Sunday, 22 March 2015

Life Buoy Potion

As #secretsofselfpreservation / Apothéké progresses, one week's potion is beginning to have a dialogue with its predecessor.

This week's continues a thought which making last week's Piggy Bank Potion elicited; that self care is an ongoing process through which you save yourself every day.

So I have stitched, simply, "Save yourself every day", and accompanied it with a miniature life buoy. 

This is as much a feminist statement as a therapeutic one; in the age where we are fed drivel such Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey it is perhaps more pertinent than ever that women take their destinies into their own hands and seek self-salvation rather than waiting around for a knight on a white horse to come riding in (particularly if these fictional "knights" we are supposed to swoon over are thinly veiled abusers). I'm very glad I have left my years as a submissive, passive damsel in distress behind.

It's summed up in a quote I have seen floating around the internet: "I don't want you to save me. I want you to stand by my side as I save myself".

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Piggy Bank Potion

Being a vintage and cocktail aficionado can burn a hole in your pocket when you're on a shoestring budget. I'm having to learn to scrimp and save, with fond memories of student loans (which I honestly wonder if I'll ever be in a position to repay) a distant blur.

I'm not complaining; it's the life I chose, and working part time means I'm able to pursue my artistic endeavours and can get my work life balance just right, and, crucially, enjoy my job rather than resenting it.

Thankfully, despite my predilection for mid century frocks and old fashioneds, I'm pretty thrifty. And whilst shopping can make me feel guilty for a whole host of non-financial reasons (consumerism and privilege, hello), I firmly believe in "treat yo'self".

For those not in the know, "treat yo'self" is a phrase coined by Donna and Tom of perky sitcom Parks and Recreation. One day a year, Tom and Donna do just that; treat themselves to, amongst other things, mimosas, new clothes, and massages. It's a whole day dedicated to luxury self care, basically.

I don't have the self-restraint to keep my version of "treat yo'self" to one day. Neither would I want to. It's taken a long time for me to realise that I deserve to take good care of myself, and it's helped me survive. Many small rewards for getting over life's little daily obstacles seem much more effective in keeping well than setting myself (potentially impossible) large goals, only to be rewarded with a windfall once they have been achieved (if they ever are). It's about being realistic and keeping moving forward.

This week, despite having to mind my pennies a little, I decided to take a trip around the charity shops of the borough. I couldn't afford to splash out on a knockout piece of vintage or British made reproduction (though I have been eyeing these superb trousers lately), but I was able to pick up a pair of shoes, a cardigan, and a ballerina top which all fit seamlessly into my (curiously ever-expanding) wardrobe for a song.

This is my "treat yo'self"; small, inexpensive gift to myself which recycle unwanted items and do good. I've spoken to other mental health sufferers who, for example, take themselves on a date one day a month; it's the same principle. Any tenderness we can show ourselves has got to be a good thing when we have been dealt such a devastating and cruel hand in life. I really believe that you have to save yourself, and self care is part of that ongoing process; you are choosing to save yourself every day.

So here is my "Piggy Bank Potion", filled with some receipts from my charity shop "splurge", with an ingredients ribbon which reads " 'Treat yo'self' needn't cost a fortune." Good advice to keep in mind whenever I stumble across a particularly intoxicating frock on Etsy.

 I am very much looking forward to the point with #secretsofselfpreservation / Apothéké when I have forgotten precisely what my ingredients were for every week. Then I can pull out a potion and find a custom-made self care tip which may be perfect for that very moment.

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Punctum Potion

This week's #secretsofselfpreservation / Apothéké potion links in very nicely with last week's "Selfies Are Self Care" potion.

In the accompanying blog post, I wrote about how selfies are a means of recording and capturing the moment; much as this entire project is. After all, as well as a self care tip each week, I am including a diaristic element of the week in the form of small objects in the potion bottle. So far these have included tea bags, Love Heart sweets, glitter, and plastic animals.

This week it's a miniature camera, because I have been sharing lots of photographs via my Instagram this week, and I have been following my instruction from last week to "Take more selfies".

Life is going surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly) well at the moment. Therefore, I really want to stock up on good memories, both to help me over the next little inevitable hiccup, and also to cherish what I have. Photographs are a handy way of doing so, but I also want to get back to my visual diary and write more regularly in my written diary, too.

I have named the concoction "Punctum Potion". According to literary theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes, the "punctum" is the aspect (often a tiny detail) of a photograph which "pricks" us with personal feeling and associations; it jumps out at us, causing a sense of deja vu or nostalgia, causing us to fall in love with the photograph.

The small objects inside each potion bottle are punctum too; as I take out individual bottles as the project progresses, their contents recall where and what I was doing that week, how I was feeling. Of course, they do not have the accidental quality of punctum I would encounter in an art gallery or magazine, as I have selected each object because it elicits associations for me. However, I think if someone else were to unscrew the lid and tip the contents into their hand, they would discover a punctum, with a whole range of responses and associations as diverse as the people themselves.

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Monday, 2 March 2015


By the eighteenth century, embroidery was referred to as “flowering”, cementing its importance in cultivating the image of the English rose, and the inseparability of needlework and floral motifs. So long as such stitching was undertaken for the greater good and was not an exercise in vanity, it was permissible. Vanity, after all, is self-regard; looking at oneself, and not letting men do the looking. Why else are selfies so reviled?

Instructing women to stitch for the church or their husband denied women agency over their creativity. If pleasure was sinful, then needlewomen, ever pious, were not permitted to take pleasure in creating their art. In The Subversive Stitch, Rozsika Parker suggests that “the endless assurances that embroidered objects were necessary and useful were prompted perhaps by the guilt women felt that they found pleasure in embroidery”. By the Victorian age, lived experience was all about repression, to keep up the appearance of the angel in the house. This, after all, was an age in which women were told to “lie back and think of England”. The ideal English woman was fragile as the rose that gave her her namesake, pure, and far too calm for anything as frenzied as pleasure. Her physical and emotional helplessness was a reflection of her status as a commodity to be acquired by men; women could not own property or money they had earned until 1870; before then their assets automatically became their husband’s upon marriage.

The fear of sinning through embellishing garments to adorn oneself with (which was so popular in the eighteenth century) may have led to the Victorian craze for embroidering for the man in one’s life; from slippers to the rather frivolous smoking cap, all men’s accessories were to be covered in stitches. This corresponded to the ideal of the self-sacrificing angel in the house, who existed “to soften and sweeten life”, as Mary Lamb put it in her caustic essay On Needlework. A literal softening and sweetening was taking place here; women were creating textiles, and covering them with sentimental stitches.

By the 1830s, the most popular form of embroidery was Berlin woolwork. And the most popular motif? Flowers. Little has changed there, then.

Here is the beginning of a piece based on Berlin woolwork (and on some of the ideas explored here) though stitched in cotton, not wool.

Slowly, the embroidery is flowering...

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Selfies Are Self Care Potion

There's a Tumblr post that's garnering notes by the thousands. It goes something like this: selfies are a product of teenage girls being in control of their own image and its dissemination. Of course they're going to be criticised.

When I post a selfie, I am posting it mainly to an audience of other women. I am luxuriating in my own image, for me, and for them. I am circumnavigating, perhaps even blocking the male gaze.

Another note-rich Tumblr post reads "I post selfies for myselfie, not for youie."

Women are often accused of being bitchy, competitive, throwing other women under the bus for the attention of men. In my ventures into the worlds of Tumblr and Instagram (there are currently 238,955,445 posts tagged "selfie" on Instagram alone), this is not something I have encountered.

Instead, women compliment each other. They congratulate each other on their appearance, and, more importantly, on their achievements and personal celebrations in day to day life. 

But my selfies are not just for my "audience". They are a means of recording times when I feel most content with myself, most excited about what my day has in store for me, and even a way of validating myself when I feel less than rosy; a slick of red lipstick and I'm ready to face the world. And perhaps, when I look back on the photograph I took that day, I will realise that it wasn't so bad in the end after all, and that moment of recording myself quite literally putting a brave face on it was the turning point in my day.

In this spirit, I got myself all glammed up, scrawled "Selfies are self care" on a chalkboard, and spent four pounds in a photobooth, to create this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion.

And the "ingredients" for this potion? A beaded lipstick red ruffled ribbon bearing the ultimate 21st Century self care instruction: "Take more selfies".

Selfie esteem.
Selfie validation.
Selfie worth.

Selfie care.

(With deference to @angstravaganza.)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

I need art like I need God potion

I'm an atheist. However, few artist's slogans have resonated with me as much as Tracey Emin's "I need art like I need God". There is often something religious in visiting an art gallery, worshipping great artists and seeking communion and guidance with them. For me, art offers both solace and purpose, so perhaps it is my God. I know I love it more than anything.

And so, this week'Apothéké / #secretsofselfpreservation potion title is Emin's quote, coupled with the ingredients "Have faith in your art". This week I have begun working on what will be a real slow burner of a project. Thousands of stitches. It has been brewing in my mind for over a year, and I've put it off because I didn't know the best way to execute it, and didn't feel technically able. It still may not turn out like I imagined, but I am going to try. As a young artist just starting out it is easy to get discouraged. I find it helpful to remember that it is primarily me I make art for; anything more is a bonus.

Alongside the stitched words in the potion bottle are the tools of my trade; a reel of thread with a needle nestled in it.

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Heart Shaped Foodstuff Day

Pip and I really got into the spirit of things this Valentine's Day. Traditionally, we make some variety of heart-shaped food. This year, we made two varieties. It's sweet that Pip seemed even more excited about this prospect this time around than I did. My love of schmaltz is clearly infectious!

I dressed for the occasion, all in red.

My embroidered 1960s shift dress is a hand me down from my friend, fellow artist and vintage aficionado Kat.

My cherry bomb pom pom earrings (which are quite the conversation piece!) are from Frilly Pops.

My red suede and white off-white saddle shoes are reproduction 40s/50s from Morello's.

Our main course was a heart shaped spinach, halloumi, feta and pine nut pie.

Rustic Greek Pie Recipe


200g fresh spinach

1 block of readymade shortcrust pastry (terrible, I know)

3 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

150g halloumi, roughly chopped in small chunks

120g feta, crumbled in chunks

60ml cream

2 eggs

A good few handfuls of pine nuts

A good pinch of fresh or dried oregano (or mixed herbs)

Black pepper to season

Lemon wedges to serve


Preheat oven to Gas Mark 6/200°C/400°C.

Put a few glugs of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heart. Add the garlic, and cook for a few minutes. Add all the spinach gradually, mixing with the garlic until it has all wilted down. Wipe the oil from the frying pan and add the pine nuts. Toast them for a few minutes until browned. (We forgot to do this and had to add them to the dish un-toasted!)

In a jug, whisk the eggs and add the cream.

Roll your shop bought (or made from scratch if you're not lazy cheats like us!) pastry block into a large thin oval shape. Use your hands to sculpt it into a heart. Transfer it to a baking tray and roll the sides up so that they are a good 4cm higher than the rest of the pastry, while still retaining the heart shape.

Using a spoon, spread the spinach and garlic mixture all over the inside of the pastry.

Scatter the crumbled halloumi and feta on top of the spinach and garlic mixture.

Pour the cream and egg mixture over the spinach and cheese. Sprinkle with pine nuts.

Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, until the pastry and cheese has become golden brown.

Cut yourselves half a heart each and serve with a wedge of lemon.

We also baked red velvet cheesecake brownies, a gloriously American dessert that we ate the majority of fresh, hot and squidgy straight from the oven! Unfortunately ours didn't turn out very red; possibly we used too much cocoa powder.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies Recipe


For the brownie layer:

115g butter

220g brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon red food colouring

1 teaspoon white vinegar

120g cocoa powder (we used Green & Black's, which is Fairtrade and organic! Yay!)

2 eggs, whisked

120g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

For the cheesecake layer:

230g cream cheese

55g brown sugar

1 egg, whisked

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°C.

Grease a small baking tray and line with baking paper.

Brownie Layer

In a small glass bowl suspended over a saucepan of boiling water, melt the butter for the brownies. When melted, tip into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, food colouring and vinegar, mixing between additions and making sure to add each ingredient in that order. Mix in the two whisked eggs. Sieve in the flour and mix until well combined. Pour mixture into the baking tray, keeping back a little to dollop on top once you have added the cheesecake layer.

Cheesecake Layer

In a bowl, blend together the cream cheese, sugar, whisked egg and vanilla extract until softened and slightly runny. Spread the cream cheese mixture in a layer over the layer of brownie mixture. Dollop the brownie mixture you kept back on top of the cream cheese layer, leaving plenty of room between each dollop.

Drag the tip of a knife between the cream cheese layer and the dollops of brownie mixture to create a flat, swirled surface. 

Bake for 30 minutes. Lift the baking paper with the brownies on top of it on to a wire rack to cool, and once cooled, cut into chunks. Or, in our case, scoff them all straight from the oven!

Our second heart shaped food of the day was a giant heart shaped raspberry jelly. We've got to be the only couple in their mid-twenties to have made a giant heart shaped raspberry jelly for Valentine's Day. To hell with champagne!

We scoured the high street for vegetarian jelly, and finally found some in Holland and Barrett. 

Giant Heart Shaped Raspberry Jelly Recipe


4 packets of vegetarian raspberry jelly crystals


The instructions on the packet said simply to add a pint of boiling water, so we added each sachet to a jug and filled it up to a pint with the kettle, before pouring the mixture into our incredible heart shaped mold, which we got the first Valentine's we were together, and unfortunately is no longer stocked by IKEA!

Lift the mold carefully on to the plate and leave to set in the fridge for at least three hours. We garnished our jelly with Loveheart sweets and ate it with vanilla ice cream. Oh, to be six again!

Pip had roses delivered, which was a lovely surprise. I gave him a 1950s sweets-themed cheesy Valentine's card from my extensive collection, which you can just see peeking out in this Polaroid:

We rounded off our evening watching the wistfully harrowing (or harrowingly wistful?) Never Let Me Go, sipping sloe gin martinis and Leffe.

Sloe Gin Martini Recipe

Shake 3 parts sloe gin with 1 part dry vermouth and 4 dashes angostura bitters with ice. Serve in a chilled martini glass (mine had a red stem to match my outfit and the jelly!)

We spent the next morning at Jesse's Cafe, a gloriously kitsch greasy spoon with pink booths, offering everything from Cypriot sausages to cherry pie. We both opted for a fry up, but will certainly be back to try both. It's a gorgeous cafe (the crockery is so dainty, and emblazoned with "Jesse's Cafe"!) and so, so cheap.

I can't remember the last time I had such a lovely, chilled, delicious weekend. We're really going to have to pull out all the stops next year!