Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Home again after a month on the road ...

One of the things that stops me blogging very often is that I arrive at a computer and realise that I don't have the wherewithall (?!) to upload photos of whatever it is that I want to blog about and so I just don't do it. But I am realising that photos aren't necessarily what it's all about and so I am determined that I will post more regularly with or without photos.

I am sitting in my workshop tonight having finished my last Christmas fair yesterday afternoon. That was the culmination of the best part of a month on the road - I have got lots of photos of the month, but haven't worked out how to download them from my wonderful, life-changing iPhone yet - will do that later, but for now the thing to say is this: retail life is definitely suffering in the current climate, but being out and about and getting to meet and re-meet my customers is great. Such good feedback and lovely comments about what I'm trying to do. While I was in London, the new and much improved version of the catalogue arrived and has since been sent out to a fairly limited list of customers - about 1800 in all. I have had so many messages from people saying really lovely things about it - thank you if you were one of them. The best thing is that this is now translating into orders and that is so gratifying - all those hours and days of work putting things together were worth it and people are liking what we're offering.

The past two weeks since the first catalogues went out have been slightly mad - I've been doing Country Living in London and Glasgow and the 'pick and pack' has been left to my unbelievably supportive husband here in Perthshire. There have been a few teething problems - mainly to do with stock levels - but we seem to be getting on top of those and a day back in the office has definitely helped. But I can't tell you how exciting it is to see piles of orders going to the Post Office at the end of the day - makes it all worthwhile.

Met up again with lots of great people on the 'tour' - it feels like a bit of a family now. Had my brother up from Somerset helping me in London - so great to see him and spend some time together and such a treat to have help on the stand - I suspect I took too much advantage of being able to wander off. (And, Tim, huge congratulations on the latest news!)

Had a great treat this evening when we went to hear Sarah Raven talk at Glenalmond - can't believe how much useful information she managed to fit into a one hour talk. Inspirational. And then a delicious dinner in Perth ... feeling very happy to be home.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Will I ever get off a learning curve?

Running Twice I have had to grasp so many new skills - photographer, graphic designer, web operator, manufacturer, designer ... and on and on. Everything that can be done in house is done in house. Of course, in order to be able to do these things there is a steep learning curve - and I always come out better off somehow but sometimes things get thrown at me that really have me wondering what I am doing. Yesterday just such a thing happened when the much anticipated first run of 5000 Twice catalogues arrived ..... all absolutely unusable.

I have been very successfully using on-line printers for a while to produce leaflets and postcards and invitations and have worked hard to improve my abilities in desktop publishing. So, when I made the big decision to do a catalogue I looked for the most cost effective way of doing it which was for me to do the design and then get it printed by the same printer. However, I could see I might struggle with formatting of the artwork and I wasn't comfortable that I would be talking to someone in Germany to finalise the proofs, so I changed to a UK company, who cost more but assured me that that bought me first class customer service and hand-holding. I thought it was a price worth paying and went for them. I was sent about four samples of different paper finishes and plumped for one that looked wonderfully matt which I thought was very fitting for Twice. What I now know is that this particular finish (called offset) leaches colour out of photographs - the result for my catalogue is that all the wonderfully vibrant colours have just disappeared. When you are asking people to choose a product on colour, that's really not a runner. Anyway, there was a sad little puddle of me sitting in the office last night at midnight having just got back from a two day sale in Yorkshire, wondering what on earth I was going to do with 5000 unusable brochures. I wrote the printer a very sad email and got one back this morning basically saying that it is like that because I chose that finish. As the experts, do you think that they could maybe have advised me that that would happen? I do.

So, where are we today? Well I'm feeling a little more chirpy and have called my local printer for help (who I didn't use in the first place because I thought they'd be much more expensive) and they are going to match the price and we are going to go again.

In the meantime, there are an awful lot of boxes in the hall that the online printers don't seem to want either!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Feeling really autumnal and scrumpish ....

We have just spent a really fascinating day up the road from here at Glendoick Garden Centre on a cider making course. It was run by Michael Pooley who has written a book called "Real Cider Making on a Small Scale" and was really worth the effort. It was part of an Orchard Weekend that was put together for the Carse of Gowrie, which is the area surrounding the River Tay just before it hits the sea - and is also where we live. We have masses of apples and a couple of years ago embarked on making apple juice - it worked to an extent but we weren't any good at getting it to store, so ended up freezing it. This works well as a preserving method but I can never remember to get it out of the freezer at the right times. So, last year we thought we'd have a crack at making cider. This was done by following instructions in books and, as we discovered today, really only got us so far. The cider (gallons of the stuff!) ended up sitting in the fermenting barrels for far too long and the results were really pretty disgusting. So the idea of a day spent finding out what we should have been doing was too good to pass up.

The first photos shows the apples being washed prior to being mushed up in the musher - electric one seems a much better idea than doing it by hand, and infact we had already discovered at home that a garden shredder is pretty effective.

Then the mush (proper name pomace) is put into nylon bags which are then put in the press. A quick twist and delicious fresh apple juice starts pouring out of the pipe at the bottom, straight into the demijohn ready to become cider.

After about an hour of processing we had filled 11 gallon demijohns with applejuice - it really wasn't too bad, although there were 10 of us, so I'm sure it will take us longer at home. It's a really good thing to get the children involved in - so that's half term sorted!

The other thing happening as part of the Orchard Weekend was that two fantastic old chaps were on hand to identify apples - the photo below shows Willy who instantly named three apples from our orchard. However, he was temporarily stumped by one delicious eater and we had to produce four apples from the same tree before he got it - and it was finally pronounced to be a Red Melba. Willy grows an unbelievable variety in his own orchard and he is shown standing beside just a few of them.

All in all a really great day - I feel inspired and love the idea that we can now turn all our wonderful apples into something delicious without getting it wrong. There was talk about putting together a co-operative apple day in the Carse - that would be good!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

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Lots to catch up on as it is a ridiculously long time since I posted - apologies for that - but I am sure you will understand. It has really been so busy I can't believe it. Not only am I getting ready for Christmas, which gets bigger every year for Twice in terms of fairs and stock levels, but I had also rather bravely organised the second series of workshops to kick off in September and run through October. It's great fun but, of course, does mean having the house presentable and the little matter of cooking lunch for up to 14 people twice a week! Anyway, it all went off really well and everyone who came gave me such lovely feedback that it makes it more than worthwhile. We had people from all over the place - and as far away as Cumbria - this time. The first workshop was the return of the Foragers which you can see above - it was amazing how many edible goodies everyone found on a fairly nasty, rainy day. And the cookery demo in the afternoon was really inspirational .
The photo above is the second workshop which was Nicolas Arcedeckne-Butler (pronounced Archdeacon), Master of Wines, giving us (I joined in!) a wonderfully informative and fun day on wines. We tasted 10 different wines over the course of the day and I came away knowing so much more than I had - I feel I really know something about the different grapes and which go with which foods and so on. It was a fantastic day and I can't recommend it highly enough if we do it again. Nicola is a great teacher - so knowledgeable.

Next up was Craig McAlpine doing a day on 'Easy & Impressive Dinner Parties' - he cooked rack of lamb, roasted butternut squash puree and boulangere potatoes for our main course for lunch and followed it up with Chocolate Fondants with Blackberry Syrup - that is the impressive chocolate put which should explode with runny chocolate when your spoon goes in - which it did! In the afternoon he ran up some delicious starter ideas - warm quail salad with caramelised beetroot -yummy!

These two photos show our final days - 'Preparing for a Hand Crafted Christmas' with Jane Lindsey. As always Jane gave everyone a really inspiring day - bulb planting, how to get your bulbs flowering when you want them, how to make a mossed wreath (see above) and, in the afternoon, these wonderful table centres and candle holders. She even had time to fit in some ideas on present wrapping.

I can't thank all my demonstrators and teachers enough - we had some great days and some really positive feedback - which is all I can ask. There are already enquiries about the next workshops, so I will have to get myself going for a Spring series.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wow - can't believe that it is six-odd weeks since I wrote a post for the diary. Lots has happened - we spent a really wonderful two and a half weeks in France. The first week was spent in the Ardeche - mountains and rivers - glorious. Then for the second week and a bit we did a house exchange with two French families. It's the first time we've done an exchange and so we were slightly trepidacious (?!) - but we needn't have worried. Because you are in each others' houses everyone treats everything with enormous respect because you hope the same is happening at the other end. So two families came here to Inchyra and we had two houses fairly close together in the Drome. We invited friends to come and stay and had a really great week with swimming pools and perfect huge lunches and dinners. I have to say, these parents in hotter countries really have got it made - give a child a swimming pool and you really don't ever have to find them anything else to do.

We also kayaked down both the Ardeche and the Drome. It is a great day for everyone - a little bit of danger (rapids), beautiful scenery, some exercise and at the end of it you really feel you've earned that very large dinner and lashings of wine! The photo shows James and Ellie on the Drome.

After one day spent frantically trying to catch up with Twice we headed up to Beauly near Inverness where we go to the Tartan Heart music festival held at the Belladrum estate every year. Well, we've done it for the last four. It is always a resounding success. We camp with the children, listen to music, meet friends, drink and eat too much and generally have a ball. I think it's really good for the children to have their first experience of something like that with us around and Silvie (now aged 9, but 5 when she first went) is such a seasoned festivaller now she gets quite cross when we want to keep an eye on her. The photo shows Silvie and her friends getting the best seats in the house for a bit of Country & Western!
Anyway, now it's back to thinking about Twice and, unbelievably, but inevitably, Christmas. I really need to have all the stock for Christmas sorted out by the end of this month and so I am in a right flap. Hopefully by the end of this week I might be able to see the wood for the trees. Husband James is coming on board in a slightly more formal way which is a great help to me as it means there is someone here to throw ideas and numbers around with - and with a bit of luck means I don't have to do the dreaded books any more. (Not sure if he knows that bit yet!) In addition to all the usual fairs (Country Living in London and Glasgow, Living North in Newcastle etc), this year we have got the workshops running from 16th September until 9th October, we will be doing a Christmas sale here at Inchyra sometime in October and we are launching our first catalogue, so I have no idea how busy it's going to be - but I think 'very' might be the case.
If you would like us to send you a catalogue just email us using the link on the homepage of the website.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Oooooh! I booked the final person for our autumn workshops this morning and I am SO pleased with the line-up for September and October. We have got:

~ 'Autumn Foraging' with the Forage Rangers

~ 'Appreciating Antiques' with Jeremy Gow, a restorer well known across Scotland as one of our foremost authorities on antiques.

~ 'Understanding Wine - an introduction' with Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler (pronounced Archdeacon) - one of the most respected female Masters of Wine in the country.

~ 'Preparing for a Hand Crafted Christmas' which sees the return of the wonderful Jane Lindsey.

and finally, booked today, 'Dinner Parties Made Easy' with Craig McAlpine, winner of Channel 4's Come Dine With Me, who runs a company called Bespoke Caterers which teaches dinner party cooking across Scotland.

I don't know about you, but I feel that we have a really good range here and some fascinating speakers. The flyer goes to the printer in a couple of days and then we're off again! I have to say, I find the whole thing so much fun - it really doesn't feel like work. And, actually, that was the whole point - to bring Twice home a bit rather than running around all over the country doing those blessed fairs. I have managed to contain my Christmas selling to three big fairs - Living North in Newcastle and Country Living in London and Glasgow. That means only three moves, which is heaven.

Once the flyer is out, I can slightly put my feet up and enjoy the children and the summer holidays. Big sigh of relief.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Here at Twice Towers the produce is really starting to stream in and yesterday I came home to find that happy husband had been busy bottling. The result looked so wonderful that I thought I'd share it with you. The line up on our kitchen table is Damson Gin, Damson Vodka and Elderflower Cordial (not sure in which order). There's also some Blackberry Whisky cooking away somewhere which should be interesting. Today he has added 12 2 litre bottles of Elderflower Champagne, a la Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, that promise to be quite delicious once the bubbles have come in and will be ready for drinking in about three weeks.

The gin and vodka have been brewing for quite a while. Just a sip of either of them makes me feel completely autumnal - and then, I expect quite quickly if I had much more, rather happy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

At the end of yesterday's workshop I suddenly realised that I hadn't taken any photos - and had to quickly take these two on my little camera - so apologies for the quality (particularly to those who are actually in the photos!) but it gives an idea of the day. It was the last workshop of the series - and seemed to be a real hit much like the other days. Joa Studholme, who kindly came up from London to teach us all about using colour in the home, is an unbelievable font of knowledge on the subject. I can't even start to explain what she told us all - but suffice to say that I don't think anybody who attended the workshop will think of 'white' in the same way ever again!

The photo below shows the board that Joa worked with as it was by the end of the talk - she really opened up so many possibilities to people in terms of colour. It is extraordinary how light makes a difference to colours - and even whether you are seeing them horizontally or vertically.

The one thing that I have really learnt from listening to all our speakers over the past few weeks is that you can think that you know about something but when you listen to someone who REALLY knows, it is extraordinary what you can learn.

I would like to thank all our speakers - Xa Milne, Fiona Houston, Jane Lindsey and Joa Studholme - for coming to Inchyra and giving everyone who attended workshops a really memorable, useful and inspirational time. The feedback has been great - we seem to have got it mostly right - and I am now busy organising the next series of workshops in September and October. I hope that Joa will be back later next year - so there will be an opportunity for those who missed this one to see her talk again.

Thanks also to all those who came to the workshops - we were probably a bit of an unknown quantity as we had no track record on them so was a slight leap of faith for people signing up.

If you are reading this and are near enough to come to Perth for the next workshops - please do email me at and I'll put you on the list to get the info.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Just a quick one. Yesterday's workshop with Jane Lindsey was smaller than the previous one and then even smaller because a couple of people couldn't make it in the end - so I thought I'd make up the numbers and join in. I am SO glad that I did. I can't tell you how much I learnt and how much I discovered that I was doing wrong. No wonder my flowers didn't last long indoors! There were some incredibly basic things that I was doing wrong from the moment I picked flowers. I would love to tell you what they were, but then there would be no point coming to the workshops!

It was also really nice to meet the lovely people who came yesterday - we had a very jolly lunch and it felt absolutely like having lunch with a group of friends. I have just posted a couple of photos from yesterday showing some very pretty little table centres that we made and also the wonderful hand-tied bouquets that everyone created. Mine actually looked good enough to give to someone - and that is a breakthrough!

So, once again huge thanks to Jane and thank you to everyone who came. We are already organising days for the autumn - at the moment it looks like we will cover planting spring bulbs, planting indoor bulbs for the winter and also some autumn/Christmas arranging and wreaths. Be very interesting to hear if there is anything else that people are interested in learning about (workshops will be on 7th and 9th October).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We've had the most wonderful day here today with the first of two workshops on Cutting Flowers with Jane Lindsey. These photos give a bit of the flavour of the day - but we really were lucky as the sun shone all day - unlike the rest of the UK which was apparently in heavy rain.

I'm going to sit in on tomorrow's talks so I will have a better idea of the brilliant tricks of the trade that Jane imparted to everyone but all I can tell you is that every time I popped in to see how things were going there were lots of "that's fascinating!" type comments. As you can see, there was a trip down to our walled garden where Jane talked about which flowers to plant and also how to cut them so that you get the best flowers and look after the plant.

Then it was back to the demonstration room where everyone was shown how to condition the flowers before arranging. Jane had brought along lots of flowers from her own cutting garden and everyone picked the ones that they wanted to arrange. The flowers were all then conditioned - I will know more about this tomorrow but apparently it extends the life of the flowers once indoors from a couple of days to a week or 10 days, so it's well worth knowing. Once all the flowers were sorted out we all had lunch and a bit of shopping at Twice.

After lunch it was on to the arranging and Jane showed everyone how to make a pretty hand-tied bunch and then how to wrap it in cellophane so that the flowers can sit in water - I've always wondered how they do that. Then some pretty tissue paper and, Bob's your uncle, we had ten fantastic hand-tied bunches that would have done many a florist proud.

The day wrapped up with questions and answers and Jane demonstrated a clever way to make a really original flower or candle container with rosemary and a jar - so pretty.

I am so looking forward to joining in with tomorrow's course - everyone seemed to leave today's workshop full of renewed enthusiasm for their gardens. I love it when you learn bits of information that you will use again and again - and I think that's exactly what people did today.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

This weekend I think it finally, finally started to be summer - I don't really mean the weather as much as our mentality. The first thing that made me realise it was that I cut the first really good bunch of flowers for the kitchen table. You can see them here - rather thrown together but I'm hoping that once I've listened to Jane Lindsey doing the cutting flowers workshops on Wednesday and Thursday my 'thrown together' will be rather more professional! Roses are out, peonies are out - it's all gorgeous. And then we put our big tent up in the garden - it's a big canvas one from the Middle East that stays up now until about October - and that really means summer to me. We have a huge table in it that seats about 20 and it means we can go out for the day in the garden without worrying too much about rain ruining lunch or whatever. So today we had lunch there with friends who were staying and we barbecued a butterflied leg of lamb and had delicious beetroot and salads and a wonderful fruit salad.

Last night we had more friends over for supper in the kitchen and we ate artichokes from the garden. As relatively new veggie gardeners, this was a significant moment. I took this photo of them yesterday - they really are striking plants and we have them in the flowers beds because they are wonderful to look at as well as to eat. And the photo at the bottom is something I couldn't resist putting in because it is quite special and particular (I believe) to this part of the UK. It is a Himalayan Poppy or Meconopsis. It is native, as if you couldn't guess, to the Himalayas but grows really well in this part of Scotland so I had to give it a go and it seems to like us. The blue is quite different from any of the others in the garden .

The other reason that I'm posting these is that I'm quite proud of the photography! Because of all the photography we have to do for Twice, I have a quite snazzy camera but I could never make it perform very well. On Friday I had a meeting with Shaun Ward who is a photographer who is going to be working with us on our first catalogue and while we were talking I said that I was really struggling with my camera. Anyway, he gave me a couple of pointers (ie. explained what two major buttons that I didn't know how to use did!) and suddenly I seem to be taking half decent photos which I couldn't resist posting! At this rate I may even be able to stop using the 'Point & Shoot' that I always end up resorting to in frustration at not being able to use the good camera. I am also going to enroll on a photography course because I really ought to know what I'm doing a bit more. Watch this space to see if I improve at all!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Our Discover Foraging workshop kicked off in beautiful sunshine (while the rest of the UK was in a deluge) on Wednesday morning at 10.30. The day went unbelievably smoothly, starting with a slide show from Xa and Fiona, authors of "Seaweed & Eat It", showing all the different plants and food that they have foraged from around Scotland over the past couple of years. They then moved off in two groups to forage around Inchyra. Battle was joined as they competed to see which group could find the most edible things. Just outside the house, Fiona's group managed to find pignuts - which was as amazing to me as it was to the foragers. It's the tuber on the bottom of a pretty white flower that looks like cow parsley (a bit) and it really is just like a nut - a bit brazil nutty. Here are Fiona and two of our foragers finding them. There was a huge haul of edibles including sorrel, ground elder, wood sorrel, wild garlic, sweet woodruff, chickweed, nettles and much more.

Just as the heavens opened it was time to head back to the house for a "Show & Tell". Everyone put all their foraged goodies on the table and Xa and Fiona identified everything and then explained what could be done with them - from fritters to fruit cordials. Then we all had a delicious (though I say it myself!) lunch of asparagus and goats cheese tart, curried chicken with mango, green salad (with sorrel and wood sorrel) and new potatoes, followed by a vanilla terrine with blackcurrant coulis and raspberries. After a couple of glasses of wine and a bit of shopping at Twice, the day continued with the cookery demonstration.

Fiona amazed everyone immediately by creating the most delicious elderflower fritters - a revelation! Then we went on to find out about nettle pesto, chickweed puree and soup and then nettle cordial. This is extraordinarily good and I now have some brewing away in the larder. The final part of the day was a tasting of various fabulous cordials that Xa and Fiona have concocted. We tried Sweet Woodruff, Nettle & Blackcurrant Leaf, Dead Nettle and more. The recipes for everything are in their wonderful book (which is available here on our website). The photo shows Fiona in mid fritter.

The day seemed to fly by to me and it was soon 3 o'clock and home time - everyone left looking very happy and clutching a goodie bag containing a signed copy of the book and a tub of nettle pesto. I have to say I was thrilled with the way it all went - and not a little bit relieved, after all these months of planning. I think that now the first course is done and dusted I will relax a bit - and I'm really looking forward to our two days of cutting flowers with Jane Lindsey next week.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Countdown to the first workshop

Well, after all the planning and organising over the past few months, the first of our workshops is tomorrow. Xa Milne and Fiona Houston, our foragers, will be here to run what promises to be a really great day. We had a preliminary meeting here on Sunday and there is masses of free food all around the house so people will definitely be finding edible plants and finding out all sorts of delicious ways to cook them. I'm just off out to find nettles and sorrel for the lunch, having been given intructions on nettle preparation by Xa. The projector and screen arrived today and it's all just been assembled by James (sorry, IT Director!). This is the sort of expense that I hadn't really budgetted for properly - I reckoned it would cost about £40 to hire a projector for the day, but it's more like £100 plus delivery, so we took a deep breath and worked out that we would be better off buying it - especially since it means we can now have full cinema in the house! Even better, we've decided that instead of a trip to the horrid bowling alley, Silvie's 9th birthday party is going to be a Cinema Party here with popcorn, icecream and ushers!

I will report back on how the workshop goes - I really hope that everyone has a fantastic time. I think they will.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

We only charge you what it costs us ....

... one of the biggest problems I've encountered since starting Twice has been the issue of Post & Packing charges. When Twice started I did alot of research on other websites and plumped for a flat fee of £4.50, which seemed just about average. But then, because people are often just buying something small from us, it started to cause a problem on smaller orders and so it went down to £3.95 - but that caused a huge problem because things like our cork bath mats, which we sell alot of, cost us £4.30 in post alone, and if someone orders 2 (which often happens) the post is £8.00. Anyway, I've been hoping to find a solution to this that will keep everyone happy and finally we've cracked it. The whole of our Post & Packing has been updated so that all our P&P charges are at cost - it's been a time consuming project but it means is that every order we receive now only pays what it costs us for post and packing. We charge the actual postage or courier cost based on weight and then add £1 or £1.50 for our time and the packing materials, which I think is pretty fair. At the same time, we've made sure that we can send orders anywhere in the world on the same basis - which is a breakthrough.

One of the things that spurred me on to get this organised was receiving an email from a lady in the US called Laurie Crouch who runs the US Lucas Terrier Club - those of you who follow my blog will know that we have a Lucas called Pebble - and Laurie somehow found Twice through the wonders of the interweb. She kindly mailed and said that she would love to tell people about the company and did I mail to the US? Nothing like that to put a rocket under the proverbial and so now I can tell her that the answer is 'Yes'! This also gives me a chance to put another photo of Pebble on the blog!

Monday, May 12, 2008

I think we've hit a vein ...

The flyers for the new courses went out last week and I am delighted to say that the response has been fantastic. We have got bookings across the three courses and limited numbers left now on the Foraging and Cutting Flowers days. We're not so restricted with numbers on the "Using Colour in the Home" day with Joa Studholme, so there are quite a few places left there, which is good. Joa works with Farrow & Ball developing colours and advising their top clients, so we are very lucky that she is coming to Inchyra to talk for us.

I am so encouraged by the response that I have now booked some of the autumn workshops/courses. Of our current speakers, Jane Lindsey is coming back to do Christmas flowers and wreaths and the Forage Rangers should be taking us mushrooming (yummy!). We're adding a great new course, which will be called something like Winetasting for Beginners, with Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler, who is one of the few female Master of Wines in the country. I'm sure this will be a great day - Nicola will point people in the right direction with 8 or 10 different types of wine. And I'm also talking to Jeremy Gow of Gow Antiques who gives talks around the country on recognising and restoring antiques - the Fraud Squad go to Jeremy's talks! This will be great for anyone like me who walks into an auction house and is just not quite sure whether what they're looking at is what it says it is! I don't think we can teach people everything in a day, but we can certainly add to their understanding.

Just need to get cookery covered and then we've got another fantastic line-up!

If you think you're not on our mailing list for the courses, do email me with your name and address at and I'll make sure you get details - and if you want to book a place on any of the courses click here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

New Twice Summer Courses

I have been thinking for some time that it would be great to organise some courses around subjects that would interest me - on the basis that if I'm interested others might be too. I'm always thinking of new things that Twice can do. Many of them stay as thoughts but this idea had wings and I've just sent out flyers to our mailing list with information on the first series of one day courses that we will be running here in June.

The courses are all on subjects that I'd like to know more about - we've got Xa Milne and Fiona Houston who write a column for Telegraph Weekend and have just had a wonderful book called "Seaweed and Eat It" published. They are coming to take people foraging, show them what's good to pick and then do a cookery demonstration with what they've found. Nettle gnocchi appeals to me!

Then we've got what promises to be a really inspiring day when Jane Lindsey, from Snapdragon, is going to teach everyone which are the best cutting flowers to grow in Scotland, how to get flowers to last longers once inside (I, for one, will be very interested in that bit!) and how to arrange and wrap them to produce a really professional bouquet. I always prefer to give flowers from my garden if I can - but I can never get them looking really good, so this will be invaluable. I may have to reserve a place on this course for myself!

And I'm really thrilled about the last day we've organised in this first series. Joa Studholme is the colour consultant that Farrow & Ball call on when their clients need advice on which colours to use in their homes. She has years of experience putting colours into every conceivable type of building (the photo shows her in the Long Room at Lords cricket ground) and lectures on the subject around the world. I am so pleased that she has agreed to come and talk for us - it will be brilliant for anyone who is a little bit nervous about how to get colours right. Colour is one of those things that is often really hard to get right - but when you do get it right the results can be spectacular.

I have lots of plans for more courses - so, I'm on tenterhooks to see if people are receptive to these first three so that I can go ahead with a series in the autumn.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Eleanor rides again!

Very bad photos - just took quick snaps - but I had to write about the arrival of the new Eleanor Tote. I'll just go back a bit on this story - one of the things I have been most pleased about with Twice is working with the traditional materials that go alongside our vintage finds. As you may know, one of these materials is deerskin from a tannery in Glasgow that makes our Eleanor and Silvie tote bags. These have been a great success, but I have to admit that the success would have been even greater if the bags had had zips. I rather stubbornly wanted them to be very simple shopper style tote bags - but I think that, living in the middle of the countryside, my security issues are not those experienced by so many of my customers - and zips were obviously needed. However, I was really keen not to compromise on the original aim that the bags could be open shoppers as well, so the adding zips into the design was quite tricky. That was, until a lady at the Country Living Christmas Fair turned up at my stall with a bag with exactly the right zip closing - we had a amusing five minutes as I frantically photographed her bag on my phone - and then, in the New Year, we started amending the original design.

These things always take longer than you think and the first prototype arrived with me about 6 weeks ago - just in time for me to try it out on a long haul flight as cabin baggage. It was GREAT! Fits perfectly under a plane seat, takes masses of stuff and looks wonderful. We went into production shortly after that - and the reason I am writing now is simply that I am full of excitement because the first delivery has just arrived at Twice. I have also, as you will see from the photos, gone off piste a bit on the linings and have added a floral linen to the vintage tickings that we usually use.

And the other thing I am thrilled about is that we have managed to make the improvements, with all the extra work that they entail, but have kept the price the same. What a result!

Hope you like them too!
Best wishes

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

This has absolutely nothing to do with Twice!

Nothing to do with Twice, but everything to do with living in Scotland which has made us do all sorts of things we wouldn't have done before - like skiing, riding and owning ridiculously large dogs. This photo is of our Scottish Deerhound, Flint, and is for Tracy at Two Crofters who I have just discovered also has a passion for the magificent hounds. This was taken when our Lucas terrier puppy was one bite big about 4 months ago. It was quite something to watch as they romped and romped and then, finally, Flinty would have had enough and just put Pebble's head in his mouth! Gently, of course.

I had always longed to have a hound and when we moved to Scotland four years ago I was determined to make it happen. Initially I wanted a wolfhound but when I was researching it I came upon a bit of information that said that a wolfhound in full flight 'cannot be expected to differentiate between a rabbit and a small white terrier'. As we are also mad keen Lucas owners this was a non-starter and so we went the deerhound route - much more fitting anyway since they are the Scottish dog - and have never regretted it. They are an absolutely joy to live with - so gentle, so elegant.

Tracy - I will watch with interest to see how McDog's training goes - I'm not sure training is possible with these boys! Flinty has just discovered how to fly over fences (I was advised early on in my deerhound career never to let him know he can jump which worked for a while) and he will now just look at us over his shoulder and then pop over fences and off for miles. Sadly for him this now means he's on a lead alot of the time - but when he's let off and picks up speed it is quite something to see.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

To print or not to print, that is the question.

Twice is a business that definitely grows organically. New products come on stream often because I've had an idea in my mind and then I meet someone who can help me bring it to life. Our breadboards and spurtles are a good example of this - I had a picture of my mother's old breadboard in my mind but it wasn't until I met Hugh Leishman and started working with him that I could actually make them a reality. It means that our range is a bit eclectic, but I like it like that.

The other thing which is happening in this organic (some might say, ramshackle!) way is marketing the business. The website happened because it felt like the most sensible way to be able to work from home and around the children's lives. Fairs have happened because I have met someone holding one, or another small business person has recommended one. And everything has usually been done because it felt like it was the right time. It is now feeling like the right time to put together a catalogue - but I am TERRIFIED! It is a major expense for the business both in terms of time and money, but I think it is the next step. I would be really interested to get feedback from anyone reading this blog and I've put a little poll in the top right hand corner - please let me know what you think. Obviously I realise that people who don't buy online are unlikely to be reading a blog - but any information is better than no information!

I've had a miserable day today returning a tiny pony that we got for our 8 year old daughter who has become a very nervous rider. He turned out to be just as nervous as she was, so we had to call it a day - but it's not that great separating a little girl from her new pony. Ow!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ladies who lunch

Lunch with Jane Lindsey of Snapdragon was really good - great to have a chance to chat with someone who knows the ups and downs of small business life so well. We seem to have many of the same problems, but it seems that for both of us the advantages of working for ourselves doing something we love make it worthwhile.

One of the problems that we definitely both find is that because we haven't made a 'name' for ourselves yet outside our local area, it is really hard to get people in the wider world to understand the integrity of our products and the value that we are giving in terms of individuality, the production etc. I certainly find that it is impossible to charge what I need to for the products that we make here in Scotland. One of the things that we thought we could work on together is to try and raise awareness of small businesses like ours that are involved in manufacturing and crafts in Scotland and often run by working mothers. There are a million reasons why it's great to be based up here, but one of the big disadvantages is that we are miles from the marketing hubs.

It also became apparent that life running these businesses is all ups and downs - one minute someone has spotted something you do and supported it and you feel fantastic, or a good order comes in and everything seems worthwhile and then the next, the orders have dried up and you wonder why you are bothering and the guilt about how much time you're giving the children kicks in! Can't win - but we'll have fun trying!

Monday, March 10, 2008

The benefits of being self-employed .....

although it can be really tough running your own business, there are also, of course, some distinct advantages. One of them is that you can work at your own pace and around the other things in your life. Today I am taking time out to meet Jane Lindsey from Snapdragon for lunch in Perth. Jane produces some of the prettiest and most original flowers I have come across and we can sit and chat about the trials and tribulations of small businesses. We met doing the Christmas fair at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh in November and found we had lots to talk (and whinge!) about. We are also both partners on Not On The High Street ( and regularly show at Country Living Fairs, so I am sure there will be lots to talk about.

In the meantime, we are waiting for the gales from the South to arrive in Scotland this evening, so my hatches are being battened!


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Where did December and January go?!

Ooh er! I have just seen that my last post was on 3rd December - and I honestly can't tell you where the time in between has gone. Frightening! What with winding up after all the sales and then a huge Christmas here for the family and then trying to get back on track, it has just whizzed by.

January has been really good for Twice - there have been bits about us in Period Living (cushions), Good Housekeeping (pretty covered hangers) and the Scotsman Magazine (last Saturday - all about the January Sale) all of which have been great for spreading the word. Amazingly, there have been more visits to the website in January than there were in December - and sales are nearly as good. I was looking back at the figures for last January and it is amazing how things have built up.

I'm holding a sale here at home, near Perth, next Thursday 7th Feb to clear out a bit more stock so that I have room to get lots of new in. If anyone is interested and near enough the invitation is below - you're welcome to come along - just give me a call on 01738 860066 and I'll give you directions and details.

The new stock is going to be great. We've got lots of wonderful things coming - my lovely sewers are busy making Lavender Hearts in the most delicious pink and red stripey French tickings and we're also making lots more keyrings. I made the first batch myself a few months ago and the whole lot went within days at the Christmas sales so they haven't ever made it onto the website - but the next lot will. We're also going to be putting things like our Range Towels on to the website - this is something Twice has always done with great success but again, didn't ever make it onto the site. And on Thursday I'm off to the tannery in Glasgow to organise the next editions of the Eleanor and Silvie bags and also, something which I'm very excited about, to work on the design of a new bag.

On the personal side, January has been incredibly frustrating. My New Year's resolution was to complete a dressage test on my horse. That might not sound like much but to put this in context I need to tell you a bit about the two of us. I have ridden all my life but I'm not good and have never learnt anything properly. My horse is Henry, a 14 year old ex-racer (he raced under the name Hailstorm which could also have described his character when he came to us). He has had tendon problems in both his front legs and when I got him three years ago he had been on bed-rest for 6 months. He was everything you might expect in a thoroughbred and there were moments when I thought I must be mad for even thinking about riding him as a hack. However, three years down the line, he is a different beast - gentle, incredibly willing to learn and, so far (touch wood), he has never done anything too unpredictable with me. So, this year these two aging rank amateurs at this new discipline are going to learn dressage - neither of us has the foggiest idea what we are doing but both of us are thrilled when we start to get something right. I will report back if (sorry, when) we fulfill my ambition - but this weather has meant that there has hardly been any riding - it's either too cold and hard or too wet and soft. My fingers are firmly crossed for something more normal.

I am feeling much more positive in January than I was in the 'Ups & Downs' post - which is surely wrong!? Shouldn't I be feeling blue and depressed at this time of year? But I just have a feeling that there are going to be all sorts of interesting developments at Twice this year

Anyway, a very belated Happy New Year to everyone -

Caroline x