Friday, December 26, 2008

Family Christmas

Christmas with the Simmons family....

We wish you Peace and Happiness to all during the festive season.
Hope you had a lovely Christmas Day. I went to a different church service (Lutheran) with Riikka, our exchange daughter on Christmas Eve, and then friends came over for supper afterwards. A really good start to this special day. Our children and grandchildren had a very relaxed lunch with us, and we really enjoyed spending time with them . Of course opening the presents was a highlight of the day for the boys. Each of our grandsons has a handmade Christmas stocking. Here is the latest for William - I finished it on Christmas Eve. It is a red velvet creation, with computer printed images on cotton fabric appliqued to the body of the stocking. It depicts Santa busily writing out his lists of good children and things to do, distracted by William playing with the lights from the tree in the background. I bought the little tree light buttons some years ago, and here they were in my stash just waiting for the right creative occasion.
Riikka has been doing a lot of Christmas cooking including a gingerbread house, complete with Finnish flag and snow. In Finnish tradition, the gingerbread house is not eaten until the 12th day of Christmas (6 January), but I did notice that some of the chocolate "freckles" shingles on the roof proved irresistible to little boys.

Special News: Please follow the link to the Hello Dollies blog, where I have published, free to all, the instructions for the little beaded Christmas star.
I hope you all have a wonderful relaxing holiday time doing all the things you most enjoy with your family and friends.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It must be Christmas when...

We all associate different sights, smells and activities with Christmas. Our exchange daughter, Riikka, is waiting for snow before she will believe it's really Christmas. Besides the spiritual associations, I think cooking definitely goes with Christmas, and here I am with some of my preserves, jams and pickles labelled ready for gifts for my friends to be given out today at the Hello Dollies Christmas lunch. Although my preparations were a little late starting, today I am beginning to feel a bit organised, with only as couple of things to do before Christmas day. After the Simmons family party tomorrow (30 people for lunch at our place), it 'll be time to relax.

It's been a busy week. My card making class had a Christmas morning tea on Thursday. Even with all the festive food, we were still able to make some lovely cards and enjoy the camaraderie of the morning. I had also made some little tree decorations for the ladies who sit at the same table as I do each week, so obviously we have become friends. These are basil card tags, covered with decorative papers, and embellished with polymer clay 3D Christmas symbols. (mostly poinsettias). On the back, I chose a fairly plain decorative paper, so I could write a message. These decorations were instead of cards - I was quite happy with the result.

Today was the Hello Dollies Christmas party and the annual Christmas sale at Anne's Glory Box. Quilts, dolls, teddy bears and all sorts of treasures at absolute bargain prices - no one could resist. Like everyone else, I left with a bag full of stuff I absolutely need! I think I was quite restrained with only one bag. It was wonderful to have the Sydney dollies join us in Newcastle for the day, and we revisited the Adage challenge, with those dolls on display again today. The food was special and really delicious, and we all had a great time discussing doll projects past, present and future, making the little beaded stars and swapping gifts on a star theme. What a happy time we had - it must be Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Party Party Party

A round of parties this week ... Yesterday, it was the Gumnutters' Christmas party. ( The Gumnutters are a doll makers' group here in Newcastle. We meet once a month and swap creative ideas and teach each other new skills) The Gumnutters have been wonderful this year supporting the Mando project in Papua New Guinea - thanks very much, you are a special group of creative women. Besides eating lots of yummy food yesterday, we had a Christmas stocking swap and we were all delighted to receive such beautiful stockings. We also made beaded Christmas wreaths - everyone getting into the spirit of Christmas. These little wreaths are very simply made with a few green and red crystals and wire. For this project, acrylic beads look sparkly, too and make a lovely embellishment for a parcel or for the tree. The instructions for this little project are in the Australian magazine , "Beads Etc" issue 8, 2006.

Last night, Jim and I travelled to Sydney to a 120th birthday - our friends Bill and Maureen (whose birthdays are 12 and 13 December respectively) have a combined age of 120! Their sons and daughter organised a fantastic surprise birthday for them . It was a great night, with their friends and family coming from all over Australia for the celebration - and they had no idea until they came in the door to rousing applause and singing.

Today is a very special day - our grandson's third birthday.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Handmade Treasures Christmas Sale

Each year I organise a Handmade Treasures Christmas Sale to support a humanitarian project. There are three aims for the sale ... 1) to raise funds to support a project, usually in a developing country; 2) to showcast the work of local artisits/craftspersons; 3) to provide stree free Christmas shopping. In the past, we have been able to support the purchase of mosquito nets for Papua New Guinea via the program, Rotarians Against Malaria, the Mando Primary School Project for which Jim and I have been volunteers this year, and RotaryPolio Plus campaign .

Today was SALE day... it was rather hectic getting things ready for the sale, especially as I had the whole month away in PNG in September and seemingly less and less time to work on creating stuff. However, there are many talented women in Newcastle and thanks to good friends - Diana Carson, Wendy Scott, Bobbi Oliver, Jane Lambert , Dolores Prete and Judy Hardy who participated in the sale by bringing in such great creative work, we had a fantastic display of high quality handmade treasures. And of course, we had some really positive customers so it was a great success.
What were the best sellers ? Surprisingly - the feltfollies all went quickly as did the silver jewellery and felted bags. It was also wonderful to sell one of Wendy's quilts to someone who really appreciated her beautiful work.
Tips for sales in your home and sanity? 1) Be organised 2) Have a husband who is willing to help, supply continuous tea and coffee to sellers and buyers alike, make lunch and generally pack and carry. 3) Gift wrap 4) Have a great network of friends 5) Be positive at all times 6) Keep remembering that having fun is more important than sales.

Today we have been able to support the Mando project - equipment for a special classroom for students with disabilites, and provide some medical equipment for a hospital in Polillio in the Philippines. Thank you everyone.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Almost December

We all say it's hard to believe but it is almost December. I was asked quite a number of times this week if I had done the Christmas shopping or am I ready for Christmas - the answer predictably is no. However, I did get into the Christmas spirit yesterday ... ate some chocolate sultanas and nuts, helped Brandon punch holes and thread ribbon on cardboard stars, and prepared the making of Christmas cards from Dylan's drawings for our daughter Naomi. Brandon and Dylan are our two older grandsons , aged almost 5 and 3, so Christmas is a very exciting time for them.
This week, I also prepared a sample beaded star for the Hello Dollies Christmas party activity and am madly trying to make things for the Handmade Treasures Christmas Sale here next Saturday. I was excited that the feltfollies (last blog) were popular and I had ETSY sales on the day they were put in the ETSY shop.
This weekend, however, I am going to get started on writing on Christmas cards. That will be between going to the Christmas pageant at the Donkey Sanctuary this evening and helping at the Rotary market tomorrow. Our exchange student Riikka also has her friend Sodabeh (from Norway ) staying for the weekend. And everyone wonders what we do in "retirement" ?

Sunday, November 23, 2008


These are FELTFOLLIES - embellished felt shapes which magically develop personalities of their own. I made these three during the week, showed them in Sydney at Hello Dollies on Saturday, and today they are in my ETSY shop. Clockwise from left to right are Feltfollie High Five - a cheerful but thoughtful character who gives you a high 5 rather demurely; Feltfollie Fashionista who is a fashion statement with silver handbag, and high heeled shoes and a fascinator with Swarovski crystals; and Feltfollie Faith - a quiet meditative type. They are a bit "way out there" but such fun to make. Each has a brooch pin attached to the back, to make them into wearable brooches, handbag accessories or just special treasures to uplift one's spirits. The felt shapes have been made with my felt embellishing machine (Janome Expression) and include wool, novelty yarns, mohair, silk rods, silk ribbon and even a piece of heated tyvek.

I was very excited on Saturday to have my White Knight and Owl Woman returned, with blue ribbons and red rosettes from the Sydney Doll and Bear Guild Show 2008 - which was held in Hornsby last weekend. I was even more thrilled to get such positive critiques from the judge - 100 points for the beaded knight and horse ( it also won first prize in the mixed media section of the Contemporary Clay Competition last month) and 98 points for the owl woman. Congratulations to Dolly friends, Ann Maullin who won the professional section with the really stunning doll she made for the last challenge, and Marg Laughlin whose beautiful doll, Hunter Belle, won the cloth doll section.

Remember to check out the great items in the ETSY DUST team sale ( this month - only a few days left- to get a bargain in the Oceans and Islands theme sale. Just look for items with the tag 'DUST TEAM SALE '. DUST (Down Under Street team) is a group of Australian Artists, Craftspeople and Artisans who support ETSY and wish to promote independent handcrafted goods here in Australia and worldwide.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

This Week : Family Fun and Felting

Last Saturday we had a large family gathering to celebrate my Aunty Jeanie's 70th birthday. Most of my cousins whom I rarely see were there - a big get together from the Yan side of my family. It turned out to be a really beautiful day and some of the family meeting for the first time! We all had a great time, but I think Dylan, our grandson, enjoyed the birthday cake most of all.

This week was also a big week for our oldest grandson, Brandon, who completed his week long orientation at school. He was very happy and excited about being at "big" school and really didn't need his mother to accompany him. We looked after little brother William while their mum, Kellie, went to school to learn about Jolly Phonics and Numeracy to support Brandon next year.

Felt is still my creative passion of the moment. This week, I prepared a few samples for my felt embellishment demonstration at Dollies today. I am really happy with my 'Underwater Fantasy" felt embellished bag and my little needlefelted elves (photographed near my felted bag, now complete with handmade wooden button). The idea of using cookie cutters to provide a template for needle felting was also a hit with some of the Dollies members - the sample shown is the little needlecase. All the other samples will probably be arty brooches, pieces of fabric to make dolls from, or additions to my handbags. Busy week!

I gave Bobbi her birthday present today - another little "felted" item, a collaged felt covered journal. It features a stamped image on a used tea bag paper, applied to cloth with gel medium. Bobbi told me how to apply your own art work onto a used tea bag and I decided to try it out. I stamped the images instead just as an experiment. The yo yos were also from a piece of silk scarf Bobbi collected in Thailand. Hope she liked it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Felt and crochet - new obsessions

It doesn't take long for a new interest to become an obsession. I was asked to demonstrate some embellishing on my new felting machine for a Dollies meeting this month, so I started to make some samples and have become more and more interested in needle felting, wet felting and "fulling". Here's a definition I found from a website
Fulling is the process of fluffing up an already woven or knitted piece of woollen cloth. It's to be distinguished from felting, which takes raw fleece and puts it through the same process without having any initial structure. Felting usually yields a fabric that's a lot stiffer than fulling, since it needs more felting to be able to hang together at all.
It's hard to believe that this little red handbag was crocheted with a 6mm hook and was very big before I washed it with a pair of jeans in my washing machine. I loved the sample as soon as I saw it in Brisbane My mum bought me the pattern and wool as she saw how much I wanted to make it. You might wonder why that bit of tree is beside the bag in the photo. Jim, my husband, will soon be making me a beautiful timber button from that piece of wood for the bag closure.
My daughter, Naomi also has a new obsession. She has just learnt to crochet and has done really well, even learning to crochet an edge just by looking at another blanket. Here she is with a baby blanket she has made for her new nephew in England.
Others who have caught the crochet bug are the women in Mando village, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. When I was there as a volunteer last month, the women were not only quick learners, but were excited to learn a new skill, hopefully to supplement their meagre incomes as subsistence farmers. Here is Susan, with a cap she crocheted... doesn't she look happy with herelf ?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Riikka joins our family

Riikka Uusamaki from Finland has come to stay with us for a few months. We are delighted to host her as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program and will try to ensure that Riikka has an enjoyable year in Australia. I am particularly happy to host a Finnish student as I had such a wonderful time in the south west of Finland in 2001, as a Rotary Group Study Exchange leader, and have such great memories of everything Finnish. We have also had such positive experiences from hosting students from other cultures in the past and love having such special young people as part of our family even for a little while.

We met Riikka when she came to Australia last July, and have taken her on a whale watching cruise from Nelson Bay (only one whale sighted that day) and spent time with her at various Rotary functions and meetings. Many thanks to our friend, Pam, who was Riikka's first "host mother ' for organising so many things like school, bank accounts, health card etc for Riikka in her first few months here. Riikka moved to us last Monday, and on the first night, we went to the Rotary Club of Myall Coast (Tea Gardens) for their annual debate - Rotarians vs Tea Gardens Primary School. On Thursday, Riikka joined other exchange students on the Warren Wander - four days of sightseeing and experiencing rural life in the western NSW.

It's a busy life for exchange students!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Brisbane Creative Fun

Home from Brisbane on Sunday night after a few days in a luxurious hotel with my mum and aunt - a special treat for my Aunty Jeanie's 70th birthday. We were fortunate to choose dates when the Craft and Quilt show was on. I did some great workshops - especially lucky to get a place in Prudence Mapstone's Experimentation workshop and Catherine Howell's embroidery workshop. Other projects were the Shiva stick bag, felted pouch and the fabric postcard. I figure if I'm doing workshops I'm not buying stuff I really don't need - that's the theory but it didn't work this time and rarely does. Here are some photos of what I did in Brisbane.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hello Dollies Challenge

Today was Hello Dollies in Newcastle - a great group which meets at Anne's Glory Box once a month. Here is my doll ( right) for the Hello Dollies Challenge 2008 - we were all given a "saying" to interpret. Mine was "Love is Blind" and my intention was to finish making this Patti Culea doll I started in a workshop last year ( yes, another unfinished project!) and to add a very ugly boy friend. I had already made his head ( photo left below) - really ugly but lovable! Unfortunately that was as far as I got, so she wears his photo in a heart shaped locket. Love may be blind, but absence makes the heart grow fonder .

I made a journal of the process and it looks great. perhaps if I hadn't spent so much time with the journal I may have had time to finish the ugly boyfriend. Anyway, I did think in the end, having a photo in a locket was less cliched. All the other creations were just so imaginative and everyone had researched so much and as Vicki said " this was a brain stretch" . Cheyin received an overwhelming vote of approval for her interpretation of "The early bird catches the worm." Her doll is certainly a winner - we all made a connection immediately. It is also beautifully done and every shopping bag was filled with miniatures of all the stuff we love to add to our stashes. Congratulations to all - there were some really fantastic interpretations of the popular sayings... thanks Fay for challenging us and thanks to all for your inspiring work.

Next week in Sydney, the Dollies members will show their challenge entries - I am sure they will all be fantastic, too. We will look forward to seeing them as well. After that meeting, Fay and I will create a Hello Dollies Blog and we will be able to publish all the photos and promote other challenges , the Christmas swap and other good news about Dollies. In the meantime I have tried to stitch the photos we already have from today's meeting - this is a just a glimpse of the great work. - below.

Tomorrow, is another big creative day - Bobbi , Jane and I are conducting workshops at Lamboart studio in Thornton - three lessons to create Christmas treasures. I am doing an ethereal angel ( felted, folded and beaded), Bobbi is teaching her beautiful nostalgic ornaments, and Jane will inspire everyone to make some special cards and a box for Christmas goodies. Looking forward to a fun day!

Please go to the link ( see Important Links on the left) to see better and more photos of the great work in the Dollies Challenge

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mando, Papua New Guinea

The completed classrooms - last day in Mando

Me and newborn at Goroka Hospital

Our PNG "home"

I am starting my new blog to share the amazing experience of being a Rotary volunteer in Mando in the Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. Mando is an absolutely beautiful village, in the mountains about 2000 metres above sea level, and approximately 60 km from Goroka. How did this happen? A few years ago, I met a remarkable woman with a vision, Wendy Stein, who wanted to make a difference and bring hope to people whose life expectancy was the second worst in the world. I promised to help her project to bring better educational and health facilites to this village and last month, my husband Jim and I were part of the Highland Dream team. Essentially, Jim was involved with building three new classrooms - no mean feat without a supply of water and electricity. I established a women's support group and taught classes in jewellery making, knitting and crochet in an effort to supplement their family incomes as subsistence farmers. I also experienced other aspects of the project - painting blackboards, sorting library books, making library borrowing cards, cooking, painting signs , taking photos ... Although I have no medical training, I had the great privilege of watching a volunteer doctor from Cameroon perform cataract operations with great dexterity and care (one every 15 minutes) and even greater excitement when I happened to be at the birth of a healthy baby girl! Other members of our team were involved in building a piggery and a chicken coop, organising the school library, literacy lessons, assessing children with disabilites with the hope of establishing a special needs class in 2009, vaccination days, hospital and medical clinic visits. Together, I think we were able to meet our goal of helping to "make dreams real" for these wonderful people in Mando village. We made many friends and we will never forget the warm and close relationships we developed with individuals we worked with - both Australian Rotarians on the team, and the local people in Mando. As one of our team summed up " It is a privilege to help this community - a proud and dignified people" . This is just a tiny glimpse of what we did - I wish I could post all my photos!