the thimble folk

the universal language of handmade

the end. the beginning. //

Our final Portuguese blog entry. Leaving somewhere is always hard, especially when there has been an impartation and exchange that was beautiful, unique and rare. When you step out from the boundaries of home, the things that define your daily structures and routines, and when ‘familiar’ is thrown out the window, you are given a perspective that leaves you questioning and examining those things that create your everyday life. Travelling grants you this luxury of reflection and reminds you of the beauty of things you may have let become complacent, reminds you of the pace you should be living as opposed to the one that always creeps in and makes ‘busy’ a lifestyle, and also highlights the things that have become habit but demand new life and change! Or maybe it just gives you an excuse to spend all the money you have been saving, feast on food like it’s the last day on earth and just feel free of time and structure!

Easter was incredible, and close to Braga was the town of Guimarães, which was crowned Portugals capital of Culture.. which is a big call, and definitely added a different expectancy when approaching its heart. Having read about a flea market in the town square we were eager to start exploring. We had no concept of the town layout, so we popped our forgein heads into a shop to ask for directions.. only to be told the market wasn’t on! We were sad. ‘Keep walking’, a little voice whispered into all our heads, and before us, under a low arched building, standing like a rambling exposed attic that you stumble across at your grandparents house, we walked right into the embrace of a small flea market! What! Our sadness turned to glee, and we took the time to explore the few stalls, that reminded me of a faded wooden cupboard that had just burst open, spilling forth a random, yet appealing, array of goods. Ahhh.. our love of flea markets!!

 

A visit to the castle was a must, as we sat perched upon the high stone turret looking over this quaint village. On our walk back down the streets we could here drums booming, and as we progressed, the beats grew louder and louder, until we came face to face with a mind-blowing street parade of drummers and dancers. The striking beat quickly crept its way into onlookers skin, and one could not stand still. As the bass drum players raised their drums in the air, booming them with passion, the street burst alive with dance! At this moment we now understood why they were called the Capital of Culture. We couldn’t help but follow the addictive sounds they were creating, as they walked the old town streets and ended up where our little market was situated only hours before. Smiles beamed on faces, as the dancers threw themselves into vibrant movement, hands in the air, hair flicking in all directions, whilst the drummers echoed their beats and danced themselves! What a sight, what an experience.. what joy!

 

By this stage it was Sunday, and that meant we had to leave the North and make the journey back to Lisbon. We had planned to pick a place to stay just out of Lisbon, before entering the city. We stayed in Obidos, which was bitter/sweet. Sweet because it was absolutely stunning, like entering a dream! Bitter because we only had one night there, and we wished we could’ve stayed longer. We arrived to a dainty market, live music and their  famous liqueur served in chocolate cups… yes that’s right, chocolate cups! Oh the handy crafts were just incredible, and sitting in the gateway entrance to the walled village was a dear old lady hand embroidering the most gorgeous linen. Jane and Rachel were so moved by her work, her absolute precision with detail and her humble nature. The colours she placed against the linen, made the flowers come alive, bursting with springtime bloom. Though no English spoken, appreciation was exchanged as we watched her worn hands work, producing beauty! These pieces we bought off this precious soul will be treasured for life!

 

Arriving back in Lisbon did have a sense of arriving home. Our familiar and friendly guesthouse, the produce store where we would stock up on olives and cheese, and the old man with white hair and a crooked smile. The tram 28, taking us to all our favourite nooks.. like that beautiful little store we mentioned in our first Portuguese blog. We just had to get some handmade slippers from these lovely women, of which were all embroidered and made by their grandmother in north Portugal! We had timed it perfectly to visit the much loved Lisbon Flea Market.. with stalls and stalls of treasure. (a must do if you are heading to lisbon!) At this stage we thought nothing else could fit in the suitcase.. but we still left the market with 3 bags full confident we could squeeeeeeeeze just a few more bits and bobs in.



Our last day trip was so the fairytale town of Sintra, and in the pouring rain we ventured up mountains to the most stunning Royal Palace, which embodied rich and extravagent colour, pattern, style and of course breathtaking tiles.

We are not good with goodbyes, (especially when you are lugging heavy suitcases, back packs, a bag of ceramics, and hats!!).. but the time had come for us to go home, bringing with us the physical delights and the internal wisdoms we had picked up along the journey. From South to North we were greeted with big hearts and souls, and a nation of people who cared and treated us like family. We were inspired, humbled and indeed treated by the amazing artists we met along on our travels, committing to the practice of handmade and carrying years of tradition and craft down the line, keeping its heritage alive. We experienced the language of handmade in many ways, in the subtle smile behind a weaving loom, to the kisses upon cheeks of store owners. We were blessed to have this experience, and we hope it inspired you, the reader, in whatever way it needs too.

Now we are back home, with the Australian soil under our feet, the winter sun beaming through our trees, which are clinging to the last remaining leaves upon their branches, we continue our endeavour to speak the language of handmade here, and afar! We would love to hear from you at anytime, what you absorded from our trip and your own experiences.. thethimblefolk@gmail.com So between here and the next pen, enjoy the day!

the heart. the soul //

Something that can not quite translate into words, and may be beyond definition, happened as our time in Portugal progressed and we journeyed further into the norths heart and the norths soul… that which is so willing and dense with warmth, tradition and care. This is outworked through feasts on wooden tables, worn with the markings of meals shared for generations. This is outworked through the coffee sipped in town squares not by ones self but communing with locals, surrounded by tall terrace homes adorned with washing and flower pots. This is outworked through crafts, woven and stitched by all ages presenting beauty in their heritage, traditions and customs.. some of which as the years progress are fading, and others which threads will remain and flourish for many decades to come. As I stroll down the lanes, and sit in the homes of story filled Portuguese men and women, I hope that our daughter poppy will be able to bring her children to these pockets, and these traditions are still supported and alive in numerous years to come.

So my last blog left you swimming in the cool waters of the waterhole. Well, the only thing that pulled us away from the waterhole was night fall, so we wound our way back up the steep hills of the national park passing the wild horses, sounds of cowbells, deep valleys and these friendly faces..

 

We arrived in Ponte De Lima, which had a certain magical charm that quietly worked its way into us as we admired the heritage bridge, sat on uneven steps listening to the accordion player humbly pour out his soul and dined at the local restaurant, eating what was one of our most scrumptious meals to date. Ponte De Lima was one of those hidden treasures, that wasn’t necessarily on the tour map, but quickly became a very special place to us. It was in the dwellings of the small traditional handy craft shop that we found the most stunning leather and fabric clogs and bags (of which you may have seen on our facebook page). The collaboration of leather with the traditional Portuguese fabrics literally took our breath away, and as we talked we were told the stories of these traditional gems. We found out that all the bags and clogs were completely handmade by a husband and wife team in a small village just outside Ponte De Lima. Poppy was just as in love as we were and quickly found the pair of clogs that fitted her, and then it was up and down the cobbled streets for ‘clog practice’! It wasn’t long after that she was twirling round, skipping and causing many of the locals to stop and watch her dancing. A beautiful sight. As mentioned prior, we spent some time listening to an accordion player who we were mesmerised by. Beautiful live music in the streets is something I would like to see more of.. and It prompted my dream that one day our Councils would acknowledge music as an integral part of everyday culture and happiness. To my absolute delight I just found out that dreams come true! The Geelong Council have employed musicians to walk our CBD and fill the streets with the sound of music. And after talking to the lovely accordion player in Geelong, she stated that ‘to have music in the streets makes people happier and feel safer!’ How wonderful! Something in the air changes when music works its way into our everyday life.. and boy was it magical to hear the echoes of the accordion bouncing down the lanes as we walked from shop to shop! I hope that you hear it in Geelong one of these days, and if you do, give those beautiful muso’s a warm smile!

 


After leaving Ponte De Lima we headed to Barcelos, the town with incredible history, stunning ruins and a famous sprawling market! Clearly a place we were destined to fall in love with, and on reflection the place where we felt not as much like a tourist, but a part of their community. The Portuguese have a very subtle way of welcoming all with arms wide open, a cultural experience that I think we can all learn from. We experienced overwhelming hospitality, even when it wasn’t their ‘job’ to do so.. and this made us all reflect upon our own culture and pine for a greater sense of community and genuine kindness. As we would sit at our regular patisserie indulging in numerous cups of coffee and decadent sweet treats, discussing with those around us as they all tried to guess the land we were from, it was like time stood still and all that mattered was exchanging a smile and a tale with the people sitting around us. Whilst sitting, observing and smiling, I was beckoned by the man polishing all the local mens boots and shoes.. after some thought, and looking down at my scuffed boots, I sat on his beautifully worn polishing seat as he fervently made my boots look brand new! There was something about this exchange that I wont forget, for I think its humbling to have someone clean your shoes.. not at all in a hierarchical way, but just an expression of sharing with humanity some personal.



We woke up Thursday morning a little earlier than usual. The night before was filled with its usual ceremonious practices: wine, salted chips, chocolate and card games. (Not using any names, but lets just say the card games do get competitive at times! ) We peered out onto our balcony and smiles beamed on our faces as we saw the large Barcelos market in full swing! We normally are very slow paced in the mornings, but for some reason our coffees and croissants went down quicker this day and we darted across the footpath and into the labyrinth! Fresh fruit and veg was piled high with its vibrant colours beaming in the sunshine as the hollers from the stall holders gave us all a rush of excitement. We discovered there were different sections to this market. The fresh bread was over to left, squeezed up against the divine cheese and meats. Then there was the fruit and veg, next to the chickens, roosters and ducks that were flapping and chirping adding to the incredible symphony of the market place. We then had linens, fabrics, underwear, clothing, shoes, hardware, handicrafts and pottery all in their own sections. We stood jaw dropped as basket weavers worked on their baskets and wood carvers carved incredible shapes and designs into blocks of wood! So inspiring! Each and every narrow walkway between stalls was packed with locals doing their weekly shop, stall holders passing baskets over our heads, as we ducked and weaved our way observing the treasures that abound from stall to stall!


A long day at market, bags full and stories a plenty! As it was Good Friday was the next day, we journey to a small town outside Braga, where the oldest Church in Portugal stood. What awaited was an incredible Easter celebration of gaudy, yet moving, street parades, inspirational traditional Portuguese Church services and moments that would remain with us forever!

Driving into foreign towns in the dark is not suggested! Because the ‘vear left at the fork in the road’ direction we were reading in our guide book became all the more harder when one could not decipher the difference between fork in the road, and a road with a drive way off it! Hmmmm. After a few u-turns and poppy declaring ‘I think we’ve been here before’, we finally arrived at our Hotel. The grand gates of an incredible botanical gardens were opposite our place, and beckoned us in as soon as the sun rose. We were perched high above Braga, in the town of Bom Jesus.. a must for travellers! We started the morning with a horse ride up the mountain, through bush and forest that felt like a dream! Passing little lakes with colored boats for hire, walking over bridges with still water glistening underneath and strolling under the tall trees that provided a lush green canopy, protecting us from the chill of the wind.. we were in a wonderland! And as we continued by foot to the Bom Jesus church, famous steps and walked the trail down the hill witnessing the 12 stages of the crucifixion presented in life like statues, it was an incredibly moving way to spend good Friday! At the end of our walk we stumbled across the most stunning house that was for sale! We instantly fell in love and dreamed of filling it with life (pictured below). Poppy asked if we thought the house could be packed up and put in our suitcase.. when we said no, she spent the next few moments in serious thought, thinking of other ways to make it ours!

 

Braga, having the oldest Church in Portugal, is quite famous for its Easter celebrations known as Semana Santa. So after coming down off our cloud, we drove into the heart of Braga where we were met with a market, the rain and crowds of people (im talking thousands) waiting for the Parade to begin. At the market the rain really bucketed, so we all snuggled under a stall selling beautiful woolen products. As we looked around we spotted the most incredible hand woven blankets. These blankets were all traditionally woven in the region, made from 100% recycled wool with the process having an emphasis on respecting nature. We were in love with not only the fact they were all handmade and ethical, but the colors and patterns were just stunning! We were sold, and felt so good to hand over our money to the ever so kind man proudly selling his handmade wares! For those who score a blanket from our shop, know that they are special and come from precious hands. 

The Parade was an amazing experience. As soon as it begun the thousands of onlookers feel silent as we all watched musicians play chilling tunes, people of all ages dressed in great costumes, velvet capes and black hoods dragging heavy crosses on the ground, large and extravagant statues of Mary carried proudly and a figure of Christ in a coffin as people prayed and bowed. And finally the Priest, surrounded with incense and adoration. Though we are not Catholic, we were moved by the dedication, respect and reverence displayed by all in the parade and those watching. It was incredible to witness so many Portuguese people continue these important traditions. Easter was far greater than Easter eggs and chocolate, which when you think about it is such a strange tradition we have created. Though im sure not all Portuguese are devout Catholic, there was a general respect for the belief system that has defined their country for so many years, one Im sure they would never compromise, water down or throw away.  An interesting and thought provoking experience for us and reflection on our own country and it’s belief system.

 

Wow so much can happen in just a few days when your are entering each sunrise with fresh eyes. See everyday things with a new appreciation, lift your eyes and enjoy! Between now and our final Portuguese entry, be glad. 



the north //

In the last 2 weeks portugal has most definitley got under our skin. this is how our days have seemed to take shape: starting the morning with a rich cup of coffee and pastry, followed by a stroll through historical towns, peeping into shops laiden with handmade beauties and antique delights or stumbling across open air markets. a nibbles lunch consisting of olives, crusty bread, fresh greens and gooey cheese, an afternoon walk down narrow streets leading to the best nature has to offer, dinner at a small restaurant feasting on local cuisine, and then sipping port and chocoalte before bed. ahh so so magical. and the pace the portugese folk have inscribed upon our daily doings has been one of slowness.. with an absense of rushing.

After all this talk of susie our gps.. she has died..  and left ahead of us the north of portugal with our trusty road map! “oh dear” was the first thought, but the second went something like this.. “hello, who needs a gps to travel this here land! the road is ours, lets get it under our feet and start exploring!”. After our delightful stay in Evora, exploring the arts market and to pick up Jane, the 4th member of our Portugal team. With technology out the window, literally, and a new passanger on board, we were thrilled to enter the northern regions!

We gave jane no time to get over jetlag and did a huge stint up the A1 north… as the journey progressed the scenery changed shades, shapes and style. we said goodbye to white wash houses with bright blue and yellow boarders, and said hello to old stone cottages and walls, folk riding horse and cart up dirt tracks, lush green valleys and a more traditional Portugal! we bunkered down the night in Argril, then headed for the glorious Porto. Porto seemed to have a bit more grit than Lisbon.. maybe its the river, the boats and of course the PORT! if you didnt know Porto is the home of PORT.. and yes we did sip the ever sweet goodness of the thick plum red port! the days in porto were spent strolling up and down the streets, admiring buildings and tile artwork that dated back hundreds and hundreds of years, induldging in seafood platters and wine whilst watching the boats sail under the heritage bridge.. (if only my dad could have tasted the freshly baked sardines and octopus!) and riding the old tram pinching ourselves, as it felt like we were trailing through a medieval dream. one place we had read about in our trusty lonely planet was the the design area of Porto where there was a street full of local designers, galleries and all things ethical! clearly this was on our to do list, and we were itching to arrive! the CC Bombara shopping strip was fabulous and following the marvolous rainbow stripes on the path (each colour of the rainbow leading to a different shop) we were inspired by local, sustainable and vinatge wares! within this area, and around, we also stumbled across some wonderfully over crowded and pokey antique shops and a delightful little handmade store where we scored some great items. one in particular is my handmade and desgined hoody, with double brested style buttons.. basically i am snug as a bug in a rug! the thing we all felt as we explored these gems was the artists were clearly content and humbly proud with their space and what they had produced.. each artist was doing there own thing, in their own little space and there seemed to be an overall cultural understanding and apprecaition of what they were doing. there was less striving, and more contentment. there was less show, and more treasure. there was less hype, yet much more happieness. im not sure the formula that lead to this vibe, but it seemed that everyone had their little place and it worked! maybe the force behind the creativity was a natural formation and the spaces provided for them came from collaobration instead of dictation. between 12.30-3pm all the stores are closed, and everyone is at the local arty cafe, eating and communing together, chilling out in trendy courtyards laughing, writing or talking. after lunch was shared, coffee was sipped, the shops opened again. simple, communal and inspiring!
Every place to leave is hard. but like a fawn eager to take its first steps on skinny nobly legs, in each of us their was a hunger to experience the village life of far north, not knowing what lay ahead but positive it was going to be a delightful as a deer running through the forest.. and it was true, what awaited us was a most beautiful adventure. distance is incredible here, you travel half the country in what it takes us in Australia to cover half a state.. not even! So after leaving Porto we ended far north in the fort village of Valenca which was enclosed within high stone walls perched on a hill overlooking the Spanish fort across the river. Staying in the heart of the fort, with a balcony looking over the main square we were delighted to discover that the streets come alive daily with the sales of linen! Shops use every inch of their store and streets walls to display their linen, fabric and hand embroidery.. at this stage the girls became giggling girties as they frolicked across the streets enjoying all the locals had to offer. poppy spent the afternoon dancing on lush green grass in her new foral dress, singing songs of the kings and queens that would have lived in the walls!

Though everyday is a highlight here in Portugal the next stop was extra special. we entered the national park far north east of Portugal, and followed the winding roads down and up which lead us to a small town called Saojo. we drove through it, past it, turned back around and realised that was it! but what lay behind the main road, in the heart of the village tucked away down tiny one way streets was the true essence of Portugese hospitality. We just so happened to arrive at that sweet time between 12.30-3pm where everything is closed and locals are either feasting with family or asleep.. in our case, as we walked into a beautiful home asking for rooms, a very sleepy old man poked his head out the top window to proclaim “come back in 1 hour when my wife is here” which was really code for “come back when i wake up!!”. so we passed the hour eating cake.. as you do here.. and we were welcomed with open arms into the home of the most beauitful old couple. the house was over 350 years old and we felt blessed to be staying there. The hosts were so proud of their small town and told us everything that was to see and do! As it was close to Easter time, and the house was next door to church, we were told there was a service on that night with traditional singing and a procession that lead through the village! It started at 9.30pm, so we rugged up and joined the crowds as we walked the cobbled streets following a group of men passionatley singing through the village tradional portugese religious songs. they would stop at different points, and holding a large cross, you could see the fog from the breath in the moonlight as they worshiped. the procession ended at the church where the singing continued with vibrancy echoing through the stones walls of the church, and straight into our hearts! what an expereince and priveldge to witness such passion, heritage and dedication. in the morning we were served breakfast and told of a local market.. (which whenever we hear the word market, excitment rises VERY quickly!). So we finished off a round of oranges from the tree outside, and headed out. The market was fantastic.. Portugese music was flowing, fruit and veg lay on the paths, and stalls were filled with clogs, bells, hats, produce and much more… and the best thing was.. its all made in locally! how wonderful.. i will let you take a moment to imagine.. close your eyes, smell the fresh air, hear the forgein music and see the smiling faces of locals conversing and selling their beautiful wares!
I have you back again. good. well the story continues! so its lunch time.. we have picked up bags full of fresh produce from the market and i mention i think there is a water hole in the valley which could be a nice place to eat. so with no real idea where it is we walk down the very steep hill down towards the lowest point of the valley. we see a staircase carved into the side of mountain, and at the bottom we saw the sparkle of water! “this must be it” i proclaim, so we start heading down the narrow stairs.. when we reached half way, what lay before us was an absolute paradise. the most beautiful waterfall that flowed into a crystal clear waterhole, surounded by enormous trees and smooth rocks which lead to smaller rock pools and waterfalls that flowed gently down the river. all of us stopped in wonder! the most beautiful site. the next 3 hours was spent eating fresh produce, swiming in the fresh water being revitalised by its chill and crawling over the rocks to secret caves and rushing streams.

I wish i could leave you with the images of the waterhole, but unfortunately the images are too large to post up.. but i will sort it out, and post them asap as they are stunning! i will pick up the story from this point in our next blog. so between here and the the next pen.. enjoy your days, smile and inspire those around you.

the view //

It has been a week since i put pen to paper, fingers to keys, and wrote the tale of joel, rach and poppy in portugal. for us it seems like we have been here for over a month, for so much has been experienced thus far.. isnt it amazing how much can happen in one week when the surroundings that you embrace are out of the ordinary! where do we begin.. just like a preppy coming home from the first day of school, my mind is full of wonderful stories, faces, colours and treasures.. but im not quite sure that this entry will do justice to the sites, sounds and sweet adventures that have taken place.. but hey, lets give it a try! thats what we are here for…..

So we left lisbon to pick up our car (of which poppy quickly decided was a girl car, named sandy!), we plugged in susie our gps and hit the open road south! the first sight of raging ocean was just so scrumptious.. and the air was crisp with salty spray and the sun was brightly glorious. we headed to the furtherest point south, stood on the cliffs of Sagres, and felt like we were on the edge of the world. having no accomadition plans, in first gear we plodded down main straight poking our heads into guest houses.. we were of course drawn to the white washed 2 storey place, with a large ivy covered balcony that sat on the edge of the cliff looking out to sea! the room was ours! we spent the next morning splish splashing around in the water, before heading to the peaceful town of Mertola… where awaiting us was the most humble weaving artists!
Determined to save a penny, we quickly switched susie our gps to NO tollways and even though the trip was longer, the roads to mertola lead us through little villages of whited walled houses, flower boxes and old men in flat top caps, sitting on stone benches backed with white and blue tiles. what came as quite a suprise was the riduclous hills we climbed, looped around, and weaved through… all in order to save a euro or two at the tolls!! but hey… one euro goes a long way.. a custard tart… 1/2 kilo of olives from the local market… some fresh flowers! yes, yes, yes climbing the hills of Alentejo to save a Euro or two was worth it. Anywho, we arrived at Mertola, and were instantly in love.
This village, which was embedded inside the castle walls hugging tiny terrace houses romantically, was absolutley magical. at this stage i was still getting hang of the driving rules, and lets just say… i am now VERY aware of which sign means ONE WAY. Nestled on a slooped cobbled street was a weaving studio and shop called Oficina de Tecelagem, where three residents spend 7 days a week working the traditional wooden weaving machines producing the most stunning items. every stage of the process is completed in the village.. the wool collected from the local sheep, then taken to the river where it is cleaned upstream where the water is warmest, brushed out, onto the spinning wheel and then the weaving process begins.. these women work cheerfully and passionately with the sales from passing tourists keeping their traditional craft afloat! these women, their hands and feet working the machines, and their generous smiles and gestures (our gestures become our common language as our portugese is very poor… no matter how many times i have rehearsed phrases.. they still dont seem to come out right! but the beautiful thing is… without words.. SO much can be said!) after watching and admiring these women at work, poppy sitting next to the basket piled high with bobbins of wool in adoration, we picked some pieces that would represent this incredible, humbling experience.. and of course, support the longevitiy of their craft! We bought the most beautiful orange wall hanging, that will be on display in the shop when we get back so we can continue to share their story to those who enter! 
Waking up in mertola the next day was another great experience. the host of the place we were staying at had gone out early that morning and bought fresh goats and sheeps cheese, a huge slab of what i can only aliken to salami (though not like that salami we picture in the safeway deli.. at all!!), crusty bread rolls, ginger cake and oranges! good morning! oh and did i mention fresh coffee…. It was hard to leave, but little did we know what awaited next.
This is the moment when i again fell most like a preppy.. and you, the reader are my mum, so eager to hear every detail of my day.. and  with bursting excitement i try my very best to spit out the words to capture the pure joy of what i experienced. in one word.. Monsaraz. In a few words.. The breathtaking, life enhancing view from Monsaraz. In a paragraph……….. (here we go). We left Mertola beaming, with a very vague idea where to head next.. and whilst on the road Rach had a sense to make the journey to Monsaraz, the same sense that lead us to the incredible town of Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic for our last trip.. which became a huge highlight! so when the sense comes…… you only can do one thing.. and that is follow! Monsaraz is perched very high upon a montain, surrounded by the cobbled stone wall of the castle with arched entrances where one can only enter by foot. with only 20 residents and a handfull of guesthouses, we knew we were in for a true portugese expereince. we found our room quickly. it didnt take long to be swept away by the magnificant rooms and service of St. Condestavel, with a balcony that looked over the vast green valley, with the gentle sound of cow bells on the wind, the wide and bright blue river that stands between Portugal and Spain of which you could make out the village that stood beyond the land into Spanish territory. And the sky, so vibrant and ever changing, with the sun streaming through hitting the orange and lemon trees that were full of the sweetest fruit you could imagine.. hang on a minute.. was i actually in heaven. maybe. maybe it was God giving me a glimpse. anyway, we have most definatley found our place, of which we spent 2 nights and 3 days eating traditional portugese meals at the local restauarant, strolling the tiny lanes ( and merrily skipping down the lanes, singing songs that poppy would orchestrate) and enjoying the simple things like sunlight, fresh air and the slow pace of time. A must do for anyone visting. just oppostie was the beautiful pottery and art studio called Os Animalistas, where we were amazed by the collaboration of pottery and fine art. 
Just down the hill and along an olive tree lined road, lay a small village which provides most of the country with their pottery! with one main street, the numerous houses, garages and studios have their doors wide open showcasing their hand sculptured wares.. and if your lucky enough youll catch them in action! the olive tree road put poppy asleep, so we tag teamed, jumping in and out of the car, popping into studios, and recapping on what we saw! poppy woke up at the perfect time.. as we stumbled across this amazing studio called Egidio Santos Pottery, a hardworking couple sat at their work stations surrounded by shelves high with pottery that beckoned us to search through.  On the wall above the door it stated that here you will find “Art that is born in family, love, origin and tradition. The skills are born in the family, and with persistance and dedication we create.” wow! again, with no speaking, the heart that was displayed through their hand work was incredible. just to stand and watch this dedicated man pour his soul into his art and produce such beauty was inspiring.. and his wife, sat focused in her tiny studio, sketching on the pottery he had just created. a perfect team! we stocked up on the gloriously stunning work.. with little consideration of how we will bring it all home!! 
It was hard to say goodbye to Monsaraz, but what we keep telling ourselves is this; when we left lisbon we couldnt imagine what lay before us, and ever since then we have been blown away with what we have seen in every different town! so we know amazing things await. we drove then through beautiful countryside, stopping to pick vibrant red wild poppies, and spent the night in another lovely town called Marvao. Picking up supplies at the local fruit and veg market, which was unbelievably fresh and cheap, we then made a detour to Nisa, the town of Felting! Wow.. the time and amazing detail that goes into the pieces we observed! We picked up some beautiful products for the shop from a small working studio, that also had some very cute wooden spinning tops.. which poppy just loved and picked up three to bring home! poppy has truely become just as excited about the exchange of culture and heart we are experiencing.. it is so delightful to witness a four year old and an 85 year old conversing in two different languages with smiles wide, and tickles a plenty! 
And i now sit in an internet cafe in Evora.. late at night.. looking forward to the big market the meets in the morning in the town square. so sleep calls me, and im sure wherever you are, at home, work, or on the go, let our adventures and thoughts call you.. call you to see beauty in the simple things. i leave you with an image of a lady, of whom we stumbled across up the steep streets of Lisbon. between here and my next pen.. obrigado!
p.s have grace with any spelling mistakes.. as the Portugese computers think every word i type is an error!

the arrival //

The adventure has truly begun and though we have only been on Portuguese soil for 2 days, we have already declared, (as we were running in the rain through the Rossio cobbled town square past the fountain and tall standing stone statue of the man on his horse), we have never felt so at home in a country so quickly. lets take a few steps back, where we find our selves in high spirits boarding the qantas airbus in melbourne. thanks to much faith in the treasures we hope to bring home, we packed very lightly and squeezed all our things in two bags! 30 hours of flying, on 3 different flights, with 3 flight meals that at the start had such appeal, but as the hours crept by starting tasting the same.. (i dont think we have ever been so excited about cornflakes before… anything not cooked was quite refreshing!) 3 movies to keep the time progressing, and finally 3 very excited, very wonky, very focused travelers thrilled to have landed in Lisbon. Though sleep was not on our side… once we started to lay our eyes upon the colored terrace houses, stone streets, incredibly detailed murals painted upon city walls, planter pots hanging over wrought iron balconies and the exquisite tiles that lay boldly in geometric forms, warm colors and patterns that made us smile, all over buildings, houses and street walls…. (and this in just on the way to our guesthouse!!) we were eager to start exploring!
Lets be honest. jet lag has played his role over the last few days.. but he is definitely on the next flight out of town.. as i sit in the shoe free lounge, with jazz smoothly playing on the record player, and some lovely french folk conversing in their romantic language,  its looking like we will be in bed at the right time, which means awake tomorrow at the right time, which means “see you later J.L” (yes, even jetlag has a nick name!)
Wow what a day we have had today. started off in the shoe free lounge, on large floor cushions with cups of Portuguese coffee, crusty bread and fresh raspberry jam.. if anyone needs a place to stay in Lisbon we have been thrilled thus far with Lisbon Story Guesthouse. what a difference it makes to have a place to call home after a busy day walking the seven hills of Lisbon! our mission, to find, encourage and share in all things handmade and this did not take long at all to become in full swing.. you definitively dont need to look far before discovering that creating, embroidering, molding and designing is close to the heart of the Portuguese… on a side note… the other thing close to their hearts is food! Oh me, oh my! We just so happen to be opposite the most divine little deli…. im talking the most delicious breads, cheese, olives, fresh meats, wine (yes i did just describe last nights meal) and fruit and veg lining the entrance into this food lovers haven! and the good news… everything is so affordable. and then theres the pastries.. lets save that for another blog shall we..
So today shows us that we are on the right track. without even realizing what we were walking into we stumbled across the frank & dollys of Lisbon. Ines Areal Silva, with her mother delightful mother Joana and her grandmother have a small little shop called Ponto Lx. This shop has such heart and soul, and as the lovely Ines started to tell her story the parallels between their space and ours was incredible. Ponto LX came about from generations of sewing and creating and as you walk  down the three curved stone steps, past Joana on her sewing machine and a desk of threads and scissors, you are drawn to the gorgeous little creations that  lay before you. The three of us went in different directions. Rach was quick to try on the most stunning hand embroidered slippers (captured below) who were handmade by Ineses grandmother. the detail and work that went into each pair made us feel warm inside and gave us a silent understanding into the kind of lady Ines grandmother must be! Poppy was taken by the fabric sardines of which are becoming quite popular throughout Lisbon, keeping Ines and Joana sewing upto 18 hours a day to keep up with sales.. Poppy has named her new friend salty! And for me, it was a collection of incredible rings, carved out of stones. Talking to Ines was not only inspiring but refreshing. It was delightful to hear her tales of having a small shop, and the ideas of opening people to handmade consumerism… they have been there for five years, and have created a real haven. after leaving, exchanging contact details and learning the proper way to say goodbye in Portugal (with 2 kisses on the cheek) we couldn´t believe how timely that was! with no maps, but a sense of adventure pumping in the veins, we have certainly started on the right foot..
From there it kept going uphill! quite literally.. wow, we can eat what we want over here, as we are certain that we will walk it off in a few hours up the twisting, narrow and steep lanes of Lisbon… in particular the Alfama region. After taking a few wrong turns.. well actually, i dont think theres such a thing as wrong in this context, so i take that back.. After taking a few unexpected turns, down tiny streets that called our names due to there gorgeous hanging lamps, or rustic doorways, or bold tiles, we stumbled across two other artist run spaces.. where  warm smiles were found behind sewing machines, cottons and fabric clippings. One place we had read about before coming was called Chapito circus school, which just so happened to have a very forward thinking artist space next door. it wasnt until walking out we actually realised we were at Chaptio! Everyone we have met and talked to thus far have been so lovely. The girl behind the counter, who was a trained clown, shared with us about the different artists who collaborated together to fill the shelves in this lil store. what we love is how willingly artists put their hearts on their sleeve, their work out there, in a passionate effort to engage with someone, to create a smile and to provide a beautiful alternative… all for a small reward.. a reward that must transcend money, but satisfy a philosophy of life. whether that be in this case through quirky printed purses and cuffs, beautifully crafted jewelry or brooches that capture the fun of the big top… the love, passion and joy of creativity shone through the work! At this point the rain started to fall, lightning filled the sky, and we excitedly skipped down lanes, around corners where we followed the stone steps which hug pebbled walls, passed vibrant street art.. and into a small patisserie were we enjoyed a custard tart and reminisced on the genuine and open souls we had just met.
And this is only in 2 days. what we have realized is that this is just scraping the surface of what awaits, and the magical thing is that each and every person has opened themselves and their art to us. as we venture and start to spend some real quality time with people, in their spaces and studios, stay close to hear their incredible stories of how being creative makes there heart beat, and how having happiness run through your veins overflows and outworks in the space we create and what we share with those around us. 
Dinner and a glass of red awaits. until i write, and you read, lets let the adventure of life come alive in the everyday..

the list //

Five days until we fly out. Five days until we are in the clouds. Five days to tick every item off the ever growing to-do-list.. or shall I say to-do-lists! Its seems there are a few lists in circulation, there is definitely one on the fridge held up by the ‘piano keys’ magnet, and there is defiantly one on the top of the bread cupboard, resting under the bottle of white wine. And there is a quite a large one, on butchers paper to be precise, pinned to the wallpapered walls in the sewing studio. Oh and poppy, our 4 year old, has a very cute list! And yet with all these lists, the satisfying feeling of ticking things off is happening regularly.. and the adrenaline of ‘five days to go… yahoo!’ has kicked in, and powering us through the to-do-lists.

 

Sewing is high on the list, marked down with red pen, crossed out with black. Living on an acreage and farm it seems as though the changes in weather are magnified, as we sit in the sunroom (or which of late has been titled the rainroom) it is amazing to watch the fields change colours, dancing like an ensemble in the wind, the trees shed their leaves as the tips turn shades of green and the cycle of flowers that are bending their heads down, or lifting their heads up. All this is incredible inspiration for our new range at frank & dolly’s. we have spent quality time lately in the studio, mainly to develop the range, collaborating with new fabrics, embroideries and trims and also to make sure we are well stocked for the months to come! The introduction of richer and warmer colours is reminiscent of stewed plums with cinnamon and golden honey, sitting on a couch piled high with cushions and patchwork blankets, watching the rain create a grey mist around the lush colours of a wet and vibrant forest. The warmth that comes from natural fibres. The warmth that comes from amber coals. The warmth that comes from holding hands in the wind. These are things that are manifesting as we turn to our shelves of fabric and begin to create. Oh the joys of making and creating from start to finish!

With just about all the sewing down, we have a vegie garden that is bursting with produce, pleading with the wind to settle down, and quite frankly needing our love. For the last two months we have been working hard with our hands so that we can try and produce the majority of our fruit and vegetables from the land. This has involved fruit picking (we were blessed with many mature apple, peach, cherry plum and plum trees), vegetable picking (an incredible array of tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, beetroots, potatoes, lettuces, herbs.. the list goes on), bottling and stewing, and the best part of all, making delicious meals with fresh produce that is in season and at its best! So yes, the garden to-do-list has been long over the last few weeks… with dirty hands, knees and full bellies, the only thing left to cross off the list is to plant the peas! 

 

 

When we were in Europe 3 years ago we had a brilliant device in our car, that saved us many games of charades with locals trying to explain ‘we are lost’ when our French was poor and our sense of direction not the best.. though can I say, if it did come to this, I would like to think our acting skills are substantial as we have always loved a good round of theatre sports! Anywho, there was no need for the French village residents to see us in our full acting glory, as we had a very handy GPS, of whom we called Susie! Now Susie is packed for our trip to Portugal, and we are secretly hanging to hear her sweet voice again, lead us to the treasures that a wait our arrival. This time we are far more experienced with Susie, and understand the many settings and tasks she can perform. It took us a good month to get the hang of her the first time in Europe. Once we left Paris, we headed for the French countryside. With a few places in mind, we hit the road eager to explore. After putting in the first destination with Suzie, we were puzzled with the route she had decided to take us on, but trusted in her mapping wisdom. Suzie took us down extremely narrow streets (please note, we were in a large motor home), down and up mountains that I think were created for horse and cart, squeezed us through villages where the houses were as tall as the motor home itself and led us along glorious rushing rivers, where we seemed so close to the edge that the vision of us in the river flashed one to many times! On many occasions when we would be chugging up a steep, snow covered road, (with Rachel in the back holding the kitchen cupboards closed) I would see a highway with a sign to the destination we were heading, with many other cars and motor homes zooming along! This started to puzzle me, as I could not recall one main road Suzie took us on for our journey thus far! We were having a brilliant time though, as every village we passed through had a tiny antique store nestled amongst stone cottages, bustling local markets upon cobbled town squares and produce stores that were full of local and fresh delights. We actually lost sense of time, as we became immersed in the true essence of French country life! It was just divine! It wasn’t until 3 weeks later that we were needing to duck through Italy to Venice that I had a good look at Suzie. I hadn’t thought of looking at the ‘Settings’ function on the GPS, and to my surprise the setting selected for us was ‘NO highways, NO motorways, NO main roads!’. Things finally clicked. The lights went on. From that moment we swapped between settings depending on our route… But what a blessing in disguise! So a month in Portugal (which is a tiny country in comparison) only means one thing… Suzies ‘NO highways, NO motorways, NO main roads!’ setting.’

Our handmade adventure is just around the corner, and as we continue to read, the more bubbles of enjoyment rise to the top and explode into big smiles and sleepless nights, lying awake dreaming of the beautiful people and creations we will find. We have spent this morning being Interviewed and photographed by the team at the Geelong Advertiser, in particular the lovely Miranda Luby, for the GT Magazine. We were so thrilled to open our hearts and share our passion and motivation for this trip, and this project. So keep a look out for our gleaming faces, share this blog with your friends, and be inspired as we become inspired by the hands that are striving to keep ‘handmade’ alive! The to do lists will be done, sewing and bottling just about complete.. So Portugal here we come!

the threads //

The threads that bind families together are as precious as gold. These things define a family culture, they shape traditions carving out patterns in which we carry from generation to generation, and they provide a sense of identity and language that becomes familiar and comfortable within the walls of family life. For some it’s the thread of cooking, where recipes from 4 generations ago are still on high rotation and the cookbook that is stained with splashes of creamy pasta sauce is a living history book of the meals shared, stories told and memories created over a dinner table. For some it’s a trade, where fine craftsmanship cannot be taught from text on a page, but learnt and observed from the back shed, watching dad as he gently and precisely carves wood, of which he learnt from his father, and his father from his father. Maybe there’s a few things that you can see tracing back generations, like a river flowing down a great expanse of land, there’s a certain something that has been shaping its way through years and years, defining a common thread in your history. These things, whether great or small, hold such value and importance.

For us, the threads that criss-cross, weave between, and continue to flow down the family tree, is that of ‘handmade’. On Sunday just passed, the sun was in full glow, as we made our way to the leafy Melbourne suburb of Croydon, to visit my (joel’s) beautiful Grandma.

 

Ohhh a trip to Grandma’s is so fabulous for so many reasons. My Grandma and Grandpa built their home in Croydon, so this family home was the one my dad grew up in, and the one I spent so many sleepovers, bbq’s, board games, concerts, singalongs, Christmas’s.. (the list goes on) in. the walls of this house breathe history and stories, and they talk and reminisce with me about the time I sat and watched grandpa play the piano, or the time I walked hand in hand with grandma round the garden and picked roses for the table, or the way the sheets were so crisp and tight when I would get into bed.. and now every time I walk through the front door, greeted by a kiss and tightly squeezed cuddle I can hear, smell and feel the beautiful sense and warmth of family.

As poppy, our daughter, danced around the living room singing ‘do re mi’, we sat on the bold mustard couch, sipping fizzy and eating pickled gherkin on crackers as we shared with Grandma our travel plans for Portugal and we began to discuss family traditions, which lead to one of my favourite places.. Grandma’s hallway cupboard!

Piled high with linen, all the board games we used to play, the printed towels we would dry our selves with after a dash under the sprinkler.. and her very special pile of hand embroidered treasures. As Grandma started to pull out table clothes or napkins, the stories flooded in.. For a good while, we stood and admired the beautiful hand work, as she reminisced on the cross stitch, embroidery, knitting and dress making that she had once done. Grandma then found pieces that her mother had done, identifying this incredible skill that had been handed down to her.  It was inspiring to see the investment, patience and joy that had gone into each piece. After much talking, our Sunday lunch filled the dining table, and we spent the afternoon feasting on casseroles, rice, pasta salad, and dinner rolls.. and of course cups of fizzy.

 


Most days In the shop we asked about where the name ‘frank & dolly’s’ came from. Though the whole story lends itself to its own blog entry, the essence of the story is about a family history of making, creating and being resourceful. How blessed we are to have such creative souls live before us, imparting their love for handmade to us. And the incredible thing is, without deliberately knowing they were doing so, they have shaped us into the people we are to today, making us conscious and respectful to those who work with their hands and inject time and effort into making things.

Dolly was a seamstress, and was ever resourceful. Coming over to Australia with her husband Frank (who loved carpentry) , she used her skills to create and make most things around the home.. and one of the most significant things Dolly did, was teach her daughters to do the same, leaving them with the same creative spirit, and awareness that things can be recycled, reused and made into something beautiful. Jane, the middle daughter, had three daughters herself. This impartation from Dolly flowed down from Jane into her girls, Sarah, Emma and Rachel. And already the creative threads are weaving there way down to our daughter Poppy, and Sarahs daughter Lucy. What is beautiful about this, is the fact that everyone expresses this in their own way, but its clear to see that the foundations of ‘handmade’ stem back generations.

 



Daisy Stow, my great grandmother, a talented musician, artist and embroiderer was well known for her love and dedication to all things creative. She passed this love down to my glorious Nanna, Gwedoline Williams. In my Kinder photos, I am wearing a crimson red and bottle green knitted jumper, hand knitted by Nanna.  The skills of making and knitting that she possessed were incredible, as she busily made sure no one would go cold in winter. Her daughter Leanne, who is my mum, spent hours upon hours sewing clothes, hand stitching and quilting blankets with this same commitment to family, resourcefulness and creativity, a gift handed down from her mother.


In our travels overseas, and exploration into culture and artistic traditions, one thing that keeps coming up time and time again is the harsh reality of traditional handicraft dieing away. Women are being forced to remove themselves out of their village, their family unit and the flow down of family tradition, and move into cities so they can earn enough money to support themselves and families. So in response to this, we are seeing the years and years of investment into artistic tradition fade away. Isn’t it awful to think that these rivers of creativity are ceasing to flow.

Yet this same story happens in our culture just as much, but presents itself differently. Too many handmade shops have closed down due to constant pressure to keep up with prices of mass production which is impossible to compete with. And this then forces incredible designers and artists to office jobs behind a computer, instead of studio jobs behind an easel or sewing machine. Can we as a community develop new ways of thinking, so that our consuming can act as a way of support and establishment for these handmade artists? In this re-thinking, we can take into consideration the traditions that we are keeping alive, the values that we are helping to thrive in towns and communities, and the overall sense of longevity in form, that teaches against the ‘throw away’ mentality.


 

The river has to start flowing from somewhere, and whether we have a deep pool to draw upon or not, the things that we can pass down to our children, and our children’s children end up as a foundation for their thinking and creating. Lets keep these things alive today, in our families and also in families all over the world. It is 2 weeks until we head off to Portugal and uncover the traditions of their culture that we can support. Ohhhhh as we continue to read, we know Portugal is going to knock our socks off with its treasures and stunning traditions of handmade.

 

the beginning //

The Thimble Folk. It’s a project and a way in which we can take both our hearts and hands and put them to work. For years upon years we have been creating, making and hunting down avenues in which we can ethically and creatively live and consume. We are drawn to the little shop bursting with piles of old bits and bobs, laced with beauties that resemble a generation of handiwork and delving into piles of old fabrics & linen hidden in the top corner of a shelf, or stumbling across the artist at the local market that moulds her coffee cups with such effort, that her fingerprints become visible through the glaze, or the young designer who continues to hand make compelling products from beautiful scraps of wood that would otherwise be waste, or the old man who still, on hand and knee, picks his tomatoes so that people can taste the real meaning of fresh. And this is just in our corner of the woods.

When we are travelling abroad its about the Indian village women, who hand stitch blankets made with vibrant cottons, knowing that they are receiving a fair price for the heart and soul they have injected into their craft. the stall holder at the christmas market in Vienna who hand sculpts bold red love heart hanging vases. Or the man in Prague, who has been selling his unique brooches for years, hand sketched in his pokey studio. Oh and did I mention the lovely girl, who saved all her money so she could design and make her own clothing, and open her own shop/studio in the back streets of Berlin..  and oh yes, that beautiful lady in Vietnam of whose floor we sat upon as she showed us her knowledge in colours and fabrics..  and I cant forget the generous soul in Tibet that blew my mind with her embroidery skills that had been passed down from her grandmother…


As i start to reminisce the list goes on of beautiful people all across our glorious world that are keeping handmade alive, keeping traditions alive and keeping themselves alive with the joy that creating brings.

 At our tiny wee store, frank & dolly’s, nestled within the city centre of Geelong, we house products and designs that carry a fingerprint. Whether that be products made and designed by us, in our farmhouse studio, or sourced from local and international artists, every piece has soul and respects the hands that made it! Everyday we are exposed to the reality of competition that exists with mass production, but rather than become the squashed independent artist we want to use The Thimble Folk as a way to shine a very bright light on ‘handmade’, here and afar!

We are SO ready for the adventure, and we want you to come along with us as we meet new people, discover new places and start talking with those who may not speak our spoken language, but can connect with the universal language that is ‘handmade!’.

Our first official Thimble Folk adventure begins in Portugal. We fly out in less than a month (who’s counting…) and there is definately a fresh sense of excitment in the air. Follow our blog, and be a part of this endeavour to live, consume and support in a respectful, creative and beautiful way. lets go.