Positives of crafting 'keeps me going', says St Albans resident

chateau

La Maison des Souris - or House of Mice - took Ally over six months to complete. - Credit: Ally Billington

A St Albans creative has used her time in self-isolation proactively by crafting every day.

Alyson Billington, who lives in Cottonmill, told the Herts Ad about her crafting over lockdown, which has involved painting, crochet and - most impressive of all - creating intricate miniature depictions of real-life objects.

"I've always been creative; I used to have my own florists business years back, so I used to do floral tributes and all sorts."

Ally takes her inspiration from the world around her, including a vardo (a traditional, usually brightly-coloured horse-drawn wagon) from her 2018 trip to Ireland to visit her sister Fiona, a canal boat from a boat trip and a chateau, inspired by the Channel 4 programme Escape to the Chateau.

"I went over to Ireland with my husband Andy to see Fiona, in 2018, and that's where I got my idea for the vardo, which is a little gypsy caravan. I actually saw a traditional one - amazing thing it is. That's when I built my little vardo.

Ally's vardo

Ally's vardo - Credit: Ally Billington


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"In 2016 I made my narrowboat, and we actually went out for a day on a little narrowboat, and it was fabulous, so I made one!

A canal boat, handmade by Ally

A canal boat, handmade by Ally - Credit: Ally Billington

"I've also got a Georgian house, which I made in 2017, and that was my pride and joy, until I made my chateau."

house

La Maison des Souris - or House of Mice - took Ally over six months to complete. - Credit: Ally Billington

chateau

La Maison des Souris - or House of Mice - took Ally over six months to complete. - Credit: Ally Billington

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Ally, who has been self-isolating throughout the coronavirus pandemic, spent over six months perfecting her chateau, starting in January of last year, and completing it in July.

"It's big, it's a good four feet high! Each of my houses are 3D, so all the back opens, and the front."

Ally has spent the last four years overcoming stage four lung cancer, going through courses of chemotherapy and radiation. Although she is now in remission, the current COVID-19 restrictions have meant she has had to keep herself at home.

"My chateau has kept me sane the whole of this year. I do an awful lot of crochet work in between, but I get a bit bored with that - I need another project at some point, but I'm not sure yet, what. One day I'll get up and think that I'll do something else.

"No matter how good or bad days I have, every day for six months, I would find something I could concentrate on, and take my mind off this awful year. I'm over two years in remission, but it's ongoing.

"As long as I stay positive, that's what keeps me going.

Ally also spends her time making crochet blankets for animal rescue charities, as well as for friends and family, including a floral picnic blanket "for brighter days ahead."

Speaking fondly of her La Maison des Souris - or House of Mice, to you and me - Ally added: "In my chateau, all the lighting in that is electric, and if I get a miserable day and it's dark and raining, I open it up and put all the lights on, because it has chandeliers and everything."

Ally had the inside of the chateau all decked out for Christmas, and plans to leave it festively decorated for people to see.

On New Year's Eve, Ally said: "A lot of my friends haven't been able to come to the house to even look at it, and hopefully, next year they might be able to. I open it up and put all the lights on, and it's so pretty, especially with all the Christmas lights up the staircase.

christmas stairs

Ally said: "It lifts your spirits completely." - Credit: Ally Billington

"It's lovely, it lifts your spirits completely."

Ally's sister Fiona Murphy said: "I’m very proud of my sister at how strong she has been in the last three years.

"She is a fighter and I love her very much."

house

Ally has always been crafty, and has used her time in lockdown to create some impressive and intricate items - Credit: Ally Billington

house

Ally has always been crafty, and has used her time in lockdown to create some impressive and intricate items - Credit: Ally Billington


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