After a somewhat extended break from blogging following several weeks of working abroad and holidaying, I am back to London Parchment-ing. I arrived back from Singapore last Sunday and one of my first crafty tasks was to make some homemade Christmas cards. I thought I’d share them, and chat about the materials I used to make these little cards.
A few weeks ago The London Parchment turned a year old. First and foremost thank you so much for sticking with me! I’d like to use this post to pick out a few brief thoughts I have of the year gone by and to revisit some of my favourite photographs. There are links dotted throughout for you to check out if you joined me somewhere throughout the last 12 months.
It was a spectacular drive to New York. We crossed the border straight from Canada into New York state and drove through another stretch of forest without hardly seeing another soul. We were so deep in the great outdoors that we actually lost phone signal for about 2 hours on the drive. Driving into Manhattan is an experience in itself. (Practical real-life tip: if you’re dropping off a hire car in Manhattan, don’t agree to return the tank full. There are no petrol stations anywhere!) Within 100m of emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel I was honking like a local.
Montreal, what can I say. It took all of about three hours for Montreal to become my new favourite city in the world. High praise, I know, but it is well deserved. The picture below is a shot I took of Habitat 67, a housing complex originally designed by an architecture student, designed to amalgamate urban apartment living with having the qualities of suburban life, such as open space. I spent quite a lot of time walking around it and it was so interesting. Just one of the things that makes Montreal unique.
A remarkable quality about Amsterdam is its glaring absence of garish brands repeating themselves every five hundred metres or so. I saw one Starbucks the whole time I was there. This is a city and country that cares deeply about design integrity. I could have spent my whole trip popping in and out of little independent stores full of high-quality, well thought-out products that say something about how they came to be.
Before I went away I faithfully gathered tips on the best bookshops and stationery shops to visit, should I get the opportunity. These are the ones that I managed to visit during my trip.
What a wonderful store. I mostly perused the magazine section of Athenaeum as I particularly love browsing magazine stores and this is one of the best I’ve been to anywhere. It’s actually a separate shop to its bookstore brother, is simple, cosy and set over a couple of levels. There is an amazing collection of magazines on every subject – the best to browse when in Amsterdam are obviously the design publications – but there are sections about music, film, travel, fashion… the list goes on.
These magazines aren’t your disposable rags but they are published and designed beautifully, meant to last and have enough to keep you going for the length of any normal book. They’re laid out over shelves from ceiling to floor, and you must navigate your way around eager stacks of magazines laid out like islands in the sea throughout the shop. Luckily Athenaeum is in a very central and accessible part of town; Het Spui near Kalverstraat has several bookstores and literary-looking cafes to keep you interested.
I could have picked up a copy of most magazines in there but I dutifully came away with my all time favourite, the Frankie magazine (you can read my review of the 2015 Frankie Diary here). I keep all of my Frankie magazines because they are so beautiful and full of stories, letters and crafty tips and tricks for me to return to in the future, should I so wish. Now I know that my March edition from 2016 came from Amsterdam.
Even if you come away empty-handed from Athenaeum, I guarantee you will enjoy your browsing experience and leave with a bit of inspiration, whether it’s wanting to look at more photographs, needing a travel book in the future, looking up a publisher or writer you’ve never heard of, wanting to read more poems… it’s a store that just got me really excited. Oh, and their website is great too.
This recurred on my searches for the best stationery shops in Amsterdam and it did not disappoint. It’s a bright, neat and subtle store on a street lined with independent retailers with huge windows to peer at all of the treasure inside.
On entering the shop you’re faced with a long central table covered with a rainbow array of short stacks of notebooks, jars of pens and erasers, paper goods and planners. The shop also uses lovely props such as an old whitewashed piano, pigeon hole unit for their cards and a chalkboard bearing the name Like Stationery.
The owner, Sanne Dirkzwager, has a large collection of magazines and paper goods proudly lining the inner depths of the shop. It’s a gorgeous store, incredibly well thought out – I noticed a little bit of colour coding on the main table! Sanne is a Dutch graphic designer who is a creative soul that you can discover more about through her website http://www.strawberryblonde.nl; Like Stationery is just one of her many beautiful projects.
I spent a long time looking at Like Stationery’s products, flicking through notebooks and testing out pens. They have a large collection of ballpoints, notably Hightide Penco, and a wide selection of cards, all of which are handmade at the store and feature a range of colourful, fun and minimalist designs. I also discovered a brand I hadn’t heard of before; Y Studio which feature simple and timeless design mostly using metals in deep blacks and brushed brass.
On looking at Like Stationery’s website post-visit, they also do a themed stationery subscription box which looks stunning. Some of the previous themes have included “connecting the dots”, “untainted” which included a range of cream and white stationery, and “shades of marble” including some gorgeous marbled and multicolour products. It looks to be a very considered and thoughtfully curated box. If I could I definitely would.
I would really recommend popping in to Like Stationery for so many reasons: the area it’s in is beautiful and you’ll have a great time exploring all the lovely shops; the paper products on offer are great and varied – you’ll find notebooks, letter-writing sets, thick and creamy wrapping paper, journals and planners; there are lots of recognisable and not-so-recognisable brands to peruse and the store itself is a delight, full of fun and personality. The products I came away with are a Ballograf Epoca Chrome ballpoint pen with archival blue ink, a flexible synthetic Milan eraser and a homemade card.
This is actually primarily a bag shop but uncovered a theme of Amsterdam shopping for me that, once I became aware of it, I suddenly noticed everywhere. It’s amazing how many shops in Amsterdam specialise in something, but also happen to have a corner dedicated to something completely different but complementary. So Property Of… specialises in bags of all sorts, but has a small but effective stationery section full of Midori goodies, polished brass writing implements and Kaweco classics, a selection of high-quality travel books, oh and it sells coffee too. It just works in Amsterdam.
This experience will have its own future dedicated post because I took the plunge and bought myself a Midori Travelers Notebook. Full sized, black leather. And the reason I just had to have it here is because the shop is equipped with its very own leather embossing machine which the kind assistant patiently showed me how to use. I came away with my very own monogrammed Travelers Notebook.
If you get a chance to pop in this is a lovely and curious shop. All of the products on offer are very high-quality, timeless and stylish. The stationery offer is small but effective; if you’re going to dedicate a little portion of your store to something different, dedicate it to products that you know work wonderfully. This seems to be the ethos amongst all of Property Of…’s added bonus products.
Another mainly non-stationery store, Koko Coffee and Design has a vintage cabinet stocked with classic stationery products including Kaweco pens and pencils, a wooden draw overflowing with washi tapes, beautiful little leather goods and marbled notebooks. I enjoyed their selection of one-sided cards and decided to pick one up; the paper is thick and textured and I love the fun pattern. I’m so into yellow at the moment. Again, the products on offer are very well thought-out and make the most of their little corner within a shop full of design beauties.
If you walk a little further into the store, offbeat tables and chairs are set up amongst the pristine and colourful racks of clothes. It’s very comfortable and relaxed.
So concludes my whirlwind trip of Amsterdam and the stationery and bookstores I encountered within it. Every impression I’ve had of the way stationery and books are considered within the shops I went into is an overwhelming feeling of respect for great design and longevity. All of the shops whether specialist or with a little outpost of stationery offer products meant to last and offer them within an environment that is design-conscious and personal. They all feel luxury without making you feel out of place. These aren’t “office supply” stores. I really enjoyed the experiences within each store and would heartily recommend them as fantastic shops in their own right but also wonderful, honest reflections of the city of Amsterdam.
(On my list I also had Misc-Store which I’ve heard great things about but sadly I didn’t get the chance to pop in here. Next time!)
I spent the weekend just gone in Amsterdam and I loved it. I’d heard universally positive reviews of the city. In fact, I’m going to publish two posts in quick succession; this one about my trip and a second specifically about some of the stationery encounters I had. I thought it was best to separate them for fear of writing an essay!
Amsterdam has a very compact city centre but it is unlike any other I’ve ever been in. Gone is the pollution, haste and noise of zone ones everywhere. Somehow it manages to be quiet, slow and human. There’s a beautiful symmetry to the buildings because of their heights, window style and spacing, continuity and colour palette. They frame the low canals but looking a little closer at them shows that each building has its own individuality. A red shutter here, a bell gable there, a little plaque with a sword on to identify the building before street numbers were used, a shiny green door. Not only that but people live on the canal too, whether in traditional houseboats or sturdier canal house units made of wood. Public art dotted throughout the city also marks the territory of the young and creative.
We stayed a little outside the main centre at Mercatorplein and hopped on the tram when we needed to. I always think that trams add a sense of vibrancy to a city because they are integrated amongst the people and are a visible part of its movement and sounds. You are able to see and still experience the places around you while travelling somewhere comfortably and reliably. I always think that they also have a great continental European urbanism to them. And of course, intertwined with the people and trams are swathes of upright cyclists going about their business. Looking around them, taking time and care, parking their bike on a canal rail that is already buried by three layers of resting bicycles. In London we suffer a little from cycling being seen as the realm of the Cyclist with a capital C, someone who moves quickly, has the equipment, knows where they’re going and is well acquainted with roads of all kinds (at work this has been referred to as “lycrafication”… I’m sorry.) and this isn’t the dynamic in Amsterdam in the slightest. It’s a small and pedantic point but I believe there really is a difference between a “road” and a “street”. Amsterdam is made up of streets.
Our days were spent mostly languishing around the canals. I had a great list of tips compiled before going; places to pop into should the weather not be so friendly, museums, shops etc. I found that such structure didn’t work for Amsterdam. It’s more of a stroll and see what’s around kind of place. During our couple of days we hopped on a canal boat tour which was lovely, visited the Foodhallen which is an indoor food market housed in an old cavernous tramshed, had long brunches, stopped off for half pints of witbier whenever possible, and perused several street markets full of food, flowers and crafts. Flowers are everywhere. I’ve heard before that the Netherlands are the cut flower capital of the world. It’s good to see that they’re keeping some for themselves.
Although our days were long with walking, it was such a relaxing weekend and I would love to return in the summer when all European cities seem to be at their absolute best. Next up, the stationery and bookstores that I sought out and stumbled across!
My boyfriend and I are engaged! This happened on my birthday in February and is responsible for the radio silence on the London Parchment. Everybody wants to see us and celebrate; it’s been wonderful. We had a few days off in February and on one of our sunny Fridays we headed due west in London to Kew Gardens. It was fabulous. Long walks around the grounds with hardly anyone around, basking in the warmth of the greenhouses and enjoying the annual February orchids exhibition.
Before I bombard you with photos, let me tell you about a few of the recent stationery tools I’ve been using. These will all have their own posts very soon:
Diamine ‘Meadow’ – a little something to evoke spring time. I’m using it in my TWSBI 580 AL (extra fine nib) and it’s very zingy.
Word pocket notebook – my first venture using one of these. I’m moving house in the not too distant future and with its handy bullet system I’ve gravitated towards using it for punchy lists.
Mark’s Tokyo Days Mechanical Pencil – this is made to look like a traditional pencil. It’s fun in appearance but I’m finding it fairly average as far as pencils go. It rattles when I’m writing! Grrr!
Kuretake Wink of Stella and Wink of Luna brush pens – I’ve become a big fan of Kuretake and I’m still really enjoying practicing brush lettering – I’m hoping to produce some wedding invitations now that we’re engaged using my ever-evolving brush calligraphy skills!
Hobonichi Techo – month three. I love it, the paper is just superb, although it’s such a beautiful item that I feel the pressure filling up each page so that it’s not a wasted entry. Does anyone else ever experience stationery pressure? Good examples include opening a fresh notebook and having to tackle The First Page, and using an eraser over pen to rub out underlying sketch lines (will it smudge?!?!).
Anyway, more on those items and other recent tools in the not-too-distant future. First, Kew. Immerse yourself in green.
Nestled among the wharf buildings and imitation flats in Wapping is the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station where, until 7th February, you can find Annie Leibovitz’s Women exhibition.
I’d never been to Wapping and I really enjoyed discovering it. I loved the architecture, its quietness, position right on the river, busy pubs and narrow main street. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is a fantastic space and seems to have undergone the same sort of renaissance as many other power stations and gas holder sites across London. It is the former home of the Wapping Project which showcased several fashion photography exhibitions and a restaurant space. This Annie Leibovitz exhibition marks its first major arts use since the Wapping Project recently vacated the building.
Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is undoubtedly a London gem. I pray that this building isn’t going to go the same way as Battersea or Lots Road. It is cavernous, clad in red brick and mud-spattered white tiles with elevated, huge windows. Metal remnants and piping of the original power station usages are littered among the rooms. My good friend and I went after work on a Friday and it was pleasingly dark inside, the exhibition lit by retro-style lamps and enormous screens scrolling Leibovitz’s work.
The focus of this exhibition feels like the screen images. There’s a fair amount of seating for people to linger and watch the scrolls of Leibovitz’s most famous and not-so-famous images. One of the most striking was of a young and stripped back Venus and Serena Williams in black and white. The seating is contained by three sets of screens and one wall of prints where you can spot Aung San Suu Kyi, Meryl Streep, Malala’s autograph and probably Leibovitz’s most well-known recent piece: Caitlyn Jenner. This exhibition reads like a “who’s who” of unbelievably famous women. But it also seemed clear to me why these women allow themselves to be photographed by Leibovitz. Not having seen much of her work before, I felt like she really gets the best out of her subject. They all look so confident, but vulnerable, and real.
The second room in the exhibition is in a smaller chamber with a long wooden table on top of which are many, many Annie Leibovitz coffee table books and other art compilations. Spindly chairs are scattered around to take a seat and flick through these publications under the glow of minimalist lamps. There’s also a couple of copies of ridiculously large photography books featuring Leibovitz’s fashion shoots. This room feels like it’s more about Leibovitz’s full spectrum of work including fashion photography and Rolling Stone work. One of the most obvious examples of this are that there are lots of accessible pictures of men rather than just women as the “Women” title of exhibition would seem to indicate. I didn’t much enjoy this room because it was very crowded with people rifling through books quite frantically. I’m not sure anyone I observed was really taking in any of the work, which felt like a shame.
Yes, for me, the best part of the exhibition is in the main room. I enjoyed the lull of watching the scrolling photographs and the opportunity to see Leibovitz’s work outside of portraiture. I also loved the airiness and expanse of the main room juxtaposed against the omnipresent photographs. At the back of the room is Leibovitz’s famous portrait of the Queen which is the only digital static image. It’s like she’s watching over us all as we admire the many other great and good women that Leibovitz has been lucky enough to work with.
I would really recommend that you spend an hour at this exhibition if you can. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the sheer power that Leibovitz clearly commands in this field and to appreciate the common thread that connects these immensely famous women. I didn’t find it informative, but I enjoyed seeing first-hand the images I’ve subconsciously drunk in through my exposure to the media and thinking about them in a new way, without the burden of surrounding words colouring my perception of the person in the photograph.
You can find more information about the exhibition here.
Where has this year gone?! Time is such a strange phenomenon. It feels as if I’ve done everything and nothing over the past few weeks. Unfortunately I had one of the worst chest infections I’ve ever had for about three weeks which meant that most activities went out of the window. Somehow I also managed to start a new job within my company in this time. Change is good and it’s remarkable how easy it is to become complacent and over-comfortable within a familiar bubble. The new role is a great opportunity and I’m really enjoying it so far.
Speaking of change, I wrote about how gorgeous autumn was in Greenwich a little while ago. Autumn doesn’t feel like a real season to me. It is characterised by beautiful colours, a new rhythm of weather and people defying winter’s arrival by getting outside and making the most of the days still being of a reasonable length while they last. Retrospectively autumn feels like it lasted a few wondrous days. In actual fact I know I spent a good few weekends admiring how Greenwich and London is made so beautiful when touched by autumn light. Winter really does feel like a real season though. Although it’s been very mild in temperature (I shed my coat today and strolled around in a t-shirt and my scarf… what chest infection?) I can’t help but feel as if I’m living in near-constant darkness as, like many, I leave my house for work in the dark and it’s already dark by the time my working day is done. I feel as if we’ve settled in for winter for the next six months.
I suppose getting through challenging times of year is made more bearable by trying to find the beauty in such times. One of the best things about this season, obviously, is Christmas and all of its traditions. A personal tradition of mine is that my boyfriend and I go to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum and treat ourselves to fancy food and drinks afterwards. We celebrate our anniversary in November so it’s become a yearly tradition which I always look forward to enormously. I’ve kept our tickets from each year we’ve visited and they’re preserved happily in one of my scrapbooks. I’ve slowly been absorbing Christmas spirit and I’m hugely looking forward to my annual pilgrimage to the Cotswolds to celebrate. Winter does have a charm of its own though. Today on the next street down I came across a charity event for Demelza where participants were dressed as horses and there were various challenges to undertake, including a good old fashioned race, in full horse costume, on space hoppers. Naturally.
I’ve also been popping in to local pubs for mulled ciders and asking for my coffee extra hot to keep my hands warm for a bit longer when strolling. I’ve been acquiring bits and pieces to make a homemade Christmas wreath, wrapping presents in brown paper and adorning them with red twine and gift tags that I made out of last year’s Christmas cards. I’ve been trying out party food recipes including some goats cheese and caramelised red onion tartlets, jerk chicken and pineapple skewers and chorizo and halloumi bites.
So I am resolved to be more optimistic about what winter has to offer. I’ve managed to capture many valuable moments so far.