Category Archives: Arts & Crafts

Say It With Songs

A song can conjure up many memories – good, bad and ugly. Many of us have that “special” song and what can be nicer on your anniversary, birthday, special moment than sending a card to that person who has that song connection with you. Song words convey such a lot but to have that song playable in card form is so nice! I came across Ellie’s website, Say It With Words, and immediately hunted for my wedding song – Aerosmith’s “I Don’t WantTo Miss A Thing” to send to my husband on our anniversary! Alas they didn’t feature that song, but a quick email request and Ellie was able to help and thus the card was born! Another email to Ellie requesting an interview…. Hi Ellie!


Hello! My name is Ellie Fitzgerald. I live in Surrey with my husband Paul of 20 years, our 17 year old daughter & our giant Malamute Cherry

What inspired you to set up “Say It With Songs”?

Last February, I searched for a Valentine’s Day card for my Husband, nothing was hitting the mark. At the same time a song came on the radio in the shop – it was ‘our song’ with the words that meant so much and said everything I wanted to say – I wanted to send him that song ….. it was then the idea was born. Having worked in the music industry for 20 years, music is a great passion of mine, so when I was made redundant when lockdown hit, I decided to jump in and give it a go. Say it with Songs – combines the sentiment of a greeting card with the power of a song.

So, how do you access the music part of the card? L

It’s really simple – on front of every card is an instantly recognisable song lyric eg “ I will always love you” On the reverse of the card is a code – you simply open your smartphone camera and scan the code and then you can choose to stream the full song instantly from either YouTube, Spotify or Amazon Music. You can play it as many times as you like & keep it forever.We all have a song that takes us back to a time, person or moment in seconds….whether it’s a ballad, a dance floor classic, a heavy rock anthem or a pop cheese guilty pleasure …in just a few notes we are literally right back there. Everyone has also heard a song with lyrics that speak to the heart, resonate, help us through, give us strength or – simply – make us smile

You have a lovely variety of cards with a great song range too. What song title cards are proving popular amongst your customers so far?

We have over 100 titles, our top five titles are ‘Have I told you Lately’ Van Morrison, ‘You are the Sunshine of My Life’ Stevie Wonder, ‘Cant help falling in love with you’ Elvis Presley, ‘Never Gonna Give you Up’ Rick Astley and ‘Girls Just wanna have fun’ Cyndi Lauper.

Have you got a favourite card? What is the story behind your favourite song?

So, the song that started it all for me was ‘By Your Side’ By Sade, it literally says everything I want to say to my husband. His song to me is ‘knocks me off my feet’ by Stevie Wonder, a song we have loved since we met. Both songs are now cards.



As you are based in the UK, are your products available to purchase overseas?

 The cards are shipped internationally and we are just starting to distribute in other countries so its growing fast.

Although you have a great song range, do you cater for bespoke cards eg if the special song you wanted doesn’t feature in your range? 

We try too, I get maybe 10/20 suggestions a week from people and those that I feel will be loved by many are added to the new titles schedule – we add maybe 5 new cards every 2 weeks.

10% of your profit goes to the music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins.  What does the charity do?

Nordoff Robbins provides vital music therapy to enrich the lives of people with life-limiting illnesses, disabilities and feelings of isolation.

Are your cards made from ethically sourced materials?

Of course – building a brand with a sustainable imprint was fundamental. We use FSC approved 350gsm card, its acid free, with a Heavy Metal Absence & made using vegetable based inks. We use recycled envelopes & wrap in 100% biodegradable cellowrap. Proudly designed and made in the UK.

Have you always wanted to have a musical career or did your career aspirations lay elsewhere?

I always wanted to work in music so followed that path from day 1 . I have worked on both the record label side & managed the careers of  artists, but building music brands has always been my passion and where my creativity sits best.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Shoes – At the moment in lockdown life- its trainers and wellies, but fab ones – I have some amazing glitter Nike Air Force 1 & also some cool Veja ones that I virtually live in and so new Hunter wellies (for walking my giant dog) that are knee high and have a slight platform.Prior to lockdown, I have some Isabel Marant boots that have a hidden wedge so although they are flat, they make your legs look great, and for going out, my favourite EVER pair of heels are a Stuart Weitzman for Russell and Bromley pair – I wore them with silk PJs this NYE lockdown.Clothing, pre-lockdown, it’s usually a silk midi skirt from Anthropologie and a funky graphic tee as my go-to.Now its Hush trackies and comfy cool sweats as my work wardrobe.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own!)

Yes, My go to is hushuk.com and Anthropologie – Literally love everything from these brands.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Everything from Anthropologie – in the sale ! Their sales are insane!

Boots or Shoes? ( & Why?) 

Right now, it’s actually boots, with working from home and lockdown and walking my huge dog twice a day – The cool new black Hunter boots give me my glam fix (even in a tracksuit) but normally it’s shoes every time.

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about Say It With Songs

Website www.sayitwithsongs.com

Instagram: @sayitwithsongscards

Facebook: @sayitwithsongs

 Please check us out – and get 15% off with code BOOTSANDSHOES

My thanks to Ellie at Say It With Songs for creating my “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing “ card. The Aerosmith photographs are by Linda Hobden; the other photographs are published with kind permission of Say It With Words.

Linda x

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An Interview With Jungle Culture

On the blog this week is Jungle Culture whose philosophy is to inspire people to see the beauty and purpose in nature. Having spent a few years living in Vietnam, Jamie, co founder of Jungle Culture, is determined to show people the beauty of Vietnam and its beautiful craftsmanship when it comes to making products from bamboo and bowls made from upcycled reclaimed coconuts. I caught up with Jamie to find out more. Hi Jamie!

Jamie (on the left) & co-founder Chris at a bamboo farm in Vietnam


Hi, my name is Jamie and I am a co-founder of Jungle Culture! We work with small farms, craft workshops and ethical factories to produce a range of handicrafts and plastic alternatives that encourage a healthy, waste-free lifestyle.

What inspired the setting up of your company, Jungle Culture?

We were inspired after watching the David Attenborough documentary which highlighted the effects that single-use plastics were having on our oceans. At the time, my business partner Chris was based in Vietnam and saw that local restaurants used bamboo straws. We decided to do our bit and bamboo straws became our first product!

You have a great variety of eco products – bamboo straws, safety razors, coconut bowls, bamboo cutlery.  What are your most popular sellers?

Thanks! All of our products sell really well and people are generally so enthusiastic about swapping to a plastic-free alternative. We started our company life as a straw company and this remains our best-selling product! We currently sell more than a million straws a year and it’s nice to think that each one prevented multiple pieces of plastic from entering the ocean.


Have you got a favourite item from your collection?

I have lots of favourites and I use most of our products on a daily basis, but safety razors are definitely one product that I would recommend to absolutely everyone, with no exceptions. I always hated using disposable razors because of the environmental impact and the cost is quite frankly outrageous…. Prior to starting Jungle Culture I actually learned to use a cut throat razor and it was okay, but occasionally I would cut myself fairly badly. Safety razors don’t really have this problem. They are insanely easy for anyone to use, they last a lifetime and there’s little to no environmental impact. On top of that, at £0.30 a blade (lasts 16 shaves) everyone could be saving a ton of money!

Your bamboo straws and cutlery hail from Northern Vietnam.  What are the benefits of using bamboo?

 In Northern Vietnam bamboo is seen as a weed. It grows so quickly and so plentifully that supply of bamboo in Vietnam far outstrips the demand. Using bamboo to make something useful and waste-free allows farmers in impoverished regions to earn an income and start a business, whilst at the same time it gives consumers a viable alternative to single-use plastics in their homes and while they’re out and about. Just to clarify, there are no pandas in Vietnam, their habitats are unaffected! (We get asked a lot).


As your HQ is  based in the UK, are your products available to purchase internationally?

Yes, absolutely. You can buy from our website and Etsy store from anywhere in the world or if you send us a message, we’ll send you the location of our nearest stockist. 

Your coconut bowls are very user friendly and have been upcycled from reclaimed coconuts.  What are the dos and don’ts when it comes to caring for your bowls?

Do use them as motivation to eat healthier and improve your diet. Do nourish them from time to time with an oil… coconut oil, linseed oil etc. Do keep sending us wonderful pics of your creations on instagram. We’ll throw you a shoutout! Definitely do treat them with love and care. Natural products are a bit more fragile than man-made products and try as we might, we cannot always prevent faults. But if anything happens to any products that you buy from us, send us a message and we’ll replace them free of charge. Don’t microwave, dishwash or refrigerate/freeze. Treat your bowl like the piece of wood that it is…. when wood is exposed to high temperatures, low temperatures or dramatic shifts in temperature it can expand. 

Your coconut bowls have created a stir on social media with your customers posting recipe/foodie ideas using your bowls?  What has been the most unusual recipes/uses that you have come across?

I am always impressed with recipes that are more art than food. It’s incredible how people are able to create a beach scene, jungle or mountain range using blended fruit and seeds.

As a brand, Jungle Culture, is a member of the 1% for the Planet Foundation. What does that membership entail?

It means that for everything that is purchased from our business we give 1% to a charity that aims to replenish the Earth. We are nearing the end of our first year as 1% members and we’re just getting ready to pick our charity for the year, so stay tuned for updates on who we choose!

Although you are based in the UK,  you have spent a couple of years in Vietnam. What 5 must see places would you recommend a tourist visit whilst in Vietnam? Any advice for first time visitors?

Vietnam has become like a second home to us. Over the course of 2 years, we were lucky enough to visit pretty much every region, visit small farms, taste local delicacies and sleep in bamboo houses under the stars! It was awesome! 5 places to visit = The North (by motorbike if possible), Hanoi (for big city life, street food and madness), Ninh Binh (for stunning scenery), Hue (for incredible Vietnamese food), Hoi An (for the only preserved ancient town in Vietnam and our home for 2 years). Advice = Rent a motorbike…. it’s terrifying, but it’s the best way to travel in Vietnam. Go slow and be prepared for people driving the wrong way on highways, cows crossing the roads unattended, people carrying fridges on the backs of bikes and everything in between. 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

When I am in a cold country like the UK, I normally wear some red/purpley Doc Martens, black Levi’s jeans and my Jungle Culture black hoodie! In hot countries like Vietnam, I have a few good long-lasting pairs of jean shorts and linen shirts with a comfy pair of flip flops.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I try to buy from small businesses for every day items because I know what a big impact it has in the owner’s lives. For everyday items I typically buy from a local shop and for fashion items I buy from a select few brands that I know represent quality, long-lasting products. I hate fast fashion and don’t buy anything that lasts less than a few years.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I have always wanted to own one of those old style Barbour jackets. They sell second hand ones all the time at the vintage markets in Brick Lane, London. They are quite iconic in the UK and nowadays they are pretty expensive too. I’ll pick one up next winter maybe!

Boots or Shoes?

Boots 100%. I haven’t owned a pair of shoes for 5+ years. I am all about the boot life. I don’t know why though… it’s just me!

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about Jungle Culture

 www.jungleculture.eco – Our website. Check it out if you want to learn more about how we source ethically, how we give back and how you can join the fight against waste.https://www.instagram.com/jungleculture.eco/ – Connect with us and if our products have helped you, let us know. We read every message and they really do make our day!

Fabulous chatting to you Jamie – your bowls are gorgeous and I am totally bemused by the bamboo razor!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Jungle Culture

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An Interview With Foxes & Angels

At this time of year we are all looking for cards …. Valentines, Easter, Mother’s Day, Fathers Day, Congratulations, Happy Birthday or just a note to say, “I’m thinking about you”. It is even lovelier when you come across cards that have been thoughtfully illustrated and Besheer, who runs card company Foxes & Angels alongside Clare, is a very talented illustrator indeed. I caught up with Besheer and Clare to celebrate their first year as “Foxes & Angels” … Hi & welcome!

Hi! We’re Besheer and Clare. We run a fledgling greeting card and gift wrap company called Foxes & Angels that we started back in January 2020. We’re almost at our first anniversary!

What inspired you to set up “Foxes & Angels”?

Besheer: I’ve worked as an illustrator for over 15 years for magazines, national newspapers and book covers before turning to teaching and illustrating for greeting card companies. I realised that if I started a company for myself I could really design my dream cards and work to my own schedule.

I am always curious to know the origins of brand names, so why did you choose “Foxes & Angels”? Did you consider other names?

B: Hmmm… yes  we considered loads of names! Words using orange (one of my favourite colours, paper mill and card foundry, Hullabaloo. My first card collection had a strong theme of Foxes and Angels and so the name was born.

You have a lovely variety of card and gift wrap designs. What card designs are proving popular amongst your customers so far?

We recently held our first ‘virtual’ Christmas Fair and our ‘Christmas Outdoors’ premium card back sold out out in a matter of hours. The cards were inspired by people striving to get outdoors and appreciation for our London parks, more than ever, during this very unusual year we’ve had.

You use a variety of methods to illustrate and create your cards – Lino prints, drawing and painting.  Have you got a favourite medium though to use? Favourite card? 

B:I love the process of linocut printing. Cutting the soft lino blocks, rolling the ink and the magic of pulling off your first print after hours of planning and cutting is an absolute pleasure. 

My favourite card at the moment is our Meadow Fox card that came out this summer and did very well. I’ve been obsessed with warm dusty pink colours juxtaposed with greys and whites.

As you are based in the UK, are your products available to purchase overseas? 

Our products will be available overseas in 2021 and we have been approached by an American distributor which is very exciting. 

What inspires your illustrations? Do you go out with an idea to look for something specific to draw? Do you draw in situ or do you take photos and illustrate from there? 

B: I’m inspired by going for walks in nature and I absolutely love mid century art and design, particularly the Grosvenor School of printmakers. I also get inspiration by looking at old children’s illustrated books.

Besheer, being an illustrator, some things must be easier to draw and create than others. What was the hardest or most unusual piece of illustration you’ve created so far?  

B:I was asked to do a book cover illustration a few years ago for a collection of 18th Century Irish poems. It was a large panoramic beach scene. After doing lots of research and drawings I completed the illustration which featured a woman carrying an umbrella on a rainy beach. It was quite a detailed piece. Greeting cards are both easier and harder as you are working with such a small space.

I was asked to digitally erase the umbrella as it turns out that only the very wealthy people in society carried umbrellas until the 19th Century!

Have you always wanted to be an illustrator or did your career aspirations lay elsewhere?

B: I was always going to be an artist or musician. My parents and grandparents were all one or the other so it’s in the blood! Going to art school just felt like a natural progression from school.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

B: As it’s mid winter I’m usually wearing old denim jeans and my dad’s old cream Arran double knit collar neck. The jumper is older than me and in better condition than some clothes I bought in the last year!

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

B: I love  Adolfo Dominguez for clothes (when I can afford them) and stationery shops like ‘Choosing Keeping’, it’s one of those shops that just looks enticing in the early evening. Clare loves White Stuff, Fatface and charity shops.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

B: I’m trying to find the perfect hat.

Boots or Shoes?

B: Do Desert boots counts as boots? Definitely boots for me. They’re more cosy.  

Clare: Boots for me too. Besheer bought me a lovely pair last year from Josef Seibel in Covent Garden.

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about Foxes & Angels

www.foxesandangels.com

@foxesandangels

Thanks so much Besheer & Clare for chatting to me! Congratulations on reaching your 1st Foxes & Angels Birthday and although 2020 was the strangest of years, well done in sticking with your dream and I wish you all the best in the future.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Besheer & Clare.

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Create Your Own Calm

2020 has been quite a year, to say the least! All the more reason why my guest’s latest book, “Create Your Own Calm” is creating quite a stir. Author Becky Goddard-Hill has written this book that is simply bursting at the seams with simple, practical ideas and fun activities to stave off boredom and, more importantly, to manage feelings of stress, anger and anxiety. Although it is aimed at children aged 7 – 12, adults would still benefit from Becky’s words of wisdom. I caught up with Becky to find out more… Hi Becky!

Hi! I am Becky Goddard-Hill,  a children’s therapist and a wellbeing author. I blog at Emotionally Healthy Kids  and Simple Parenting and my podcast Emotionally Healthy Kids can be found on ITunes. I have 2 teenage kids and I live in Nottingham. My background is in  Social Work. My latest book, Create Your Own Calm is published by Harper Collins and came out in September 2020.

As a former social worker & child development trainer, what inspired you to write “Create Your Own Calm”  and the other books you have written?  

I strongly believe emotional health and wellbeing to be as important to life as physical health and intellectual pursuits. If not more important. But how often do we actually focus on teaching them the kinds of skills they need to manage their mental health? Rarely. I wanted to give kids a tool kit of coping skills to help them be robust and resilient and I wanted to introduce these in fun and light hearted ways  and that’s the focus and purpose of my books. They each contain loads of activities that teach kids great emotional health skills whilst having fun. 

I admire the fact that you run 6 blogs, all highly ranked within the UK, predominantly focused on family life, emotional well-being & being active/creative. How do you find writing books compared to writing blogposts?

Because my books are activity books I find each activity a big like a blog post to write. I love, love, love that my books are illustrated though and interactive.

What do you like most about blogging?

My blogging community is awesome and my various blogs are diverse and interesting. I  have to do quite a lot of social media to promote my blog – I don’t love that quite so much.

copyright © Linda Hobden

“Create Your Own Calm” is aimed at children aged 7 – 12, and yet looking through the book, I think the tips and activities to create calmness in these stressful times could also help adults. Learning the science behind emotions was especially good. Do you have a “favourite” tip to help when you are particularly stressed?

Yes. My favourite tip is to do something mindful, eg colour a mandala, bake bread, gardening. When you are focused you cannot worry about the past or the future and your brain clears making problems much easier to solve. 

The activities suggested in the book are really fun & quite innovative – such as growing a pizza garden & cloud watching (my favourite). What inspired the thoughtful activities? Any favourites? Any activities that you tried that didn’t quite work out?

Oh, I tried to make a lava lamp to show how people  are like oil and water – that they could coexist even though they could be very different. I ended up with about 20 lava lamp attempts all sitting round my house, none of which had worked!  My favourite activity in my teen book, Be Happy Be You, is that they have to befriend an apple for the day, name it, really get to know it and spend time with it. It’s to show them that whilst you might just think all apples are the same they aren’t at all, they are all individuals and deserving of your time in getting to know them. Appreciating diversity and inclusion are so important to instil.

copyright © LindaHobden

I noticed a lot of reviews for the book (and I am in agreement) commented that the language you used got the point across to young people without talking down to them or being patronising. That is a great skill to have. Is it a lot harder to write a book/ article aimed at a young person?

I don’t think so. My language is never formal when I write and I have teens myself. The publisher has a reader to check the language is just right too.

Your career background has been in the field of social work/child development; was that the career you aspired to have as a youngster or did your career aspirations lay elsewhere?

I want to save the world! I don’t know how to, but that was my grand plan. I’ve since realised that might be a tad ambitious but I do still desperately want to help people and make a difference. 

Being an author of 7 books already, are you a bookworm yourself?  If so, what genre(s) do you usually read?

 I am a huge sucker for a gorgeous romance and I love David Nicholls.

copyright © Adam Hobden


Looking towards the future – have you got other books in the pipeline?

Yes,  Create Your Own Kindness will be published in Feb 2021. It teaches kids to be kind to themselves, other people and, in fact, to the whole world! 

As you are based in England, is “Create Your Own Calm” available overseas?

Yes, on Amazon – pretty much everywhere.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Ah, I’m a very comfy dresser. At the moment, it’s oversized cosy jumpers and jeans/joggers with my trusty silver Superga. I also love a pair of dunagrees.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I like FatFace and Hush.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I am desperate for a cosy coat and some new tall boots as mine are battered!

Boots or Shoes?

Neither. I have about 15 pairs of converse and rather a lot of other lace up pumps too. They are my go to.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers can find out more about You & “Create Your Own Calm”

 I blog at Emotionally Healthy Kids  and Simple Parenting and my podcast Emotionally Healthy Kids can be found on ITunes.

Create Your Own Calm is published by Harper Collins and is available on Amazon and in all good book shops 

I have also co-written a  happiness boosting book for teens Be Happy Be You which was published earlier this year 

You can find me on Instagram here https://www.instagram.com/beckygoddardhill

Thank you so much for the chat, Becky. I love the idea of befriending an apple! Highly original!

Linda x

The author & book photographs were published with kind permission of Becky Goddard-Hill. Other photographs are by Linda Hobden & Adam Hobden.

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An Interview With Aubrey Bay

I’m talking about candles this week with Amy, founder of the luxury soy candle company Aubrey Bay. Candles are so popular at the moment and I particularly like the modern elegant minimalistic packaging of Aubrey Bay. The fragrances are divine, too. Hi Amy…

Hi, my name’s Amy Crossland and I’m the founder of Aubrey Bay. We make and sell handmade soy candles in the UK.

What inspired you to start your company, Aubrey Bay?

The inspiration for launching Aubrey Bay came from my love of candles. I always have candles burning in my home. I’ve tried many high-end candles from high street brands. Some I found better than others. I was always on the search for a candle that really would perform on all fronts. This led me to try handmade candles by small independent artisans. I remember the first candle I ordered in my quest for the right candle for my home- it did not get delivered and I had to ask for a refund. The second had little, to no scent throw. The third came wrapped in single-use plastic and didn’t burn very well. I then had a light bulb moment. I thought that if I wanted a candle that smelled divine, burned perfectly and was eco-friendly, I should give it a go myself.  And after months of testing, experimenting, learning and many sleepless nights Aubrey Bay was born. It’s this passion for the perfect candle that I infuse in all of our candles.

I’m always interested to know the origins of brand names – so why “Aubrey Bay”?

The origin of the brand name, Aubrey Bay, comes from two distinct sources. Aubrey has roots on my side of the family and is a nod to strong females in my family. Bay, on the other hand, comes from one of our favourite family places in the world – the beautiful Druridge Bay in Northumberland, UK. It’s a place with gorgeous, sandy beaches and rolling dunes. It’s actually the inspiration behind one of our popular scents, Wood Sage & Sea Salt.

To date, what has been the most popular soy wax candle fragrance?

Our most popular candles currently are Lychee Peony and Coconut Lime. The former for the beautiful soft, floral notes of peony and the latter for the punchy, holiday vibes. We specifically designed our range so there’s a fragrance for everybody – no matter what your signature scents are.

What’s your most favourite candle fragrance in your collection?

My favourite candle in the collection changes with the mood I’m in. If I’m looking for a relaxing atmosphere while reading a book, I may go for Black Amber & Lavender because of the relaxing vanilla notes. If it’s a scent to fill a living room or kitchen, then any of our range will work beautifully. Each candle will appeal to different customers and, I guess, that’s an enchanting aspect to individual taste.

When deciding fragrances to add to your soy wax candle collections, do you select by what has proved popular with other candle makers , current trends, customer requests, personal preferences or all of those things?

Our choice of scents is in informed primarily by what we like. If we aren’t willing to burn that particular candle in our home, then it wouldn’t be successful in the selection process. When we conducted our product development, there were many fragrances, from many different suppliers, that didn’t make it through our quality assurance processes. In the end, we chose scents that had that extra bit of quality, excitement and if we have to pay a little more for it that’s fine – our customers tell us so.

What do you like most about using soy wax for your candles? Do you find candle making therapeutic?

We love working with soy wax. It can be a somewhat demanding wax and takes artistry to get the best performance from it. We also believe that the health benefits from melting soy wax over that of paraffin is really important for healthy homes. Paraffin candles are made from petroleum, which is a nonrenewable source that contains carcinogenic substances. These substances may be released into the air while burning. Organic waxes, such as soy wax, are an easy way to avoid risking exposure to such chemicals. This really fits our ethical company values. We don’t skimp on the important things.


As Aubrey Bay is based in the UK, are your products on the website available to purchase worldwide?

Currently, our products are only available for UK buyers. We have a strong demand and we prefer to service our core market as best as we can. In the future, however, we may expand and our companies’ development is always at the forefront of our minds.

Are there any new candle fragrances in the pipeline for 2020/2021?

Yes! We are investigating new ranges of candles to expand our product suite. We are now in the testing stage and once we are satisfied that we have exactly the candles we want then we’ll introduce them into our store. We would also really like to grow into other areas such as organic soaps. We are starting small, but with the support of lovely customers, we have exciting plans. 

Personal now -what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

That’s a great question. Like all girls, I like to go glam, but most of the time you’ll catch me in comfy jeans and a pair of Converse trainers. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

As a huge fan of online shopping, I buy from several retailers both high-street and independent. If I like the piece, then I’m going to go for it.

What’s next on your clothes/shoes wishlist?

There’s a fabulous online store called Silk Fred and I’ve got my eye on a beautiful willow high neck maxi dress with a frill helm and tie waist. It’s lovely!

Boots or Shoes?

I’ll go for boots. This is because I like the combination of cosiness and really beautiful styles that are available on the market. My boot collection is quite impressive, but there’s always room for improvement.

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Discover Aubrey Bay here:

www.aubreybay.co.uk

Beautiful candles, beautiful fragrances. Organic soaps sound like a nice idea for the future too. And the fact you have a boot collection, Amy, has certainly made a good impression with me! Thanks for the interview 😊

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Aubrey Bay (Amy Crossland)

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An Interview With Enchanted England

Inspired by the glorious English countryside – and who can blame her – my guest this week is illustrator/writer/painter Sarah Keen. All her designs are firmly rooted in the natural world and her prints/artwork are delightful. Being a lover of the English countryside myself, it was a pleasure to welcome Sarah onto the blog…. Hi Sarah!

Hello great to be here. My name is Sarah Keen. I am in my fifties and following a career change, I design prints, fabrics and gifts based on the natural history and folklore of the English countryside.

The Enchanted England range of products is aimed for people like myself who don’t really enjoy shopping in endless malls that all sell essentially the same product. All my designs are rooted firmly in the natural world and beliefs that are associated with them. 

I am inspired by the English countryside. As a child, I grew up in Buckinghamshire and spent much of my childhood roaming the chalk based hills and fields that surrounded my family’s home.

After living in Southampton for many years, in 2004 I moved to a nearby village set in Hampshire’s beautiful countryside and nearby shimmering seascapes. I never really saw things the same way again. 

Hampshire’s chalky, flinty fields and gentle countryside unlocked memories of my childhood growing up in the Chilterns where I had been surrounded by books and artists. The change of scene persuaded me into signing up for an M.A in Creative & Critical Writing with the University of Winchester and this gave me the confidence to write and illustrate.

On completing my M.A I was asked to illustrate a most magical book about the Hampshire Countryside. It was written by a herbalist who walked each day to collect herbs for her treatments. Her charming accounts of her walks became a seasonal diary that contained seasonal recipes and remedies.  Originally published as a blog, it had such encouraging feedback, I developed a range of cards and gifts based on the paintings for her book. The Enchanted England range has grown organically from this project.


What inspired you to set up Enchanted England website?

I needed a website to showcase the range of goods and services available from Enchanted England. In my past life I was an I.T contractor and web contents editor so I was fortunate to be able to draw on that skill set to design the site.

Sarah wearing the Enchanted England Bluebell Dress and holding an Enchanted England porcelain mug.

You have a lovely variety of gifts and your prints are very beautiful indeed. I like the “Garden of Love” satin tie – the print on it is exquisite. What gifts/prints are proving popular amongst your customers so far this season?

Thank you, Linda, that’s really lovely to hear. Immediately following the lockdown the shop had surge of interest in bird illustrations and cards.  I am not sure if that was connected with the glorious sounds of birdsong that surrounded us at the time, but it was a noticeable spike in demand.  So, my bird cards flew away.

Now, the new range ‘The Garden of Love’ is sparking a lot of interest – particularly for bridal and marriage services. I plan to offer a comprehensive wedding stationary and fabric package for 2021 The Garden of Love design was for my engagement and wedding this summer so it’s very close to my heart. Our wedding was postponed but we hope the new date in September will go ahead!

You use a variety of methods to illustrate and create your prints – silk, paper, pen, ink, natural textures & watercolours.  Have you got a favourite medium though to use? Favourite print? 

I am a huge fan of watercolour and waterproof pens on textured paper. I love the way watercolour allows you layer translucent washes. It is also a dangerous medium. If you make a mistake there is very little chance of rescuing your design. You can’t overpaint with watercolour as you can with oil or acrylic.

As you are based in the UK, are your products available to purchase overseas? 

Yes, they are. The website offers shipping to most of the world and I would be happy to quote to send any item overseas.

Sarah, wearing an Enchanted England face mask

Living in rural Hampshire, you must have come across some interesting finds whilst beachcombing and countryside walking that have inspired your illustrations. Do you go out with an idea to look for something specific to draw? Do you draw in situ or do you take photos and illustrate from there? 

It’s been inspiring to live in this part of Hampshire, as there are so many walks and beaches to explore. Recently I visited a holy well on a local estate in a near village. This would have been passed by St Wilfred as he walked through the Meon Valley hoping to convert the pagans. This was one of the last areas to convert to Christianity. I find landscapes linked to religion and practice inspiring and spark my imagination.  I take photos and notes while walking. Then I use them for a starting point in my studio. 

Being an illustrator, some things must be easier to draw and create than others. What was the hardest or most unusual piece of illustration you’ve created so far?  

I could always draw animals and I love to use them in my illustrations. Recently I completed a set of illustrations based on the writing of Alice Gillington. She wrote about the lives of the Gypsies who lived and worked in the New Forest in the early 20 century.  I created some sunsets and technically these were very difficult but made spectacular backdrops for the gypsy caravans.

Have you always wanted to be an illustrator or did your career aspirations lay elsewhere?

I have always painted and drawn animals but I never thought to become an illustrator. In the 1980s when I graduated I would have chosen to go into publishing. It was a time of high graduate unemployment however, so in the end I found work as an IT contractor, setting up networks, getting involved in the fledgling internet and website content and design. It gave me the technical skills to publish books and understand how to format photos and illustrations with software such as Adobe and Gimp, so I don’t regret my years with the INTEL chip but wouldn’t want to return to it.

Apart from illustrating, you have had some books published. Can you tell us about them? 

I have worked on three books and always looking to work with authors. The first book that was the inspiration to Enchanted England was ‘Blessed Be – an illustrated walk through a year in the English Countryside’ This is a beautiful and gentle book. It is packed full of recipes and remedies for each month of the year. I also designed the front cover for the ‘Hare and the Sword,’ an amazing autobiography of a white witch who lives in the New Forest. Finally, I illustrated the biography of Alice Gillington who wrote about the wildlife and people of the New Forest.  I am currently working on two new book projects.

When you are not illustrating or writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time? 

I enjoy walking, cycling and gardening and spending time with my friends and family.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I love vintage clothing and am always on the lookout for dresses in various second hand shops near me. I enjoy wearing dresses and not often found in leggings or jeans unless decorating or working in the garden.  I love quirky, colourful shoes that make me smile.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own!)

Yes! I have two vintage high street shops – one is Labels in Bishops Waltham and the other is The Clothes Line in Winchester. They are not currently open alas – so I also keep an eye on the Vestiaireapp that sells ‘preloved fashion items’ and the online shop, Wolf and Badger who support independent and ethical brands across the world. For amazing shoes as art, I enjoy looking at Freya Rose designs in Southsea,

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Well as my summer wedding was postponed I need a warmer wrap or bolero jacket for September and change from shoes to boots. So looking for a pair of slightly 18th Century style pair of boots, festooned with ribbons!

Boots or Shoes?

I love boots and often can be found in London Fly footwear as they make me feel confident, stylish and that I can walk miles in them.

For pinning later. © Linda Hobden

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc. so that readers can find out more about Enchanted England

Please visit facebook.com/enchantedengland or email Enchanted England and sign up for a newsletter. It would be great to see you in Enchanted England.

Thank you Sarah – I wish you all the best with your forthcoming wedding ❤️ I think Victorian style gothic boots would look gorgeous!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Sarah Keen of Enchanted England; apart from the Pinterest photo and the header photo of trees which was taken by myself. Header pic was taken in Thetford Forest, Norfolk & Pinterest photo was taken in Holland-on-Sea, Essex.

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An Interview With GuanAnAn London

Going oriental this week as far as textiles go, at any rate. GuanAnAn London was established in London at the end of 2018 by founder Ju Guan, and they have a fabulous range of cushions, wallpapers, lampshades and fashion accessories in unique prints based on Ju’s drawings of characters from ancient oriental mythologies. Ju has a passion for sharing stories through her drawings as I found out when I interviewed her. Hi Ju!

Hi! My name is Ju Guan, I come from China. I lived and studied in Glasgow from 2012 to 2018, then I moved to London and set up my brand here. I graduated from the Glasgow School of Art, and my major was Painting & Printmaking.

What inspired you to set up “GuanAnAn London”? 

While I studied at GSA, I found out a fact that I always have had a passion for sharing stories through my drawings and connecting with people on an emotional level through my artworks. So, I started this brand with a strong belief in the power of storytelling. When people buy a product, they do not just get a daily-use item, they will gain joy from the stories. This is the thing I always wanted to do. To bring something interesting into people’s daily life.

Your brand creates unique prints for luxury home decor and fashion accessories based upon inspirations from ancient oriental mythologies. What do you like most about drawing the oriental mythologies? 

Let me take the first collection “The Fish” as an example.  It’s based on classic Chinese mythology called the Classic of the Mountains and Seas……. Actually, I don’t know if I should call it mythology because the characters in the literature are described as real existed creatures over 4500 years ago, rather than characters of a story. It’s more like a dictionary of ancient Chinese mythological creatures.

“There is a fish called He Luo, it lives in a river in the North. It has one head and ten bodies, and it yells like a dog. People love it not only because it is one of the best-tasting fish, but also it can cure illnesses.”

I read the words and imagined what if they existed in a world just like horses and snakes around us today. Then I designed every single character by hand drawing on paper with watercolour and ink. When the characters had been completed, I used a drawing tablet to create the final illustration on the computer. 

This is a very enjoyable designing process for me. 

I personally love your He Luo cushions – in all the colourways! What items are proving popular amongst your customers so far this season?

Yeah, people are asking about He Luo cushions all the time. The octopus body is very eye-catching. And there are a lot of people like the twilly scarves for the fine details and rich colours. 

Out of all your collections, do you have any favourites?

I currently just finished the design of my second collection “The Blue Bird”. It’s a much bigger project than “The Fish”. I spent quite a lot of time on the feathers and I will say it worth of time. I love both the outcome of the design and the story.

The Blue Bird is much more popular in the oriental culture. The Chinese saying is: “There are three bluebirds. They have the most beautiful feathers, redhead, and black eyes. They are servants of the most powerful goddess. Two of them accompany the goddess all the time, and the third one is the messenger who represents the goddess.” You will see magpies(symbolises joy and good luck) are flying around the bluebird. So, that means the bluebird is bringing good news from the goddess.

You offer a bespoke service & are able to print your designs on any kind of fabric developing it into soft furnishings. What has been your favourite bespoke request so far?

I reupholstered two vintage chairs for my family. The reason why they are my favourite pieces is because of a special bespoke man-made suede. That fabric is the softest fabric I have ever seen, and it’s heavy. I have a velvet Calathea at home, the fabric feels to touch just like the plant.  That gives me an idea that I can make the whole interior a match, not only the patterns and colours but also the touch. 

You currently offer a wide range of products including silk scarves, silk kimonos, silk nightgowns, cushions, wash bags, lampshades, wallpapers.  Have you got any new products in the pipeline? 

I am planning to develop my designs into ceramics. I made a sculpture of He Luo with clay and talked to some ceramic professionals trying to build up a reliable production relationship. It will cost a lot to develop a new product, and I insist on high-end production that makes it harder for the plan to become a reality. 

As you are based in England, are your products available to purchase overseas? 

Yeah, of course. We can ship to overseas customers and we will be very happy to know there are more people in other countries that like our brand. 

When choosing items to add to your collection, do you take into account your own tastes, your customer base, current fashion trends, requests, traditional charm, colour or bits of all those?

As an independent brand, I would say the designs are very much based on a personal taste. I believe that if I can create interesting things and pass some joy through them to the customers, they will buy it. And I think the most important thing is not following the current fashion trends, it’s to lead a new trend. But, of course, customers’ requirement is important for me, that’s the reason I welcome bespoke orders.

Have you always wanted to pursue a career in art/textiles? 

When I was a kid, every time people asked me what do I want to be when I grow up, I say artist. The answer never changed. I started drawing before I can remember, and I was training painting skills for many years, since 7 years old. Then I learnt how to be more creative and finished my study at GSA. Developing a career in the art area is always my dream.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Casual. Comfortable is the most important thing, followed by style.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own!)

I love the concept stores supporting independent designers like me. I can always find cool things in Notting Hill. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Haha, a lot.

For Pinning Later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/Facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about GuanAnAn London

Website: http://guananan.co.uk

Instagram: @guanananofficial

BTW, I just released discount codes on my Website for Mother’s Day gift. 20% off on everything and an extra 20% for the silk scarves.

Thank you Ju for explaining the background to the weird and wonderful mythological creatures … I wonder if they really did exist or whether somebody had a vivid imagination?!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Ju Guan

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An Interview With Pepper Sq

I do so love watching those house makeover/interior design type TV programmes – the ones where whole houses have been renovated room by room. I love seeing how the clever use of colour, design, and furniture can transform a room. Even shifting furniture around a room could make a big difference in helping to accentuate the size of a room. I’ve come across a “one -stop online interior designer and furniture shopping destination” that really impressed me – Pepper Sq. Pepper Sq offer “Ready to Buy” Room sets – you can discover the best furniture for your space, estimate the total cost, assess the dimensions and visualise the room design. I caught up with Oxana, co-founder of Pepper Sq, to find out more about her brand, and her personal design loves. Hi Oxana!

Hello, my name is Oxana Yanushkovskaya, I am a CEO and Co-Founder of Pepper Sq.(www.peppersq.com) – which is an online resource for room-by-room makeovers, setting out interior ideas and offering carefully curated furniture.

What inspired the founding of Pepper Sq?

Pepper Sq. was launched in autumn 2018 with a mission to make ‘spacemaking’ simple and efficient. Following our own experiences of online furniture shopping, we noticed a gap in the market for a new entrant – one which provides vast yet considered furniture selection, digital ‘interior design’ tools and smart curation to foster better customer experiences. Our aim is to revolutionise the furniture retail, by creating unique customer experience and simplifying the purchasing decision making process. While a lot of people want to design their perfect homes, they find it extremely time consuming to shop in-store or search through thousands of portals on the Internet. Needless to say, many people don’t feel overly confident choosing furniture, as it involves dealing with sizing, colour and style matching issues and thus, money and time are wasted on sorting returns. This is where Pepper Sq changes everything, reduces noise that’s out there and lets customers hone in on precisely what they are after.

Simple 1.0 room set

I absolutely love the idea of the “Ready-To-Buy-Room” sets and the way your website offers the solution to visualise your room space, discovering the best furniture options for that space, and the cost of an entire room. How can customers utilise this facility? 

The platform features a new concept of complete room designs, which can be tailored by customers to suit their spaces and budget. The room ‘spacemaking’ function offer also comes with price reductions compared to buying individual items. All of the items featured within the room designs are also available separately. 

You can follow three simple steps: 

Discover – Browse our impressive collection of room designs, compare styles and find your favourite.

Design – Customise your favourite room designs, check dimensions, match colours, choose patterns or find alternatives.

Enjoy – Turn that space into a thriving reality. Click and buy – you’ll soon enjoy your new room design.

Every look comes with a visual reference so you can imagine how it might look in your own home, and you can see the actual budget.  Last but not least, you can find recommendations on finishes and décor, or get in touch with an interior designer who created the room you like in case you are looking for something bespoke and different.

Which room do you find is the hardest to makeover? 

There are three areas that give an emotional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the house.  In my experience, these are often dining area, living space and master bedroom. It’s the heart of the home and really transforms the rest of the interiors, so it should capture your lifestyle, taste and vision. And it’s most critical to have it done right.

What room set is the most popular?

Oh! It’s a good question… Depends on a season. New rooms are always getting more attention. Last year there were a few rooms that were probably most ‘wanted’ by consumers and journalists (appeared in press): Simple 1.0, Sakura Dreams, Stone Island, Pastel Explosion, Eggnog Throff…  (our Christmas edition) .

I love the Hoxton Corner Sofa and the Yeux Rug. What’s your most favourite item(s)in your furniture/rugs collection?

The cane bentwood combo takes our heart this season. Rounded shapes and sinuous lines are known for giving a softer and more welcoming feel. We have a vast collection of bentwood and cane furniture, that’s extremely popular among our customers. Madrid and Lucien are my favourites. 

Janson is a statement sofa and is utterly elegant, you will be surprised with the level of comfort it provides. When I say you can sink into your sofa, I mean it. It can be complimented by an oversized Janson Armchair, that is designed to switch off from the outside world with a book or a movie, stunning and spacious.

Our transforming multipurpose furniture collection, that is perfect for a smaller space, includes Barbican and Levante coffee-turn-dining tables, Origami Folding Table or Flap Console-turn-Dining Table. My current favourite is Schasta that was recently added to our catalogue.

Malibu Console/Dressing table – beautiful in its minimal design, it functions as a hallway table, dressing table or a desk. 

The Vaquero Cowhide parquet rug that combines modern style and elegance, with it’stextured tones of calf hair that add subtle untamed luxury to any living space.

Flap Convertible Table

When picking items to add to your collections, do you select by what has proved popular in the past, current trends, customer requests, personal preferences or all of those things?

We love to be a trend setter, and every product added is hand-picked by our team members. The beauty is that we have very different life styles and cultural backgrounds, thus the tastes that make up our collections are broad, and (hopefully) attractive for many people.

There are two criterias we never compromise – quality and design. Our team hand-picks European furniture that is confident on its own, as well as part of our bespoke room design concepts.

Are you a big fan of the “feature wall” or do you think all walls should be papered or painted? 

I do not have personal preference, a space will dictate the rules…

Colour accent walls can add depth and dimension to a room, and make a room seem bigger, warmer, or brighter. If a room is small, a light colour accent wall can make the room seem more spacious. If room is too long, a dark colour accent wall can make the room appear more welcoming, and optically change proportions. 

On the other hand, you can use walls as a foundation … with single colour paint or same pattern paper, and go wild with wall décor. The benefits – you can change décor elements more often to create a new look .    

Have you got a favourite paint colour? 

I love Green colour, all shades of green really. My favourite paint is from Farrow & Ball collection – Mizzle 266. 

As Pepper Sq is based in the UK, are your products available to purchase and order worldwide?

The UK market is our primary focus for the next two years. It’s important to get it right. We are aiming to launch our service in a few other countries in 2022.

Hypothetically speaking, if you were able to visit any place in the world to get inspiration for a new design collection, where would you go and why?

I have been lucky enough to explore the world. I was born and raised in Russia, lived in Far East for a few years, and worked across many countries and continents. 

Two countries stand out the most for me … 

Peru, with the myth and mist shrouded Inca citadel and it’s breath-taking landmarks, is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. It’s the place to re-connect with the Universe, absorb wild colours of nature, and Inca’s most colourful civilisation too.    

China, with it’s calm balanced environment (natural and cultural)  – order and creation of harmony.

Caleido Cream

Have you always wanted a career in interior design, or did you have ambitions elsewhere?

I studied arts for 8 years, and had a few personal exhibitions in the meantime.  By irony of faith, being a creative soul throughout, I didn’t apply my skills and passion in full until starting this company. I chose to pursue the career in the commercial world (though within the creative industries) and never regretted it and all the opportunities that came with it. 

Prior to founding Pepper Sq, I worked for 10 years with Discovery Communications Inc., where I led commercial strategy and business development teams across several networks and continents.  Before Discovery I was in homeware & DIY wholesale businesses, working closely with the largest European retail groups, in addition to European and Far East manufacturers.

So, getting back to design space, it’s almost getting back to my roots. 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I almost have dual personality now!

I love designer clothes, and even more, shoes! My favourite shoe brands are Jacquemus and Nikolaos Kirkwood. 

However, nowadays, you can find me in quirky t-shirts, jeans and sneakers more often than not. There is no better outfit to run a start up!

Madrid Lifestyle


Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?

I have been converted into ‘digital shopper’ many years ago, just never had time to visit physical shops. I still love to wonder through little boutiques shops when I travel, though. I am also a big fun of flea markets. My favourites are Place du Jeu Balle in Brussels, Marché aux Puces de Clignancourt in Paris, Grande Foire à la Brocante de Pézenas.

My favourite online shop is Pepper Sq. (of course)! 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

More shoes from Jacquemus!

Boots or Shoes? 

Always stylish shoes ! Do I mention sneakers again? (Easier to style)

For pinning later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers can find out more about Pepper Sq.

Site: https://www.peppersq.com/

Instagram: @peppersqcom

Facebook: @peppersqcom

Pinterest: @peppersq.com

Definitely food for thought – thank you Oxana. I do share your love of the colour green – all shades of green – my previous homes have been green colour based. Currently though, I’m attracted to pale colours for my interior walls (lemon, lilac, cream, white, baby blue); then I can go to town with bright colours such as yellow and orange accessories in the kitchen and bathroom. I absolutely adore Pepper Sq’s room set idea – it is great to be able to virtually visualise a makeover and have access to the ideal furniture all on one site. I hope you agree, dear readers!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Pepper Sq.

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An Interview With Radical Tea Towel Co

I’m being decidedly topical this week – the impending General Election in the UK next week, the current strikes in France, the ongoing criticism of Donald Trump in the USA…. what could be better than interviewing a homeware & giftware brand that has been inspired by radical thinkers throughout global history? Designing tea towels, aprons and other paraphernalia on topics such as democracy, the NHS, the Welfare State, Free Speech, Free Love, Votes for Women…. in fact, every topic done designed for those radical left and liberal minded people to proudly display their political and social beliefs. To find out more, I caught up with co-founder Bea of The Radical Tea Towel Company …..Hi Bea…

Hi! I’m Beatrice and I am a co-founder of The Radical Tea Towel Company.

Who or what inspired you to create the Radical Tea Towel Company?

It was May 2011 and I was looking for a birthday present for an elderly relative who was into left-wing and radical politics. His sight was poor so a book was not an option. I decided something practical like a tea towel with a political message on would be a great idea but, despite googling for over an hour, I simply couldn’t find one anywhere.

History & Politics abound in your range of Radical Tea Towels – how do you pick your design topics – do get ideas from customers, from what’s trending on social media?

It’s a combination of those things: customers do make suggestions all the time and we add the best ones to a list which we review each January. We also think about topics that are in the news, for example in 2015, when the refugee crisis was at its height, we produced our Refugee tea towel with the quotation by Emma Lazarus from the Statue of Liberty. 

Which topic/ tea towel has attracted the most attention so far? Have you got a personal favourite?

It’s probably the ‘Women’s March’ design.  It was based on a design by Margaret Morris for the song sheet of Ethel Smyth’s suffragette anthem “The March of the Women”. 

My personal favourite is the  ‘Rosa Parks’ design which shows her sitting on the bus in the run up to the Montgomery bus boycott just before refusing to give up her seat. What an inspirational woman! 

Although you are based in South Wales, are your tea towels available overseas?

Yes! We have websites in the US and Canada. but we get orders from all over the world! 

 Radical Tea Towel US

Obviously the tea towels can be used as tea towels, but some people have had them framed like works of art and even some have used them as ready made banners for activists at rallies. Where was the most unexpected place you’ve spotted your tea towels? 

I have 3 great examples!

A customer sent in a brilliant image of our ‘Women’s March apron’ hanging on a balcony in Galicia on International Women’s Day as part of a defiant protest for women’s rights. It’s a tradition in Spain to show you are on strike! 

Another one sent in an ‘LGBTQ tea towel’ from the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The temperature was minus 40! 

And then Jeremy Corbyn brought out a ‘Tony Benn tea towel’ and read out the quote about hope on it at a speech he made to his supporters at the Sanctuary Pub following his September 2015 leadership victory!

Have you always had a career or a hobby in the homeware/giftware sector in the field of designing, marketing etc? 

No! I was a languages teacher for most of my working life! This business was a completely new departure for me! 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Jeans and stripy tops with a gilet and leather ankle boots.


Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?

Yes, Boden for tops, M & S for footwear & jeans.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Some dark brown, calf length leather boots.

Boots or Shoes?

Boots. I find them very comfortable and they keep my feet and legs warm and dry in wet Welsh weather!

For Pinning Later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/Facebook etc

www.radicalteatowel.co.uk

https://facebook.com/radicalteatowel

https://twitter.com/radicalteatowel

Thank you Bea! There you go readers, if you’re stuck for ideas for gifts, for whatever the occasion, for that radical person in your life …. or if you yourself are a loud and proud radical, why not get yourself a tea towel or two!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of The Radical Tea Towel Company

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An Interview With Concrete & Wax

Suffolk duo, Mr Concrete & Mrs Wax (aka Alex and Laura) are gracing my blog this week – Mr Concrete makes modular, stackable candle holders from hand poured concrete; and Mrs Wax makes the most delightful scented soy wax candles …or non scented beeswax candles (with a slight natural aroma of honey) to match. Coming actually from a fashion background, they decided to launch Concrete & Wax In November 2018. I caught up with them recently to find out more about their delightful products ….

Hi! We are married design duo Alex Sommer and Laura Keller. We live in a sixteenth century cottage with our 6 year old Marley and slobber-dog Boadiin the Suffolk countryside. We worked for over two decades in the fashion industry, the last 15 of which through our creative consultancy 2Som Studio, designing and providing trend forecasts to many casual and sportswear brands. In 2018 we decided to combine our creativity with a new focus and, after many months of development, launched CONCRETE & WAX, a collection of concrete holders and natural wax pillar candles, all hand poured in our Suffolk workshop.

After a background in fashion including the running of a trend and forecast magazine – what inspired you to start your company, CONCRETE & WAX?

After Marley was born we knew that we needed a shift in career so that we travelled less. We batted around a few ideas over the years but never both felt equally passionate about one in particular. A close family illness at the start of 2018 meant Laura was away for long periods of time and in the evenings Alex distracted himself by tinkering with concrete. This inspired Laura, when at home, to experiment with wax, believing that the two contrasting materials would work beautifully together. It was like a ‘POW’ moment for us – we knew this was what we wanted to do. Alex suddenly became Mr Concrete and Laura became Mrs Wax! Alex’s love for modular, intelligent design in clothing transferred easily into the stackable, interchangeable collection of holders and candles that we have today. We love to think that our customers can put together their candle arrangement depending on their mood, in the same way they might pull together an outfit from their wardrobe.

I am amazed at the colour versatility of the modular, stackable concrete candle holders – and the Wax candle essence range, especially the unusual “tobacco & oak”. To date, what has been the most popular colour candle holder & popular wax candle fragrance?

Our customers seem to love the monochrome colours the best: Grey, white, black and, for the more adventurous, a little snocam camouflage paired with our white soy wax candles. Lime, Basil and Mandarin is the number one fragrance for women and Tobacco and Oak for men. It always amazes us to see how our customers style the products they’ve chosen to light there space.

What’s your most favourite item(s) in your collection?

It’s hard to pick favourites really, because they all have such unique personalities even though they really are very simple in design. But, our favourite thing by far is the fact they are modular and so can be stacked in many different ways. During the design process it was critical that we created product that would stand the test of time. Knowing the concrete would outlast the candles, and not wanting our customers eternally restricted to buying candles from us, the fact each holder has been designed to fit any standard tealight is a design element we are very proud of. 

Mrs Wax, when deciding fragrances to add to your soy wax candle collections, do you select by what has proved popular with other candle makers, current trends, customer requests, personal preferences or all of those things?

It’s absolutely been about personal preferences. I’ve worn Lime, Basil and Mandarin perfume for most of my adult life so naturally this was my first development. The other fragrances I’ve added for the simple reason that I like them. There is nothing too sweet or overpowering because I don’t like to walk into a room and feel overwhelmed by a fragrance. 

We’re not quite at the personal request stage just yet in terms of our customers contacting me to ask, but I am completely open to that idea, so if anyone has a favourite they’d like me to look into then please get in touch.

I love that you are bringing to life candle holders using hand poured concrete – I love the smooth texture, the colours, the sheen & the fact that no two holders will ever look the same!  – they all look fantastic! Mr Concrete, how long does it take on average to make a concrete candle holder? Which part of the process gives you the most satisfaction?

Thank you. After pouring the concrete, it sits in its mould for 2-3 days, before I remove it – which is the best moment because it’s only at this point that I can see the unique characteristics of each piece, due to tiny air bubbles forming during the initial drying process. The concrete is then left to cure for two weeks before I add our branded cork foot to the base and apply a natural waxed oil protective coating. It goes back on the shelf for another week. Then it’s good to go. The camouflage concrete is always the most fun to pour because Mrs Wax helps me with this, as it is a two-person job. As there is no exact science to our pouring technique, no two pieces are ever the same and we love that fact.

Mrs Wax, can you tell us more about the different types of wax candles you make? What are the properties of the different type of waxes used?

I use only natural wax for our candles. The fragranced white candles are a blend I developed combining soy wax with a sprinkling of beeswax. The beeswax is important to add strength to the pillar candles because soy wax is a much softer wax, hence the reason it is usually used for container candles. And the yellow candles are natural beeswax. I just love the subtle honey aroma they throw out.

As CONCRETE & WAX is based in the UK, are your products on the website available to purchase worldwide? 

Yes – we ship internationally, but as we make concrete, it is a heavy product to ship and some countries are absolutely weight dependent in terms of shipping costs. This has an impact on the price we have to charge for shipping and we fully appreciate that many customers are not prepared to pay for that. All we can say is, as we get bigger and ship bigger quantities we’ll have more negotiating power with the shipping companies and then the costs will come down.

Are there any new products or candle fragrances in the pipeline for 2019/2020?

Yes, we have three new colours in concrete in a tranquil, calming palette. They are lovely. And we’re also working on a couple of new candle fragrances. It’s a little early to specify exactly what yet because many are still in early testing phase, but Mediterranean fragrances are the inspiration, such as fig, orange, rosemary and basil.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

L: Jeans, a casual top and easy footwear. As I’m a working Mum to a 6 year old it’s mostly about throwing it on in the morning to get breakfast, hair style and tooth brushing sorted in time for the school run (all of those things for her by the way, not me). Once that’s done I’d love to say I come home and glam up, but I usually jump straight on to the computer or into candle making.

A: A rather more masculine version of what Laura wears! Or camouflage overalls when I’m in the workshop.


Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

L: When I have an hour or two to spare I love a good hunt through the rails at TK Maxx as invariably you can find something special at a great price. 

A: Goodhood or End Clothing are my go-to sites.


What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

L: Something glamorous for the Christmas season.  

A: I’m on the hunt for a vintage quilted leather jacket. 

Boots or Shoes?

We hate to admit it, but usually trainers. After working for so many years in the sportswear industry, it’s a tough style choice to shift because there are just so many great ones out there – and you just can’t beat the comfort. 

L: Although saying that I have been wearing a cute pair of pale grey suede Chelsea boots quite a lot recently.

For Pinning Later


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers can find out more about CONCRETE & WAX

www.concreteandwax.com

Facebook & Instagram: @concreteandwax

I hope your business continues to burn brightly – I really am amazed at the colour variations available for concrete!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of CONCRETE & WAX

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