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Hand-block printing is back and brightening up our homes 

Voice Of EU



From the moment we’re born, patterns draw our young eyes. And experts say they are also key to lifting our mood as an adult. 

It is no wonder, therefore, that hand-block printing is experiencing a revival in our homes.

Requiring steady movement and careful hand-eye coordination, the ancient technique of fabric printing, originating in China thousands of years ago, involves the use of carved wooden blocks that are dipped in dye to recreate designs.

Crafty: Sarah Kostoris’s Mini Elephant quilts, £150 and available in pink and turquoise, are hand-blocked in India and feature rows of mini elephants

Crafty: Sarah Kostoris’s Mini Elephant quilts, £150 and available in pink and turquoise, are hand-blocked in India and feature rows of mini elephants

Part of its appeal is the tiny, easy-to-miss irregularities which highlight the natural imperfections that arise in human art.

Now, these celebrated and beautiful prints are brightening up our interiors, from cushions to curtains, lighting to linen.

Test the water with printed accessories

If you’re nervous about introducing bold patterns, start small with accessories such as cushions or lampshades before investing in a permanent feature.

Hill & May has a joyful collection of pleated silk and linen lampshades in an array of different block printed designs. For a statement piece, go for the Teak Artichoke, in a combination of clashing red and blues. Or, if you’re looking for more muted tones, the Muscat in soft cream and blue is just the ticket (both from £60).

Textile designer Molly Mahon set up her business in 2011 after one block printing session. 

She now produces an ever-expanding homeware line of hand-printed fabrics, including tablecloths, cushion covers, lampshades and rugs.

‘It’s wonderful that people have an appreciation of items made “by hand” and understand the true worth of such items,’ says Molly.

‘Not only do we end up with a much more beautiful lively piece of cloth, but we are keeping meaningful jobs and artistic methods alive. Creativity is inherent in us, and it’s vital that we keep this alive.’

Also a fan of clashing prints, Molly’s green and blue cushion with a contrasting loose pink frill is a particular favourite and is guaranteed to bring joy and colour to your home (£72).

Design flair: Molly Mahon produces an ever-expanding homeware line of hand-printed fabrics

Design flair: Molly Mahon produces an ever-expanding homeware line of hand-printed fabrics

Lively linen

Tables are another good place to introduce pattern; printed napkins and runners can lift a kitchen or dining room and make a real impact.

Sarah Kostoris has a huge selection of delightful block printed table linen, including Ruby Stella napkins, patterned in purple and pink star tiles, which will instantly brighten up a dull-looking table (£24 for four).

She says it is the craft’s history which is the most enticing aspect.

‘I started my business after living in India for two years, having met so many incredibly skilled artisans and seen them at work.

‘There has been a resurgence of craft activities over the past few years. Perhaps as we become more aware of the changes that advanced technology is having on our lives, it makes us even more aware of how precious these artisanal skills are.’

Block prints are regularly used on bed linen and are particularly popular on quilts. 

Sarah’s Mini Elephant quilts, available in pink and turquoise, are hand-blocked in India and feature rows of mini elephants, surrounded by a beautifully designed border on one side and stripes on the reverse.

Although not hand-crafted, Oliver Bonas has a selection of discounted block print bedspreads, including its Moe Kantha which is made from pale pink and navy fabrics with a white-and-green leaf print (£85).

Do it yourself with a block printing kit

Despite hand-block printing being a way for us all to step away from our electronic devices and indulge in its creativity, its resurgence is mostly down to social media; Instagram, to be exact.

And, in turn, demand for block printing courses and kits is increasing.

‘We are now offering kits for those who want to try it at home,’ says Molly Mahon, ‘Or you can always join me on one of my workshops.

‘My advice to anyone giving it a go is to embrace the imperfections that you get with block printing, because it is these marks made by your hand that create charm and a uniqueness to whatever you are printing, so rare in mass market items available today.

‘And always print left to right, top to bottom. It is amazing how many people start in the middle of the cloth.’

Up and down the country, art schools for all ages have begun to include block printing courses on their timetables, suggesting the passion for this rewarding art form is contagious. 

What your home needs is… mismatched china 

Key decor movements often start in bars and restaurants.

For example, when superstar chefs began to showcase their creations on white plates, the trend spread to the domestic sphere and ruled supreme for two decades.

Now you must have a mix of white and colourful crockery, because this mismatched look is being seen in smart cafes, and it adds joy to dining in. This can work out cheaply, too.

Hot pots: Habitat's 12-piece Mix It Up set features blue and red geometric designs (£38)

Hot pots: Habitat’s 12-piece Mix It Up set features blue and red geometric designs (£38)

Buy a simple set to combine with your existing crockery. B&M has a 12-piece dinner set in blush pink or grey (£18), while Marks & Spencer offers a white and yellow 12-piece set (£29.50) featuring a zebra. 

Another option is Habitat’s 12-piece Mix It Up set, with its blue and red geometric designs (£38).

Mismatched crockery is also a way to celebrate British historic design. 

Spode’s 16-piece Blue Italian has been produced since 1816 in Stoke-on-Trent. It is now reduced from £229 to £130.

Anne Ashworth

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How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

Voice Of EU



We want to hear your views on the proposed new carbon budgets which, the Government says, will change how people live and work. The proposed budgets, published by the Climate Change Advisory Council, will apply to every sector of the economy and will outline a limit for total emissions that can be released.

The first carbon budget, which will run from 2021 to 2025, will see emissions reduce by 4.8 per cent on average each year for five years. The second budget, which will run from 2026 to 2030, will see emissions reduce by 8.3 per cent on average each year for five years. The council says the budgets will require “transformational changes for society” but that failing to act would have “grave consequences”. Environmental campaigners say the budgets will provide a cleaner, healthier and safer future but some rural groups such as the Irish Farmers’ Association say they will have “serious repercussions”.

How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

Now we’d like to hear your views: Do you support the budgets or are you against them; do they go too far or not far enough?

We will publish a selection of your responses online (If you are reading this on the Irish Times app, click here to access the form for submissions).

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House sales shoot up a THIRD in September amid fears of mortgage rate hike

Voice Of EU



The number of homes bought and sold in Britain rose by two thirds in September compared to August, with experts believing buyers are seeking to get ahead of a potential rise in mortgage rates. 

There were nearly 161,000 property transactions in September on a seasonally-adjusted basis, a 67.5 per cent increase on the previous month, according to latest figures from HMRC. 

They also increased by 68 per cent compared to September 2020, and 63 per cent compared to the ‘normal’ market average in September 2017 to 2019.

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

Experts say the sharp rise was only partly a result of the Government’s stamp duty holiday, which has fuelled price growth of around £25,000 in the last year but finally ended on 30 September. 

It initially allowed buyers to save up to £15,000 in taxes as they did not need to pay stamp duty on the portion of their property purchase under £500,000. 

But in September, the tax break would have had a more subdued effect.

In England and Northern Ireland, it was tapered down between July and September so that buyers could only save £2,500.

And the holiday had already expired in Scotland and Wales, on 31 March and 30 June respectively. 

Given that the impact of the stamp duty holiday was lessening, some suggest that other factors have become more important in maintaining high levels of activity in the housing market. 

There are a number of things at play, according to Lawrence Bowles, senior research analyst at Savills.

‘There’s more to this activity than a stamp duty holiday: record-low mortgage rates, desire for more space, and a core of unmet pent up demand all continue to push up transaction volumes,’ he says. 

Although it is one of several reasons why the housing market remains hot, the desire for a cheap mortgage has become more of a pressing issue for buyers in recent days and weeks. 

This is because speculation about a rise in the Bank of England’s base rate has threatened an increase in the current super-low rates.

At the moment, rates are available as low as 0.89 per cent – but they are already rising. At its lowest, the cheapest fixed rate on the market was 0.84 per cent.

Major lenders including NatWest, HSBC and Barclays have all moved to increase rates on some mortgages, after months of sustained falls. 

With a base rate rise being predicted by some for December, experts are suggesting that the threat of mortgage rates going up is the ‘new stamp duty holiday’ and that the rush to complete sales before rates rise is now keeping the housing market buoyant.

Simon Bath, chief executive of technology company iPlace Global which created the property advice app Moveable, says: ‘We have reached another crossroads in which following the stamp duty holiday, there is another potential deadline for Brits to prepare for.

‘It seems likely that house prices will continue to rise before demand slows down, as Brits race to obtain lower mortgage rates.’

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove 

Early statistics back his price rise theory up. According to Rightmove’s latest house price index, which covers the first half of October, the average house price jumped £5,000 compared to the previous month. 

In addition, every UK region broke asking price records for the first time since March 2007.

The property portal noted in its report: ‘The continued fast turnover of property for sale and a window of opportunity to buy before a potential interest rate rise seem to have overcome the final expiry of all stamp duty incentives and are keeping activity robust.’

This trend is keeping the market buoyant for now, but could it really lead to another buying frenzy? Iain McKenzie, chief executive of The Guild of Property Professionals, says so. 

‘With demand for properties still high, and a potential mortgage rate rise on the horizon, this could be the perfect storm to see another frenzy to buy, so long as the shortage of stock doesn’t continue,’ he says. 

There is also the simple fact that people who were trying to meet the September stamp duty deadline, but failed, are unlikely to abandon their purchases, and will continue to add to the totals over the coming months. 

But others are less sure about talk of another buying boom. With the base rate rise only tipped to be from 0.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent, the difference in people’s mortgage payments may only be a few pounds per month. 

For example, for someone with a £120,000, two-year fixed rate mortgage on a £200,000 home, the difference between a 0.89 per cent rate and a 1.04 per cent rate would be just over £8 a month, or just under £200 across the fixed period. 

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, says: ‘People will still move without stamp duty holidays and will continue to refinance their homes, whether mortgage rates are below 1 per cent or around 2 per cent.

‘Borrowers are keen to secure these historically-low mortgage rates but if the right property comes along, they are still likely to buy even if they have to pay say 15 basis points more and won’t qualify for a stamp duty holiday.’

But as the stamp duty holiday proved, the psychological impact of thinking you are saving money can be powerful, even when the actual cash saving is negligible. 

While buyers did indeed ‘save’ up to £15,000 in tax, house price rises during the stamp duty holiday were upwards of £20,000, eclipsing the actual saving.   

The true impact that the mooted rise in mortgage rates will have depends on myraid factors, including whether there is further clarity on if and when the base rate change might actually happen, and how mortgage lenders continue to respond to the situation. 

All eyes will be on the October transaction statistics and house price indices to see whether the market is remaining buoyant. 

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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Covid grips Europe’s unvaccinated east

Voice Of EU



Hospitals are struggling to cope as Covid-19 sweeps through large unvaccinated populations in central and eastern Europe, where low levels of trust impeded acceptance of inoculation programmes.

Austria, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands and others have teamed up to send oxygen supplies, medicines and ventilators to Romania after it appealed for help from the European Union to cope with a crushing fourth wave of the pandemic.

Just 36 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated in the country, according to EU figures, the second-lowest level in the union after Bulgaria, where the rate is just one in four adults, far below the pan-EU rate of 75 per cent.

Both countries are suffering a brutal surge of infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Romania has seen an average of more than 400 deaths a day for the past week, in a population of 19 million, the highest rate in the EU according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. In Bulgaria, in a population of seven million, more than 100 people have died on average each day for the past week.

Romania on Monday imposed a night-time curfew, shut schools and introduced mandatory Covid-19 passes for most public venues in a bid to curb the soaring infections as its intensive-care wards ran out of beds.

Reimpose restrictions

Infections are also soaring in the Baltic states of Lithuania and Latvia, which became the first European country to reimpose sweeping restrictions last week by shutting schools and all non-essential shops, and imposing a curfew from 8pm to 5am for a month. Restrictions were also tightened in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia.

In neighbouring Russia, daily Covid-19 infections reached a record high of 37,930 in 24 hours on Monday, and some regions shut workplaces in response.

World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that with 50,000 Covid-19 deaths a week the pandemic was “far from over”, but he said it would end “when the world chooses to end it”.

“It is in our hands. We have all the tools we need,” he said. “Unlike so many other health challenges, we can prevent this. Complacency is now as dangerous as the virus.”

 In Austria, where 73 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, chancellor Alexander Schallenberg warned that restrictions could be placed on the unvaccinated if Covid-19 patients began to take up the country’s ICU capacity.

“The pandemic is not yet in the rear view mirror,” Mr Schallenberg said. “We are about to stumble into a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

He warned that if Covid-19 patients took up a quarter of national ICU beds, then only the vaccinated or people who had recovered from the virus would be allowed entry into restaurants and hotels. If the percentage reached a third, the unvaccinated would be allowed to leave home only for specific reasons.

Vaccination rates have reached above 90 per cent for those eligible in several countries in western Europe including Ireland, though coverage is lower in some cities and particular populations.


This is helping to keep hospitalisations under control, but infections are still rising and many countries have opted to continue with some precautions including mask-wearing, working from home recommendations, and mandatory Covid-19 passes in public settings. Last week, Italy made the passes mandatory for workplaces.

The WHO warned last week that Europe region was the only region in which Covid-19 cases were rising, led by surges in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

Emergencies chief Dr Mike Ryan appealed for the unvaccinated to come forward for jabs, and said the rise in infections came as restrictions were dropped in many countries, coinciding with “the winter period, in which people are moving inside as the cold snaps appear”.

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