Welcome to Stef Bassett’s Hessian Shack…
Posted in australia, handmade, interiors November 18th, 2015 by pia

Processed with VSCOcam with f3 presetStef’s studio space in her hessian shack.

I wish to begin by acknowledging that in this post we are visiting the country of the Bundjalung people.  I pay respect to their tribal elders, I celebrate their continuing culture, and I acknowledge the memory of their ancestors.*


Last week Laly and I flew up to the incredibly beautiful Rainbow Region of Northern New South Wales – the Bundjalung people’s nation area. Also known as the the Northern Rivers and Byron Bay Hinterland. Invited by my very dear friend Nat, we stayed for a week and together toured around part of the region, visiting The Channon markets, Byron and beyond. On Friday we drove out to our friend Stef Bassett’s shack set back from the road on a field in the bush among cows and horses. You may recall Stef used to own a beautiful store in Newtown, Sydney called Newspaper Taxi, where she hosted one of the most special book launch events for me for My Heart Wanders in 2011. Now Stef lives here, off the grid in an original 1940’s farm shack which she has transformed into a creative wonderland, take a look…

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Laly and I sat in wonder, looking around at all that Stef and her partner Ben have made, collected and displayed – everything being found or crafted from tossed away materials. It felt like we were sitting inside a hidden away hessian-lined treasure chest…

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While we chatted at the kitchen table, Laly happily (and quietly!) drew pictures in one of Stef’s notebooks, soaking in the unique atmosphere. Besotted with Stef’s cat Rupert Bunny, who was a wild kitten rescued from a wood mill and has the most incredible emerald eyes, Laly would wander in and out of Stef’s bedroom to pat Rupe who had nestled himself into the window frame. Laly then asked Stef if she could draw a picture of Rupe for her, so Stef drew the body and left the eyes and other details for Laly…

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All the while Ben sat across the table from Laly, strumming his guitar and playing Devendra Banhart’s Little Yellow Spider…

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The Hessian Shack has no electricity (except a little bit of solar), no hot running water, no TV, no big appliances – their ‘fridge’ is a steel chest with ice. Stef’s mobile phone, when in reception,  is their only connection to the online world. Thankfully for us she updates her life and creations on instagram regularly. As an artist Stef works in many mediums, and at the moment she is working on a range of ceramics which she will be selling soon.

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For more info about Stef and her work, you can email her here, and there is more information about her on her instagram profile. Stef was also featured in Kara Rosenlund’s beautiful new book Shelter.

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It was such a wonderful experience, thank you Stef and Ben for welcoming us and sharing a slice of your world with us here.

With Love,


*{From today, my dear readers, each time I write about an Australian place – be it about visiting a creative dwelling or a beautiful landscape – at the beginning of each of these particular posts I will write an acknowledgement and pay respects to the ancestors of the land. It’s my way of learning and connecting to my country of birth, and sharing that connection with you. Thank you. }

a little beach made by my own two hands in our backyard…
Posted in child's play, handmade June 9th, 2014 by pia


Laly adores the beach. Well, mostly the sand, as she’s still “quite scaredy” of the rolling waves and vastness of the ocean. So I thought it’d be great to build her an all-natural sandpit in our backyard so she could play with sand anytime she likes. Of course I like to set myself some major challenges, and for this project I decided that I wanted to source most materials from our own backyard, and to build the whole pit for FREE. That’s right, not spend one single cent.

Inspired by the idea of living as freely as possible, I signed up to my local freecycle group and after only a few weeks of scanning the incoming offers, I found the sand and the shade cloth to cover the pit. I am loving being part of the freecycle community, it’s been a fantastic way to move things out of my home that are no longer in use, and bring in things that we want.


I dug a hole in a corner of the garden protected by trees for shade.  I found all the rocks outlining the sandpit under and around our house, and moved them all myself with the exception of a giant rock which I enlisted the help of Romain, who kept telling me over and over again “there is no way you can move that rock” and “this is impossible” – he was still saying this while we maneuvered it inch by inch to where I wanted to place it. Within minutes and only a little bit of sweat we had it in position. I couldn’t help myself: “umm, yeah, impossible, did you say?” Oh how I love seeing his dimpled smile appear despite his efforts to hide it. A great example of how nothing is impossible, no matter what anyone tells you! After a few weekends I had finished the sandpit,  just in time for Laly’s birthday party in February.


This sandpit is one of my proudest home projects, for three reasons: I built it myself from scratch,  I built it for free, it’s beautiful and earthy. Because of this, I get the greatest satisfaction just looking at it, and even more when I see Laly playing in it…




bird by bird…


Yes that does happen to be the title of one of my favourite books by Anne Lamott, recommended to me by sweet Kylie some years ago while I was writing My Heart Wanders. It helped tremendously as I had spent many days sitting looking at a blank screen, wondering how to start the mammoth task of writing a memoir of that time of my life.

But I digress! Do you recall this bird mobile I made for Laly’s room, which I featured in Little Treasures: Made by Hand? It’s on pages 208-211, with reference to Spool sewing who released the pattern some years ago. I made the birds using the pattern then attached them to some twigs with ribbon, and embellished the mobile with vines and dried fern fronds. It hung above Laly’s cot for many months, but once she began to be able to stand – and reach up to the birds – I took the mobile down. The birds were added to her toy basket until a few months ago when I found an abandoned birdcage. I gave it a good clean and then Laly and I painted it in an array of her favourite colours. I let her paint it in her way (mixing colours together, with big dollops of dripping paint). We added a couple of twigs inside the cage et voilà, the birds have come out again to play…



I’m thrilled to have found a way for the birds to be played with again, relevant to Laly’s new skills: She’s right into inventing her own games and role play. To decorate the cage we went out to forage for some vines and ferns. Of course I had plans for her to be part of the photoshoot for this blog post, but she didn’t want to and I’m doing well now to let her make her own decisions when it comes to play. So while she was out with her Papa I took the opportunity to play with the birds and cage in my own way…


Happy weekend mes amis!


PS new music on the way, I hope you’re enjoying my growing collection so far. Thanks for your downloads and encouraging comments thus far, so appreciated.


garden party for our little valentine who turned two…
Posted in child's play, DIY, handmade, nature February 27th, 2014 by pia


The humid air and persistent drizzle last Saturday (actually the Saturday before last… it’s taken me quite some time to compose this post) did not deter us from having an intimate garden party to celebrate Laly’s second birthday. I have not hosted a party since we lived on the houseboat in Amsterdam, so I was feeling a bit daunted about the idea and wondered if I could do it without getting completely overwhelmed and stressed (the main reason why I don’t host parties – dinner ones or otherwise). I worked hard for the two weeks leading up to the event to be really present with my time and to let things go if they weren’t working out the way I intended, or if things happened that stopped me from being able to create exactly what I had envisioned. My intention was to try my best to have fun with each part of the process – painting the bunting, gathering the flora, cooking, setting up… I still got stressed, and we still had a family meltdown the day of the party. BUT. I do feel like I was more present, more aware than I have been in similar situations in the past. And I have to say, I absolutely enjoyed the making and doing, and I really enjoyed the party, which was my true goal. I was so rapt to see everyone enjoying themselves, there was such a great vibe, everyone got on and Laly and her friends were fantastic, not a tantrum in sight. Before the party I was saying to Romain with complete conviction, “We are never doing this again”and 3 hours later after the party, with as much conviction I declared, “I can’t wait to do this again!”.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re much more interested to know about the decorations, food and finery, non? I adorned our small back garden with jasmine vines, frangipanis and fern fronds, handmade watercolour bunting and fabric garlands. My aim, as always, was to set the scene without buying anything new,  using objects found around my home and neighborhood, along with making decorations by hand with materials on hand.


On the invitation I asked our guests to enter the garden via the side path which I decorated with rope, vines, paper bunting, and pretty painted cardboard arrows showing the way. I wanted to make it feel a bit like entering a secret garden. On the morning of the party I found two large branches I’d discarded in a back corner (I have piles of branches, rope, and twigs dotted around my garden in case inspiration strikes to make something). These particular branches curved at one end which, when attached to either side of the gate, formed a beautiful arch. Through the arch, our little guests were greeted with fresh drinking coconuts (made festive with party umbrellas and straws) while grown up guests were offered a glass of bubbles. I filled glass jugs for water with orange slices, strawberries, grapes and mint picked from the garden, and there was watermelon, rockmelon and strawberries on a long small table for the kids.




I created a few play areas around the garden for Laly’s friends to explore, hoping to ignite their imaginations. There was a flower crown making area under a tree where I had various sized crown bases I made by simply twisting vines into a circle shape, with frangipanis and other gathered flowers at the ready to add to the vine base for the children (and grown ups) to create their own special headpiece…



Olive (above right photo) who is my friend and fellow author Kelly Doust’s gorgeous daughter showed my little Laly how to make a crown. Isn’t Olive’s crown beautiful?

Another play area was a sandpit which I had made a couple of weeks earlier using only found and free material – I’m really thrilled with it and will post about it next.

The other play area outside was “Laly’s Flower Market” – a little stall I set up with cut flowers and foliage, paper bags and string for the kids to make their own bouquets to take home. The weather was a little too wet for this but it looked lovely and set the scene, and everyone could take flowers home at the end of the party. Although I had planned to bring Laly’s wooden kitchen outside, and set up a dolls picnic on the lawn, I left these things inside and let the kids roam freely in and out of the rain.


Do you remember my great aunty Joyce who we explored Paris with a few years ago? Here she is, 93 years old and ready to greet the guests. Laly adores her great great aunty Joyce, they laugh so much together, it’s really wonderful to see.


My beautiful friend Kaspia and her boy Romeo, enjoying fresh coconut.


Adorable Freya holding a balloon, and Laly’s best friend Alexander with his incredibly sweet and cheeky smile.


Beautiful friends and family.


A few quirky decorations including a flower and feather mask I was inspired to make the night before, and a very old umbrella handed down in my family, hanging upside down.


From top left, clockwise: watercoloured paper bunting; Laly with a pink frangipani; the end of the day flower crown area; Laly’s beautiful friend Daisy.


I fashioned a few giant paper flowers made from old tissue paper I had lying around and some dried up moss, using this tutorial.


The chickens were a hit with the little ones! Here is Romeo itching to get into the hen run (which he did many times, and right into the nesting box of the coop). Right: even the coop got dressed up with vines and frangipanis thanks to my friend Jen, co-parent to our chooks.



I had dreamt up the idea of having a simple but elegant cake sprinkled with garden flowers, and my aunty Kathy made it – I could not have wanted for anything more beautiful. She made a double layered carrot cake, smothered in butter icing which we topped with pretty blossoms picked straight from her own garden. She also made the cutest little banana muffins. There were no lollies (candy) or chocolate in sight… I can’t quite believe I hosted a party without chocolate – my every day weakness. But I did, and it was not lacking (unless it was and our friends didn’t want to say so).




Laly and her papa.


Clockwise from top left: Laly playing with her hat made by Kaspia; Paloma sampling a banana cupcake; Romeo getting into the fruit; Tilda in her red boots playing in Laly’s kitchen.


My dear friend Sasha and her daughter Tilda.


Beautiful Edith sitting down to her own little tea party at the end of the party.

My fab cousin Louis came up from Canberra, took hold of my camera and snapped most of the photos you see here as you know I’m hopeless at taking photos of my work or events. Isn’t he talented? I’m glad I’ve finally learnt to ask others to take photos for me to share with you. So what you see in this post is a combination of Louis’ photos, a few of my quick phone snaps before and after, and loads of lovely shots by my sweet friend Kaspia.

Some other aspects of the party you might like…

The invitation:


At the bottom of the invitation I wrote: please do not feel obliged to bring gifts for Laly, your company alone will be very special. However if you’d like to bring something, pre-loved would be wonderful thank you.

I was delighted that guests did just that, it felt less wasteful and fulfilled my desire to consume less. And I love that the gifts have stories attached to them.

I made party bags by painting brown paper lunch bags with dots and stripes, and only filled them with things I already had in my craft drawers – paper umbrellas, colourful feathers, a little book I made from left over packing paper and ribbon, and some popcorn.

I’m so grateful to everyone who joined us to celebrate with Laly. I hope you enjoyed this post and maybe find some inspiration in here for your next gathering.

Here’s to our little valentine turning two, our beautiful girl who teaches me so much about life and love every single day…


KASPIA_laly2ndbirthday_IMG_2526 photo by Kaspia


PS the aftermath…


all natural play dough…
Posted in child's play, DIY, handmade February 4th, 2014 by pia


So I’ve been having a bit of fun making all natural play dough lately. This batch of coloured fun is my third or so experiment and I’m rather happy with it. Though I’ve got some ideas for the next batch which I’ll share with you in case you’d like to try.

Since I want to use only natural colour, I’ve adapted this recipe from best recipes, minimizing quantities and introducing soaking selected ingredients to create coloured water. Here is my adapted recipe:



1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup salt
1/2 tablespoon (or so) of cooking oil (i’ve been using sunflower)
1/4-1/2 cup of cold, coloured water

To make the coloured water, soak a handful of your chosen ingredient (spinach for green, beetroot for deep purple, mixed frozen berries for rose/light purple) in a ramekin or glass container of 1/2cup water, preferably overnight. Strain the liquid and pop it in the fridge for a little while to make it cold, or add an ice cube.

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt together well. At this stage if you are making yellow, add a good sprinkling of tumeric powder. Then add the cooking oil and 1/4cup of coloured water. Mix then knead until well combined. Add more water if needed to get the right consistency.


I then put each ball of play dough into clear, recycled plastic containers and leave them in the back of the fridge. To allow them to soften slightly, I take them out about 1/2 hour before we are ready to play with them  (yes, WE – Laly and I both love playing with play dough – yesterday I made a fantastic collection of funny looking dinosaurs which Laly promptly invited all to a tiny tea party). This batch was a little crumbly when I took them out, so I just added splashes of water and kneaded them a bit more and they were perfect. Adding flour and water makes playing with it all the more fun for Laly, so I don’t mind if I don’t get the consistency spot on when I make them. And yes, the colours do come off ever so slightly when you play with them, but barely – and honestly, who cares? It washes off with a dab of a cloth.

The other thing I’d like to say is that I soaked beetroot skins in some water overnight, hence the gorgeous intense colour. However I didn’t soak the spinach or the mixed berries but next time I will to get more intense colour, though if you like it subtle, soak for less.

My last batch of yellow and rose lasted many months – basically until the colours get all smooshed together and the ball diminishes to a tiny size, as happens when little hands get hold of it.

I hope you’ll give this a try. I can’t wait to try out more ingredients for more colours!  Any suggestions?