During my two hour traipse along the Thames at the weekend, my eyes were a-boggle at the variety of food traders on offer at The Thames Festival. Had I had a purse full o’ cashola, I would have indulged myself in some van food, but alas, I had not a bean – so… I, um, had not a bean. I did take some quick snaps of some of the stands I got excited by – either because they had amazing names, amazing branding or because they were proper mobile food outlets. Decked out trucks, pimped up vans and prettified buses… Swoon. It’s Clare and I’s dream to have a business on wheels.
I got in trouble when I was little for cutting up family photos and using them to make greetings cards. I cut out faces and added funny captions. The captions were as funny as captions can be when the person writing them is only 7. I presented my sisters and parents with my handmade cards on special occasions. I think my dad still has a few of my photo collage creations stored inthe big bottom drawer of his big ol’ desk. The desk is the bain of my mother’s life but that’s another story. Best left well alone.
I insisted that the photos I cut up were MY photos and that I ought to be able to do with them as I wished. That was partly true. Most of the photos were mine. They had been taken with my bright pink PIX camera with the purple curly keyring attachment thing that allowed crazy wee girls to WEAR their camera on the beltloop of her Bros jeans. Which I did. But some were stolen from photo albums and from pockets of pics that lay around abandoned in the kitchen. I usually ‘rescued’ them from the fruit bowl. The fruit bowl seldom had any fruit in it* but my goodness, it was the place to go when you were in search of an emery board.
I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. My reasoning was, that since I didn’t have any money of my own to buy fancy cards and presents, I’d be resourceful and make my own. I hadn’t really considered that my parents had paid for my photos to be developed and that they probably hadn’t banked on me cutting them up into tiny pieces when I got them home from Snappy Snaps. My very first photo cards were received positively: “Oh! Isn’t that funny?!”/ “Isn’t that cute and a little bit clever… How nice!”. After I’d cut up a fair few years worth of holiday snaps though (many a pic of my mum and dad drinking Campari soda in Lloret De Mar was trimmy trim trimmed), I was instructed, in no uncertain terms by my mother, to stop vandalising the photo albums. I was quite hurt. VANDALISING the photo albums?! My creativity was stifled. Hey mummy! Don’t fence me in.
So. Being a (by and large) obedient kind of child, I stopped destroying fun family memories and instead turned my hand (which was, let’s be quite honest, always holding scissors) to magazines. Jeeez, I have been banging on about magazines a hell of a lot lately, haven’t I? They are always on my mind.
The ‘cutting up magazines’ obsession stayed with me a looooong time and actually, it wasn’t until I happened upon a feature in new favourite mag ilikemystyle earlier, that I realised how long it’s been since I made a magazine collage gift or greetings card.
When I wasn’t cutting stuff up to make into DIY gifts, I was cutting stuff out to stick on my wall. Even when I was really little, I liked to put loads of things on my walls – mainly photos of boys and of bands I’d torn out of Smash Hits or Jackie. As I got older though, I started just cutting and tearing stuff out of magazines I thought looked good. Advertisements, fashion supplements, funny text, random pictures and interesting graphics. I started with one area of wall – a pin board. Pretty soon the pin board was extended to the whole of the wall it hung on. Then, little by little, wall by wall, the pics spread and spread. I would add, replace and rejiggle, always making sure that I still loved the pictures I’d surrounded myself by. Thinking about it now, a LOT of them were quite raunchy. Quite provocative. I don’t think I’m so saucy now.
When I moved into my first flat (Nurse Betty’s house), I managed to contain my collage wall to one specific space. I was the curator of my own cut out and keep gallery. I’m not sure visitors always understood or appreciated my choices, but it didn’t bother me too much. I think Nurse Betty thought they were funny. She had funny things on her walls too. When I began co-habiting with a fella, I had to rein the collage wall in. I can’t really remember clearly, but I imagine this might have been the point at which framing choice pieces and displaying things in decidedly more adult formations became the norm somehow. I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little bit disappointed.
A wee while ago (though it could be as much as a year or two ago in reality!), I took a notion for image hunting and intended to pick out a series of new cut-outs to decorate the innards of my hall cupboard. I pulled out all my magazines. I made a bundle of issues that I wanted to keep intact and then set about searching for fun stuff in the others. I cut out a few gems but, you know? I wasn’t so inspired. I found it more difficult to attach new meaning or humour to the pages. When before, I might have ended up with a pretty healthy bundle of different bits and what not, I found myself with a paltry little selection of tat that I wasn’t really that enthused by.
I enjoyed the actual process of finding bits and pieces. I enjoyed physically cutting them out while trying to create a formation of pictures in my head – but I felt a bit silly when Beardy, who was sitting at the other side of the living room watching tv as I made some sort of Blue Peter-esque mess on the other, asked…
Beardy: “But what is it you’re DOING?”
Me: “Finding pictures I like”
Beardy: “But, what are you going to do with them?”
Me: “Well… Well… I don’t know. Something. Put. Them… Together? In frames? Like a grown up lady might?”
Beardy: “But we have loads of prints and photos to frame and put on the walls. What are these ones for?”
Me: “I just thought… Um. I don’t know. I was going to paste them in the inside of the cupboard. Like wallpaper.”
Beardy didn’t say much after that and the conversation, coupled with the stupid tiny bundle of pictures I’d collected, (which, let’s face it would not fancy wallpaper make unless the wall was the size of a small fireside rug), kind of put me off. I think he thought it was weird that I was cutting out pictures of beautiful people I didn’t know and beautiful things that were utterly detached from us with the intention of making them into something relevant for our home. I’d never thought that weird before, but I guess it is a little bit odd.
Magazine collage gifts I can clearly remember making…
Age 17 (ish)
I made a giant A1 collage for a boy I chucked but soon after regretted chucking (and I really did ‘chuck’ him too – how awful… Heartless bitch). I intended to present him with it by way of apology. I never did get round to it. I kept the collage for YEARS – not because I thought I might give it to him one day, but because I rather liked it.
Age 18 (ish)
I made a greetings card for my friend’s birthday. It was quite, quite rude and makes me blush even now just thinking of it. She made me one similar (and even MORE rude) the following year for my birthday! I still have it in my big green box of Important Stuff I Will Keep Forever.
I started that list thinking I could remember loads more very particular collage gifts, but turns out, I actually only remember those two.
LIST of stuff I remember I had on my wall between the ages of 14 – 19
1. Picture of a man with painting his toenails dark blue
2. Picture of Evan Dando in a stripey robe and Doc boots (I still have this)
3. Picture of Jean Marc Barr in the shower (I still have this too)
4. Picture of pretty woman with great makeup, short choppy hairdo and funny frilled collar shirt
5. Picture of a slinky
6. Picture of Elvis from 1968 Comeback Special (My mum now has this on her fridge)
7. Picture of a lady’s tongue piercing
If I had free rein to plaster exactly what I wanted over any wall I pleased, I expect my selections might be a little bit different from those of my 19 year old self. When once my big massive wall collages reflected the tastes of some little wanna-be-wild-child with a penchant for saucy photography and heavily pierced skateboarders, nowadays they’d probably look more like that wall in Sainsbury’s where Jamie Oliver keeps his recipe cards. I’d probably cut out and paste a lovely picture of an Ensalade Caprese or a nice pizza. I might cut out a picture of a pastel coloured Littlewoods granny nightie and some enormous pants. Comfy shoes. I’d definitely hunt out some comfy shoes and pop those up there. If I happened upon a photo of a sensible car, I’d cut that out and I might pop up some pics of bin men. Oh how the wild child has fallen…
I’m not ashamed to admit it. I do judge a book by its cover. I’m pretty sure most of us do. At least a little bit.
To bite one of my favourite Clare Nicolson phrases of all time, I come over all ‘Jessie Judgemental’ when it comes to choosing books – craft & lifestyle titles in particular. Heck! My coffee table, if indeed I had one, would positively buckle under the strain of craft, interiors, fashion and design books that live in my house. I am a self-confessed sucker when it comes to a gorgeous cover, a beautifully designed sleeve, pretty photography… a quality paper choice…, an unusual finish, an interesting binding or quirky spine. I can’t help but fall for the papery charm. But, I’ve found, a bit like seeing a fashion designer rocking up to Fashion Week sporting a teal velour tracksuit and a pair of Crocs without so much as a smidgeon of irony (like that would ever happen), my toes bunch like nobody’s business when I search through the standard offering of craft books.
Why, oh why, does it appear that the majority of mainstream craft titles are forever destined to be the Croc-wearing style faux pas of the book shelf? I don’t doubt that the content of the books is wonderful in some cases – horrid cover or no horrid cover – but to my mind, I want my lifestyle book to woo and excite me from the first moment we meet across the ‘recommended’ aisle. Why disguise an otherwise great little read in an offputting sleeve?
Now, I could chatter all the live long day about my favourite book covers and more importantly, about my favourite crafty books and crafty writers and why I love them, but at the minute this is a topic that’s hot, hot, hot in the Maclennan household for more substantial reasons.
This summer, my very first craft book will be published. Soon – there it’ll be… On Amazon. It’ll be sitting alongside all the other titles for the book buying, web shopping world to see. The cover of my book hasn’t been finalised by my publisher yet. I wish I was allowed to show you drafts – but I’m not. Soon! Soon I’ll be able to give sneaky peeks. I have limited (if any) say in this bit of the process since the important decisions about sales and marketing (and what the book looks like on the outside) are undertaken by dedicated specialist teams. Of course, as a complete control freaker (no point denying it), I don’t have to tell you that this lack of steering power is driving me just a ‘lil bit loopyloo. All I can do now is hope and pray that these specialist teams are equally well equipped and talented in research, design, typography and semiotics as they are in trend forecasts and sales strategy. My book cover is in their hands… Wish me luck!
This evening, I conducted a little bit of research of my own. Working on the principle that we do judge a book by its cover, at least at the very beginning of our (potential) relationship with it, I settled down to scour the first 30 pages of search results on Amazon, picking out books based on my attraction to the cover alone.
I searched for ‘craft books’ in the ‘lil Amazon books search box.
Out of 360 titles, I selected just 8 to inspect more closely based on an initial judgement of the cover design. Here are the covers that enticed me when I spotted their thumbnails on the Amazon listings…
I searched specifically for sewing books (my book is about sewing you see) and did the same… I didn’t include the same books I’d already chosen in phase 1. Again, weirdly, just 8 titles of 360 engaged me enough to want to know more about the content of the book.
So there we have it. A sad and rather sorry tale. Following an entire evening of web trawling, out of 720 covers, only 16 caught my eye enough to make me give a hoot about the content inside. Now that, my friends, is a depressing little sum and doesn’t bode well for my little offering. So - I need your help. Since I can’t rely on my own eyes alone, I’d like you to share your favourite craft/lifestyle book covers with me. If you wanted to – you could even try the Amazon experiment (maybe scaled down a little bit!). Let me know what you think about my selections – share your craft book buying experiences.
Share your thoughts below, why don’t you?