Creative Spotlight : Deb Brandon

Deb Brandon is the author of “But My Brain Had Other Ideas: A Memoir of Recovery from Brain Injury” and “Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe.” Here, she talks to us about her work and what inspires her.

Jessica : I’d love for you to start by telling us more about you and your story, who you are and what it is you do?

Deb : I was born in England and grew up in Israel. I came to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics. I have been a professor in the Mathematical Sciences Department at Carnegie Mellon University since 1991.

I learned to knit from my mother when I was seven. Knitting was followed by needlepoint, crocheting, felting, and spinning, all fun and interesting. Learning to weave when I was 35 was different. It felt as if I'd come home, as if I'd been a weaver in a previous life. At the loom, I felt connected to weavers everywhere, through space and time. (I still do!)

With weaving, my love for textile arts soared. I wanted to see (and feel) it all: scrumptious raw cashmere, hand-spun silk, gorgeous hand-wovens, an amazing range of ethnic textiles—silk scarves from Laos, felted slippers from Turkey.

I am a member of WARP (Weave A Real Peace), a networking organisation whose mission is to foster a global network of enthusiasts who value the importance of textiles to grassroots economies.

More than a decade ago, I suffered a severe brain injury. In its wake, feeling lost, I started to write about my recovery to help me through it. As I wrote, I realised that I wanted to reach a broader audience. I am now the proud author of two books: an award-winning memoir, “But My Brain Had Other Ideas,” and the recently released, “Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe,” about textile techniques from around the world.

Jessica : Can you tell me about where you find your inspiration?

Deb : Writing about textiles is a natural extension of my lifelong interest in handmade textiles and, especially, ethnic textiles, enriched by the changes that resulted from my brain injury.

My brain injury damaged some of my filters. In particular, all outside data flows into my brain with equal value, causing traffic jams in my neural pathways. On the flip side, I now notice more details in the world around me, details that I was unaware of prior to the injury. For example, I can now enjoy the gradual changes in the colours of sunset and the many shades of blue in the water.

My newfound ability to note such details influenced my work as a textile artist. Shortly after I returned home from hospital, I wove a piece of yardage I entitled “The Reflection of Sunset on the Water.” I painted warp in varying shades of blue and orange. I also painted the weft to produce the effect of waves rolling down the yardage. The yarn I used was a shimmering silk to give the effect of reflections of light on the ripples. I chose to weave in a variety of twills to give the fabric drape. I also supplemented the warp with sewing thread to add a wavy texture. I could not have produced such a piece prior to the injury.

Other influences stem from traditional textiles. I’ve used patterns reminiscent of motifs from batik from Zimbabwe, I’ve woven in colours similar to those prevalent in Palestinian embroidery, and I’ve embellished textiles with a variation of Japanese fish printing.

Jessica : I am also interested in knowing more about how you view creativity; is it something you can now rely on every day? How do you balance your varied interests?

Deb : I have become much more creative since the brain injury. I attribute that partly to my increased awareness of and attention to detail, but I also believe that it has something to do with the rewiring of my brain as it healed.

Pre-injury, I was primarily a linear thinker, and my thought process usually took me directly from point A to point B. My brain injury damaged my ability to think sequentially, in this linear fashion. As my brain learned to work around the damage, I found myself thinking more visually and using more intuition, so I now have access to a broader range of thinking styles.

Between the different thinking styles I now employ, my brain injury-induced short attention span, and my need to live at a slower pace, I often find myself straying off the path, leading me in interesting directions, guiding me towards new ideas.

Whenever I sit down to create, whether it is to write, knit, spin, or weave, I frequently find myself changing directions, changing the story line, manipulating colours, playing with patterns.

My full time job as a mathematician takes up a lot of my time. In the past it was one of my top priorities. After a day of teaching, I’d come home to work on other aspects of mathematics. Now, prone to fatigue, I spend less time at the office and play catch-up at home. However, I spend much of my time at home on creating. Writing is very much a priority, and textile arts are next on the list. I try to write every day, in the morning before I go to work and in the afternoon after I come home. When it comes to the textile arts, I go in phases, spending more time on them when I have met math- and writing-related deadlines.

Jessica : Where do you work? What’s important about your work space?

Deb : When my son left home, I transformed his room into an office, which is where I write. The first piece of furniture I lugged there (with my son’s help) was a wooden desk I bought more than two decades ago. Much cherished, it has accompanied me through four moves. Until it found a home in my office, I had to share it with my now ex-husband and my kids. Finally, it is all mine, everything on it arranged the way I like.

The entire space is arranged to be aesthetically pleasing and to serve my needs as a writer: my laptop perched on a pile of books so the screen is at eye level, a separate keyboard positioned such that I can type with elbows bent at a good angle, a bookcase filled with books that aid me in my writing (sources of information about ethnic textiles and about writing techniques), a printer to the right of my desk, and a bed for my dog to lie on beside me when I write. 

The floor loom I weave on most frequently sits in a living room corner, angled to give me the feeling of space around me. To the right of it I have a bookcase filled with books about practicing fiber arts, knitting, crochet, spinning yarn, felting, and surface design. To the left of the loom, I have a comfortable seat I can sink into when I knit or spin yarn. It faces the interior of room so I can be part of the activities around me, watching TV or chatting with family and friends—I can knit and spin by feel, so I can divide my attention.

Jessica : What impact would you like to create with your work?

Deb : I give most of the textile pieces I create as gifts, to family and friends. To me, the most important part of fibre arts is the process. I also enjoy the design side of the projects, but I love the rhythm and meditative nature of the making. The end result often plays a more peripheral role—I take pride in my work, but once the project is completed, I’m already thinking about the next.

In addition to getting a lot of satisfaction from giving textile pieces as gifts, I hope that by doing so, I am helping to educate the public about the value of handmade products, and to appreciate the effort, beauty, and stories so inherent to them. When I write about ethnic textiles, I hope to pass on that same appreciation. I believe that by doing so, I am sending an important message: Textiles help us create ties with each other. We are a part of a whole; there is no us and them, there is only us. Textiles prevent us from losing our humanity.

On the other hand, my original intention when I started writing my memoir was personal. I hoped it would help me understand my new world as a brain injury survivor, and to cope with the enormity of it all. I also wanted my loved ones to understand the effect of this invisible disability.

Shortly after I started writing about my recovery, I realised that other brain injury survivors might benefit from my experience. In time, as I began to reclaim my place in the world, I realised that I wanted to raise awareness among the general public about the struggles I and other brain injury survivors face every day. In order to reach such a broad audience, I knew I needed to improve my writing skills, so I hired a writing coach, who transformed me from a mediocre (at best) writer to an award winning author.

In the process, I became passionate about my writing—writing daily became the norm. Not only was I now writing to convey a universal message, but also for the love of writing itself.

 

Jessica : And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Deb : I would tell them to make time to follow their dream. Life is too short not to. At the very least it’ll bring them joy and a sense of fulfilment, something we all need to help us through the rough stuff in life.

They should try to ignore that inner voice that tells them to stay within their comfort zone. It’ll play on fears of change, coming up with excuses—“You don’t have time,” “The wash can’t wait,” “It’s not productive,” “I’m too tired,”  “I’m not good enough.” Everyone needs to take time for themselves, and that goes double for creative endeavours.

The end result shouldn't be the primary goal. Take the time to enjoy the process, even if that glass paperweight is wonky, you can’t afford a top-of-the-line bicycle, your embroidery stitches aren’t even, or your first (or fiftieth) draft doesn't work the way you want it to. Slow down and enjoy the scenery—the process of creating.

If possible, find kindred spirits who share your dream—it’ll open up your world in wonderful ways.


Find out more about Deb and her work here or follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

CreativeEleanor Holmes
A Flash of Spring
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Sun streams through net curtains casting shapes and shadows on the floor. Noise builds in the eves, the shrubs and the crevices where small winged lodgers winter and build nests. Hardy crocus bulbs burst through trampled ground to dust the village green in patches of purple and white.

I feel light, the shadow of winter lifted. My mind fills with seed plans and long walks and toes dipped in rivers. I wonder where I stowed the tent, the flask and stove. Maps find their way into my fingers and are unfolded, carpeting the room with lines and contours and legends. My head fights the feeling. There was a frost just yesterday and the wood store is still stocked, enough fuel for another month at least.

A sound brings me back to the room, four sandstone walls filled with light and lined with books. There’s a bumble bee at my window. She tips and taps and wants to come in. I lean across and stare through the single pane of glass. She’s as big as a cherry & hooped in yellow and black. Needle fine hairs and translucent wings beating faster than my heart ever should. She doesn't know that she shouldn't be here yet. It isn't her fault.

I lean back in my chair and allow myself the sun and its warmth in this moment. One for which I’m equally grateful and sad. As life changes, we adapt and grow. I fish out a teaspoon from the kitchen drawer and make my first sugar syrup of the year. It’s on the windowsill now, a tonic for passing visitors in need of a helping hand.

This year, I’ll make a plan. One that is kind and gentle. I’ll be mindful of my footprint and the impact it may have. I’ll tread softly, only take what I need and give back as much as I possibly can. This flash of spring in winter is a wake-up call. One I needed more than I knew.


Raising a Generation Who Are Connected to Nature
Image by    Annie Spratt

Image by Annie Spratt

As adults it is our generation who have a huge – and unenviable - job on our hands. We need to be the ones who are making unprecedented changes to the way that we live and the way we consume. For a sustainable future we need to make it so that our children cannot remember a time when we had six plastic toiletry bottles around the side of the bath or discover that humans have destroyed the planet to the point that words like badger are taken out of the junior dictionary.

The importance of convenience has trumped everything else for so long that we are finding it hard to change our ways. I’m one of the ‘we’. I have times when I really want to buy a roll of cling film because I think it’s faster and easier than the alternative of putting leftovers in a long-term reusable container or wax wrap. I’m not sure either is true - though our generation has been brought up to believe that it is.

Never has there been more people creating and providing ways for us to make better choices. There are no-plastic websites, zero waste shops, plastic alternatives for almost everything we use, forest schools, outdoor education coming into schools and a trend to buy less stuff and be more mindful of what we are consuming as we move though life. I find it very inspiring.

I believe that connecting children to nature lies at the heart of helping them make better choices.  And I believe they will have a much deeper connection if it’s one that comes from lots of family time outside.

 

“No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced” David Attenborough

 

If our children love being outside, walking though bluebells woods, spotting wildlife, digging in mud, pond dipping, climbing trees, making wreaths with willow and spending time outside I believe it will be so much easier for them to make choices based on what is best not what’s fastest.

I understand fully that not all convenience is bad; I have some things in my life that I find very useful and believe they have more of a positive impact than negative. For example I get a meat box once a month so that I know where all the meat has come from – saving me the visit to a butcher - and I buy biodegradable wipes online.

And part of my business also offers convenience. After 18 months of running forest school stay-and-play sessions for pre-school children I wanted to find other ways to get parents outside with their children. I know it can be really hard to find, prep and then deliver new activities when you have little spare time. So I have created a season activity box for children aged 2-6 years old and for their parents or guardians that provide a range of activities which allow the children to develop their skills, interests and understanding though practical, hands on experiences in the natural world.

I hope that the activities encourage conversations, a sense of achievement, belonging and greater understanding of one another as well as giving the adult an insight into their child’s way of thinking.  

Training to be a forest school leader and spending an increasing amount of time outside (I have a dog and a family holiday home on Anglesey so I was already quite outdoorsy) has changed my life. I have a different perspective on things, I’m calmer, more mindful and notice the simple pleasure of life more easily now.  If I can pass that on though forest school sessions or seasonal boxes then happy days.

Some of my favourite things to do outside as a family:

·       a simple dog walk, no plan, no phone

·       jumping in puddles on wet days

·       chasing each other’s shadows on sunny days

·       filling small match boxes with treasures and then seeing who fitted in the most when were back home

·       a flask of hot chocolate and treat on a cold walk

·       searching for a seasonal flower

·       acting out a book such as The Three Little Pigs or Going on a Bear Hunt

·       looking for tracks and making up stories around them

 

What’s your favourite thing to do outside with your family?


Ellie Kelly runs Wonderwood Explorers in Farnham. Check out Ellie’s seasonal activity boxes here.

LifestyleContributor
The Spirit of Winter

Tis the season of profound dormancy in the wooded hills of northern Romania, yet the birds, deer, rabbits and foxes are so very alive - casting their whereabouts in the snow. Mice and other creatures are happily hiding underneath the great white blanket, nibbling grass seeds under haystacks and devouring their winter stores, out of sight and out of mind till the flowing melt begins...

Wheels ground to a halt this season when 45 cm of white, frosty flakes covered the roofs and lands in the course of one night. In a village with no plows, people took to brooms and shovels to make knee-deep paths in the snow. Promptly the horses and sleighs took over the arduous task of bringing freshly harvested alder and beech down from the woodlands during the week. On the weekends they engaged the tourists with a chance of a lifetime, to live like we all lived once upon a time: traveling upon a horse-powered sleigh to navigate the hilly lanes of the village, laughing all the way!

In deep snow, wheels are no good, so we must return to our animal instincts and stumble-walk headlong into the drifts, casting our own bootprints in the snow. Though it is tempting to stay inside, toasty by the fireplace, nature beckons us to see the incredible beauty she has produced.

Stepping out into a vast bed of snow is like venturing into the freezing sea, walking through it and forging your own path, however, is a measure of stronger willpower. If you know the lay of the land, then everything will be alright, if not, you might be in for a deeper surprise... It goes without saying, that if you know by heart the footpaths walked by generations and the way the land flows intimately, then navigating the covered terrain will be far easier, than to step blindly as a stranger on the first outing.

In our part of the world, this means recognizing key trees and befriending the many haystacks that dot the landscape. As we walk familiar routes throughout the village spaces and beyond the edges of civilisation, we become acquainted with the age, season of harvest and shape of each haystack. Some weather gracefully, others slide and slump over time, while the rest remain forever young in body and spirit.

Haystacks are the quintessential markers of the land and the pride of the landowners.

In winter, they don their village coats, not of handspun wool, but of heavy snow, and they each seem to take on new personalities, if only for a short while. They come and go at a reasonable pace, carefully deconstructed and loaded onto carts heading for wooden stables with hungry cows. Such a movement of dried grass is to be found few places in the world, and to make the hay by hand scythe, well, we can only hope that is not a dying art...

A long winter is also filled with moments to slow down, to reflect, to dream, to carve poems that nurture our souls:

In the deepest depths of winter,
listen

Silently shiver under a crystal blanket
soothe your ears
with a comforting blankness,
dampening,
muffling,
relief

Listen

communicate in soundlessness
hear the fox bark
give ear to the jays’ bicker
explore footprints running astray
do not speak
hearken


Quiet as dark
bright as the sun
snow keeps on piling,
covering,
blowing,
adding to the undeniable beauty of winter

For months and months
the land is ever white
it won’t be long till all is speckled with
snow
drops
drips
puddles
Earth

 

As we indulge in our private collection of homemade preserves and sit in silence with determined reason, we already dream about blossoms aplenty - though we will not rush nature, patience is a winter virtue indeed.

Follow Cheryl and her family as they navigate Instagram without a smart phone at Forest Creek Meadows.

WinterCheryl Magyar
Winter Gathering 2019
Image by    Annie Spratt

Image by Annie Spratt

Was the first Creative Countryside Gathering only a year ago? It’s hard to believe more time has not passed, the connections made throughout this year have become so strong.

At this, the first gathering of 2019, Eleanor arrived in Bratoft, Lincolnshire, early to set up alone, soon to be joined by the first arrivals for cocktails and nibbles. I was late to join after an unfortunate misunderstanding between ‘left’ and ‘right’, but we were all soon settled in the beautiful Old Rectory for a few days of good food, creativity and conversation.

Image by    Gemma Evans

Image by Gemma Evans

On Saturday a few rose early to catch the morning light, before we all joined for some grounding in the dew covered grass, and then to feast on pancakes with blood oranges and syrup.

Images by    Annie Spratt

Images by Annie Spratt

The day filled with activity, as we were slowly led by Eleanor to create journals, to free-write, and collectively to make a zine based on the moments shared that weekend.

Images by    Gemma Evans

Images by Gemma Evans

Somehow in this day full of creative pursuits, we also had time to wander nearby, chatting or taking photographs of the myriad of snowdrops that lay at our feet. As the night drew in we took to the comfy chairs with a warming drink to write, or sew, or think.

Image by    Annie Spratt

Image by Annie Spratt

Images by    Gemma Evans

Images by Gemma Evans

We feasted that night by fairy light, on Indian food and gin cocktails, before we talking and laughing deep into the night. A much needed cooked breakfast brought our time to a close the next morning. Another gathering brought to a close with friends old and new, we said our fond farewells and took one last look at those grand walls, those happy rooms, and those snowdrop walks. See you next time?

Image by    Jessica Townsend

Jessica Townsend creates slow and sustainable fashion at House of Flint. Follow her behind-the-scenes on Instagram here.

WinterContributor
Creative in the Countryside: Raahat Kaduji

Today we’re talking to Raahat about her beautiful illustrations and what inspires her work…

Jessica: I’d love for you to start by telling us more about you and your illustrations, how they started, and what it is you do?

 Raahat: I currently live and illustrate in a town near Oxford, England. It’s where I’ve been for most of my life and this creative journey is deeply rooted in my beginnings here. Art has always had a significant presence throughout my childhood. My dad worked in the creative industry - first in game development and then as a visual effects artist - so I grew up with his paintings on my bedroom walls, his sketchbooks on my bookshelf, and a treasure trove of his old painting materials. This certainly nourished my early desire to create. I’ve also had an affinity with the natural world for as long as I can remember. I spent a lot of time in nature with both my family and childhood friends. There was an abundance of tree climbing, den building, and frog catching. Rainy days were for dreaming up stories, painting landscapes, and drawing animals.

My desire for a career in the arts really emerged when I went to university. I was 18, studying English and Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, and I wanted art to be more than just a hobby. Around that time, I started to share my work online and suddenly discovered that the internet was a wonderful place to connect with an audience, other creatives, and my future clients. I’m truly grateful to say that I’m now navigating this world of art and selling my work internationally. Something amazing also happened at the start of this year. In January, I signed with the wonderful Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and I couldn’t be more excited for this new chapter and the future adventures that await.

Jessica: What do you love most about what you do?

 Raahat: The list is endless, though I’ll share the things that immediately come to mind.

 When I illustrate, I begin to recall places and stories from my childhood. I draw a lot of forests, meadows, woodland animals, and the sense of nostalgia that arises is quite special really. I often feel as though I am reacquainting myself with the magic, curiosity and childlike wonder that seems so hard to come by in adulthood.

 Although this career in illustration has been such a vibrant experience, self-doubt has almost always crept into the equation. Thankfully, however, through social media I’ve encountered an incredible community of individuals, who share the same passion for creativity and nature, from across the globe. These kindred folk have been some of my greatest supporters and motivators, each with creative journeys that constantly inspire me to grow, learn, and create.

 Jessica: Can you tell us about your work-space, and the methods you use to create your designs?

 Raahat: I illustrate from home and have my desk space set up by a window. Natural light is really important, not just so I can see but because it lifts my spirit. There’s a beautiful copse of trees beyond the window (the same trees that I used to climb with my siblings and friends from our childhood). My space is cluttered with things that bring me joy: books, candles, potted plants, treasures that I’ve collected on walks. There’s also the tools of the trade: my graphics tablet, sketchbooks, pencils, pens, and a little packing station for my Etsy shop orders. When I illustrate, I often listen to music or audiobooks, but when it’s warm enough, I open the window and let birdsong fill the room.  As creatives, it is incredibly easy to get distracted - the to-do lists and looming deadlines can be particularly overwhelming - so I’ve tried to create a space where I am both comfortable and reminded to embrace the slow, mindful moments of peace. Having a view where I can watch the wildlife, the changing of the seasons, and peer at the moon after the sun has set is an extra bonus that I’m very thankful for.

 My method consists of a lot of experimentation. I think that’s one of the joys that comes with creative work. The realm of art is constantly shifting and mistakes are a welcome part of the process. Generally however, most of my projects begin as rough pencil sketches. After that, I determine a colour palette (usually inspired by earthy tones) before refining the final artwork.

 Jessica: I know your work reflects your love of nature, but what inspires the specific content of each piece?

 Raahat: Nature is everything. Much of what I create is dedicated to the wonder that the universe instils within me and I feel very lucky to live so close to the countryside.  I keep a small sketchbook in my bag and take it with me when I’m off travelling or exploring the wilderness. You can never be sure when inspiration will strike! When you sit in an environment, observing the shapes, textures, colours, you suddenly attain this deep sense of awareness and alignment with the earth in that present moment. It’s these experiences that stay with me, moments in nature that I feel the desire to recreate when I’m back at my desk.

 Jessica: What impact would you like to create with your illustrations?

 Raahat: I went vegan five years ago after learning about the impact of animal agriculture on our planet and the exploitation of the peaceful beings we share this world with. Whilst my work doesn’t explicitly handle topics like veganism and environmentalism, I hope that the content inspires gratitude for the Earth and a desire to take care of it and our fellow earthlings. Beyond that, I want my illustrations to be a reminder to accept our inner child, because we are never too old to appreciate the light and magic that this world has to offer.

 Jessica: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

 Rahaat: If you have a creative dream, then tear after it! Nurture your ideas and bring them to life. It helps to visualise and research, but don’t worry if you haven’t formulated a long term plan to begin with. Trust your instincts and go for it.

 Community has also been such an important part of my journey, for guidance, support and friendship, so don’t be afraid to reach out to fellow creatives.

 Embrace the fear and the mistakes, and enjoy the process.


Follow Raahat on instagram, or check out her work here. If you love her work and would like to buy a piece head to her shop.

CreativeContributor
On a Winter's Morning
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Winter mornings can be a struggle to get up to when it’s cold and still dark outside. It makes me want to stay nestled underneath the duvet covers until the morning light appears through my curtains. But early on a cold and clear winter’s morning, magic begins to happen.

Although it’ll still be dark outside, I’ll open up the curtains wide to see that the window panes will be frosted and condensated and cold to the touch. And if I peer through the window, I’ll just be able to see the ice formed on the windows of the cars parked along the street. I like to turn on the fairy lights for that warm, comforting golden glow to fill the room whilst it's still dark. I’ll wrap up warm in my dressing gown and sleepily head downstairs to boil the kettle for a big cup of tea. By the time I'm back upstairs, setting my cup of tea to one side on the bedside table, it will start to get lighter outside and that's when the magic begins.

It will still be quiet outside, although with the hum of cars passing by the main road in the distance, sometimes catching the sound of a train chugging along its tracks at the nearest railway, a few birds chirping in the back garden and if I'm lucky, I'll catch a plump of geese flying close together over the house. There's no rush at this time of morning, just warmth, cosiness and the company of a good cup of tea and a book to read before I get ready for the day.

As it begins to get lighter, just below the row of trees at the bottom of the street the sun will begin to rise and the colours of the sky begin to change. It sets alight with fiery oranges and peaches and notes of pinks, purples and yellows, that blend in streaks through the white clouds like watercolours bleeding across a canvas painting.

The morning frost will glisten on the rooftops, across the lawns and down the paths of the street. Sprinkled around like fairy dust, dressing spiderwebs in tiny, delicate ice crystals, freezing old crunchy autumn leaves left trodden along the paths, clinging to the details on the veins of each leaf. The whole street will be transformed into a winter wonderland, as if everything has been lulled to sleep under a thin blanket of ice, until it melts away by the time the afternoon arrives.

And so, when I get up just that little bit earlier with an extra slow hour to spare, it’s definitely worth it to see the magic on a winter’s morning.

Kayleigh Wright 


WinterChelsea Louise Haden
Repairing Summer's Wear
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It’s always hard to admit when a piece of outdoor clothing has had its last run. It probably cost a lot of money and over several summers has gathered memories you’re not willing to part with. Now there’s a third factor finding voice among the outdoor community — the environmental impact of our specialised gear. Chemical coatings are used during manufacture to provide technical features and finishes. Every time we wash this clothing, these substances (called perfluorinated chemicals) seep into our water systems, eventually finding their way into rivers and seas

Yet, while the use of PFCs and microplastics is still considered essential by the industry, consumers are looking for other ways to reduce the environmental damage that is growing on the back of the outdoor lifestyle trend.

One solution is repair and recycling.

Meet Neza Petreca. Slovenian-born co-founder of Blind Chic and saviour of tired equipment.

Over the last few years several leading brands have begun encouraging customers to return gear for repair, rather than discarding it. Patagonia have even gone as far as setting up pop-up repair shops for gear from any brand. However, Neza takes it a step further. When a piece of clothing is beyond repair she turns it into something new. In collaboration with her customers Neza looks first at repair and if this isn’t possible, they’ll discuss what material can be saved and what new item the customer wants from it.

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Her specialism is in bags so often Neza will make pouches, bikepacking bags or even rucksacks from damaged clothing and gear. It was the humble pouch that sparked her ambition to turn recycling into a business. Following the success of her DIY tutorial video on bikepacking.com, friends and family started approaching Neza with their old clothing.

She’s been at it ever since.

When Neza realised this was a passion she undertook an internship with Barbara Heinze, repair seamstress and owner of her own kids clothing brand. It was Heinze who taught her to see every repair as a new problem to solve and who instilled the confidence needed to start cutting up £500 technical jackets!

Since returning to her native Slovenia, Neza has been putting her new techniques to work, as well as persuading anyone who’ll listen to consider where their old clothing goes.

What happens to it once we’ve decided it’s worthless?

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The good news is Neza sees change happening. Once recycling was a thing people did because they couldn’t afford new. Now even the wealthy want to buy quality, take care of it and see it last. Customers have become curious; they want to know who’s making their products and where they’re coming from. In turn, this creates a mentality of investment. The customer knows the story behind their purchase which gives them a personal connection, not only to the brand but to the product. It’s an investment — both financial and emotional.  

As well as thermal layers and softshell jackets, Neža loves to work with damaged camping mattresses because the stiff fabric makes items that hold their shape. Tents interest her too because the large surface area offers the possibility for multiple new pieces. Here’s a few of Neza’s suggestions for simple ways to make worn summer gear work in winter:

  • merino t-shirts become neckwarmers

  • a thin windbreaker transformed into a vest

  • merino ear flaps on a summer cap when the temperature drops

While the recycling work continues to gain momentum, the designer has set in motion plans to open her own repair shop in Bovec, the outdoor capital of Slovenia. In this tiny town, on the banks of the turquoise Soča river, she envisions a shop and community space offering outdoor education. After all, education is the force driving change in outdoor consumerism.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in recycling or repairing your own equipment, contact Neza through her website.


Image below by Franzi Wernsing

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Gathering String
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“String is everywhere for the taking, if you have the talent to take it.”

This quote jumped out at me from a NYT article on Serendipity, the author was talking about the reporter-ism of ‘gathering string’ - following the lead of a story wherever it leads you.

But gathering string is a way to walk through life.

Being aware of the pieces of string that are moments of beauty, the blessings, the sparkles that are constantly surrounding us-for the taking.

What does the ‘talent to take it’ look like?  Webster’s defines a talent as a special ability that allows someone to do something well.  I would even take it one step further to believe that many of our talents are something that we are born with and if nurtured, can shine brighter.

If I close my eyes and imagine this string gathering, I picture literal red yarn strewn all over my day. I picture myself literally picking it up and following it, gathering it in a ball in my hand as I move on. It would be hard to ‘miss’ the red string if we were holding the ball in our hand, if it was leading us from one amazing moment to the next.

Why then is it so difficult to see the beauty that surrounds us daily?  Granted, there is no vibrant yarn path leading me to each moment of awe.  I do not actually hold this bright red yarn ball in my hand as I move about my day, but the moments of beauty are no less present.  The blessings and acts of grace and mercy are not hidden from sight.

Perhaps this is where the talent comes in.

We must nurture our ability to walk through our days, the mundane Thursday afternoons of winter, as if we were following a beautiful path of wonder.  As if we are following a clear and bright path, leading us from one spectacular thing to the next. We possess this talent, this ability that allows us to do it well.

What might we notice today if we were utilizing this special ability?  Would it be the sunrise we often see on our drive to work, and take for granted, but today we took the time to park, pause, and savor it.  Would it be the sunbeam that shines in your doors on a frigid afternoon? Would it be the birds singing in the morning that stir thoughts of summer, even while wearing a winter coat?

Today I will watch closely for where that string is leading me, I will carry what I see in my heart and I will be thankful.

Anna Bonnema
A Forest Adventure
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I wonder where our heavy boots, caked with sticky mud, will take us, as we set out on the winding, forest trail in search of a shy snow drop?

The sun will surely warm our icy cheeks through the branches, as we head deeper into the woodland.

Hand in hand, we stumble through puddles and clamber over fallen tree trunks. We climb logs and gather feathers. We spy moss-strewn faerie doors in burrows and run excitedly on, as our dear forest guardian, Robin, hops ahead from branch to branch, leading the way.

Breathing in the cold winter air, we feel it energise our core and carry us deeper into nature, to seek adventure. 

Looking back to our muddy boot prints pressed into the trail behind us, we see that we have  come a long way. Each step tells a new story...where we are heading and where we will end up. 

It's time to pause a moment. We find a welcoming tree stump, sit down and bring out the steaming flask to warm our bodies. As we sip, we giggle and tell tales of the woodland folk who may be watching us from around the forest. We prick our ears and listen for their sound; but all is quiet, except for the sweet chorus of birdsong. 

Time to rise and adventure on some more. Robin appears, nodding, as if certain he's found what we're seeking. We follow his lead, enchanted by his dedication to our little expedition. Getting nearer to a grassy clearing, we run on, butterflies rising up within us, as we await our surprise destination. Eyes sparkle with anticipation. Then, just like that, we see them. Our shy, snowdrops; their heads bowed with grace and dignity.  A soft, glimmer of hope that Spring is growing near. January's gift, amongst the cold, dark days.

We stand together; one small hand holding mine, as we take in this magical sight. When you've got a child's hand in yours, Winter in the forest is filled with the greatest surprises. No matter the weather, being amidst nature is the most special place to play.

Pull on your boots, and have your own woodland adventure. You may just unearth some beautiful surprises of your own this Winter.


By Amelia Goodall

Creative, WinterContributor
Community Meet-ups
All images thanks to    Eleanor McAlister-Dilks

All images thanks to Eleanor McAlister-Dilks

Nature, the seasons, living simply, and making time for creativity - all were up for discussion at our two community meet-ups these past few months. In day-to-day life we may not all have the opportunity to converse with others about these topics. With the love and passion we have for them, meeting like-minded souls who feel the same is so empowering!

Conversations and connections that enrich our lives were continued or begun during those few short hours.

First, in October, we headed to the Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham. New faces were welcomed as we sat in some late summer sun, before heading out on one of the circular walks. Eleanor led a few mindful activities along the way, such as “grounding”, where we connect with the earth beneath our feet. Unfortunately the earth beneath mine was a patch of nettles but I enjoyed the concept all the same!

We stopped a while as the waters lapped by our feet to enjoy a warming tea, an apple from our orchard, and a little crafting from foraged twigs to create a star. Mine still hangs from the shed and lightens my day as I reach for my wellies each morning.

Our second meet-up in Edale was hampered by train strikes, but those who made it through met in the tiny National Trust cafe and talk began of the new year that had only just begun.

Soon we braved the weather, and as the harsh winds bit our cheeks we walked on and were prompted to write some seasonal reflections on what surrounded us that blustery day. A hard-earned rest beneath a bridge was accompanied by mulled apple juice and a brief wassail to fortify us to complete our walk.

Our connections and feelings of community were also fortified, and plans were devised for more meet-ups around the country. Larger ones planned by Eleanor for those that can travel, but smaller gatherings too, arranged and attended by those in closer proximity to each other. The relative ease of these for other to attend will mean our community continues to grow, to flourish, and to nourish.

Jessica Townsend creates slow and sustainable fashion at House of Flint. Follow her behind-the-scenes on Instagram here.

Lifestyle, CreativeContributor
The Slow Flower Movement

It began with fruit and veg: in a bid to reduce waste, wonky items started appearing in supermarkets and weren’t just reserved to your local farm shop. Now flowers are following suit and shorter stems, stunted growth and wonky blooms will grace the shelves.

Aesthetic imperfections are no longer deemed unworthy and flowers that were once discarded can now find their way to your home through supermarkets and florists alike. These less-than-perfect ranges not only allow growers and farmers to reduce waste and still profit after a bad harvest, it also makes it possible for us all to afford some pretty blooms to cheer our lives from day to day.

The demand for locally grown arrangements has also grown, as sustainability incentives spread through all areas of consumerism. The ‘slow movement’ inserts itself into so many areas with this ethos in mind, helped along by social media and an influx of interest in buying from small, local businesses.

Common Farm Flowers grow cut and wild flowers from their Somerset farm, packed with English blooms. They also encourage their customers to grow their own flowers, offering workshops and ‘grow-your-own’ kits. Theirs is not only a flower farm, but a haven for wildlife, lovingly tended in their bid to enable everybody in the UK to have British grown flowers on their kitchen table all year round.

The Slow Flower Movement has taken force on a larger scale in the US, with advocate for American-grown flowers Debra Prinzing leading the way. Check out her latest pod casts as she stimulates the conversation for conscious choices within your floral purchases.


Jessica Townsend creates slow and sustainable fashion at House of Flint. Follow her behind-the-scenes on Instagram here.

Slow LivingContributor