Monday 30 June 2014

How I Got 58 Million Views on Google+

A couple of weeks ago Rebecca noticed that my Google+ profile was showing a craaaaaazy number of views & sent me this screengrab:

Yup, you're reading that right - that's over 58 MILLION views on a profile that I only set up late last year (because I needed it to change an annoying new setting Google had added) and had never used.

How the heck was this possible? Was it a bug? Or were gazillions of people actually visiting my profile on Google Plus for some weird reason?? I mean, a lot of people in the blogging world talk about how it's important to post on G+ but is it really this popular???

I was a bit baffled.

Then I (appropriately) did some Googling and it turns out that the view count isn't tracking the number of times your profile is viewed but in fact shows "how many times your content has been seen by other people, including your photos, posts, and profile page." (my italics) since October 2012.

This still sounds like a mystery (as I haven't been sharing any content on Google Plus!) but actually the answer is quite a simple one. Basically: the views are actually from my blog.

I use a Blogger blog (owned by Google) and the photos uploaded to my blog are stored in Picasa Web Albums... which Google are now redirecting to / merging with Google+ Photos. So even though these albums are set as private, all the photos on my blog are now "content" that's part of my Google+ account.

It seems that every time someone visits my blog and views some of my photos each one of those views is added to the tally of views showing on my Google+ profile. You read a blog post with ten photos in it, that's ten more views on the tally... and there are a lot of photos on my blog!

Which explains where that gigantic number came from, and why it keeps on going up. As I type this (on Saturday - look at me being all organised and scheduling posts in advance), the current view tally is 58,932,603, so that's 650,749 "views" in about ten days. Crazy.

So I have no idea what tiny number of people might actually be viewing my Google+ profile, but I am taking this as a sign from the universe that I should try and start actually using G+. You can find me here.

Sunday 29 June 2014

Sunny Stratford-upon-Avon

So, as I blogged about the other day, I went to Birmingham a couple of weeks ago for a short holiday.

Before I go anywhere these days I check to see if there's anywhere nearby I can get in for free (or a discount) with my Art Pass because a) cheap days out are very good for my bank balance and b) I am determined to make the most of my year's Art Fund membership while it lasts (nerd that I am, I am totally keeping a tally of the money I've saved so far!

It turns out that Art Pass gets you free entry to the Shakespeare houses and gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon... Stratford is just 45 mins from Birmingham by train... and I'd never visited the town before... so (as you probably guessed from the title of this post) I decided to take a day trip :)

Thanks to laziness on my part plus one cancelled train & one delayed one, I got to Stratford-upon-Avon quite late in the morning. I'd not been sure exactly what to expect, apart from lots of old buildings, lots of tourists and lots of Shakespeare-y stuff - but I was pleasantly surprised!

I know that everywhere looks lovelier in the sunshine (and boy was it hot and sunny that day) but Stratford seemed to be a charming market town, with lots of nice shops and cafes and smart charity shops, and not nearly as overrun with coach-loads of tourists as I'd expected... though there are, of course, quite a lot of tourist-focused shops.


After an afternoon in Birmingham's busy city centre, walking through Stratford's streets felt quiet and peaceful and relaxing - especially away from the main street where Shakespeare's Birthplace is located.

There were lots of lovely black and white buildings dotted along the streets...


... and lots of nods to the town's Shakespeare connection - statues like this one, plus lamp posts decorated with characters from his plays.

You can walk to the oh-so-famous Anne Hathaway's cottage from the town centre but since I'd had a late start and didn't fancy a half hour walk there and another half hour back in the heat of the afternoon, I decided to give it a miss. Maybe another time?

Instead I started with a look round Shakespeare's Birthplace. As well as looking round the house and garden, there's a small exhibition to see here about Shakespeare's life, his plays and his time in Stratford-upon-Avon.

It was nice to see some actors performing bits of Shakespeare's work in the garden (they were apparently taking requests) and interesting to see the recreations of how several of the rooms would have looked when he lived there.

This house is fascinating simply because of the sheer number of people who have visited it over the centuries - there are a lot of famous names written in the visitors book. Before they had a visitors book, people used to etch their names onto the windows or write them on the walls! It's a slightly weird feeling when you visit famous places like this, being one person in a long line of people who have made a "pilgrimage" of sorts to that same spot.

After looking round the Birthplace I passed Shakespeare's Ghost (a street-performer, all in white and posing for photos), stopped for a bit of lunch and then walked a few minutes down the road...


... to Nash's House.

The bottom of this building is furnished as it would have been in Tudor times, while the upstairs rooms are an exhibition space. The Shakespeare connection here is that Nash's House was owned by Shakespeare's granddaughter's first husband... and the house next door, New Place (now demolished), was owned by the Shakespeare himself. It was apparently the second largest house in Stratford at the time, and very fancy (he kept his family home - the Birthplace - and turned it into a pub!).

Nowadays the space is a lovely garden (complete with an Elizabethan style knot garden), dotted with sculptures inspired by the plays and benches for weary tourists to sit and take in the view. The garden was looking pretty gorgeous in the summer sunshine and was a wonderful space in which to sit and think and generally take a break before moving on to the next bit of historical sight-seeing.

Just over the road from Nash's House is the Guild Chapel (on the left in the photo below, with the Guild Hall on the right) which is decorated with some wonderful medieval wall paintings.


Before my trip I'd printed off a handy walking guide to Stratford-upon-Avon and though I didn't follow the whole route it was great to be able to spot buildings as I walked and read a bit about them instead of just thinking "yup, there's another old building". I do love it when tourist boards take the time to put their free leaflets up online!


My next stop was Hall's Croft, the house where Shakespeare's daughter Susanna lived with her husband.

The rooms here are decorated as they might have been in a weathly home of the time, there's a small but pretty garden and you can also see the "consulting room" where Susanna's husband (a doctor) would have worked.

My favourite object in the house was this painting of a woman and her child - I was quite delighted when the nearby guide gave me lots of extra info about it, and even more pleased when I spotted a painting by the same artist in Birmingham's City Museum & Art Gallery a couple of days later. I do so love portraits from this era!

A guide also helpfully pointed me in the direction of the nearby Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried. The leafy churchyard is quite lovely and the church has some very nice stained glass but I was starting to feel a bit worn out & didn't want to be too tired the next day for Blognix so I didn't stay long and decided it was time to head "home" (back to my hotel).

The church is right by the river, so I enjoyed a nice walk along the riverbank (where all the hire boats are named after characters from Shakespeare's plays)...

... bought a yummy icecream in town and then walked to the station to catch my train back to Birmingham.

P.S. I'll be blogging about my day at Blognix sometime soon :)

Saturday 28 June 2014

Stitching a Rose from Stitch & Sew Home

Remember that cross stitch project I showed you the back of the other day? Well, here's the front!

I'm stitching a pretty rose pattern from Eline Pellinkhof's lovely book Stitch & Sew Home. which I reviewed last year. In the book the pattern is stitched as a cushion but I'm using ordinary embroidery threads and sewing it to (probably) be framed in a hoop (I've not 100% decided yet).

So far it's mostly been a lovely relaxing project and perfect for half-asleep evenings in front of the TV.

Unfortunately when it came to choosing the blues I wanted to use I changed my mind a few times and had to do some tedious, fiddly unpicking (unpicking cross stitch is such a pain). This pic was taken mid-way through the third bit of unpicking...

First I used a too-dark blue (top left in the picture below) for the butterfly. I unpicked that, and re-stitched with the lighter shade (top right, below). Much better!

Then I started adding the second shade of blue (bottom right), decided it was too close to the new main shade I was using, unpicked it, started stitching with an even paler shade (bottom left), decided that the new blue was actually too pale after all and wouldn't stand out well enough against the white background, unpicked again... and went back to the original second shade. What a faff.

I'm happy with the blues now though (hurrah!) and am making a start on adding the greens...

... one shade of green down, two more to go. Fingers crossed I won't need to do any more unpicking!

Friday 27 June 2014

A Trip to Birmingham

A couple of weeks ago I took a mini holiday and went to Birmingham for a few days.

I'd treated myself to a ticket to Birmingham-based blogging conference Blognix and had decided that instead of having a crazy long day with an early start and two long train journeys, I should travel up the night before, stay in a hotel, and be fresh as a daisy for the start of the conference. This of course soon turned into the perfect excuse to spend a few days in the city and have a little birthday getaway!

I was rather looking forward to my trip, especially as Birmingham is somewhere I've never really visited before - I've just passed through it on the train to other places, been to conferences in the city in uninspiring hotels, and (of course) been to the NEC for events like the Festival of Quilts.

Booking holidays in the UK is always a bit of a gamble as you never know what the weather's going to be like, but it turned out to be pretty darn perfect with amazing sunshine on the days I'd set aside to explore the area and just a bit of rain during the conference itself (good timing, weather! Cheers!). I had a lovely relaxing journey up, doing some embroidery on the train in between staring out of the window at the passing countryside.

I'd planned to go to a museum or two on the day I arrived but actually the weather was so nice I didn't want to be indoors, so I just pottered about the city enjoying the sunshine, peering in shop windows, admiring the architecture and stopping every now and then for a cup of tea or an icecream (yum).


Unsurprisingly, there's lots of Victorian loveliness to enjoy in Birmingham as, like Manchester, it was a booming city during the Industrial Revolution. I love seeing the old and new bits of cities rubbing up against each other!

As well as some nice Victorian architecture, I saw some lovely Victorian art. I had a quick look round the City Museum & Art Gallery the morning I left the city and half wished it had been raining all week so I'd been forced to spend hours and hours exploring it's galleries. I just had time on this visit to admire the building, to check out their excellent Pre-Raphaelite collection and to resolve to come back for a longer visit next time (whenever that might be).

There's a whole gallery in the Museum devoted to the work of Pre-Raphaelite artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones, who was apparently born in the city. His work turned out (unexpectedly) to be one of the highlights of my trip.

I hadn't really done much research about things to visit in Birmingham before my visit, save for printing out a city centre map and looking up a couple of museums, so it was totally by chance that I happened to pass St Philip's Cathedral and think "oh, I'll just have a quick look round in here"... only to get my socks absolutely blown off by the most incredible stained glass windows, designed by Burne-Jones and made by Morris & Co.

I could write several paragraphs about these and how wonderful they are, but I shall refrain from doing so & just they say they are quite, quite stunning! (Click here to see some pics).

There's also a lovely Burne-Jones -designed window at St Martin in the Bull Ring. This apparently narrowly escaped destruction in 1941 as the Burne-Joneswindow had just been packed up for safekeeping when a bomb fell next to the church that night, destroying all the other windows.

St Martin's also has a nice quiet little cafe which I'll definitely be popping into next time I'm in the city and in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of the shopping centre.

After exploring a little of Birmingham's city centre when I first arrived, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and take a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon the next day... then the day after I went to Blognix and spent the day absorbed in the universe of blogging. I'll be blogging about both days very soon!

Thursday 26 June 2014

How To: Cross Stitch Sampler Brooches

A little later than planned thanks to some tech issues (ugh)... I have a fun tutorial to share today: sew some cute cross stitch brooches with little slogans on them!

I used to make these for my shop many years ago... here are some I made earlier :)


As well as putting together a tutorial to show you how to make them, I've drawn up some charts so you can get stitching straight away. Hurrah!

Will you declare yourself a "COFFEE ADDICT", or proclaim "I LOVE TEA"?

Celebrate thriftiness with a "MAKE DO AND MEND" brooch or the joys of reading with a "BOOK NERD" badge?

Or explain to everyone why there's cat hair on your sweater with an "I LOVE CATS" or "CAT LADY" brooch? (There is always cat hair on my sweater).


Or, of course, you can always get out a pencil and some squared paper and design your own stitch-y slogans!

To make a cross stitch brooch you will need...

- the cross stitch charts provided at the bottom of this post (or your own chart)
- aida (I used white, 14 count)
- white sewing thread
- stranded embroidery thread (floss) and matching felt
- white felt
- a brooch clasp
- embroidery scissors

To make each brooch...

1. Stitch your slogan! I like to stretch my aida in an embroidery hoop to give myself a nice taught surface to stitch on.

If you've never done cross stitch before, I promise it's very easy. There are lots of beginner tutorials available online, but basically you sew two stitches through the holes in your aida to form each X... and gradually build up the design you're stitching.

I usually use half the strands of my thread (floss) when cross stitching - i.e. just using three of the six strands - but for bolder text you can use the whole thread. This isn't the world's most in-focus photo (sorry!) but it shows the difference between using three strands (top) and the whole six-stranded thread (bottom).

Here are some slogans I stitched earlier. Make sure you leave plenty of space to cut them out in the next step.

2. Iron your stitching if you need to, then cut out your slogan(s). Use the holes of the aida as a guide to help cut a neat rectangle, then trim the corners so you get a nice curved shape.

3. Using your piece of aida as a template, cut a matching piece of white felt. This will be the back of your brooch. Set it aside for the moment.

4. Stitch your cross stitch design to a piece of felt in the same colour as your letters. Use white sewing thread and whip stitch to sew the aida to the felt.

Using white thread on white aida is great because your stitches will be almost invisible... but this isn't too helpful for a tutorial! Here's the back so you can see where I've stitched. Make sure you start and finish your stitching behind the aida itself as you'll be trimming the felt in the next step.

5. Use embroidery scissors to trim away the excess felt, creating a neat frame around your stitched design. Remember not to cut too close to the edge of your stitched-on-aida - you don't want to snip your stitching!

Scallop edging looks very cute but can be a bit fiddly. If you want a less frilly look or one that's simpler to cut, just cut a plain border to frame the design.

6. Turn over the piece of white felt you cut out earlier. Sew on a brooch clasp, using a double thickness of white sewing thread.

7. Then place the front and back of your brooch together, lining up the white shapes as carefully as possible. Use small running stitches to sew the layers together (I like to follow the first row of holes in the aida) then finish your stitching neatly at the back.

And you're done! Your finished brooch will look something like this:

Click here to view the template sheet in a new tab or window and print it at 100%

This tutorial is for non commercial use only. You may borrow a couple of photos if you want to blog about this project, but remember to credit me and link back to this page on my blog, and do not reproduce my entire tutorial / share my charts on your site. Thanks!

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Wednesday 25 June 2014

Show Your Workings

Remember being told to "show your workings" in maths exams??

(Boy, do I not miss doing those!)

Well, today I thought I'd "show my workings" by giving you a look at the back of a couple of my stitchy projects. People so rarely show the back of their stitching that I honestly have no idea if mine is a terrible embarrasing mess, surprisingly neat or somewhere inbetween (I'm guessing and kinda hoping it's the latter, but who knows?!)

Here's the back of the waterlily I stitched this month from a vintage transfer...

... can you spot the bit where - half awake - I paused and then accidentally re-started my stitching in totally the wrong place, carrying my thread across the design? I totally didn't notice I'd done it until it was waaaay too late to go back and unpick.

And here's the (much messier) back of a cross stitch project I started at the weekend.

I was feeling a bit under the weather and needed a nice relaxing project I could work on while curled up on the sofa, binge-watching Supernatural. I had a flick through some of the craft books in my studio and found a lovely one from this book.

I'll share more pics of this project as it progresses... although they will probably (almost definitely) be of the pretty front side of the cross stitch not the messy workings :)