Sunday, November 29, 2009

Well, that's one use for our beautiful Lily bag!
Minty our tortoiseshell knows a good thing when she sees one and it doesn't take long for her to find my Lily bag when I leave it in the kitchen - she's on it in a flash and it's obviously very warm as she would happily stay there for hours. Anyway, the other day, as you can see I picked up the bag and she stayed on/in it and this was the result!
This poor chilly girl is a rescued battery hen waiting to go to her new home - as newsletter subscribers will know, we have recently re-homed six ex-batts and it's been a great experience. We picked them up two weeks ago from Jim and Lorna Duff near Stirling - Jim and Lorna are the local reps for the Battery Hen Welfare Trust and do a wonderful job of liaising with the farmers and prospective new owners and then picking the hens up and giving then a health check. New owners then go to their farm to pick the hens up on the designated weekend.

This photo show our girls on their first day in their new home - they are very unused to everything a normal chicken would take for granted - like dark and silence and roosting and nesting. As you can see, they are also quite bald - but their feathers should grow back pretty quickly. And these are our first eggs! -

We are already getting one or two a day and slowly they should settle down and produce more than enough for all of us. I've fought the 'having our own chickens' thing for years - but the whole rescue chicken idea got to me immediately and I'm really pleased that we've gone for it.

As for names, the children have each named one so we have Lavender, Daisy and Un-named (so far!), then Ray who helps us here has named his Harriet, James has gone for Lady Marmalade and I asked my newsletter subscribers to help me out with a name for mine - there have been lots of great suggestions and I will be announcing the winner in our next newsletters (about 18th Dec).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day one of the new me! I always mean to use the car less and shop locally more and all the other things that are good not only for the planet, but also for me and so this week I have started to try and practice what I preach. Yesterday I cycled to an appointment in our local village - which isn't much, but usually I would have been running late and so I would have hopped in the car. And today I cycled to Errol which is the nearest place with a butcher, Post Office and chemist. It's about an 8 mile round trip and as I cycled along I realised that it really is a no-brainer in so many ways to do this - it's 25 minutes there and 25 back, so that's nearly an hour of aerobic exercise - completely free! No gym membership, expensive kit or clothing - plus I got my shopping done and supported local small businesses. And I seemed to have more time to chat to people.

On the way back a buzzard flew right by my side for about 50 feet with a mouse in his claws - nature in the raw! I noticed rabbits and squirrels, trees, autumn colours and the thing I noticed most was the smells - which you never notice zooming along in your car.

The next schedule visit to Errol is this Friday morning - and now I've gone public I will be even more determined to keep it up. Three trips a week should keep me fit, keep more money in my pocket and, maybe, I'm doing a little bit to help the environment.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Very exciting - I've just been watching the new catalogue coming of the production line at the printers in Perth and I now have the first 300 copies in my grubby little mits! At last! Wow. It's like giving birth (well, not quite, obviously) every time I do this and it is always such a good feeling to actually hold a copy in my hands having worked so hard to get it to this stage.

The first copies will go out tonight to try and avoid the post strike and then the bulk will be sent out to everyone early next week. I so hope that you like what you see ....

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Quick post just to say that I have just managed to buy some more vintage crocks and so they are now back in stock. They are becoming increasingly difficult to find which is why they aren't always in stock - so if you've been waiting for one, grab it quickly!

Friday, October 02, 2009

So, off to Glasgow to visit the Barrhead tannery, who make our beautiful leather bags. I love going out and about to visit our manufacturers around the country - and nowhere more so than Barrhead, where you are immediately transported back in time. Things are done here much as they have been for hundreds of years - the stone staircase tells you that with each step hollowed out by years of feet walking up and down. The smell of the leather is just wonderful and I love seeing the different leather and suede finishes that are possible - not to mention the colours. Deerskin makes really great leather and suede in varying weights and one of things I love most about it is it's durability - I've been using my suede Lily slouch bag for well over a year now and life with me is quite tough on any bag - from being thrown in the bottom of the car every day or having to double as a cat bed - and it still looks fantastic.

This photo shows some blue suede ready to go off to another client of the tannery. We spent some time working on a couple of new bag options - I'm taking the Eleanor bag off in a slightly different direction and working on a bowling style bag using deerskin and maybe some beautiful Scottish tweed. Watch this space!

Monday, August 24, 2009

I spent last Thursday at a photography workshop run by Ray Cox, one of Scotland's best garden photographers. It was a good opportunity to spend some time improving my photography skills (which so far have been rather suck it and see!) and to get ideas and direction on garden and flower photograph from Ray. When there was a break in the rain we managed to get out in the nursery to take some photos - these are a couple of my favourites from the day.

The course was run at Glendoick Garden Centre, which we are lucky enough to have just down the road from us. The nurseries there specialise in rhododendrons and azaleas and the Cox family have spent two generations plant hunting for them. The garden is also open when the rhodos are at their best, in about May, and are really worth a visit if you can get there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The T aftermath ....

These photos really make you think. I was driving back up the M90 from Edinburgh when I suddenly saw the most unbelievable sight near Kinross. This is now two days since T in the Park and what you can (hopefully - click on the photo to see a blow up) see here is not a festival in the process of being set up but acres and acres and acres of abandoned tents after the event. I felt almost sick. It's one of those things that you really have to see to believe and I really couldn't get close enough to properly show you - but it's just extraordinary. It honestly looks as if no one has taken their tent with them - and the other rubbish left is monumental. It seems to me that it says everything about our society - 'proper' things like tents, which in the past would have been kept for years and years and reused endlessly, are now so cheap that they are basically disposable. We've just bought a 2 man tent for our son to camp out in this week - and it was £14.99. So many things spring to mind - how do Tesco's produce a really pucka tent for £14.99 - what on earth are they paying for it, and just how little are the people actually making it being paid? And, look what happens when you make things so cheap - people just stop caring about them. All these people couldn't see the point in spending the time to pack them up. It's just horrible.

And the really depressing thing is that I read in the paper that, unlike some other festivals, where the abandoned tents go to charities, at T they go into landfill. Ugh.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jane does it again ....

We've just come to the end of another wonderful workshop given here by Jane Lindsey of Snapdragon. Today's was Cutting Flowers and everyone learned how to cut and condition flowers from the garden to give them much more vase life and how to put together a hand-tied bouquet. Jane gave some great tips - such as how to tie the bunch up easily without having to put it down which is one of those things where, once you know how to do it, you can't imagine how you could have been so stupid before. You'll have to come to the next workshop if you want to find out how! And we also now know how to put the bouquet in water for travelling - another very clever trick. Anyway, as you can see, we were all surrounded by these beautiful flowers from Jane's own garden all day and everyone made a hand-tied bouquet and these gorgeous table centres. A great day all round - enjoy the flowers ....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Way out west ....

I have just spent a few days escaping on the West Coast with my mother and my aunt - wonderful to get away for a bit for some real R&R - and made possible by the wonders of technology. It never ceases to amaze me quite what's possible now - I happily sat at the top of a mountain replying to emails and checking the website for orders on my iPhone! It has to be one of the best things about our modern age that so many people are no longer tied to a desk five days a week. Anyway, this is the view that met us each morning - bliss.

If you've read the article in this month's Homes & Interiors Scotland you will have seen that we have taken a share in the rental of a little cottage near Oban with some friends. It is just wonderful to escape there and we are loving discovering the area. Last week was one of the best finds yet - about 10 minutes north of Oban we found the fantastic Kintaline Farm - I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it is. On the first and third Thursday of the month they have a little farmers market for local producers - we bought delicious salmon en croute and homemade shortbread. For the rest of the time, Tim and Jill Bowis who own and run Kintaline, must be run off their feet running a nursery with some of the best plants I've found for ages at some of the best prices and also breeding traditional utility pure breed chickens and ducks. It was fascinating to see all the different breeds - kept completely separately obviously to avoid cross-breeding. The traditional breeds really are very beautiful - although the lady above seemed to be suffering from a real case of 'comb over'! I can't tell you how happy I am to have discovered this farm - and I know I will be driving home after each visit to the west laden down with exciting plants. Do have a look at their website - it's definitely going on my list of favourites.

So, the nursery plants near Oban are great, but I have to say that the wild flowers run them a pretty close race. This is a sweet little patch of thrift that I found on rocks near the sea.

Back in the office now and I am very excited to tell you that we are now very close indeed to the launch of a new website for Twice. I loved the current one when it was done and it has served the business well, but everything has to move on and so it is for this - we should be going live around 20th June. At the moment it feels like the new BBC weather map did - slightly shocking and rather unnecessarily detailed - but I am already getting used to it and realising that it will be much more user friendly than the last one. I look forward to your feedback!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Something for the hound fans..

I know that there are a few of you out there who like the odd update on my deerhounds, so I thought you might like this photo of them in the bluebells the other day ....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tired but happy ....

So, I've just come to the end of our two day Preview Sale, held here at home. The idea was two fold - firstly to give local customers a chance to see everything 'in the flesh' and secondly, to put new products in front of people and see how they went. I have to say that it has been a great success from my point of view - many thanks to everyone who came and many thanks to everyone that helped me (Jackie, Paul and James especially).

I was really pleased with the reactions to alot of the new things I've sourced and developed. Log baskets were a great hit and will be available on the website soon and then in the next catalogue. The new range of china that I developed with Susan Kemp looked absolutely wonderful and people loved it. I'm too tired now to run through many things individually, but it was a really worthwhile couple of days for me and Twice on all fronts. I think I'll definitely repeat it for Christmas, probably in late October, early November.

We also managed to raise nearly £80 in donations for the MS Society which is great.

Workshops start next week, so preparing for that now.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Following on from my last blog about the Lord Robert's Workshops I just thought I'd mention that any email/postal support from anyone about this would be great - I have just emailed Alex Salmond at to ask for his support for the workshops. Obviously the more people he hears from, the better.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

We have a really useful boot stand which my mother gave me a while ago - but there are only pegs for four pairs of wellies and we are five, and often many more, so I thought I'd buy another one to go alongside. Happily there was a sticker on the base of the stand telling me it had been made by the Lord Robert's workshops, so I Googled them and ..... wow! What a find! It turns out that they are based just outside Edinburgh and not only do they make welly stands but a wondrous range of beautiful TRADITIONALLY MADE brooms and brushes of every sort imaginable. What could be better for Twice!

I shot off down to the factory to meet Chris Denny who runs it. What I found was both fantastic and depresssing. The workshops were founded in the 1890s to give employment and training to disabled ex-servicemen. At one time there were 11 such workshops but this is now the last one. They men make brushes in the traditional way - which, of course, means first class quality. Everything from clothes brushes to library brushes to yard brushes. Really beautiful stuff. As a business, it runs as a significant loss and so the charity that runs it - SSAFA Forces Help - have decided that it must close at the end of June this year. So, in the same moment, I had found a source for some of the best products that I've come across for Twice and lost them too.

All is not quite lost for the 11 disabled servicemen currently working there - the Scottish Government is aware of their plight and things are being done behind the scenes to try and save the workshop - but at this stage it doesn't look too good.

I went down again on Monday to order brooms and brushes and, walking around the workshops, it seemed really senseless that the workshops are closing. The cost to the state of having to pick up financially where the workshops leave off will be very close to the shortfall that they are currently have each year. Plus, because there has been the Sword of Damocles hanging over them, there has been very little marketing or selling going on which only increases the shortfall. The thought of losing not only employment and purpose for the men working there - all of whom have more than done their bit for us - but also losing the knowledge and skills that go into making these beautiful brushes - is really awful. Once it's gone, it's gone.

I'm not sure what I, or anyone else, can do to help, but if there is anything I will be doing it and I'll post on this blog so that you can keep up with it if you're interested. I am pretty sure that there is a good market out there for what they produce, with some decent marketing.

Aside from that, I have recently put together a series of workshops in May and June and sent out invitations for a two day sale here on 12th and 13th May and I am now panicking big time about how much has to be done....

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The office reborn!

Slightly later than anticipated (isn't it always?) I am now back in my office and couldn't be happier. It's like a completely different space. Before it felt ramshackle and inefficient and I could never find anything. Now, I've got this wonderful workspace with room to display some of the Twice products, a huge table for designing and working on fabrics, a wooden floor rather than carpet, which as you might imagine, was a nightmare when you're working with fabrics. All the packing has moved into another room next door where there's ample space to keep all the packing materials together, which has freed up loads of space in the main room. The loo, which used to double as storage for alot of the packing materials is now just a loo again. I can't tell you what it all feels like - mostly it feels like a totally new office - it's just as therapeutic as a total move.
As you can see, I've got a crackling log fire going right by my desk - what a joy! There's a fabulous view through the two big sash windows out into the garden - which is about to be a sea of daffodils - and every so often I see our two deerhounds, Flint and Romy, trotting past the window. There was a very good article on our daffodils in yesterday's Scotsman Weekend Magazine - and that's what I'm about to look out on while I work. Next year we're going to be opening the gardens for the National Gardens Scheme at daffodil time. I'll try and remember to put something on the blog about it as a reminder early next year for anyone local who might like to visit.

And then we've put in storage for lots of the vintage fabrics so that I can see them while I'm thinking up new products and designs - I could see them before, but somehow through the chaos of everything else that was in the room (I wish I'd done proper before photos so you can see just what an improvement it all is) I couldn't see the wood for the trees.

Time will tell as to whether my new environment has a positive effect on my work, but I can't help but feel that it will.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Spring face lift .... for my workroom!

Because of the way that Twice has grown, I have taken over spaces in our basement in a very piecemeal way. The room I now work in used to be the au pair's bedroom - which I then took over a couple of years ago. Since then I've spread to the next door bedroom (packing room), to the kitchen next door (warehouse) and into the bathroom (storage). I suppose because there wasn't a particular moment when Twice changed from a hobby into a business I carried on working in this room just as it had been as a bedroom. Infact, I seem to remember that for quite a while it still had the beds in it. It was pretty scruffy and certainly didn't look very businesslike - and I have found myself using any excuse in the book as to why people can't visit me at work.

Sometimes you just need a shove to get on with things and mine came in the form of a feature that has been commissioned by a big magazine on me and Twice. That focused my mind! I couldn't bear the thought that photos of me working in my room as it was might find their way into print. A couple of weeks ago I opened up the fireplace and started to use it - it's really gorgeous working with a log fire crackling away nearby. Then, last week, we took down the very old and shabby curtains and pelmets - and what a difference! Suddenly the room seemed so much lighter with it's big shuttered sash windows. Then at the beginning of this week we did something I've been longing to do for ages - ripped up the carpet. I can't tell you how boring it is having carpet on the floor if you work with fabrics to the extent that I do. I was slightly nervous about what we'd find underneath - but I needn't have been - it's a wonderful wooden floor in really good condition - and best of all, there are no gaps between the boards, so the room shouldn't be any colder. The floors have been sanded and then waxed and polished (thank you Paul!) and I'm thrilled with them. Couldn't be better.

The final thing is new paint - and that's what I've been doing today. Out with the primrose yellow (just too bedroomy) and in with an old white. The place already feels much more 'me'. It's funny just how much of an effect easy changes like this can have on a place and the people in them - it already feels much more work-like and I'm sure I will be more organised and productive in it.

I'll post some photos when it's finished and I've moved back in - hopefully sometime later this week.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The mother of all vinegars!

There are several reasons that we stock vinaigriers at Twice. They are very traditional, having been made in France, by the same potteries, for centuries, particularly the lovely salt-glazed ones that we have. I first came across them at my mother in law's house. She has had one for years sitting in the larder and any leftover red wine is popped in the top and then from time to time we would all be given jars of vinegar to take home. A few years ago, she very kindly gave us the one pictured above one for Christmas. A few weeks later a jar arrived here filled with something horribly gloopy - this turned out to be the vinegar 'mother'. This is the starter that is one way of making your vinegar - you can look it all up on Google, but essentially it is a form of acetic acid bacteria that causes alcohol to turn into acid. So, we plopped it into our vinagrier and then started to add bits of red wine from time to time - if there was any left in the bottle! It takes several weeks to start to smell anything like proper vinager and we would often forget about ours entirely for weeks at a time. But then, after a while, whenever I needed any red wine vinager I would just take it directly from the tap.

About this time, I started trying to source the vinaigriers for Twice. It's quite a thing because French companies don't really seem to want to do business with anyone! I searched and searched and found companies but no contact details. Then I finally did find contact details and sent emails. Many just didn't reply and those that did weren't very helpful. Finally, I discovered the Renault pottery that makes our lovely rustic jars have an agent in the UK - at last, someone who actually wanted to sell something to me! Once I'd got them in stock I started to research the actual vinegar making in more detail because someone was bound to ask me how to do it.

We provide instructions for making vinegar with each vinaigrier that we sell and there are several ways of starting off - 1) get some vinegar mother from a friend, 2) make your own mother or 3) start with a mixture of bought vinegar and wine. The bottom line is that is boils down to trial and error and working out what works best in your vinegar's environment. Web research has thrown up a great blog in the States where a lady called Kim Adams gives the most down to earth advice on making vinegar that I've come across. Click here for the link. She will tell you how to make vinegar from whole bottles of wine or from bits and pieces.

The way we've made our vinegar has been very hit or miss but this week we finally got to the stage where we had a full vinaigrier and it was time for bottling. I turned on the tap and emptied the whole thing slowly into jugs, waiting all the time to find the globulous mother sitting somewhere in the jar. But .... none! I don't know where it's gone but we have perfectly good vinegar and no mother. I think that what might have happened is that because we kept tipping bits of wine into the top, this can cut off the air supply to the mother and kill it and it then sinks to the bottom - not sure what happens when it gets there, but ours disappeared. So now I am embarking on making my own mother from scratch and we'll see what happens then. In the meantime, as you can see we have several litres of really good red wine vinegar and no wasted wine!

To see the vinaigrier on our website click here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Back to normal ....

.. so, children back to school, decorations down and house nearly back to normal and time to assess the Christmas season for Twice and think about the year ahead. All in all, it was probably as good as I could have expected. Sales were slightly down on my expectations but the catalogue was a huge success so, on balance, things worked out pretty well. However, people are still very nervous about what's round the corner so for us, like most small businesses, the way ahead for 2009 has to be to cut costs, and not make any unneccessary expediture. That translates firstly into not attending the fairs that we usually do - mainly because the costs involved in travelling and moving stock are huge from Scotland. We're going to concentrate on building up the mail order side of Twice and expanding our range.

I'm not quite sure what to do about workshops - it's possible that people will feel they can't treat themselves so much this year. The workshop series are expensive and time consuming to set up so I am going to send out an email to test the water - and depending on the feedback we might just wait until the Autumn and see how people are feeling then.

Just to get myself feeling a bit less wintery and sniffly and thinking about spring, the photo shows the snowdrops here last year - should be like that again any minute - can't wait!