A Year of Being Free from Migraines

Disclaimer: this is my personal testimony – if you think this might work for you, please do research it and, if you’re already on doctor-prescribed medication, please do check with your GP.

It’s all in the title, I suppose… I’ve been very aware of the anniversary approaching, and it’s been long enough now that I trust it, and I know am actually healed. Forever.

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When I blogged about migraines last year, the response was huge. I was amazed at the number of people that suffer. Is it weird (or bad?) that it made me feel better knowing it wasn’t just me? I’d spent days, weeks, months silently nursing dreadful fears about what was happening… it was like I lived in shadows even standing in sunlight. And then I blogged, and then hundreds and hundreds of people replied and commented on our Facebook page, and re-blogged and shared it and emailed us telling them how afraid they were, too, and suddenly I wasn’t scared I was dying anymore, and I didn’t feel alone anymore.

When I blogged, I’d just started taking feverfew. A couple of days after, as I was reading and reading and reading and reading, I came across something somewhere in the middle of the internet that said there is a correlation between migraines and magnesium deficiency.

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At the time, I was believing I was healed of the sheer torment of migraines, but I was still only days away from the last “event” so my footing was shaky. Actually, it was really shaky. I remember being scared that by writing openly that I was fixed, doing that would somehow bring on a humungous migraine.

It didn’t, and I am raising my hands in praise.

But, magnesium. I want to talk about that more because I think it’s partly what’s made the difference. After reading and reading and reading, I decided on Magnesium and B6 supplements. (That link will open up the Amazon page for the tablets. I’m not an Amazon affiliate and make no money from that… I just want you to know which one has helped me so much.)

No-one really knows why magnesium helps, because no-one really knows what causes migraines. The blood vessels in the brain either dilate or constrict, but no-one knows why.

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So, here’s what I do every day:

  • I chew a couple of leaves of fresh feverfew
  • I take 2 of the magnesium + B6 tablets with food in the morning
  • I take several tablespoons of unfiltered raw apple cider vinegar (one in the morning; one in the afteroon; one later on)
  • I have several glasses of water with barley grass powder
  • I try to drink at least 2 litres of water a day
  • and I try to get enough sleep

It probably seems like a lot but it’s really not. It’s second nature now. And it’s been a year since I had a migraine. As I wrote that, I let out an immense shuddery breath because the realisation of it hit me all over again. I’m free of migraines. I. AM. FREE. OF. MIGRAINES.

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I must say, I still have some light sensitivity sometimes, but even that is gradually becoming less of an issue. In part it might be that am still afraid of bright lights because they used to be a trigger. But I don’t need to be afraid anymore.

And, I am still aware of having “floaters” in my eyes. I have read a hundred scientific and medical articles about this and all say there is, and can be, no correlation between the two, but for me, there absolutely was. And I am still dealing with eye floaters, but I’m believing I’ll be free of those, too.

There were a lot of people last year that hadn’t heard of feverfew, and we received emails from people that started taking it and noticed a difference. I hope this helps someone out there: someone who cannot imagine getting their life back; someone who is locked in the cage, in the shadows, having been labelled “Migraineur”. I guess making it sound French makes it fancier.

Before you decide to try any of this, please read up on it: both feverfew and magnesium, for example, mustn’t be taken if you’re taking blood-thinners.

But.

If you do your due diligence and want to try this, too, in a year’s time, we’ll rejoice together.

 

Q&A with Sally Dixon – plus win a copy of her book!

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In 2010, I left life in London to train with a Christian ministry. There I met a lovely lady called Sally Dixon. Sally, runs the wonderful Sally Dixon Creations on Facebook. We’ve stayed in touch over the years, so when she asked us to be a stop on her new book’s international blog tour, we lept (leapt? leaped?) jumped at the chance:) Sally makes the most wonderful felt creatures, and has created dozens of patterns for people to follow so they can make wonderful felt creatures, too.

Hullo, lovely Sally, welcome to the Buttonsy blog! It’s such a pleasure to have you here… and to have read your gorgeous book, PIPSQUEAKS, which is absolutely chock-ful of adorable sewing projects and tutorials. Am gonna launch straight in with the questions!

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In your book, PIPSQUEAKS, you say it was your Aunt Elizabeth that gave you your love for sewing – how did it come about? Describe a sewing day/session for you and Elizabeth.

Great question, Anna!

My Aunty Elizabeth has always liked sewing. When I was about ten-years-old, she sent me a tiny package at Christmas time. Inside was a navy blue hand-stitched teddy bear brooch. He was blanket-stitched with contrasting red embroidery thread and had a fine red bow tie.

The teddy-bear fascinated me. I traced around the bear and created my own pattern. For the next couple of years, I made teddy-bear after teddy-bear. Different colours, different characters, different personalities! I started designing other felt creatures, and can clearly remember my rather crooked Brontosaurus. (Now that I’ve said that, I suddenly feel inspired to design pipsqueak-sized dinosaurs).

When I was eleven-years-old, Aunty Elizabeth sent me another great present: my first cross-stitch kit. I read the instructions carefully and taught myself the art of cross stitching. I became obsessed with cross-stitching and realise now that it was great training for making precise and tiny stitches.

And then, when I was fourteen, I went to stay with my Aunty in the Summer holidays. She had the most wonderful craft book filled with Brambly Hedge patterns. Do you know the Brambly Hedge books? The sweetest pictures ever. You can’t get more British than Brambly Hedge. My Aunty provided the materials, and under her guidance, I hand-stitched Primrose Mouse. I still own Primrose Mouse. Here’s a picture: (Note: If Primrose’s teddy-bear looks a bit misshapen, it’s because it once needed rescuing from the mouth of my bull terrier called Porkchop).

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When we first met, you were on staff at a Bible College/Christian ministry and I was a student: were you still making at the time or did you have to put your creativity on hold for a while?

You were such a lovely person to encounter and meet, Anna. So glad I met you. And you inspired me. I remember walking into the bookshop on the grounds of the Christian ministry where we met. Tucked amongst the books was a white display stand covered in colourful jewellery and crocheted products. A rainbow splash inside a shop! I stopped and stared and stared. And then I discovered that you were the genius behind that exquisite creativity.

At that same time, while you were selling your beautiful wares, my creativity business also began. To make extra pocket money, I crafted miniature gift cards to sell through the bookshop. I’ve always enjoyed card-making, but then I remembered how much I enjoyed sewing with felt as a child. I began to design and stitch a few small items.

At that Christian centre, we occasionally ran creativity courses for the students. Every human being is made in the image of the creator God, and all of us are designed to be creative. Sometimes life circumstances and hurts squash that creativity ability. But it’s still there!

On those courses, people were encouraged to express their inner creativity. It was amazing how, sometimes, deep-held emotion came to the surface, and people encountered a measure of healing through God’s presence and power.

I had the great privilege of helping people sew felt teddy-bears. It’s with great fondness I remember a day when students from China surrounded my sewing table. Most of them couldn’t speak English, but I discovered the power of creativity can even bypass language barriers.

As someone who loves to create, and desires to help other people create, I’m often reminded of a quote by Eric Liddell in the movie, ‘Chariots of Fire.’ Liddell said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” I like to paraphrase that quote to say, “God made me creative. And when I create, I feel His pleasure.”

I agree with you, Sally. The connection between creativity, and emotions, and openness is incredible! People (like me) went there feeling very remote emotionally, and spending time in the Creativity Room was the first step to making some of the walls come down.

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Tell me: do you have one very most favourite project in your book? I have to confess, mine is your Platypus Peekaboo Bed. I bought one for my husband a couple of years ago… they are adorable in person! Elephant Love is also particularly beautiful. Ooh, and I love Teeny Weeny Bear!

Now, that’s a hard question, Anna! Hmmm, what is my favourite? I had such fun designing the tiny, tiny cupcakes. And I am rather fond of the koala tucked inside his gum-leaf bed. But, all of the projects have brought me a good measure of pleasure.

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Are there other crafts you do, or would like to do?

I’m a very crafty person (in the creative sense, that is).                                                      

Throughout my life, I’ve gone through different craft phases. I’ve mentioned cross-stitch and card-making, but I’ve also enjoyed making miniature items from polymer clay. I enjoy drawing and painting, and hope to complete a children’s book illustration course one day (when I have time – not quite sure when that will be).

I do have a burning desire to learn to crochet. It’s something I’ve never done before. And I’m currently discovering the joys of photography. Taking my camera out into nature brings such peace inside my soul.

I’m also working towards becoming a children’s author. That’s a craft of its very own kind. I’m drafting a fairytale novel for my master’s degree at the moment.

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How does it feel, lovely Sally, to have your name on an Actual Book? Sally Dixon, Published Author… it has a ring to it, doesn’t it!

Oh, my goodness! It’s so surreal. I still have to pinch myself. I’m pondering the thought of creating a book pitch for a Christmas edition of Pipsqueaks. Perhaps, one day, after I’ve published several books, it might sink in that I’m a real author. That feeling hasn’t quite arrived yet.

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And, finally, is there anything you would want people to know about you, or about your work?

If anyone lives near me, they might be interested in my sewing workshops which will start soon. (I live in Adelaide, Australia). My first workshops will begin in a creative space called ‘The Barn,’ on the outskirts of beautiful town called Stirling. I’m particularly keen to teach children and teenagers how to sew Pipsqueak sized projects. I’ll design my workshops for different levels of sewing ability.

 I love the challenge of a new design. People are always welcome to enquire about custom designs.

I’m also in the process of updating my online shops:

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People will soon be able to pick-and-mix their own miniature felt playsets. They can choose from different pipsqueak-sized animals, miniature food, and other accessories. All items will be hand-sewn by me from beautiful quality wool felt.

 Here’s a sneak-peek example:

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Oh, and one last thing – I’m also a freelance writer. I’m contactable if anyone would like assistance with a writing project. I can help with a range of writing styles: craft, recipes, newsletters, stories, rhymes, puzzles, non-fiction, and more.

And there you have it: one of the very most truly lovely ladies. But wait… there’s more!

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Just leave a comment here and you’ll be entered into the competition to win a copy of Sally’s new book, PIPSQUEAKS, courtesy of C&T Publishing.

– USA winners will receive a hard copy of the book (C&T Publishing is based in the USA).
– International winners will receive a digital copy of the book.
– The winner from Sally’s blog post will receive a handmade item of choice from the Pipsqueaks book, as well as the Pipsqueaks book itself! The winners will be chosen on May 23rd, once the tour is completed.

Here is a list of the stops on the blog tour. Comment on each, and be entered into each!

10th May 2016
C&T Publishing Blog (California, U.S.A.)
 
11th May 2016
Margaret Bloom (San Francisco, U.S.A.)
 
12th May 2016
Karen Wasson (Melbourne, Australia)
 
13th May 2016
Joanna Riley (Shetland Isles, United Kingdom)
 
14th May 2016
Anna Day (England, United Kingdom)
Buttonsy Blog
 
15th May 2016
Louise, manager (Australia)
Madeit Blog
 
16th May 2016
Sally Dixon (Adelaide, Australia)

Product Photography… tips for beginners

Hullo! I feel like a bit of a fraud posting this as I’m still not that happy with our product photography and still feel like a novice, but we get such very lovely comments about our photos, and so many questions asking for advice… and objectively, I do think our photos have progressed and improved over the years, so I thought I’d do a post about it. There is lots of information out there, but I’ve never found much from an amateur, written for amateurs, without anything too technical in there, so I really hope this is helpful for someone.

I thought I’d post a few of our photos from over the years and document what we did differently, and any tips we’ve picked up along the way.

This is the earliest product photograph I could find of our work…. it dates back to about 2006? Something like that:)

11998955_964659216932310_7811179752306286309_nIt’s not too bad, but the surface takes some of the focus off the jewellery. The lighting is good and even, if a tiny bit harsh. It looks a little cold, because it’s has a slightly blueish tint. It was taken with a Fujifilm FinePix A600 point and shoot. At that point, I had no idea about photo editing… didn’t even know it was a thing! If I did, I would have added a bit of warmth to it (done by adding a little bit of yellow to the tone.)

11401395_923523524379213_5375222268644334852_nThis one was from 2010, and I know that because I started using my wedding bouquet as our background:) This one, again, isn’t too bad, but the lighting is harsh. You can see it coming in from the right side. It looks a little grey and dingey… if I was taking the photo again, I’d hang a piece of white voile/gauze/muslin in front of the window to diffuse the light. Diffusing light is how you’ll get that gorgeous drifty-light look.

Like the one before, I would also put it through photo editing to warm the tone a little. I won’t talk about white balance in this, but later on in this entry, I’ll talk about my favourite photo editing software (most of it is free and online) and quick tips.

That one again was taken with the Fujifilm point and shoot. It didn’t have a manual setting, as I recall – or, at least, if it did, I never used it. I always used the Auto mode, and it worked fine, so don’t feel pressured to go manual.

197373_431827746882129_1893207037_nThis was taken in 2011 or 2012 and there are a few issues with it. The first is the extreme lighting – on the left side, it’s blown out by the light, and on the right side, it’s too dark. The best thing would have been that fabric again, to diffuse the light and soften it. Can you also see that the photo is super grainy? It looks fuzzy? I had recently discovered photo editing, and I made some rookie mistakes!

I took the photo in the late afternoon (not a great time for taking photos!) so the light was already going. I then had to lighten it some editing software. Taking photos in the dark leaves photos grainy (it’s called “noise”) unless your camera is incredibly fancypants, so when you lighten, you just end up making it look even grainier.

If I was doing this one again, I would have waited a day, and taken the photo the next morning instead. Assuming I couldn’t have waited, I still would have lightened it (increased the exposure), but I would have lowered the contrast. The contrast makes lights lighter and darks darker – by lowering that, I would have made the difference between the light and dark parts of the photo less extreme.

When you’re lightening photos, do it by single degrees at a time… less is more with this, and it’s reeeeeally easy to go way overboard.

248720_458709287527308_2006878407_nThis was in 2012 and the problem here are the filters I used. I guess I was going for a vintage-y look but they ended up looking a bit grubby and dark. You can also see from the wee photos on the right that the shadow was extreme against the white surface because, again, I’d lightened it too much and set the contrast too high. Also, the fact that all of the photos have such different lighting makes it look a big slapdash. Having cohesive lighting in photographs is one of the best ways of branding them.

547466_508110299253873_722253803_nThis was from the winter of 2012 so the lighting was difficult. Also, we moved to a place with awkward windows… to this day, natural lighting is the bane of our photograpy life! The very top tip I would give for product photography is to use natural light. We’ve tried light boxes and sunlights and camera flash and they all ended up looking awful. Natural light is so the way to go. Just diffuse it if it’s too bright, and try to have it coming from the side.

Back to the daisy chain! As you can see, I’ve lightened it so much you can’t really see it too clearly, so to balance that, I’d also increased the contrast, which made the pollen bits look almost orange. That’s actually a really difficult piece of jewellery to take a photo of, but this photo was terrible. I think, actually, it was this very photo that forced us to get a new and better camera – we were beginning to think Buttonsy might really be something, and we knew that having better photos was becoming a bit necessary.

1724255_665781750153393_1543072883_nAt this point, we upgraded to a Canon Powershot SX500. It cost us £140 which for us, at the time, was A LOT to spend on a camera. I really honestly didn’t understand that with a camera, you literally get what you pay for. You really, genuinely do.

Anyway, as you can see, the light was coming from behind, and showing through the flowers, which diffused it enough to make the lighting gentle, which is the look we like. There is still a lot of noise, though. (Noise is that graininess I mentioned earlier.) This is because the photo was too dark again. The light being filtered through the flowers diffused it wonderfully, but if you’re taking a photo facing the light source, anything in front of it will be darker. S’why cameras coming with flashes – but I learned veeeery quickly that using the flash on product photography is an absolute disaster. It will blow out your photos completely.

So, I again lightened this photo so the daffodils inside were clearer… that worked fine, but it made the photo be grainy.

If I was to do this one again, I’d change position so the light was coming in from the side, then diffuse it with the fabric. I know I keep mentioning it, but it’s pretty much our secret weapon! If I would have changed position, I wouldn’t have needed to lighten it so much.

I know I keep harping on about light, but that’s just everything in product photography. At least, for someone like me who doesn’t know a lot.

10690138_852367131494853_1542377047656974009_nThis is from 2014, and I started thinking about how to make our photos look more professional… you know those amazing photos that look so very, very stylish? This was my attempt… and it’s awful. I bought a white wooden shutter, painted in chippy white paint and, in person, it really was white but in the photos, it looks blue-grey. I still didn’t know about “temperature” (I’ve just edited this photo now to show you a before and after – I’ll show that next.)

Also, can you see that it’s grainy? This is because I took the photo from quite far away, so I had to crop it a lot, and it lost a lot of its definition. I actually don’t think the original was THIS grainy – I copied it from our FB page, so it lost more of its quality when I did that. Facebook compress images to save bandwidth and the more you compress a photo, the smaller the file will be, but the lower the quality of the image.

Here’s the same photo with a little bit of warmth added:

10690138_852367131494853_1542377047656974009_n (2)It’s a lot better.

11041827_888914207840145_6641193200221721162_nAfter the wooden shutter debacle, I tried some other woods… I LOVE driftwood so I went looking, and I actually bought them off the internet. The gorgeous blue piece… we still have that, actually. It’s a beautiful piece of chippy, rustic driftwood – perfect for Instagram photos, but terrible for product photography. It completely took away from the jewellery piece. I so wanted our photos to look professional and stylish, though, and I had already spent years literally pulling my hair out struggling with this stuff.

I so very much do understand the frustration of not being able to get your photos to look the way you want them to.

With the photos above, I’d also started trying to make the backgrounds look blurry – all the best photos have blurry backgrounds😀 I do love a blurry background! I’ll give the links to the online editing software I used at the end of this. The problem with manually adding blur where there wasn’t any is it’s incredibly hard to make it look natural. It can so easily look like you’ve got your focus wrong, or manually added blur. Argh, so frustrating!

At the time, I was completely miserable because we had taken, by this point, upwards of 30,000 photos in total, so we were getting practised enough to see all the problems, but not practised enough to know how to fix them.

I knew, though, that we were going in the wrong direction… so we simplified.

11822603_949167455148153_8637240955585183811_nThis was better… I again messed up the blurring, but it wasn’t a catastrophe. The problem with this photo, though, and all of these with this styling – we kept to this for a few months – was it didn’t say anything about us. There was no character, or branding… or love. It was just very functional and slightly joy-less. Taking photos has always been a lot of hard work, but I’ve always LOVED it. At this point, though, it became a chore, because it did feel joyless. So, again, we knew something had to change. I started looking at other jewellery photos and saw things I liked and tried to emulate the styling I liked. Everything I tried was a disaster:

12043085_976999895698242_366362635149826825_n 12294733_1001368029928095_3660212193256032740_nThese aren’t good because they don’t feel like us. They’re not great photos anyway but – I truly believe this – because I tried to emulate the spirit and feeling of other photographs, it went wrong. It wasn’t our spirit or feeling, so it didn’t work. Vintage books are often mentioned as a brilliant background for jewellery, and I’ve seen some gorgeous examples, but ours weren’t successful.

I think this was my low point with photography, actually, so I took an online course. Or at least, tried to. It was run online by webcam with a large group of us and one tutor, and it was bad. The feed kept messing up and the tutor had different lighting to us and was talking about things we didn’t really understand. We actually logged off halfway through and I cried.

At this point, we’d also started using Instagram, and I found that demoralising, too, because I didn’t know how to make our Instagram page pretty. (I still don’t… it’s something we’re working out at the moment, actually.)

Anyway. I actually took time last September to think about what our business is, and the feeling of it. I decided to stop trying so hard to make our photos look like something I’d seen, and just decided to make them look the way they ought to.

We plumped for a small white dish and some small white flowers. Nothing more complicated than that.

I’d started learning more about our camera, so I was able to use it on the manual setting, which meant I could alter the amount of light and the amount of background blur. It made a huge difference!

il_fullxfull.865706012_3trrI still added to the blur using “tilt shift” – link coming up! – but the Canon SX500 did have some ability with depth of field (this refers to the part of your photo which is in focus, meaning the rest of blurry) so it was much easier.

The lighting isn’t that good, however. I wanted our photos to have that drifty, gentle lighting so I lowered the contrast (remember, this lessens the difference between the light and dark parts of the photo.) I lowered it too much, though, cos it made the photo too grey. At this point, too, I was using Photoshop – I’ll give you a link at the end for the best way to use it.

Anyway, the photo above was taken a few months ago and I think hubby could see that I was fast approaching the end of my rope with photography. He would constantly catch me online looking at cameras; we’d go to the supermarket or to buy a cooker from Currys, and I’d make a bee-line for the cameras. I spent hours researching them, and daydreaming about them and learning about the theory of them and looking at beautiful photographs. At the beginning of February, my wonderful husband told me we were buying a good camera. My dream camera was a professional DSLR, and that’s what we got. It’s our first “proper” camera, and it has made an enormous difference:

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IMG_7849 (2)I’ve barely done anything to either of these… I cropped them, and maybe lightened them a little but that’s about it.

Am now learning properly about aperture, ISO, f stops and all things like that – all of those things change your photo hugely. They determine how light it will be; how clear and how blurry. It’s an ongoing process, but am enjoying it so much. Am having to do it after work and on weekends, but I know that it’s worth the time.

Having a good camera made a big difference, but hopefully you can see that our photos did progress even with the basic point and shoot. If you’re struggling with your photos, I hope you find it encouraging knowing that it *does* get better. It took us 10 years to get our first proper camera and Buttonsy was flourishing even without it so, honestly, remember your success doesn’t depend on your camera. Photos are so important nowadays, there’s no denying it. Instagram and Pinterest mean we’re all super-aware of that stuff now. But it’s possible to take really good photos with a decent point and shoot.

My top tips would be:

  • Use natural light – not direct, though. A cloudy day is pretty much perfect. Avoid your flash like it’s the plague.
  • Make the thing you’re photographing the focal point of the photo… a nice background (eg, pretty fabric/driftwood) isn’t nearly as important as your product
  • Use photo editing software to tweak your photos – don’t just apply a pre-made filter.
  • Don’t try to emulate other photos you’ve seen… it will never feel natural for you. Think about what your designs represent, or how they make you feel, and you’ll find your style.
  • Keep taking photos. Take them of anything and everything. Change the settings on your camera, if you’re able to. Change a setting, take a photo, and make a note of it. Change the setting again, take the same photo, and make a note of what changed.
  • My main tip would be: know that your products are worth good photos. I am often amazed by how many product photos there are out there with a gorgeous handmade item, on a rumpled piece of cloth, or on a piece of kitchen towel, or where it’s so dark you can’t really see it. It may take a lot longer than you thought, but it is so worth it. I’ve often spent entire days editing photos – it’s worth the time.
  • Also remember that if you see someone whose photos you love, chances are they have put hours into it. They likely took 50 photos of the same thing and whittled it down to the best 5 or so. There’s no big secret that you’re not a part of – it’s just something that takes a lot longer than you expect it to.
  • And, lastly, just when you’ve seen improvement, you’ll probably want to change things again:) I’ve learned to see our photography as an ongoing thing – constantly being re-worked and improved upon. (We’re in the process now of re-taking *all* of our photos for the 3rd time. I can either see it as a blessing, or as a horrible, horrible chore. It’s totally a blessing!)

My favourite editing software:

The photoshop link above is to something brilliant called Creative Cloud. You pay around £9 a month and have Photoshop, Lightroom and a dozen other things. It’s tremendous, and if you’re willing to spend a few quid a month on this stuff, Photoshop is the benchmark for photo editing.

My most used-tweaks:

  • lighten – just remember to do it gradually so you don’t bleach your photo
  • temperature – if your photo looks a little blue, add a touch of yellow; if your photo is overly yellow, cool it down a little with a touch of blue.
  • crop – there are all sorts of rules with this. A lot of photography advice talks about the rule of thirds:200604301314You’ll often read that the thing you want people to focus on in your photo ought to be where one of the red crosses is… but don’t worry about that. I know am not qualified to say that, I really do – but I used to work myself up into such a tizzy trying to do that, and it never improved our photos. Crop your photos so your product is first and foremost – even if it’s in the middle of your shot.
  • sharpen – this is a tricksy one because over-doing it can make your photo look really bitty! But just a little sharpening can really bring out the details.
  • tilt shift – before we got the 7D camera and Photoshop, the tilt shift function at befunky was the thing I used the most. It will blur the front of your photo, and the background of your photo and keep the middle clear. You can adjust the angle and position of the clear section, too.
  • re-size – most cameras allow you to set your photo size but if you want your photos to be good quality, they need more pixels per inch, and they need to be bigger. This, though, means they will be several MB (megabytes) and most websites won’t let you upload photos that big. And if they will, it will take ages. Unless you’re going to be printing your photos, making them around 1000 pixels across the longest side is good.

I’ve just looked at the wordcount and it’s above 3000 which is an awful lot. And, honestly, I don’t know if any of this has been helpful… but I so hope it helps someone out there who is feeling the way I used to. I’m very obviously not an expert, but it’s something I care about *deeply* so if you have any questions, or just need someone to cheer you on, please leave a comment and I’ll try to answer, point you in the direction of someone that can help if I can’t, and cheer you on at the top of my lungs:)

The Copying Thing… how we’re responding

As I sit down to write this, my stomach is full of butterflies because sticking my head above the parapet makes me nervous. I would much rather hide away and avoid confrontation than get involved in anything that could lead to negativity or drama. I am hoping that as I write about this, by the end, I’ll be feeling not-angry.

We received an email today about a copier… the email said they’ve come across this page that has copied our jewellery.

As soon as I saw what page it was my stomach sank, because we’ve been contacted about them numerous times. I had a look and was horrified to see that it’s a couple of our actual signature pieces. (I’ve removed references to the specific pieces because I’ve been told the person has received emails, and we don’t want that to happen.)

I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been copied, but I think this is one of the more blatant cases… the thing is, most original designer/makers these days are copied. Normally by hobbyists, sometimes by huge companies and, thankfully, those latter cases usually hit the headlines.

When it’s a hobbyist or other small business, though, it’s incredibly hard becasue talking about it can make the original designer seem unprofessional. It’s why we never, ever talk about it. We don’t put it on our page; we don’t enlist people to post-bomb the copier’s page… we don’t even contact them anymore.

I’m finding that hard today, though, and part of me thinks that this particular copier is so brazen precisely because we’ve never said anything. Part of me wants to email them, but what would it achieve? If someone isn’t above copying, they’re not above denying it.

I spoke to a few friends about it, though, and a lovely lady called Emma Boyes – she runs a gorgeous papercutting business called Emma Boyes – Paper cuts – was telling me about something she heard from Rob Ryan (who she lovingly calls the godfather of papercutting): he is probably copied more than most designers, and he’s come to the conclusion that he can’t let it get him down. He just wants to work all the harder to get his name out there so the copiers can never overtake him.

This afternoon, husbandman and I were talking it all through, and I found myself saying “I won’t get bitter; I’ll get better,” and a lightbulb went on. And that’s how we’re choosing to respond to this.

I’ve really decided – committed – to taking a pledge, and am calling it “The Better Pledge”.

Pledge

I haven’t taken a plegde since I was a kid watching Blue Peter, and it’s one I want to take seriously because this is a reflection of our business and, beyond that, how I see myself as a person. I can either rage and cry and feel wronged, or I can forgive and press on and use it to become better. This is me committing to not becoming bitter; to not seeing other jewellery-makers as the competition; to not allowing it to bring me to a standstill… “better” for me means wishing the person well – genuinely, no matter how hard that feels – and picking up and designing new things, and not worrying and knowing that if we’re being copied, it’s because the copiers look up to us, and if someone looks up to us, what we’re designing and making is worth something. There’s reason to rejoice in that.

Throughout the day, I’ve found my mind has wandered back to it, and I find myself shaking my head in incredulity that someone wouldn’t be too embarrassed to do that. I find anger rising up again, and then I remember that I’ve taken the pledge, and my focus shifts. It shifts away from the copier, and onto joy and forgiveness and feeling incentivised to run our race.

I think I wanted to write about this because so many people have been – and are going – through this very thing. I wanted to tell you that you aren’t alone… being copied makes you feel impotent, and alone. But if we use it to become even better, we are so far from impotent, and not alone. In fact, if you want to take the pledge with me, do let me know.

And I want to say something to any copiers out there who may read this. I’ll use the words of my lovely friend Jen from My Paper Cut Heart: “Why, when we all have our own lights to shine, do some people still insist on stealing a little of someone else’s light? Making both lights a little dimmer in the process. Let people know that they have their own light inside of them waiting to be seen and that the world needs that, not a replica of someone else’s.”

A business cannot and will not thrive based on copies; it just can’t. It will bring in a bit of cash temporarily, but it will ultimately cripple the brand and its reputation. Have faith in your own imagination and designs. If you won’t do it out of respect for others, do it out of respect for yourself. You have beauty in you – let it out.

The path to success

I found a picture online recently and it reassured me so much… I’ve gone back to it a lot and finally thought that maybe others would find it encouraging.

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I think people that work for themselves often compare themselves to others. And, actually, it’s not just people that work for themselves. It’s most people. We try not to – rationally we know that it’s unwise, and it’s destructive – but we do it anyway. We see others in our field who appear to be so far ahead of where we are: they’re better organised; their photography is better; they appear to be growing faster than you; they’re being given opportunities you wish would come your way… all of which makes you believe that you are somehow fundamentally lacking.

But, listen – it’s not true.

comparingFirst: let’s stop comparing ourselves. Let’s just stop. It will never, ever make us feel better about ourselves (or our business). There is only one you – you are literally one in 7.349 billion. That makes you incomparable.

EaseSecond: let’s give ourselves a break. You are treading your own path. If there are 7.349 billion people, there are 7.349 billion paths. Yours may have been wonkier than you anticipated, but you’re on it and it is going somewhere. Don’t look at anyone else’s – we don’t see what’s going in behind the scenes for anyone else; we just see the edited, shiny-haired veneer.

PersevereThird: you haven’t missed your chance, or your opportunity. I don’t think it matters if we take one-step-forwards-two-steps-back sometimes… as long as we keep taking steps. And those two steps back are rarely a waste of time. They are horribly, horribly frustrating but, if we take a minute, there really is always a lesson in there that will help us in the long run.

I know am not saying anything ground-breaking here, I really do. But this is something I’ve been grappling with a lot recently – I almost came to a standstill because of it – and I wanted to share it with anyone else who’s struggling. So if you have been, please, take the rest of the night off. Do something that gives you joy. Crochet something; watch a movie; have a hot bath; bake something gooey; go look at the stars; get an early night… anything that gives you a little space to breathe.

And then breathe. In an out, very slowly. And consciously think about, wherever you are on your path, how wonderful your business is.

It isn’t less than anyone else’s, and neither are you.

Perfect Moments – Morning sunlight

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That moment of panic! And then utter release as I sink my head back into the pillows. They’re still warm. I don’t see how I would have been able to tear myself away from them. Sunlight is streaming in and everything is quiet… bizarrely and beautifully so. I can see dust particles hanging in the sunlight and it looks like glitter moving in slow motion. There is a magic about the light before 9am; it’s gentle and shy, like maybe overnight we forgot we need it and it doesn’t know if it’s still welcome.

The luxury of nowhere-to-be and no demands. I am free to lie here; to doze and nap and drift and dream to my merry heart’s content. My heart is so merry I can barely stand it. Part of me wants to stay awake so the time passes slowly… I don’t want the time to disappear and see hours fall away through sleeping. I can lie here and daydream instead: I will daydream about croissants and daisies and picnics and I will wriggle my toes deeper into the warmth of the duvet.

I pull it all the way up to my chin and it smells of fresh laundry, like it was on a line outside, rippling in the wind until it was dry. I think of blue skies, with white roundy clouds, and meadow flowers, and that fluttery sound a sheet makes when it’s being whipped by the breeze. When I was a child, Saturday mornings meant laundry, open windows, open doors, and classical music flowing through the house. Sometimes I joined my parents; mostly I squirrelled myself away watching cartoons with honey on toast and Philip Schofield. Even now, fully grown and years away, I can hear strains of Vivaldi celebrating the seasons and I marvel at the connections our senses make: sound and smell, colliding in a perfect storm of nostalgia.

I catch the scent of fresh coffee in the air, so I know my love is up. He will have padded down the stairs barefoot, still warm from sleep, wild of hair, fixated. The first glorious sip of the day, like bitter kisses on the tongue. We used to take it with cream and sugar – we used to take it as a pudding. These days, a dash of almond milk and some honey: just enough to soften anything acrid; not enough to hide the flavour.

We have learned to savour that first taste, and the anticipation of it. The heady steam rising from the cup that fills your senses when you bring it to your nose; the rich, dark heaviness of ground coffee beans burst open. It is almost enough to pull me from our bed.

I reach for my watch to see how much more time I can allow myself without feeling guilty. It is 7.27am, and I have all the time in the world. I forgot to deactivate the alarm last night but now I’m so grateful. Without it, I would have slept through. I would have woken up some time later, completely unaware of having missed one fleeting drop of Perfect. Instead I am here, and I am holding it in the palm of my hand and I am rejoicing.

Women

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Something “small” prompted me to write this. At least, it started small, but it’s reminded me of something big and wonderful.

When women don’t compete with each other; when we see each other as precious and valuable and feel no need to compare, or tear down or crush, the results are absolutely beautiful.

I’m not a “feminist”, I never have been, but I despise the way women are “set up” in society to see each other as the enemy, or the competition. It’s just been engineered that way, and it’s the norm now. Not with our friends, of course. We love our friends and would do anything within (and without) reason for them.

But women we don’t know: well, they’re to be eyed with suspicion. If they’re not trying to steal our husbands/boyfriends, we’re competing for the same job. If they’re not after our job, they’re prettier than us, or have longer legs or are more successful. Whatever. They’re not our sort of person and warning bells are going off.

And the problem is, it’s contagious. People tend to treat people the way they’ve been treated. A woman is treated that way by a woman, and in turn treats another woman that way, who then treats another woman that way… on and on it goes, getting bigger and bigger, sweeping more and more people into the sinkhole. It catches on and spreads like something ugly and aggressive until it becomes unspoken and normal – something diseased that’s woven into the fundamental fabric. But it isn’t normal! And it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

As an off-shoot from our Facebook page, about a week ago we started a Facebook group. It was intended to be somewhere more intimate – a way of not losing touch with people when FB is making it so hard to be seen, and a way of connecting with people via something that is inherently remote and impersonal. At the time of writing, there are 713 members. To the best of my knowledge, 712 are women. Also to the best of my knowledge, most were strangers before joining. I’m sure some people already knew each other but, for the most part, people started as strangers.

I am astonished at what is developing.

It is a place where we celebrate joy, where we laugh and make bad jokes, and it’s a place where we support one another. If someone is having a bad day, or if they’ve lost someone, or are going through something and they mention it, I can almost guarantee that they will get a string of replies from gorgeous women encouraging them and empathising with them and offering to help. It’s the same if they want to acknowledge something wonderful, no matter how small. And this is widespread across the group without a single exception. Not one single example of anything other than kindness. It’s utterly magical. I also believe it’s also how it’s supposed to be amongst women.

A wonderful lady mentioned that she’d been lonely before joining, and that’s changed now. That matters so, so much. Facebook – maybe even the world itself – is remote; it’s hard to make actual connections with people now. But that’s precisely what’s happening. It’s hundreds of women, being generous with their time and their love, to people they didn’t even know a week ago but now think about and cheer for.

It’s reminded me of what fellowship amongst women is like if we forget what we’ve been “trained” to think, and just accept each other precisely as we are. Groups of people will bond over a common interest: hobbies, dreams, experiences… in this group, the common thread is that we want to acknowledge and seek out happy, and the loveliness of the group is, I think, borne from the wellspring of that.

I feel so blessed to be a part of it.