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Interview: The Bright Blooms

They say that if you want something done you should find the busiest person you can and ask them to do it. So when I wanted to talk to somebody about fitting creativity into a busy life I thought that there could be nobody better to ask the question to than Atia at The Bright Blooms.

Atia works as a GP in a busy London practice, she has primary school age children, she has an active social life, a frequently updated blog, a house that she is busy decorating, and she creates beautiful knitted and sewn clothes for herself and her daughter, documenting them as works in progress on Instagram.

We met for dinner and a chat and somehow, instead of the productivity hacks that I had expected, we diverted into the much more fascinating topic of truth and reality. We spoke about human perception, and how we see things from the outside, how we make assumptions and how our use of social media affects this. It turned out to be a conversation about how our brains fill in the gaps. For Atia’s view is that she doesn’t do more of any of these things than anyone else; she just

shares them on Instagram a few times a week and then people assume that the rest of her life behind the scenes follows the same pattern. They fill in the gaps.

And in the filling in, they forget the time given over to chores and boring things, to the banal and unphotogenic, to sleep. Her friends think she must never be at home because she is “always” at a cafe or a bookshop or a flower show, simply because they are drawn to photos of her looking happy, out and about.

People like me think that she must be “always” making things as we remember the works in progress, the sumptuous colours, the gorgeous finished shots. And this is absolutely true – if I had guessed at her knitting rate I would have had her making something every single month. Yet that is far from the reality. In 2019 Atia made 4 jumpers. That is a good number of jumpers, an impressive collection, but it is a third of my estimate. I double checked her Instagram feed and, yes, there are 4 jumpers. The jumper she wore the night we met, a slightly fluffy pale lilac lace stitch, appears in her Instagram posts several times; as yarn bought at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, as a started project, as the background to some flowers, as a work in progress, as an ‘I must finish this by my holiday’ post and as a finished garment proudly worn. The photos cover March-September, but in my brain they didn’t register as the same jumper or, if they did, I condensed the timeline to a few weeks.

It made me realise that most of the distorting nature of social media – and particularly Instagram - is in the head of the viewer not the content of the person posting. You might wonder why this is important - you might question whether it is in fact important – but I feel that in a world where so many of us spend time absorbing other people’s lives through social media it is really important to know the bias of our brains - the way we fill in, assume, make everything brighter, faster, more. Because “Brighter, Faster, More” is not sustainable in our society.

A lot of our conversation was about the throwaway and about how, even when you are making things yourself, there is a balance that needs to be made that is sustainable. This is how the topic of the four jumpers came up - “Who needs more than four jumpers a year?”. Like many people, myself included, Atia was busy trying to rationalise her store of fabrics and yarns before buying any more, to curb that instinct of buying for buying’s sake, to resist constantly storing up against imagined scarcity.

If our brains encourage us falsely to see everyone else as more productive, more talented, more ‘well jumpered’ than us, it creates an aspiration, a striving which fools us into buying into the idea of ‘more’ being better. If, on the other hand, we can recognise the warping, deliberately slow down, appreciate the truth we can see things in real time and connect instead.

We did, in the end, speak about creativity and the importance of making time for it. Atia told me how she had learned to knit from YouTube videos in the run up to her medical school finals. To me that speaks of an instinctive grasping of the way ‘hand work’ can act as a vital balance to the ‘head work’ of exams, perhaps something that has allowed her to continue to make it a priority over the years when work and family commitments have increased.

She spoke about the need to just begin things – even if there was never as much time as you would ideally need. She cuts out sewing patterns while her children do their homework – but accepts that the actual sewing will be most likely be done another day, probably when they are asleep in bed.

Tips for fitting creativity into a busy life

  1. Break up your project into lots of small steps and fit them into pockets of time in your life.

  2. Properly schedule it into your life; it may feel odd putting 'cut out dress pattern' into your diary, but things that get scheduled get done.

  3. Make sure you have all your supplies to hand – it is so easy to waste all your creative time looking for scissors or a pencil.

  4. Pack up projects into easily carried bags – have one in your bag so that you can spend waiting time being creative rather than just scrolling on your phone.

Find Atia on Instagram at @thebrightblooms and @thebrightbloomshome. She also co-hosts the un:CUT podcast.

Tags: life learn

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I am a bit of a womble.  My Studio is a layering of things that have been found, things that have been saved, things that have been given to me - I like to be surrounded by a bit of history. ⁠⠀
I am known as an avid skip diver so people kindly keep me things.  This weekend I am off to pick up 13 sash windows rescued from a skip.⁠⠀
This is my dye cupboard - the mordants and other powders, the piles of fabrics and yarns, my newly started record book and the glue to paste the swatches in.⁠⠀
It has had a hard life - the back is patched with hinges as plates, there are many, many layers of paint and a door has gone missing along the way.  It is perfect.⁠⠀
Back when I grew flowers commercially the area that is now ‘the orchardy bit’ was rows and rows of spring bulbs.⁠ In the years where the deer didn’t eat the tulips they looked magnificent, stripe upon stripe of pure pigment. ⠀
When I turned my back on growing for money, we simply took out the beds and levelled it, turning it back to grass.⁠⠀
The tulips quickly gave up - never brilliantly perennial here anyway, they took the opportunity to fade out fast.⁠ Well if you don’t want us . . . ⠀
The narcissi loved it though and every year appeared back in their serried rows through the grass. ⁠There was something disturbingly grave like about them.
My planting  ever since has all been an attempt to disguise that - feathering the edges, making little islands, trying to make it all look haphazard.⁠⠀
Gradually it is working - this is the edge of what would have been a bed of Narcissi geranium (best vase life, along with best scent) - now happily interspersed with a pheasants eye and a little lemon coloured one I have lost the name of.
And the hedges beginning to vibrate with that gloriously specific spring green.
This week has been about experimenting.⁠⠀
Experimenting with all the ways to dye with daffodils, experimenting with the new e-course part of my website, experimenting with shooting and editing videos on my phone.⁠⠀
My business hero is @sethgodin and his mantra is 'ship it' - a way of saying that the best way to learn is to make things and get them out in front of people before they are polished and 'perfect'.⁠⠀
So I took his advice and combined all three experiments. Today's newsletters will have links to a free e-course all about dyeing wool with daffodils.⁠⠀
I have been absolutely amazed by the colour you get from faded daffodil flowers (see the second photo). It is a bright, yet somehow soft, golden yellow which is now adding an amazing zing to my pile of plant dyed fabrics.⁠⠀
I am prone to obsessions.  My brain hones in on topics and rabbit holes away, a constant background chatter to my life.⁠⠀
It annoys the people I live with as my world shrinks to one topic. ⠀
My camera roll shows me it is three years ago this week that I returned to natural dyeing with plants, concentrating on using only the plants growing within a couple of miles.⁠⠀
Three years of experimenting with plant after plant, three years of googling and reading obscure articles and piling up samples. ⁠three years of conversation about mordants and modifiers. ⠀
Three years is a short time in such a slow craft. A blink of an eye. ⁠⠀
But already I can see a difference in my skill.⁠⠀
This is a corner of the cupboard where I stash my fabrics and yarns building up enough for a project.  These have all been dyed this year - with barks and cones. ⁠⠀
This week I am dyeing with bright deadheaded daffodils and the golden yellows will join these soft terracottas and pinks while I dream up something to make.
I grow very few white flowers. ⁠⠀
White summer flowers tend to mark in the rain - white roses look like discarded tissues, white dahlias spot brown.  Even cosmos purity - which I do grow - goes droopy and grey in a way that the coloured versions don't.⁠⠀
The petals of spring bulbs however seem rain resistant - so I can indulge my love of white flowers and enjoy them backlit by the morning sun on the Studio window shelf.
Bright and light and pretty.
I am spending a lot of time in the greenhouse at the moment - playing an endless game of jenga with my seed trays.⁠⠀
Many of the seedlings are for the community gardens - being planted out gradually under fleece. We are biding time, taking the cautious route so that we minimise the risk of everything being wiped out by a very cold night.⁠⠀
We still have a full month of frosts to go here - little ones of -2 or 3 are manageable, an extra covering of fleece, some bricks to act like a storage heater.  Most hardy seedlings will recover from getting their tips nipped a bit.⁠⠀
Last year though we had a really cold night in mid May, when growth was going well and sappily. It blasted the blossom and killed many of my hardy veg too. Slightly too late to resow.⁠⠀
Speak to the older generation of gardeners and they all sowed and planted out much later than is the fashion today.  They perhaps had a point.
I wrote in my Friday letter this week about the sudden lifting of the uncertainty and inertia that had been dogging me for a few months.⁠⠀
It's always easier to write about these things once they are resolved - do you find that?  Once I am unstuck and lolloping along happily again, I can look at it all and not get sucked down.⁠⠀
Of course all this talk of getting going again, of new plans and exciting things . . . . it all actually means hard work. ⁠⠀
Head down, working through an actual written plan kind of hard work.  Not always my natural strength.⁠⠀
So yesterday I rearranged the studio window shelves and cleared the working table, ready for an uninterrupted start today. ⁠⠀
An attempt to keep momentum.

About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.


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