pool, where Agatha hosted parties.

View to the greenhouses and Peach house

You could just imagine the family and summer visitors playing tennis on the court and having fun on the famous Clock Golf Lawn and croquet court. Greenway was in its heyday in the 1950’s.

As a gardener, I admired the exotic planting. In particular the Chinese rice-paper plant and the echiums. There was definitely a sub-tropical feel to the gardens. Beautiful magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias all thriving in the acid soil.

I would love to come back to Greenway in the near future, when I can visit the house and perhaps see the dahlia border and once again lose myself in the nostalgia of a time long since passed.

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February Escapism, Homemade Style!

Hi guys. A very belated Happy New Year!

I can’t believe it’s been over 6 months since I’ve written a blog. With a mixture of home schooling and an increase in sales to my Etsy shop (one good thing to come out this situation!, I don’t seem to have any spare time whatsoever.

At least it’s now February and spring in around the corner, the afternoons are getting longer and it’s not quite so dark early. Think, next month should see the start of Gardener’s World too!

Just some of the seeds I bought from Wilko’s!

This year, apart from the usual suspects of tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots etc, I have bought some dwarf climbing French beans and also some borlotti beans for the first time. I usually grow runner beans but fancied a change this year. On the flower front I’ve bought a new type of container cosmos from Sarah Raven as well as a Tithonia. Also, I don’t have much luck with sunflowers, but couldn’t resist the Helianthus “Magic Roundabout”, I think it was the lovely name which attracted me. I also went for “Ms Mars”, a cute pink sunflower.

My favourite Sarah Raven seeds

I’ve always loved gardening, but, along with so many other people last year, I found it so beneficial during lockdown. It was lovely to get out after home schooling and spend some time gently weeding or seed sowing and dead-heading in the garden. It’s been difficult to get much gardening in lately, due to snow and generally wet weather. However, i’m really looking forward to getting out there again and getting stuck in. Plans for half term include mulching and sorting out the greenhouse!

Hopefully. I can get started on my seed sowing campaign shortly. First to begin with will be the chilli plants. I always look forward to January in the garden centres; most of the Christmas stuff has gone and the new seed varieties are beginning to appear on the shelves. I recently made a trip to Wilko’s and splurged on some vegetable and flower seeds. I always buy the basic varieties from Wilkos as year after year, they are always reliable and of course a great bargain! Any seeds that are a bit trickier to get hold of, I now generally buy online at Sarah Raven. My obsession with Sarah Raven started last year, when I ordered a packet of the “Turquoise lagoon” sweet peas, a beautiful and eye catching colour in my garden. Since then, I’ve never looked back. Sarah Ravens dahlia bulbs were magnificent last year. Twice the size of other competitors.

Some fun books to read!

Other things during the past couple of months that have kept me sane are books. I seem to have an obsession with book buying at present. Sainsburys is good for cheap and cheerful reads, but I’ve recently discovered the Bookshop site, which helps struggling independent bookshops. I’ve ordered a few books from there. My recent reads include “Small Pleasures” by Claire Chambers, set in the 1950’s about a single woman and her life. Also I read “Father” by Elizabeth Von Arnim, she of “Enchanted April” fame. Although I did enjoy this book, it was quite a slow read. One other recommendation is “The girl who reads on the Metro”, by Christine Feret-Fleury. As a book lover and a francophile, I really loved this book. Its gentle and nothing much happens but if you like books and France, then I think you will love it.

Just some of the magazines that have kept me going!


With regards to TV, I’ve enjoyed watching “Dash & Lily” on Netflix. My 50 plus friend recommended this to me and although its about teenagers, it’s a lovely watch and is set in the famous Strand bookshop in New York. I was lucky enough to visit the Strand a few years ago (pre kids!) and would absolutely love to go back. In fact, I enjoyed the series so much, that I ended up buying the book. Also, along with 63 million people, I have enjoyed watching Bridgerton on Netflix too. I didn’t realise that the series was based on the books by Julia Quinn – I may be buying some of her novels! I used to love costume dramas and the classic works of fiction they were based on. I think it’s the romantic side of me. Bridgerton and Dash & Lily are pure escapism from daily life. Nothing wrong with that. ..


Our Favourite Recipes

Spaghetti with Tomato, Spinach, and Shaved Parmesan

Creamy Tomato Soup with Cheese Toasties

Grilled Asparagus & Poached Egg on Toast

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Frida and me!

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Since watching the 2002 film depicting the life of Frida Kahlo, by the fabulous Salma Hayek, I have been fascinated by the life and the art of this hugely iconic Mexican artist.

Frida Kahlo is a world known iconic brand.  A few months ago, I was searching the web for some Frida fabric and came across this great eye-catching print of Frida’s head on a green background.  I made myself a fabulous cushion and with the left over fabric, I made some purses and wallets to sell on my Etsy shop and I can’t believe how popular they have been!  I’ve had so many sales for the wallet in particular and seem to be making new ones every weekend. These little wallets have made it across the continent and the Pacific Ocean.  As this was so popular, I branched out and made sunglasses cases and a peg bag which proved just as popular. It just shows you that everyone knows Frida’s iconic face.

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Indeed this face is now so well know that you can see it on mugs, plates, cups etc.  Just one search on Amazon for Frida Kahlo gifts includes, socks, paper cups, bags and waterbottles, amongst others.  My personal favourite included the Frida Christmas bauble by Sass & Belle.  It’s still in my Amazon basket and I am not a fan of Christmas at all.  Saying that, I have purchased a Frida planter and a cup/saucer which currently houses a part of my growing succulents collection.

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If you visit my house, which is an eclectic mix of vibrant Mexican colours, vintage finds and generally lots of colourful things that I like to look at, then you will see the Frida Kahlo influence throughout.  There are various posters, including a huge A3 size that dominates the living room that I purchased from the V&A museum when I visited the Frida exhibition, “making herself up”, back in November 2018.  I may well also have purchased a photographic guidebook to the exhibition, plus the odd few postcards.

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Unfortunately, the exhibition was so busy and rammed with visitors, that it was difficult to spend much time reading the notices.  However, I did spend quite a bit of time staring in admiration at the costumes that Frida wore.  They were so interesting and amazingly colourful as you would expect.  I loved looking at the detail of the sewing and the cut of the garments.

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In my living room, greeting you on arrival there is a colourful green original Mexican oilcloth tablecloth from the lovely website, Viva La Frida.  They sell original Mexican oilcloth and have it shipped over.  I’ve bought a few of their patterns and colours over the years.

For Frida fans, there is the excellent Lacuna book by the author, Barbara Kingsolver. This book details some of Frida’s time in Mexico living with Diego Riviera and is a great read.

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I would love to visit the Frida Kahlo museum in Mexico.  It is called the blue house for the cobalt blue walls.  It’s a museum dedicated to the art of Frida and shows the rooms she actually lived in.  Via the Frida Kahlo museum website, you can go on a virtual tour.

i hope you enjoyed this blog. Let me know your favourite Frida things too!


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La Seigneurie Gardens, Sark

On our family holiday this year we were lucky enough to visit Jersey for a third time I love this little island, where time stands still and everyone is polite and the traffic filters in turn at roundabouts.

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As we were there for a couple of weeks, we decided the visit Sark, which actually falls under the jurisdiction of Guernsey. I’ve seen holiday programmes on Sark and have always wanted to visit.  The main attraction being the total ban on cars etc.  If you want to get around on Sark you walk, hire a bike or take a horse and wagon tour.

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We caught the boat early one morning and after a horrendous sea crossing where most people were seasick we finally arrived!  After I had a drink of water (a cafe owner suggested I pick some mint from her garden to flavour the water!), we walked around.

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We had planned beforehand to visit La Seigneurie gardens which were absolutely amazing.  Honestly if I lived in Sark I would visit these gardens daily.  These beautiful walled gardens were small but perfectly formed.  Lots of seasonal interest and eye catching plants and beautiful flowers, an obvious micro climate. I loved it and could have stayed all day.

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It was a very peaceful and tranquil. Also the gardens were immaculate and so well maintained. Not a weed in sight! Plus there was a little cafe for a cup of tea after your visit.

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All in all, despite the sea sickness I absolute loved Sark and La Seigneurie was the main highlight of the day

If you are lucky enough to visit the beautiful Channel Islands, then please visit!


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Samares Manor, Jersey

This was my second visit to the lovely Samares Manor botanical gardens in Jersey.  Last year we visited on the last day of our holiday and I found out that you can have a free return visit within 2 weeks so I didn’t make that mistake again and we went early in our holiday!

Samares Manor is small but so tranquil and lovely.  There’s lots of different garden areas for interest, including a Japanese garden, a herb garden and a particular favourite of my son’s: a shade and damp area with lots of stepping stones and ducks!

My favourite area of these gardens however is the walled garden. I have always wanted a walled garden. This one at Samares Manor doesn’t disappoint with lots of cottage style planting which I love. Beautiful rudbeckias, verbena and dahlias come to mind.   There are also lovely espaliers of pear trees that greet you as you meander through the garden.

Whilst visiting Samares Manor, don’t forget to visit their cafe. The Herb Garden cafe is a fabulous outdoor tearoom serving the most delicious and largest piece of lemon drizzle cake I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat! I would be sampling my way through the menu if I lived there. When we visited they were advertising a special lunch menu which was a delicious sounding fig and feta cheese pizza. All cooked on their outdoor pizza oven.  Unfortunately I was too full of cake to take advantage!

You could spend an hour plus here, it’s not that large, but it is so pleasant and definitely visit the cafe. It’s well worth it, especially if like us you are on holiday and get a free return visit! It’s just so nice to have a stroll around in pleasant conditions.

Overall even though it’s not that big, there is quite a lot of interesting areas to explore. The shop sells a nice array of local crafts and although I couldn’t bring back any plants on my flight, the garden centre plants looked in great condition and were reasonably priced.

I’m already looking forward to visiting the gardens again soon


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Bags of Star Wars!

Gosh, did I have fun this week with my Star Wars fabric quarters.  I had been keeping them for a while as I was undecided what to make with them.  Any fabric like this normally gets turned into a PE/kit bag!

Then last week I decided upon turning them into carrier bag holders (so useful in storing plastic bags from the supermarket). Plus storing your plastic bags in this way is much neater and organised than shoving them in a kitchen drawer, like I used to do!

I have made countless of these bag holders and they have always sold out on my Etsy shop.  It’s a great opportunity to be creative with your pattern and fabrics and to also add touches like fun ribbons etc.  Plus, of course, the bag holders are also very practical indeed.

I had three different types of Star Wars fabric quarters so I decided to make three different bags.  All individual and striking in their own way.

 

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All are available to buy on my Etsy shop (see link above).  I can also custom make bag holders of your choice.  Just message me on Etsy.

Thanks for reading!


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RHS Malvern Spring festival

69a4c9fc-71f2-42fc-bc36-7ce9cfaf3465I’ve always wanted to visit the RHS Malvern Spring show and this year I actually remembered to book tickets and off we went a couple of weeks ago on a sunny Saturday!

I watched Gardeners World the Friday beforehand as I thought they would be filming there and I was not disappointed.  I loved the look of the show gardens and the floral marquee and couldn’t wait to visit the Three Counties Showground in Malvern the next day. I was crossing my fingers that the weather would improve too after a deluge of rain a few days before.

The big day arrived and the sun came out. We arrived mid morning, along with thousands of other people too!  First stop coffee and a 10 minute wait for the ladies’ loo’s!  (Generally speaking there are more women at shows like this so why not provide extra toilets?!).

cf338afb-9e7f-41bb-94b4-2a116f37bb59Second stop was the show gardens. Unfortunately due to the previous days rain, these were in a muddy field! From watching GW I was really looking forward to seeing the show gardens and they didn’t disappoint.  On the down side, it was so busy you had to queue In order to get a look in. It’s always disappointing at these things as there are so many people like me wanting to get a look. On TV they obviously film when no ones around. A false sense of reality!

c9f6a9f9-1c74-41d4-8593-19ad2ec5df39Anyway after I managed a quick peak, I really liked this garden. It was so bright and colourful. Lots of fun in the garden.  It really appealed to me as my garden is also full of bright, fun colours and eye catching planting.

The schools gardens were excellent too.  Lots of hard work went into them and I loved the bright happy colours and the planting.

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My absolute favourite garden was “the bra garden” though!  I saw Carol Klein talking about the bras and couldn’t find a record of it anywhere in the programme. My husband came up with the idea of re running the GW episode to find out what the garden was called  I was getting obsessed with finding this garden at one point.  We managed to locate the garden due to the placement of some giant tepees in the end! It was great fun and unbeknown to me it was made by a local school in Birmingham.

49ff6d4d-c3d0-4e43-93eb-7ef55ace8165All in all, a good day out was had by everyone. My husband and son enjoyed their burger and pizza respectively and I enjoyed looking around the gardens, actually in the sunshine!

Im thinking about a return visit to BBC Gardeners World Live next month, but I may be going on a solo trip, unless there is some street food there to tempt the family!


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Simply Sewing Christmas!

Hi, I’ve been really busy with the lead up to Christmas this year.  I’ve exhibited at a local Christmas craft fayre and am working my way through Christmas orders.  So far, my farthest order has been a retro pink heart decoration to a lovely woman in Texas!

Plus, I finally achieved 100 sales with Etsy!  Yahoo!  It’s taken awhile but I’ve got there in the end.

Also Simply Sewing magazine contacted me with a view to a Christmas advert in their magazine.  It was bad enough trying to put together a half decent photo of my Christmas crafts, let alone writing a maximum of 20 words about what I do and who I am! Still, here is the finished proof.  The publication was out a few days ago….

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In the meantime, Happy Christmas to everyone and may you all have a peaceful and prosperous New Year!


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Happy Retro Christmas!

As my followers will know I specialise in making crafty products from retro fabrics or anything just that little bit different!

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I started on my Christmas shop early October after having sourced some lovely retro Father Christmas fabric from Doughtys in Hereford. Last year I used a similar fabric and could have sold many of the items ten times over, they were that popular. I think it’s the fact that the items I make are distinctive. I mean who wouldn’t want a pink heart shaped retro Christmas decoration on their tree!

Last year I sourced some great fabric from Hobbycraft in the form of fat quarters a lovely pink and blue retro reindeer print especially sold well.  Sadly I can’t seem to find that lovely fabric  I had so many queries asking me where I sourced it from!  I can’t find it anywhere online either!

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This year I’ve concentrated on making Santa bags, albeit quite large ones ranging to small ones for little gifts!  I’ve also been making lots of pretty bunting as well as the retro Christmas tree decorations

 

I do admit to quite liking making bunting  its methodical and you get a quick return for your work  it’s a good choice to channel your inner creativity too!

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I hope you like all these handcrafted items and when you want a present that’s a bit quirky or different, please bear me in mind! If there’s a certain fabric or item you like then I can always custom make you something too

You will find these items plus many others in my Etsy shop. Just follow the link at the  top of the page.