Friday, 31 January 2014

Let' Celebrate - Chinese New Year

Today the Chinese celebrate the New Year.  Each year is assigned an animal based on the Chinese Zodiac, known as Sheng Xiao and this is the Year of the Horse.
The zodiac has evolved over hundreds of years and is very complex.  Not only do you need to know the year in which you were born, but also the month, day and hour.  
The true origin behind the story is unknown and there are several accounts.  In Buddhism, legend has it that Buddha summoned all of the animals of the earth to come before him before his departure from this earth, but only 12 animals actually came to bid him farewell. To reward the animals who came to him, he named a year after each of them. The years were given to them in the order they had arrived.
Another story tells that God called the animals to a banquet that night. The Rat, who loved to play tricks on his neighbour, told the cat that the banquet was on the day after tomorrow. The Cat believed his neighbour the Rat and slept whilst dreaming of the banquet. The next day, the Rat arrived first followed by the Ox, the Tiger and the rest of the animals. The order of the animals was decided by the order that they arrived. The Cat was devastated and vowed that he would always hate the Rat. This is why cats chase Rats in folklore.
Though people consider the rat not adorable, and it even makes its way into derogatory languages, it ranks first on the Chinese zodiac. It has attributes of an animal with spirit, wit, alertness, delicacy, flexibility and vitality
Ranked as the second zodiac, the ox is huge. In life, people often used it to indicate something big in size or large in number. It is persistent, simple, honest, and straightforward. Fractious people are said to have an 'oxen temper'.
We love our tiger T-shirts, which you can buy here
Tigers, considered to be brave, cruel, forceful and terrifying, are the symbol of power and lordliness. In ancient times, people usually compared emperors or grandees with the tiger. Court officials often said that 'accompanying the emperor is just like being at the side of a tiger'. There are also many legends on hunting tigers dealing with struggling against evil might.
Or perhaps you prefer a rabbit
The rabbit has represented hope for a long time, by Chinese people. It is tender and lovely. The moon goddess Chang'e in Chinese legend had a rabbit as her pet, which stimulated the thought that only this creature was amiable enough to match her noble beauty. The Chinese character 'Tu' (rabbit) is part of 'Yi' (escape or leisure) indicating speed and distance.
We love the dragon too
The dragon enjoys a very high reputation in Chinese culture. It is the token of authority, dignity, honor, success, luck, and capacity. In ancient China, this creature was thought to speed across the sky with divine power. Emperors entitled themselves exclusively as 'dragon'; their thrones were called 'dragon thrones', their clothes 'dragon gowns'.
I'm a snake.
Snakes often have a good temper and a skill at communicating but say little. They possess gracious morality and great wisdom. They are usually financially secure and do not have to worry about money. They have tremendous sympathy for others and would like to take actions to help their fellow human beings.  They prefer to rely on themselves and have doubts about other people's judgement. They are courteous  with polite manners, but they can be headstrong. 
Horses have ingenious communicating techniques and in their community they always want to be in the limelight. They are clever, kind to others, and like to join in a venture career. Although they sometimes talk too much, they are cheerful, perceptive, talented, earthy but stubborn. They like entertainment and large crowds. 
People under the sign of the sheep are tender, polite, filial, clever, and kind-hearted. They have special sensitivity to art and beauty, faith in a certain religion and a special fondness for quiet living. They are wise, gentle and compassionate and can cope with business cautiously and circumspectly.  Sheep are often worriers who are shy, pessimistic, moody, indecisive, over-sensitive, week-willed and puzzled about life. 
Any cheeky monkey would look great in this top.
Monkeys are more erratic geniuses in their character and life. They are lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile. They love moving about and sports. Being talented problem solvers, they are self-assured, sociable and innovative, with competent practical ability.  They are jealous, suspicious, cunning, selfish and arrogant sometimes, and they tend to look down upon others. 
Roosters are deep thinkers considered to be honest, bright, communicative, ambitious, capable and warm-hearted. They have strong self-respect and seldom rely on others. As most roosters are born pretty or handsome, they prefer to dress up. They have a quick mind and hot temper. They like to be busy and neat. They are not reluctant to fall behind others and hate dawdlers. 
Let your best friend know they're special.  Buy them a T-shirt.
Anyone born in the Year of Dog has a straightforward character. In their career and love, they are faithful, courageous, dexterous, smart and warm-hearted. They know how to keep secrets and inspire other people's confidence. Those people make good leaders. If they fall in love with someone, they would not change. They can be terribly stubborn with the right things.
This little piggy went to market, where all his friends admired his cool T-shirt.

Pig is not thought to be smart as dog. It likes sleeping and eating and becomes fat. Thus it usually features laziness and clumsiness. On the positive side, it behaves itself, has no calculation to harm others, and can bring affluence to people. Consequently, pigs were once regarded as wealth.
If you want to know which animal you are, you can find out here.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Meet the Maker - Jane Means

I love trying to wrap presents beautifully and have even spent December weekends in a shopping mall in Surrey offering Xmas gift wrapping for charity, but realise I am a mere amateur when I look at the amazing work produced by Jane Means.

Jane started out in floristry but set up her company nearly 20 years ago from her kitchen table.
After starting off by making bespoke cards and wedding stationery she realised her true passion was gift wrapping and decided to start her own gift wrapping courses.
Based in London and Lincoln, Jane's hobby quickly became a full time business with clients travelling from the far flung corners of the world to attend the workshops she holds around the UK.  She also offers private courses at home or in the workplace and you may well have seen her work in glossy magazines, on the television or in one of the more glamorous boutiques such as Dior, Ralph Lauren or Selfridges.

I urge you to try one of her workshops, but if you can't, at least check out her blog or that of one of her team of experienced ribbon bloggers who regularly post DIY tutorials and crafting ideas. 
There's even a DVD and plans for a book which I'm sure will inspire.  In the meantime I'm off to raid my ribbon box although I think I may have to indulge in some of her trademark collection soon!
All our products come in tissue or straw filled rustic presentation boxes and although I'm a little nervous to mention it on the same page as Jane, we offer a gift wrap service of our own which you can find out more about here.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Great Escapes - Wales

It doesn't surprise me to read that Wales has been voted the top country in the world to visit in 2014 by readers of one of the planet's leading guide books.  Rough Guides readers cited 'some great mountain ranges, lush valleys, a ragged coastline and ancient castles' as their reasons for putting Wales at the top of their list.  Here is a selection of images that will more than demonstrate what the readers had discovered.
Lllyn Fan Fach
 These are some of the places I'm lucky enough to walk each day with my dog, Tyler.
And sitting right at the far west of Carmarthenshire, we're just a stone's throw from Pembrokeshire with its sweeping beaches and quaint villages to lily ponds and ancient stone churches.  These images could be mistaken for being any number of places around the British Isles, from Cornwall to Cumbria, but they were all taken in a single county.
Pentre Ifan
To celebrate the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park’s 60th anniversary, they have published photographs they hope will inspire people to get out and visit one of these special views.  You can visit the authority's website to see more and to download some walks around these beautiful sights.

And hidden away far from the pages of Lonely Planet and often known only to the native or the inquisitive are some gems every bit as exciting as Caernarfon Castle or Broad Haven beach.  Here are a few that you can discover for yourself.
Ceibwr Bay
Pistyll Rhaeadr
Llanthony Priory
And because we're proud of our Welsh heritage and association we've got the perfect hat for your little 'un too!  Check out our Red Dragon.

We hope to see you soon.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Meet the Maker - Chloe Harford of Glazed and Amazed

I fell in love with these sculptures the moment I saw them and thought you might like them too.
They are made by Chloe Harford who originally studied  Design Crafts at college.  I’m not sure when love blossomed between her and partner Chris Hawkins, but they met at college where he was a potter.  After completing her course he invited her to learn more about ceramics in his workshop deep in the heart of the Tamar Valley.

Chloe explains how it all began for her.  ‘I started with making a few small ceramic brooches & necklaces soon after and slowly the animals developed to where I am now with the very popular puffins and seals.’ 

She has been making animal sculpture ever since and, inspired the local wildlife found on the land surrounding the workshop set in acres of woodland on the banks of the Tamar, they are perfect raku replicas.
‘The Tamar Valley has a long mining history and the workshop itself stands close to one of these mines. Tin, copper and tungsten were once mined here and  the  whole  valley  is  rich  in  minerals, some of which are used for glazes and colour.’
Chloe starts by sculpting a new piece from which she makes a mould for reproduction, She casts each mould by hand and pieces the sculptures together sometimes altering the sculptures as she goes to give differing poses.

Each piece is hand finished, bisc fired and glazed before being raku fired.  During the raku process the work is rapidly fired to 1,000° C.  It is then removed from the kiln whilst still glowing and placed in a container of sawdust which instantly combusts.  The shock of the air causes the glaze to craze at which point it is covered and left to cool.  The smoke from the burning sawdust penetrates the crazing giving the distinctive black lines. 

‘By altering the sculptures I can create different poses making many of the sculptures truly unique.  Some, like the puffins and penguin, are decorated with coloured slips and the fishing puffin has individual fish made by hand and not from a mould so every puffin has a totally unique group of sand eels for his dinner.’ 

Visit her website to find out where you can buy her work in galleries around the country.
And don't forget we have our own range of wildlife hats for your little 'uns to look just as cute in.  You can find them here.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Trivial Pursuits - Valentine's Day gift ideas

We’ve just celebrated St Dwynwen's Day* in Wales (the patron saint of Welsh Lovers) and with St Valentine’s Day just around the corner, thoughts have turned to some creative ideas you can make at home.
I've made a few of these as wedding gifts for friends in the past and although it takes a little time to line them up, they work rather well.  It's worth investing in a heart shaped paper punch to ensure the shape and size of each heart is identical and I've used good quality wedding wrapping paper to create most of the hearts.  
Interspersed I've added printed hearts celebrating the occasion and included names, date and place of the wedding together with other significant details or quotes.
There's a neat tutorial by someone else here.  I must do my own tutorial some day too.
Another really easy version could be something like this. Especially if you can find part of a map with particular significance.
For simple but effective garlands, check this tutorial out. Again, perfect for weddings and other romantic celebrations but cute and inexpensive if you want to make a bit of an effort over a romantic dinner at home.

And these are a great alternative and could easily be adapted for birthdays. I love the circular version with greetings on it. Check out the tutorial here.

*Here's St Dwynwen's story.
The story goes the Dwynwen was the prettiest of Welsh king Brychan Brycheiniog's twenty-four daughters. She fell in love with a man named Maelon Dafodrill, but her father had already  arranged for her to marry someone else. Distraught, Dwynwen prayed to God and asked for help in forgetting Maelon. An angel visited her in her sleep and gave her a potion to erase her memory of feelings for Maelon and turn him into a block of ice.  With each of her dreams coming true, Dwynwen devoted her life to God; she set up a convent on the island of Llanddwyn, off the coast of Anglesey. The remains of the church can still be seen on the island, along with Dwynwen's well.

It's believed the well is home to sacred fish who can predict whether couples relationships will succeed; if the fish are seen to be active when visiting the well, it was seen as a sign of a faithful husband.  God offered Dwynwen three wishes. Her first wish was that Maelon be thawed, the second that God should meet the needs of all lovers and the third that she should never marry.  The well has since become a place of pilgrimage for young Welsh lovers since Dwynwen's death in the 5th century.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Let's Celebrate .... Burns' Night

We love an excuse to party and since we also love all things Scottish, Burns' Night provides the perfect opportunity.

When looking for inspiration for our new living room since moving, I happened upon these sumptuous cushions which I freely admit to coveting.  Produced by Voyage Maison, they are divine.

 Another great thing about moving is I get the chance to discover some new shops - one of them being Pethau Bychain in King St, Carmarthen..  Here you'll find an eclectic mix of lovely interiors, homeware and jewellery along with a great coffee shop, making a welcome respite from the chains found elsewhere.  And this is where I stumbled upon my cushions, as you can see here.
We always take the opportunity to celebrate so on the day we'll be donning our thistle hats (you can get one here), ....
.... and aprons, tucking into an enormous haggis, complete with neeps and tatties, and having a crack at Robert Burns' famous address to the haggis.  If you fancy a go, here are the first few lines.

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

SlĂ inte! (Cheers)