Making it slowly with Weekend:In ...

Through conversations with friends over the winter months of 2017/2018, one particular common ground has definitely surfaced - we all seem to have felt significantly affected by what has been reported to be the darkest winter on record. There has been a universal sense amongst us all to hunker down and hibernate. In essence, this has given us a chance to completely slow down, to reflect, and to have found the time to understand the importance of nourishing ourselves.

There is no doubt that, whilst I feel supremely lucky to be able to withdraw from the outside world when needs be, I am human and there comes a time when physical connection with other like minded folks is necessary to the soul in every sense.

What a treat, then, to have been invited to Elmley Nature Reserve, one of the 600 small, independent and sustainable "unusual places to stay" throughout Europe in a collection carefully curated by Canopy and Stars for a two day slow living retreat organised by Weekend:In, whose mission is to help small, independent businesses find their tribe.

For me, 'slow living' means making the most of every moment, taking time to notice the little things (like the ripples created by the bird in the above right photo); it's also irrevocably tied in with discovering and supporting small, independent brands - those with a story to tell who, like me with respect to my own brand, feel the inherent importance of making things in the most sustainable and heart-centred way; about creating value, through certain values.

Arriving at my destination meant a two mile slow drive through the nature reserve - a perfect introduction to the retreat ahead. Due to obligations at home, I was a little late. To say I was blown away by the barn location for our collective gathering would be an understatement...

 The barn at Elmley  Photo credit: sophie carefull photography

The barn at Elmley

Photo credit: sophie carefull photography

I was met by new friends and old, all intently working away at making cosy slippers from Juta Shoes, in collaboration with Aerende, a webshop run by Emily. Aerende is an Old English word meaning 'care' and totally encompasses Emily's vision - to champion products made by folks from all different walks of life who face personal challenges. Aerende provided beautiful ceramics too, filled with much welcome steaming hot coffee... Care indeed!

Photos: Sophie Carefull

In the afternoon, we boarded the Elmley mini bus for a tour of the reserve. The sun came out, nature was all around us, and all was well...

 Peaceful views

Peaceful views

The afternoon gave us the incredible story of Moments of Sense and Style from Syreeta. Blimey... Please take a moment to read Syreeta's journey with her husband after his brain haemorrhage and stroke - this is a story of two talents coming together, from the darkest hours to the brightest of lights and everything in between, in order to create a business full of meaning. Syreeta was extremely inspiring, her endeavours a reminder to us all that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel if we only seek it. She is also really good at hugs, because we all need hugs.

Speaking of hugs, is there anything better than a cosy blanket? Even when the weather warms up, a blanket is a beautiful, virtual hug as the sun goes down. As a veteran collector, being the recipient of blanket from The British Blanket Company certainly warmed the cockles of my heart. A blanket wrapped around you at any time of year is akin to a hug from a friend. Big hugs on that score to Catherine Frawley... 

 The British Blanket Company  Photo: Julia,  Humphrey and Grace

The British Blanket Company

Photo: Julia, Humphrey and Grace

Our gentle retreat was made even more special by dinner al fresco prepared by the rather lovely Tom Herbert, who also has rather a talent for bread baking. A champion of outdoor living, Tom's book is well worth a read. After watching him in awe, we sat down to a beautiful table in the barn, styled by Hannah Bullivant, whose eye for simplicity perfectly matched the occasion.

At the end of a fantastic evening, with some rather excellent wine from Most Wanted, we slipped away to our cosy cabins. I lit the log burner and lay in bed feeling smiley and happy.

The next day, after waking to the sound of rain hammering down on my roof, I lit the log burner and got back into bed - it could not have been cosier! Now was the time to do a bit of reading... The Art of Mindful Birdwatching, I thought was particularly apt before taking part in Melanie's wonderful ease-on-into-the-day yoga class. 

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The old farmhouse at Elmley is currently derelict and we were given the opportunity to have a peek inside. Plans are afoot to turn the house into further accommodation and I have no doubt it will be very special. For now, its years of decay, steeped in history, are fascinating.

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After a beautiful lunch provided by Abel & Cole (with delicious foods I had never even seen before, let alone tried!), it was time to meet Katy from Owl and the Apothecary for an inspiring insight into how she came to be fascinated by rituals, and how they can help our wellbeing. We made smudge sticks, crafted from dried plants, herbs and stones such as quartz. Katy explained how different coloured flowers and stones can be used to effect positive change for us according to what we feel drawn to, and how the smoke from the smudge sticks, when lit, can be used to clear negative energy from pretty much anything. I absolutely loved this workshop.

And so, with that sense of renewed, yet peaceful energy, it was time (reluctantly!) to go home.

On my return, I had a chance to explore all the wonderful presents from other small, sustainable businesses - natural handmade soaps and a delightfully simple string tote from Timmy's, the softest socks (with my very own initials!) from Genevieve Sweeney, organic minty tea from Joe's Tea Co. some seriously good chocolate from The Grown Up Chocolate Company, a tiger's eye necklace from Georgie at Wanderlustlife to promote strength and integrity, and beautifully scented toiletries from Evolve - a name which I found very profound; by slowing down, by thinking consciously about the importance of supporting small brands who are trying to do good things in the world, therein lies evolution...

 Photo: Sophie Carefull

Photo: Sophie Carefull

 

 

 

 

Retreat into Wilderness...

Every so often, an invitation drops into my email inbox that has me more than a little bit excited. A few weeks ago, the kids and I were asked if we would like to spend a couple of nights at Wilderness in Suffolk. This was such an invitation. Apart from the fact that Suffolk is my neighbouring county, it has all the rolling topography that my immediate home environment lacks.

There are so many inspiring world-traveling galleries on Instagram, it's easy to get sucked in to thinking that to live a full life, we must travel the four (round) corners of the earth. Often, though, the best experiences for the soul are closest to home.

Wilderness is nestled in a rural part of Suffolk, but only 15 minutes away from the coast (Southwold is well worth a visit). It comprises various old properties, all very different in size and style, all stunningly restored, on the Sibton Park Estate.

As soon as we stepped into Garden Cottage, I knew we were in for a treat... A hearty welcome awaited us from Tom and Shelby - Shelby made me a coffee and Tom lit a roaring fire and they both made sure we had everything we needed before leaving us in our little slice of heaven.

 Lucy, making her way into Garden Cottage

Lucy, making her way into Garden Cottage

... Placed on the large, aluminium topped kitchen table, was a welcome array of scrummy things to eat (and even a bottle of Prosceco for me), and all the ingredients needed to make chocolate cookies (which Lucy and I did the next morning).

 The cookies were delicious!

The cookies were delicious!

There was much excitement from the kids as they discovered hand-crafted triple decker bunk beds, times 2! Naturally each had to have a top bunk - they were literally on cloud nine. With three other bedrooms for me to make a choice from, it took me the rest of the afternoon to make a decision because they were all so beautiful.

There is so much attention to detail in all the Wilderness Properties, from the practical touches, such as underfloor heating throughout (powered by eco-friendly wood pellet boilers), thick, fluffy towels and bath robes, very high quality kitchen utensils and appliances (it was bliss to have a dishwasher!), to the aesthetic elements - beautiful rugs, cushions and ornaments, taps and lighting... 

You really don't need to take very much with you at all - everything seems to have been thought of, even bicycles, which was a total relief to me as, having packed up my van complete with bikes on the morning of our departure for Suffolk, said van totally refused to start...

 5000 acres in which to roam free

5000 acres in which to roam free

Despite the mostly inclement weather, we managed to explore some of the grounds. Beautiful at this time of year, they must be breathtaking in summer.

 View from the walled garden

View from the walled garden

The kids and I were so happy at Wilderness, bowled over by how helpful and kind all the staff were, we wondered how we might manage never to leave...

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Wilderness

Yoxford Road, Sibton, Saxmundham, Suffolk, IP17 2LZ

 

From Grey Clouds to Blue Skies...

For some reason, this winter seems to have hit me particularly hard. The endless grey skies and lack of daylight have created a strong, instinctive desire to hibernate - to completely retreat from the world in every sense - only to emerge once it stays light until 6pm. Talking with others, it seems I am not the only one to feel like this, particularly this year (apparently it's the darkest winter on record) - knowing that inspiration in life comes from getting out, exploring, being with people, just hasn't been motivation enough to do the actual getting out bit.

So, with trepidation, I accepted a photography booking from Fen at Narborough Hall, dusted off my camera and headed down to London last Sunday to photograph her brother Angel, his girlfriend Emma, and their young son, Slaytor. It was the best thing I could have done; an honest reminder that often, re-finding our zest for life comes down to simple accountability, a way to renew our sense of purpose; to renew our sense of why we do what we do through showing up. 

And what a gentle way to show up it was - I was welcomed by a quiet, yet determined young couple with an 8 month old little chap. Photographing in an unfamiliar environment is always an unknown quantity - you just have to go with the flow and, both literally and metaphorically, see the light of day...

With grateful thanks to Angel, Emma, Slayter and Fen x

Hygge Blue/Grey woven wrap available here

A moment to breathe...

Sometimes we run out of milk. Actually we often run out of milk, and this fact is only realised at about 11pm. Sometimes it's the end of the week and, at 11pm, with three kids running amok, it's something a little stronger than milk that I'm after. Regardless, I find myself at the local garage about a mile up the road, because it's the only place that's open. 

There's a lovely lady who works the night shift there, and she has become a familiar face to me: "How are you? Ok?" is my usual greeting. But one night, about three months ago, it was clear she was far from ok. Her normal grin was replaced by a face full of worries. She began to tell me about her daughter, who had given birth prematurely to a little boy who had been transferred to St Thomas' Hospital in London due to problems with his heart and breathing.

After knowing this, my visits to the garage late at night became nothing to do with needing supplies, but just to know how this little baby and his mum were getting on. News was up and down, but the most distressing element was discovering the lack of contact the mum was able to have with her baby - it's very hard when you wish so much for the mum to be able to cuddle her baby, but an utter lack of medical training meant that, despite my best instincts, I didn't feel qualified to help, beyond passing on links about the positive help skin to skin contact can give. (Thank you Rosie Knowles). It's not just that, though - I feel full of regret for not following my instinct to just go down there and be there, to offer physical support...

This little chap never learnt to breathe on his own, and his mum was only able to hold him for two brief moments in his life. Sadly, he lost his fight earlier this month. 

Two new striped wraps will be available online on Thursday 27th April at 13:00 BST, called Breathe and Moment, because it reminds me to take a moment to breathe and appreciate life even more, and in memory of Pauline's tiny grandson, who didn't have enough moments to breathe... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating naturally with children ...

Kids are very good at living in the moment. It helps that they haven't yet amassed the numerous responsibilities of adulthood which, when left unchecked, cause us to regret various things of the past and worry about the future. But the present moment, the one we're in at any given second, is where we find true joy; how many times an hour has passed that felt like a second because we're truly in the 'zone', engaged in an activity that feels not just enjoyable but somehow effortless? 

There's also an element of surrender, of completely letting go of control of the outcome, something else kids are wonders at and which we adults, not so much as a general rule.

Photography has taken a back seat for me recently as I try hard to focus on the rather overwhelming day to day challenges of trying to build my woven wrap business. But when I was contacted to shoot some photos for skincare brand, Neutral 0%, I asked Lucy what she thought about collaborating on the project - her response was a very animated "Yes!" I like the idea of these products - I don't want to put chemicals on my skin!" Neutral 0% is a Scandinavian company dedicated to minimising our skins' exposure to unnecessary chemical irritants - no colours, no perfumes, no parabens; they have spent 25 years working with the Danish Asthma and Allergy Association too and are fantastic for every stage of parenthood and beyond. We couldn't wait to get stuck in and try everything from the Neutral 0% Explore Bundle. It's never felt right to me to put chemical-filled products on either my skin or that of my children, nor to mask their own sweet scent with something artificially fragranced. They all love the body lotion so much, I have now a queue at bedtime for relaxing massage requests - I'm only too happy to oblige - it's a time for us to chat and relax together, staying in that all important moment...

Excited about Neutral 0% and our collaborative project, off Lucy and I went to find flowers and to trawl a junk shop for props we thought might work well. The goal, to have fun and see what we came up with together.

Which brings me back to relinquishing creative control. Although I know Lucy is very creative and imaginative, I had no idea how any of this would pan out. You know when you give your kids carte blanche to decorate the Christmas tree and you need half a bottle of wine to prepare yourself for the outcome..? Well, this was a bit like that, but without the wine...

So, I relaxed and enjoyed, not just the process, but also - and quite simply - the time spent with my child, watching her create and learn on her own terms.

What did I learn? That adults most definitely don't know best and that kids have a lot to teach us, not just about living in the moment, but also about the creative process. They are also pretty staunch in their values, even at 7 years old... Oh, and being reminded about the importance of touch through massage - it helps us humans thrive.

 

 

 

Peace and Harmony at Christmas ...

This time of year has me a bit paralysed, even more than usual. Despite wanting to make the perfect wreath, create the most perfect Christmas table, I honestly know it's just never going to happen - too many projects, too many children, too many chaotic thoughts whizzing round in my head.

Add into that snippets of world news stories that freeze me further with their unspeakable atrocity and, frankly, I'm just happy to be alive and able to hug my children.

And, with that, I wish you the most wonderful Christmas, however imperfect, but hope it's full of lots of love and hugs <3

Peace and Harmony, complete with really imperfect pictures (!) Friday 23rd December at 14:00 GMT 

- Ali x

Christine's story ...

A mother in progress...

When I discovered that I was expecting our hugely anticipated second child I was bursting with excitement but that feeling didn't last long, it was soon replaced by complete dread and overwhelming panic.  I felt guilty, confused and hugely ashamed by why or how I wasn't able to rejoice of this tiny new life my body was nurturing.  Serendipity led me to a woman who quite literally changed my life. Those recurrent nightmares, the erratic mood swings, the inability to even think about my previous birth experience without openly weeping and the desire to detach myself from the life inside my womb was not just a regular part of motherhood as I had believed. I had in fact been deeply traumatised by the highly medicalised and protracted birth of my eldest child.  As I write this I sit in disbelief that I did not see it all at the time but with no other point of reference this was my reality because, well everyone else simply seemed to be managing okay. What a revelation to acknowledge the separate processes at work,  realising the bond I was actually trying to create with my baby and fighting for the basic primal desire to survive.  This caring woman became my Doula, became our Doula, and nurtured our whole family towards a place of healing, love, growth and acceptance.

I didn't know much about perinatal mental health before my own experiences.  The inability to acknowledge that I actually needed any help and then battling the feelings of inadequacy and failure left me unable to contemplate speaking about it.  Being a mother is the most physically, emotionally and psychologically demanding job I think I will ever undertake.   I now realise that with our life experiences, both past and present, being so unique the invisible line that gets crossed where it all becomes too much is as individual as each woman.   I have come to acknowledge that I have always been an anxious person.  A series of traumas during childhood and adolescence, being expected to shoulder the responsibility and shame of others and having no ‘healthy’ coping mechanisms left me in a permanent state of survival.  It was all I knew and at the time I didn't understand the nature of psychological trauma, it was not until pregnancy that I began to adequately process any of my issues.  I had prenatal depression triggered by a specific episode during the 7th month of my first pregnancy and undertook extensive therapy to be able to focus myself on the impending birth. I now understand that it was a bit like an emotional band-aid, just to get me through the crisis period. From having previously researched a little on trauma issues I felt like I was a relatively strong person.  A capable person who had tried to process and carefully file all of the sweaty mess into a calm exterior.  I now think that I was a fabulous actor and played the role of mother convincingly well, appearing to have it relatively together and carefully burying any difficulties that I was having.  Truth be told though, I was probably only ever really fooling myself because this is the thing with unresolved issues... they just keep coming back and boy did they ever! The processing and packaging I had tried to do myself unravelled like a loose hem leaving me exposed and vulnerable... desolate.  That was okay, I know that I needed to have that happen.

Then this beautiful, wise and gentle woman floated into my life like the first breath of air that marks the beginning of something new.  I was embraced, nurtured, listened to, never judged and helped to find the joy in my pregnancy.  We cried, we laughed, drank tea, ate cake, read useful books, hypnobirthed, and planned to help me regain control of my body and my birth.  I was filled with a joyous light so intense that it left little space for shadows in my pain.  I learned what it was to be supported and the sadness seemed to dissolve with the fear that had gripped me so greedily, so intensely.  I gained a new perspective, to be flexible and to temper my expectations without relinquishing any of my needs.  I learned to advocate for myself and ask for help when I felt vulnerable.  I was encouraged to trust my instincts to find an amazingly skilled and thoughtful independent midwife who, along with my wonderful husband, made a formidable birth support team.   In honesty my second birth wasn't what I had planned for, a home birth transfer with caesarean, but I have absolutely no doubt that it was the best birth that it could be under the circumstances.  This positive experience helped me to commence the ongoing process of closure from my births that I continue to visit as I feel able.

The term ‘sisterhood’ wasn’t something I really understood except as a concept but feeling the tremendous power that is created when women are mutually supportive was a complete game changer for me.  The sense of release that comes from being able to rest in a place of serenity where you can safely bare your naked self without fear of scrutiny, ridicule or rejection is the most empowering gift that we can share with each other.  It provides us with a respectful nurturing place to learn and grow, to learn about ourselves and maybe even more importantly to learn about the women who share our lives whether these are face to face interactions or in cyberspace.  We can choose to lift each other up with honour and embrace the compassion, creativity, friendship, support and love that is inspired.  I am often humbled how incredibly strong and beautiful we all are.  I see how strong and beautiful YOU are.  These are lessons I do and will be sharing with my daughters.  Today a lovely mum I know told me that she had had to forgive herself and would in time ask her child for forgiveness too.  I found this truth incredibly powerful, it caught the breath from my lungs and caused me to sob.  I too will search for the kindness inside of me to forgive myself and when the time comes I will also speak about it with my daughters.

Now I can fully acknowledge the impact of how I deal with my own mental health on my family, I know that I need to activelylive the life I hope my children will learn from.  Consciously living the life I want to live, building on something tangible instead of well-meaning words betrayed by inauthentic actions.  It is intermittently a struggle but I am learning to find beauty in all my imperfections, strength in my perceived weakness and the peaceful calm that comes from embracing contentment.  My sisterhood is teaching me.  I love the connections that have been made during this process and the bonds that tie us all closer together.  How a friendship has blossomed, how a supportive community has been created, how a woman came to embrace motherhood, how two sisters have bonded to support each other, how these daughters guide their mother, how love and compassion weaves through our lives like threads gently binding us together. Making us stronger. It has been messy, raw, quite bloody in spots and definitely interspersed with some serious piles of shit but also overflowing with gratitude for all that has been achieved. It is a journey that was necessary to bring me to where I am today, to where we are today... still messy but together we are growing stronger, repairing and learning to fall deeper in love with ourselves and each other.  I am perfectly imperfect and there is so much beauty in that life.

 Christine and Evangeline

Christine and Evangeline

If you feel like you may be suffering from perinatal depression or anxiety there are various support networks available that might be of benefit to you.   Support can be accessed through your midwife, health visitor, GP, Doula or directly through some of the organisations listed below.  Please feel free to add any appropriate links you feel would be useful in the comments, especially for access to help and support outside of the UK.

apni.org

cocoonfamilysupport.org

postnataldepression.com

samaritans.org

pni.org.uk

mind.org.uk

birthtraumaassociation.org.uk

depression-in-pregnancy.org.uk

Thank you to Christine and Evangeline <3 

Some shorter sized Hygge Monochrome wraps will be available tomorrow, 12 December, at 17:00 GMT 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Slippers for Shelter Day...

I've just spent three wonderful days away in Bath with a friend, her family, a beautiful Dachshund and her eight (yes, eight!) young puppies - Lucy was besotted with every single one, always to be seen carrying and cuddling as many as she could. It made me realise how precious warmth and shelter are; also not only how lucky my own children are to have these basic necessities, but how lucky these pups are too - watching them cavort around in comic fashion, chewing pretty much everything that crossed their path, mostly my friend's slippers...  

 

Which leads me on to donning your own slippers for a very good cause. The charity Shelter helps millions of people a year struggling with bad housing or homelessness - and they campaign to prevent it as much as is humanly possible. This Christmas, 120,000 children in Britain will be homeless. Will you consider joining in to help these children? 

I will be wearing my own slippers for 'National Slippers for Shelter Day' on 9th December, as well as donating - you can join in too here - show us your slippers over on Instagram and Twitter on Friday, 9th December - please use the hashtag #SlippersForShelter and get donating to this tremendous cause to give as many children as possible the chance for warmth and shelter this Christmas and beyond...

Thank you <3

- Ali x 

Catarina's story ...

Motherhood has the power to create remarkable change and growth. Here is Catarina's story <3

A Piece of Me Lies at the Bottom of Loweswater ...

23rd July 2016 

6:15am 

After a sleepless night, watching my baby and my partner sleep soundly, the sun rises in the Lake District.  I leave Rafael asleep after a feed and tell Miles I am going down to the Lake. He is understandably worried. I haven’t slept in a couple of days, disturbed not by the baby but by a palpable sense of despair. I drove to Loweswater from our BnB, a short eight-minute drive, got out of the car with a towel and no shoes, took all my clothes off and walked into the water. I remember the cold golden sunrise, the stillness, the painful rocks on my feet as I walked into the lake, taking a deep breath as the piercing water surrounded my waist, breasts and shoulders and finally I felt release as I let go of the lake’s floor and started floating. All the negative thoughts were gone, I had decided they needed to leave me, all the anger and pain, needed to depart me. They sank to the bottom and together with them sank the illusion of a perfect me, as a woman and as a mother. All unforgiving threads in my nature sank. My painful memories of childhood needed a resting place too, so I watched them sink, slowly. As I drive back, I know my healing has started. 

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Catarina and Raf

A few more Hygge Monochrome too, tomorrow evening (4th December) at 5.00pm GMT ...

 

- Ali x

Miriam's story...

Stories are our way of sharing, of building community, of friendships... In the first of a series of stories about motherhood, here Miriam shares her heartfelt words.

“You are the baby who saved my life

I realise there are many ways to tell a story; there are the things seen and unseen, the things remembered and misremembered, and the way we choose to hold and maintain our memories. This is how I choose to tell our story, little one to whom I owe perhaps more than I can ever really express.

At eleven weeks pregnant I was told I had cervical cancer; and had I not been pregnant, I would never have found out. The results of a routine test had been lost at the bottom of someone’s inbox; and the hospital’s ‘fail-safes’ had failed. The only reason I found out at all was because the midwife at the first appointment we met her, went out of her way to chase the results from the hospital.

Five days after finding out about the cancer, your daddy and I went for your 12 week scan. The hospital wanted to know if you were healthy - if you were worth saving, that is. We just wanted to see you, our baby, not knowing if we would be able to keep you. It remains the saddest and most magical moment of my life. You were perfect - small and wriggly; we saw your little face and arms and legs as you spun round and round; and we didn’t know if this would be the only chance we would get to meet you.

I remember trying to log every single one of the little movements into my memory; just in case. It is the tiny details I remember now - it seems odd, the images I can recall. I remember the red of the head nurse’s dress, her face full of apology. I remember the grey corner of the computer screen against the frosted window, and the beige walls. I remember the exact shade of the blue of the nurse’s seat. I remember the kindness in the sonographer’s voice, but I couldn’t tell you anything else about her. I remember so vividly the grainy image of a tiny thigh as you spun upside down. I remember not wanting to leave. I cried the whole way through; I still cry now thinking about it. We were given a little print out of the image of you. I remember how kind I thought the sonographer for giving us the pictures for free.

For two months following my diagnosis, my life became a blur of hospital visits, trips to the doctor’s surgery and so many questions; life fitted in around the edges. You and I, we were poked, prodded, tested, scanned, biopsied and operated on to find out what the doctors would do next.

My pregnant belly was already beginning to show by the time I had the operation to remove a ‘generous’ section of my cervix. They so rarely do this operation on pregnant women. Your daddy and I were warned to prepare ourselves that the chances were not good for you, baby. And to prepare ourselves that if the tumour were not entirely removed I would have a choice: between saving my life by having an abortion and a hysterectomy; or by saving you by not - and risking my life to the cancer. The chances of us both making it were slim at best.

But, somehow my dear, we did.

Not any little girl, but you - of all the possible babies who could have been, only you could have saved me. You, who arrived in my womb at just the right moment to mean I saw that particular midwife, on that particular day, mean that my cancer was caught just in time. You, without a doubt, saved my ability to carry children of my own, and you most probably saved my life. I carried you in my belly, I carry you still, and I will carry you in my heart always. My body gave you life and, in turn, your body gave me my life. 

 Miriam and Tova

Miriam and Tova

Of course I know that the lives of mothers and children are always intertwined and interdependent, but you and I, I feel that we are perhaps more indebted to one another than most, and for that I will always be grateful.”

(Un)Zip it...

This is a blog post I have been meaning to write for months and, whilst not inherently political in intention, now or at any time, I just feel recent events have made publishing it now even more pertinent.

Just over two years ago, I experienced an increase in the number of brands contacting me to ask if I would take pictures of my daughter in their clothing. As a rather youthful (in Instagram terms) account, I was a bit bowled over but nonetheless thankful for both the clothing and for the brands' trust in my photography, as was my daughter, who loved to put her own stamp on our creative endeavours. 

So bowled over was I that, despite my instinct against on occasion, I wasn't always as discerning as I might have been. It wasn't long, however, before both Lucy and I realised the rather patriarchal nature of most of the clothing. Picture this - if, as a grown woman, you put on a dress and it has a zip or buttons at the back - how on earth are you able to do it up on your own without help?? As an adult, you might grapple along on your own and manage it somehow or other, but as a young girl, you have little chance. I said to my partner - imagine when you have to get up to work at 4 am (as is the norm for him) and you have to wake someone up just to do up your shirt, do you think that's acceptable? A big fat no was his response, but I could tell by his reply that his eyes were opened to something that he had hitherto never even thought about.

But I now think about it ALL THE TIME - this is the 21st century and yet still women and girls are subjugated even in respect of their clothing, often designed by women! 

So why, oh why, do designers of clothing for girls and women think it's remotely acceptable in this day and age (was it ever really acceptable in any day and age?!), to create pieces that we are unable to dress ourselves in unaided?

 Dress from Little Creative Factory

Dress from Little Creative Factory

 

I feel it's time to take a stand. If you do too, please join me in my #kidsclothingforfreedom hashtag on Instagram - you can find me at @ali__dover and @alidovertextiles too if you feel drawn. 

And, if you're interested in clothing for girls and boys which doesn't impinge on their ability to dress themselves unaided, here are my top choices from the large number of independent brands I have worked with:

www.featherdrum.com

www.littlecreativefactory.com

www.lecarrousel.org

www.laprincesseaupetitpois.com

www.thebrightcompany.com

www.mabokids.com

This is obviously a short list so far, and I will try to add to it over time, but it is testament to the worryingly large number of beautifully crafted clothing brands I have worked with, whom I cannot add simply because they produce clothing which is a nightmare for children (girls in particular) to dress themselves in independently! 

Here's to #kidsclothingforfreedom and thank you for reading - if you would like to add to this list, or simply add to the conversation, please do comment below!

- Ali x

Steel and Sweet...

A couple of months ago, I got an excited message from a customer and friend saying she'd had an idea for a striped wrap: "It's to celebrate your steely determination", she said! So we got together on FaceTime to have a look at some colours to put together something with a monotone feel. I do like to keep the stripes as distinct as possible, so added pops of colour on either rail and one stand out colour - Steel was born (Thank you Judy for your help!). 

There's another reason why Steel is so-called - I rather wanted to give some recognition to the incredible support received every release by my kind followers in Sheffield, the city of steel - thank you very much folks!

In sharp contrast to Steel is something rather more summery and gentle - it's a little like a handful of hundreds and thousands I guess and is called, simply, Sweet, after the sweet little souls we wrap and cuddle every day :)

Thursday saw me taking a trip to the weaving mill, where there was much discussion about blends and designs, followed the next day by a really happy afternoon with Natalie to take some quick pictures and enjoy a glass of wine. It's pretty special meeting the people who support me. It was one of those 'go with the flow' afternoons (not least our ice creams, which caused a great deal of mirth!)...

(Thank you to Bryony & Co for the beautiful linen striped dress <3)

 

So, Steel and Sweet, releasing tonight, 14th August, at 20:30 BST at shop.alidover.com

Thank you, as always!

- Ali x

A Great British Adventure!

Last weekend saw James, Lucy and I heading off to the Lake District on a Great British outdoor adventure as part of the lead up to the new Swallows And Amazons film launching in cinemas on 19th August.

 

The wind roared and the skies were filled with dramatic dark clouds and rain, which really added to our sense of adventure. 

 

King Pocky’s Regatta, held at Crow Park on the edge of Derwent Water was our destination for both days, where James and Lucy helped sail a Viking boat, made small rafts, tried their hand at archery, pretended to be pirates, perfected their stone skimming, and generally had a fabulous time adventuring.

 

We stayed in a tipi at the National Trust’s beautiful campsite at Low Wray, not far from Ambleside - the most idyllic setting, complete with warming log burner, and perfect for the children to go off and explore without any parental interference from me. Which is just as it ought to be, for that’s when children’s natural curiosity, imagination, confidence, and awareness of how they can be self-reliant really come alive.

 

These are strong themes explored through the children’s adventures in Swallows And Amazons, which sees them sailing across the lake to a small island, setting up camp, and then finding themselves embroiled in all sorts of thrills, including a run in with some ‘pirates’, a boat race and the discovery of treasure. 

 

The 21st century and the rise in technology seems to have brought about an increasing amount of life indoors for children. Swallows And Amazons reminds us about the importance of learning life skills in the wilds of nature - it’s exciting and you never know what will happen!

 

So, get outside this summer and, if you’re looking to head on an adventure with your family, take a look at Visit England’s brilliant Swallows And Amazon’s inspired website here!  

 

You can enter STUDIOCANAL’s wonderful competition to win a Glamping experience much like James, Lucy and I had in the Lake District, plus a £1,000 cash prize! All you have to do is submit photos of your summer holidays using #SwallowsAndAmazons on Twitter and Instagram! Full details here. Good luck! 

 

Follow the Swallows And Amazons adventure on Facebook and Twitter. 

 

https://facebook.com/swallowsandamazons

https://twitter.com/studiocanaluk 

A little more Hygge...

Trying to build a woven wrap business is, like building any other business I guess, fraught with challenges, uncertainties and a big element of risk. When I designed Hygge, I never expected it to gain such popularity - it's been a rollercoaster ride of answering numerous hopeful emails and managing expectations (not least my own!).

Even when a wrap is popular, it doesn't mean it's all plain sailing - I have no doubt that the challenges I have faced with this second Hygge release (waiting and waiting for one particular yarn colour, a broken loom) have happened as a way of testing my own self belief, my resolve, and my determination to continue doing what I do and why I do it...

Anyhoo, determined I am - and loving why I do what I do even more. Finally, Hygge Teal is ready for release, this evening, Friday 3 June, at 20:30 BST

Thank you for sticking with me :)

- Ali x

When you have a Dream...

Last month was a bit crazy. I decided to put together a Kickstarter campaign to help me keep my woven wrap business alive. Doing it was a great deal harder than saying I was going to do it... I was literally riddled with fear at the idea of 'putting myself out there', which prompted no end of procrastination. In fact, admitting defeat and hiding away for the rest of my life seemed a much better option. 

What drove me to come out of my hiding place and get on with it, was thinking about what I'd actually achieved over the last couple of years, much gratitude towards the wonderful folks who have supported me throughout my journey so far, and the unshakeable sense that what I am doing is far greater than I am or could ever be. It's about the dreams we all have, about the things we want to do with our lives but maybe feel we can't, or don't deserve to. It's about the spirit we are born with, a potential that we have every right to realise.

So, thanks (many, many thanks!) to the kind and generous people who supported my Kickstarter campaign, I am able to keep going with my own dream, but I urge you all to follow yours too...

Dream and Spirit releasing in my shop Friday 22 April at 20:00 BST  

(With grateful thanks to Lorette for letting me take pictures of her and her baby, Alice)

 

 

Northern Soul ...

If there's one thing I've learned in the last ten years or so, particularly in the last five, it's the importance of following our gut instinct (perhaps, more pertinently, not ignoring that instinct when it shouts so loudly). It's truly our soul giving us guidance towards something - or someone - who can help us on our path towards growth in some way. And I hope that growth is reciprocal.

On one of my recent Instagram posts, I made note of the fact that I dearly hope to travel far and wide with my children this year (before they decide it's completely uncool to go anywhere with their mother!). This is something I feel compelled to do; it's what my gut tells me is right not just for me, but for my children too, in terms of how they might grow and develop and learn in a way that suits them naturally. 

Sometimes though, it's definitely good to get away alone - to leave behind the washing up, the mountains of washing, and the constant call of "MUM!" You may - or may not - know what I mean. 

This is kind of what happened last November. Feeling somewhat creatively challenged, not to mention needing very much to fill up my own cup, I bit the bullet and contacted a friend on Instagram who lives in Norway to ask if I could come to see her and photograph her with her daughter in one on my woven wraps, Soul.

To my delight, she said yes; not only that and, despite the fact that we had never met in real life, she offered the utmost in hospitality by asking if I'd like to stay in her home. Bowled over by her generosity, it was my turn to say wholeheartedly, thank you, and yes!

I discovered in Nina a young mum so wise beyond her years, so strong in her values and who showed such a wonderful attachment to and connection with her two children. I discovered in Bjarne, her husband, a beautiful father, a deep thinker, with an attachment equal to Nina's. I rather liked his Nissan car too ;) We talked in depth about the evident zeitgeist towards a slower type of living; one which takes its cue from nature, both in terms of the wonderful outdoors, but that of our own nature too.

Most importantly, I discovered that when we follow our gut instinct about someone we feel drawn to meet and spend time with, we find that gut instinct was right and we find friends for life. We might say it's soul driven, and when listened to, always sending us in the right direction; we might not know quite what that direction is, but if we can listen to our instinct, we can trust that it is treating us well...

 

 

 

Weaving well-being ...

Although striped wraps are extremely important to me - their simplicity and how they can help newcomers to wovens get to grips with wrapping technique - there have always been the seeds of a jacquard design at the back of my mind.

It wasn't until the beginning of last year that I sought to see if I could make it happen. Pencil in hand, I spent a few weeks drawing up the idea that wouldn't go away.

I knew I wanted it to be simple - it had to be in keeping with my values on that score; I also knew it had to be blankety, cosy, and wrap well. It took a while to get the pick count (the number of weft threads) right to try to achieve the above but the result is a wrap that really makes me smile. Lucy, my six year old daughter, loves it so much that I've been blessed with several opportunities to envelop her in its cosiness with scrumptious back carries. And that makes me burst with joy.

Woven as a double cloth, you can wear it either side out - there is no 'wrong side'. It weighs in at approximately 253gm2 and is light, but not thin. Unwashed it is floaty and drapey but once washed, the weave tightens and the fabric becomes super soft, cuddly, blankety. 

 

The wrap had to have a name which fulfilled how we feel when we carry our little people - we each have our own individual experiences here but I wanted to find a word which might somehow encompass all our experiences collectively, and that's why I chose Hygge (pronounced Hooga). It's a Scandinavian word which has no direct translation into English, but has as its general philosophy the idea of all round well-being - I sense that carrying our babies is similar... How do we describe how it makes us feel when it is so many things? Cosiness, contentedness, community, cuddles, warmth, well-being... These are only some of the many feelings I have experienced... Perhaps Hygge and babywearing are the same thing :) 

 

Hygge - releasing 12 February at 20:00 GMT at shop.alidover.com

 

Theft vs Integrity ...

This is a heartfelt outcry about copying, about design stealing, about lack of vision, lack of creativity. You know, theft. Because that's what copying someone's design(s) really is. Whatever the industry, whatever the product... Stealing is just that - stealing. But I never thought it would happen in the industry I now call home! Surely we are an industry where empathy and integrity are as interwoven into the fabric of our community as the yarns in our wraps, yes?? 

Many moons ago, I started (with much trepidation) a little online shop called Maverick Baby. Tentatively, and over time, I contacted Easycare, Didymos and Girasol to ask if I may stock their woven wraps. To my delight and wonder, they agreed. To say I was bowled over would be an understatement. For starters, Didymos and Girasol were the remarkable makers of the very first two woven wraps I ever owned (and still do - they are my legacy wraps); it felt incredible - to think that the journey of enveloping my daughter in fabrics so precious had brought me to the point of bringing even more folks into the world of a tradition so relatively new to western culture and yet so valuable to our society... Never mind my online shop, I felt so part of such an incredibly supportive baby carrying community; one which loved, cared for and carried not only our babies, but us as mothers as well...

That journey took me further than I could ever have imagined. It's thanks to companies like Didymos and Girasol, to whom I am ever indebted, that I became a photographer; my creative vision was seen and supported in an industry where hearts were always in the right place and, most importantly, those hearts showed purpose and empathy.

Girasol Ardent

 

Fast forward to the beginning of 2016 and, holy moly, how things have been tarnished - by one company - seemingly overnight. Remembering a culture of mutual respect and co-operation, I now am horrified to discover a violation of these previously-held industry-wide values - perpetrated by a Russian company (purporting to be Italian and which shall remain nameless - I'm definitely not going to give them any press!), but which is causing a big ole outcry within the babywearing community, and for good reason - it's stealing designs from a 30+ year old woven wrap company, Girasol; a company with heritage, with values, whose beautiful woven wraps, produced in the traditional slow manufactured way, support the skills of local artisans in Guatemala - it's a company long-admired in the babywearing industry.

You might be able to reproduce someone's designs, but you can never reproduce the heritage, the values, the story that come with the originals. Reproducing someone's designs is cheap; cheap because you don't have to take the time and energy to come up with your own, but also cheap because that's how people think who are just in something for the money; they don't care about integrity, about their customers or their customers' stories; it's all about bottom line. I'm cross, can you tell?? I feel violated. And if I feel violated, I can only imagine what the Girasol wrap designers must feel. Theft may bring fleeting glory and profit, but story, values and heritage? Well, they will always win our hearts in the end...

 

 

 

 

Discovering together...

There's no doubt that travel broadens the mind. In the case of children, exploring different cities and countries opens up a whole new world (literally!) of adventure. 

As a home educator, it's very important to me to travel with my children - away from the constraints of the school curriculum, we are free to go wherever we want, whenever we want. It's a glorious way to learn.

So, last Friday, James, Lucy and I ventured down to London to immerse ourselves in the Christmas lights and buzz of the city and experience the new Family Programme from our host - Le Meridien Hotel Piccadilly, right in the centre. 

We discovered that Le Meridien makes children a priority; understanding their need to feel recognised and noticed, their curiosity and thirst for adventure is met by a personalised welcome pack containing LEGO, as well as suggestions for great things to do whilst on your visit. I let the weekend be led by my children so I could really see the visit through their eyes. Lucy was fascinated by all the fallen leaves and the tame squirrels in Hyde Park, whilst James was in awe of the architecture, bridges and the London Eye. 

When we weren't out and about, the children were obsessed with the deep blue waters of the swimming pool. They thought breakfast was pretty fabulous too - it was a banquet and a half and almost too much for them to take in. This was topped, however, by a patisserie tea on Sunday afternoon - cue eyes on stalks!

James and Lucy enjoyed themselves immensely and felt really welcomed all weekend. For my part, it's lovely to stay somewhere where children are treated with the same respect and dignity as adults - we all learn better when we feel good about ourselves...