Alabama Chanin Style

I started my Alabama Chanin style dress well over two years ago – though it had been bubbling away in my mind for much much longer. Now I will always think of it as a Lockdown project because it is over these last few weeks that I have worked with most dedication and enthusiasm.

Way, way back in 2016 I was looking carefully at two little Japanese books I’d inherited from my father’s family. Nobody in the family today seemed to know very much about them. These pictures below show the covers, frontispieces and a couple of content pages …There were pages and pages of wonderful illustrations and designs  …I can’t read Japanese, and my father (who had been able to read Japanese) died in 2015, so I decided to put these illustrations up on my Instagram account in search of a translator …And I got one! Apparently these two little books were published in Tokyo in 1884 and 1881 respectively. The top book contains arabesque patterns for kimonos and the lower book shows crests and symbols of Japanese clans and families.

How did they come to my family, we wondered? Luckily my mother remembered the answer to that. Apparently my paternal great-grandmother had been an enthusiastic patron of all things Japanese, and is believed to have acquired these little books for her library … what treasure … I couldn’t really believe it …Anyhow – jumping forward to me and my humble little stitching plans, I found myself with a most fabulous resource of illustrations just made for embroidery and other designs ..

What I’d always wanted to do was to stitch myself a dress using the Alabama Chanin style of embroidery. This involves working with a double layer of fabric. Cutaways and very simple embroidery stitches make the pattern …I started with a practice piece using a variation of the leaf pattern above and working with old cotton t-shirts (as recommended in the book). And yes, I got a little bit carried away with the embroidery, but most importantly what I discovered was that I hated sewing cotton knit fabric. My needle struggled to pierce the fabric …As it happened,  I had found a double layer dress of very light woven cotton on Ebay … Just perfect, so now to find my pattern. I went back to my little Japanese pattern books, and selected a beautiful and quite simple design of falling maple leaves …I particularly associate maple trees with my father. He was always trying to make little bonsai trees with them during my childhood …With the image scanned from the little Japanese book, I then enlarged it and printed it out on stiff paper. That’s my template sorted. Now to cut the leaves out …I worked very slowly at first, sometimes adding pattern by tracing through the template …And sometimes building up the design by placing the maples leaves cut out from the template where I thought they might be effective …Either way, there was always that tricky moment of cutting the fabric …But then the fun starts and I could start stitching! Very basic running stitch round the leaves …Using a washable marker to ink in the maple leaf details …Stitching the details in with stem stitch …The stalks were stitched in chain stitch. Adding more colour …I’d completed the front of the dress …And moved the pattern over the shoulder and round to the back of the neck …When I came to a halt.  Not really sure why. But the project sat unloved for a year or so …

Until the virus struck this summer. I came back to the project like a madwoman – I guess Lockdown has a strange effect on us all. I found myself stitching madly and enthusiastically …Adding pattern to the sides of the dress …So that the maple leaves moved down the back, and round the body …Producing this trailing effect …I love this pic of the dress held up to the light so you can see all the little maple leaves silhouetted through the body …Finally just to hem it … and ta-dah! It’s finished! I am so pleased with the way it spirals round the sides …Under the arm …And, of course, down the back …What a fascinating mix of cultures and times and history are worked into it – the historic Japanese prints, the South-Eastern American techniques of Alabama Chanin, and me, at the vortex as it were, with a family connection to Japan, stitching away in the very north of England in the early 21st century Coronavirus Lockdown …

Lockdown Life

Well, the banner pic really says it all – it is glorious as ever at our Seaview home, even in these Lockdown times. How very lucky we are.

We continue to potter round in our garden with the help of our funny feline friends, Eggy and Ilsa …Who are eager to help with almost everything …Especially anything wheelbarrow …And of course the planting out of sweet-pea seedlings …In the greenhouse there has been sowing and growing of seeds …Which has necessitated some energetic digging to prepare veg beds for the new seedlings …Stephen has got the once-weekly shop down to a fine art, no longer arriving  to find a long queue …Being second in the queue is much more manageable …We celebrated Easter with tradition. I found this enchanting tablecloth in a local second hand shop, and it is my special Easter treat.  I don’t allow it to be used for long less somebody spill something on it … And I have been busy making Face Masks for family and friends …I was given this fabulous butterfly fabric by an internet friend, and thought it just right for a Face Mask  – but on second thoughts, perhaps it’s a little too extreme Silence of the Lambs for me … I’ve sent it to my daughter in London and she loves it …Still making more …We have the local beach in Spittal almost to ourselves …As the car parks are closed off …But very best of all are our weekly walks along the sea cliffs to the limekilns on Cocklawburn beach …On some trips the weather has been just a little challenging ..Especially if – like me – you wear glasses …But, even in the damp sea mist, Cocklawburn is very very lovely …No problems with social distancing here! Just the odd ghost train …Cattle huddled together …Most of our trips to Cocklawburn are more promising …The sea cliffs along the way are at their very best right now, sprinkled with tiny primroses and heavily scented with gorse …You can barely make out that powdering of primroses as you look down to the sea …But if you climb down a bit, why – that’s heaven on a plate! Primroses interspersed with violets …The cattle are a lot more friendly these days …We were amused to see on our return walk that this nursery encourages a post-prandial nap for the young!There is so much of fascination on this beach – never a dull moment. Sometimes visitors leave their own marks …Sometimes there are sad reminders of the harsh world outside …Always there are miracles in the sand like these beautiful ephemeral sandtrees …Often we find Cuddy Bead (those little circular crinoid fossils) treasure …And there is ancient as well as relatively modern history at the limekilns sitting above the prehistoric stone formations …An occasion for a birthday drink (we walked down here on Stephen’s birthday) before setting home … More likely a drink to the end of Lockdown …Like most of you, we miss our friends and family so very much, and the hardship and sadness of this difficult time is creeping ever closer to our Seaview sanctuary with loss and separation.  Beautiful it may be, but the heart can be very heavy. Stay safe.

Yet more knitted blankets …

Our house is full of knitted blankets – we really do not need any more!Nevertheless, over the past few years we’ve made several more, two more of them this last winter. They are all quite different in construction and size, but they still a pleasure to use on these wintry days …That’s Ilsa,-  cosily settled on the ruched throw I’ve recently completed …This is a really lovely pattern which you will find knitted in more muted single-colour tones on Ravelry here. I loved knitting it – and so did the cats, cuddling up with me as I beavered away on wintry nights …And it used up some (not all!) of my stash of handspun yarns …

It’s such a simple pattern, all knit in garter stitch.  The striped part of this blanket is doubled in stitches when it comes to the plain dark knit – thus giving a ruched effect.  I crocheted round the entire blanket several times to tidy the edges of my rather raggedy homespun …We all love this light little throw – perhaps the cats most of all. Indeed, there’s a possessive look to their presence here which is perhaps a little worrying …I really like knitting small blanket/throws. A year or so back, I knitted a green-toned one.  This was an adaptation of a pattern I found on Ravelry here. The Scrappy Lengthwise Scarf uses slip stitch  to make a scarf, but this pattern adapts very nicely to making a blanket.Such an convincing woven effect!While I wove all the ends in, Anne Wheaton used this pattern to great effect to make a fringed blanket. I stuck to habit and crocheted round my blanket …My only critcism is that slip stitches are very easy to catch!Definitely this winter’s pièce de résistance is the blanket we made of Stephen’s machine-knitted swatches …We’ve written before of Stephen’s machine-knitting designs and another blanket we have made from our knitted swatches.

This blanket started with me crocheting round the edges of his swatches and ironing them flat …Then they are laid out as we struggle to work out which pieces will fit where ..Not easy when Stephen has knit each piece to a different size! (Eggy doesn’t help either …)

Then there’s a long time while I stitch them together and we both get very fed up with the pieces lying on our sittingroom floor.  Finally the blanket goes into the washing machine for a light wash (to get rid of all that smelly machine-knitting oil), and out it goes to blow gently in the balmy Northumbrian breezes …The designer checks it out …It has an occasional home in our new (old) caravan. It doesn’t just look cosy, it really makes sleeping in there very cosy indeed …So it was well worth the effort.  But can I face next basketful of swatches?! Perhaps next winter …While I’m left contemplating the next knitted swatch blanket, I’ll hand you over to Stephen for him to explain the whys and wherefores of some of his patterns:

Inspiration for my patterns come from all over the place, from 60s op art to designs found in the built environment.
Several years ago we stayed for a few days in Ripon and explored the ruined abbeys of North Yorkshire. We found little surviving of Byland Abbey above ground level, but came across many medieval floor tiles still in situ, including this one.
I first designed a pattern to replicate it in knitted Shetland wool:
I then developed it to a second pattern adding a bit more interest
This is still very close to the original pattern. But my third pattern is much more developed, and it is quite hard to pick out the underlying original pattern:
The next pattern was designed and knitted in response to the Manchester Arena bombing. The bee is the symbol of the city, and both Katherine and I joined others all over the country showing our solidarity with the city in this terrible time by making small bee-patterned items. K made a padded heart, and I made this bee swatch to wrap it in.
The next pattern  is one I designed myself, and knitted in tuck stich – this was actually a tension swatch I used for scarves I knitted for my daughters last Christmas. The fascinating thing about tuck stich, where the wool is caught of the needle but not knitted, is that it distorts the pattern, with straight lines ending up slightly curved. In extreme forms of tuck stitch, when several rows of wool are not knitted, the tensions in the knitting make the fabric buckle and pucker in rather unpredictable ways.Finally, a pattern based on a very simple quadrant motif treated in several different ways.  Here the motif is put together in opposite pairs, and between the left and right side as shown the colours were reversed. Very effective, particularly when framed by Katherine’s crocheted border.
I used this pattern to knit several large panels for covers for our sofas. For these I also used another element that I like using in my designs, that of pure randomness. The width of each coloured band, and its colour was selected at random, using a simple computer program. Which version do you prefer, black quadrants on coloured stripes?
Or coloured quadrants on a black backgroud?
Food patterns for thought, hopefully!

Seaside gardening

I guess I should be honest … I’m really writing a gardening blog because – on a cold winter’s day – I badly need to remind myself how lovely summer can be in the Northern Hemisphere … Not that our garden has always been as it appears above … We moved to an unkempt wilderness, and, since we neither of us had any previous experience of coastal gardening, we turned to the authorities …

I treated myself to a copy of Mrs. Bardswell’s book on Sea-coast Gardens and Gardening …Her references made me laugh! Lady Battersea’s Overstrand garden is really rather grander than is relevant to our little Northumbrian coastal cottage garden.

… Salt airs stir leaves in broad plantations, red and white Roses stud smooth lawns, Lilies flower happily in the half-shade of trees, and pond-flowers are blooming in sylvan lake and pool. …

I think not for us!

But she did make valuable points, among them the importance of plant protection from the prevailing winds.

Success in sea-coast gardening is really a question of shelter. That must never be forgotten. If natural shelter be lacking, however, it is not difficult to build it up.

My elderly copy of Scotts Nurseries catalogue (veritably a gardening bible!) says much the same …

Once a hedge is established to keep out, or even filter, the drying salt-laden sea-winds many tender plants will flourish in our equable coastal climate …

Perhaps the most touching (and expert) advice came from my Aunty Jilly, here enjoying her lovely Edinburgh garden …These are her recommendations for planting for shelter … (somewhat disconcertingly she refers to First and Second Line of Defence as though preparing for a military siege) …So we did indeed plant for shelter – but from the prevailing and often boisterous westerly winds … hollies (variegated for effect), sea-buckthorn, rosa rugosa, ribes …Making a solid protective border of shrubs which the birds and smaller plants love … On the coastal side – looking south-east to the sea – we actually removed the existing defences … taking down the five foot fence so that we could see the sea …Sometimes we pay the price for this folly – as when vicious easterlies sweep in and burn … Just look at the bottom of those raspberry plants … But we can see the sea!We also got advice and inspiration from another source.  A local garden, designed by the wonderful Gertrude Jekyll …Lindisfarne Castle is just over the sea from us – it’s that bump on the horizon, glimpsed here in the soft glow of the evening light …In 1906 Gertrude Jekyll stayed at Lindisfarne Castle a couple of times while the architect, Edwin Lutyens, was also there. Lutyens had been commissioned to renovate the Castle by its owner, Edward Hudson.  It was Hudson’s idea to turn the old walled vegetable garden into a tennis and croquet lawn and develop the valley between it and the Castle into a pretty water garden.  In the event the pretty water garden never materialised – and the old vegetable garden became the Castle Garden where gardening wizard Jekyll worked her magic … We first visited the garden in the winter, so what struck us were the bones of the structure …Even in the winter it was clear that stachys lanata (aka lamb’s-ear) was the plant to grow in this locality … It does indeed flourish very happily in our garden. I think I’d go as far to say that it is one of the most contented of our plants … self-seeding happily … And that splash of silver sets off the other plants so well …Last summer we visited the garden for the first time in the summer months – July.  Normally we avoid the Castle and Garden at that time of the year as it is so busy.

It was indeed busy when we visited. But it was worth it.  And somehow the Garden felt very comfortable with all this busyness – perhaps because it is so fabulously beautiful and everybody was enjoying it so gently.

This is the view looking from the Garden back to the Castle – presumably the area where Hudson wanted his water garden …And if you angle your head a little bit more to the right you can see the mainland over the sea …Great swathes of colour everywhere …But the structure still strong and clear …Masses of sweetpeas …A bench from which to admire the view …Is it folly to take you now from this wonderful wonderful garden to our little patch of Northumbrian heaven to show you what we learned from Gertrude Jekyll … ?! Probably, but I’m going to risk it.

We don’t actually grow that many of the same plants as Jekyll and following gardeners have planted in the Lindisfarne garden. Sweet peas, yes, we do grow them, and they flourish very happily …

Sunflowers can be found both in Jekyll’s garden and ours … Undoubtedly the strength of our garden lies in the poppies which flourish all summer thanks to repeat sowings. They do grow poppies in the Lindisfarne Castle Garden (look behind that bench above) but not in the numbers that we do … Ours are not exclusively red … The other striking feature in Jekyll’s garden is that she’s not afraid of colour – great splashes of it!  Nor are there coy toning colours. Just glorious perhaps vulgar-in-some-eyes colour …We aren’t afraid of colour either.  Look at the strident yellow here: the broom echoing the local farmer’s rape field behind the fence …I think Jekyll would approve of the riot of spring colour provided by the wallflowers … And a little later in the year … lilies, alchemilla mollis, pinks, calendula … (and the ubiquitous poppies) … in vibrant clashing glory … Later in the year too when the crocosmia and loosestrife clash comfortably before the harvested field … In my opinion the most important thing for a seaside seaview garden is a good bench …And I’d like to think that Gertrude Jekyll would agree …

Stash heaven

A new year …. new projects, new thoughts, new ideas … And, after the rush of Christmas and its busy preparations, January offers such space, such time!

I promptly filled the space with a new project – one of my favourites.  Out came my fabric stash. This is messy play in our small house on a grand scale …And the cats love it!I dig deep into my stash for various projects – doodle stitcheries, patchwork quilts, and, of course, GiveWraps

But my stash is a great sentimental and luscious pleasure, so this week (as my husband was away and I could take time with my mess) I indulged myself on a slow journey through these beautiful fabrics and some of the stories behind them.

The core of my stash came to me via my Australian grandmother Dora, then in her second incarnation as a grand Leicester lady. Married to a local businessman, she would often have occasion to dress up glam, and she could really go to town properly.  Here she is at a smart event in the 1960s …And a few years earlier at a London wedding …These beautiful beautiful dresses were made for her by her Leicester dressmaker, Fernanda. I have very vague memories of visiting Casa Fernanda when my grandmother attended for a fitting – wish they were more vivid!  But what I do have – perhaps even more precious – is scraps from the dresses of other Leicester ladies which Fernanda would save for my grandmother. I doubt if any other of the Leicester ladies wanted these pieces, but my grandmother, my mother – and my great-grandmother – were enthusiastic patchworkers and treasured these scraps.

Later, the leftovers came to me … I don’t have many of them left now, but those I do have are Glamorous! See that tiny little gold piece in the middle? Far too small for me to ever do anything with it, but I keep it as a memory of the gorgeous ostentation of those Leicester ladies …My grandmother only went to Casa Fernanda for the seriously smart stuff. The rest she made herself. She had a particular penchant for batiks which has left a lasting influence on my own taste, – and what sits in my fabric stash.  Here she is in her beautiful Leicester garden, wearing a dress made of Egyptian cotton – and yes, I still have pieces of this material …As I do have of this batik dress that she is wearing outside her London garden in 1971 …I wonder how representative a sample this is of my grandmother’s taste that still sits in my stash?  There’s certainly lots of batik and Indian fabric, also some Thai silks and you might just be able to make out a scrap of fabulous pinky-green tweed. She wasn’t afraid to wear vibrant colours and strong patterns …When she died in 1980, a great many of her batik dresses came to me – I guess nobody else in the family wore such patterns. They were mostly shift dresses which the younger me disdained, so I re-pieced them into other styles. As there wasn’t a great deal of fabric in a shift dress, my trick was to mix several of her dresses into a very 70s-style smock dress. The irony is that now I am in my 60s, I wear lots of shift dresses, and would happily wear these dresses of my grandmother’s. But they are long cut up and re-pieced …

A major contribution to my stash (and my mother’s as well) was a donation of imperfect tie silks.  My parents were living in Kent at the time, near to a factory where fine silk ties were made – and these are just a few of the fabrics. I still have lots left. Indeed, I was amused when I looked these pieces out to see that some of the bundles are still wrapped in elastic bands as they were when they arrived. I guess they’ve just never been used …These have been fabulously useful pieces of strongly coloured material, used in so many projects. Again, there wasn’t really a lot of any one piece of fabric, so the trick was to be ingenious with their use – as here, lining sleeves with different coloured fabrics.  Who would ever know?I wonder if some of you will find my next collection of scraps as evocative as I do? They are so much of my 1970s youth!

Clothkits, Liberty and Laura Ashley really made such a big contribution to our fabric world – and in those days people really did make their own clothes.  John Lewis in London had the entire ground floor dedicated to sales of fabric and cloth. We would pick up fantastic Tana Lawn and Varuna Wool fabrics at Liberty’s in the sales.  Many of these pieces are too small to ever be much use in a project – just look at the snip of red with white spots fabric! – but they won’t be thrown away any time soon …In the 1990s another wonderful gift came our way with a bundle of unwanted church silks. My parents had moved to Wells in Somerset, and my mother – a very find needlewoman – offered her services to the good ladies who repaired the cathedral altar clothes and clergy vestments.  If you know your Christian year, you can identify the fabrics below: red fabrics (used for the commemoration of martyrs), purple fabrics (used in seasons of penance like Advent and Lent) and yellow or gold (used for days of celebration like Easter).  Not much green because that was the fabric of ordinary time and so probably the most used. But aren’t they wonderful?!  So wonderful that I just get them out, stroke them and put them very carefully back again – no, sometimes, I allow myself to use just a little …I’ve been so very lucky – all sorts of people have given me their old dresses so I can make use of the fabrics. These are just a few of them. I particularly love that yellow scrap – from a dress either my mother or grandmother wore in the 1950s.  How I wish I had more of it!But it’s the green fabric with black/brown flowers that really sparked my imagination and sent me off on my first doodle stitchery. Thank you so much, Mandy, for passing this dress on to me …These are all scraps from my clothes – not necessarily my handmade clothes.  Some of these are dresses I wore as a child which my mother made, and some of them are from garments I purchased readymade.  In those cases, I loved the fabric so very much that when the garment no longer suited/fitted me, I kept the fabric for sewing projects …Perhaps a preponderance of red and orange …? Yes, I did use to wear a lot of orange when I was younger …And I did get married in orange batik too, which must say a lot for my taste …More generous donations – this times animal print fleece. I have very little of this left, I guess because I must have used it up on children’s projects …Clockwork Orange scraps left over from my daughter Helen’s art school studies …Look at this wonderful collection of pieces that Helen found for me from another art school! I am struck by the OTT glitteriness of these fabrics – they remind me rather of the fabrics the Leicester ladies wore in my youth …And this is batik heaven! The imagery and colours used by African wax designers is really unsurpassed. My Instagram friend in Nice, Isabelle, shares my passion for batik fabric and has given me many of these lovely pieces. Thank you so very much!And, of course, I’m still wearing batik fabrics …Yet more fabulous fabrics have come my way from other friends on social media.  A big, big thank you to Claire, Anne and Louise.  These pieces are all treasured and admired, lingering in the mind as little nuggets of inspiration …I think what I love most is the picture fabrics …So what did I make from this heavenly stash play, I hear you ask …? Well, I made some GiveWraps, my stock of GiveWraps being reduced by the Christmas season of giving …

This GiveWrap use pieces from an old Japanese yukata which I loved so much that I wore it out.  It is good to see these beautiful Japanese ladies taking pride of places amid the other fabrics.  I guess I won’t be passing this on any time soon, as this fabric is so very precious to me …Quite a contrast here! These strong fabrics are almost all from old dresses of mine …Orange – rich glowing orange. The centerpiece and many of the side pieces are fabric prints made by my cousin, Polly …More of Polly’s prints here – a mixed bag … I hope the colours I’ve used draw them together …And my favourite – orange and purple – what a heavenly strong mix! Just a glimpse of a butterfly from one of Isabelle’s statement batik fabrics in the centre …That’s what I did in the first weeks of the new year.  And then my husband came home and I tidied away the fabrics for another month or so … (He doesn’t mind my fabric mess really …)

I’m struck by the generosity of so many friends, businesses and organisations which has gone to make up this collection. It gives me so much pleasure. Thank you all so very much. And Happy New Year!

A summer’s stitching …

I can tell autumn is on it’s way – not from that chill morning smell in the air, nor the blowsiness of the garden … No, it’s because I am all stitched out for this summer …

Last year, a visiting American friend brought me some lovely presents – two little hand-made bags and an exquisite glass heart – all charmingly wrapped up in a little flowery handkerchief …About the same time, another dear friend (this time from Nice) sent me some of her left-over fabric scraps – knowing how much I enjoy piecing odd little stitcheries together …Well, somehow these bits and pieces came together, and before I knew what it was June – and that little handkerchief was the centrepiece of a summer doodle stitchery … I don’t know why earlier incarnations of this piece escaped the roving eye of my iPhone, but there it is, they did.  I think it is because I struggled – I really struggled – to get this piece going further. Frankly, I struggled even to enjoy the stitching …

What changed for me round about June was that I eventually began to train myself  to look at my stitchery differently. It continued to be a bit of a struggle for a while. But I found I could stop aiming for a finished product, and focus on the particular, the different constituent parts of this embroidery. And how very different they all are!

There are twittering birds. With embroidered French knots those little birds began to twitter more and more …The cats’ glasses became even more extravagant …Their bow-ties flashier …The Mayan figures (scraps from my daughter) got glasses too …And little Japanese doll companions …One Mayan figure sprouted cats from its head …Which grew more and more elaborate as the stitching went on …Until there was a great totem pole of be-glassed cats …In the centre of the panel the flowers grew more ornate …With little decorative centres …Embroidered dragonfly hovered about them … (Copied from another stitchery of mine) …Another fabulous fabric bundle of scraps arrived, this time from my friend Claire …Did you see the silk cloud fabric just peeking out at the top from under the cat? Well, all of a sudden there were clouds in my stitching … little ones …And big ones too …And medium sized ones as well …And some time in the stitching, it began to snow little cherry-blossom flowers …I spent many evenings cutting out these fiddly little fabric pieces …Pinning them on …Suddenly there were loads of them …I am sad to say (but not surprised to record) that the kits were no respecter of my work …Finding it a comfortable pad from which to survey their domain …And boy does Eggy love my embroidery basket!Earlier this month I realized I was approaching the time when it all needed to be drawn together – it needed a border. Perhaps blue seashell fabric? Hmmm, I think not …But I could pick out that turquoise spotty fabric? No, too swimming … Now how about some dark ikat fabric? Ah, now that’s worth trying! It’s a surprisingly light fabric so needed some gentle wadding folded into the frame …And a nice bit of stitching along the ikat border to hold it all in place …Now for some final cherry blossom snowflakes to tie it all together …The outer dark ikat border is transformative, sending the inner dark border of the original handkerchief into recess, as though a window opening onto another world.  I am so very pleased!  It has to be time to finish stitching …

My weird and wonderful world of birds and cats
with glasses …

Just a bit of summer fun …

A new baby in the family …

What a delight to have a new baby in the family! Welcome little Felix, born on the 7th July, just two weeks ago as I write today.

This lovely photograph is of my daughter Helen with her new little baby Felix right after he was born …
Helen & Felix, 7th July 2019Just a year ago today, my step-daughter Zacyntha gave birth to little Reuben. What a beautiful expression of incredulous delight is on her face!Zacyntha & Reuben 2018I was so struck by the emotions captured in these two pics that I went back to look at other mothers in earlier generations …

There’s me, of course, with my babies. First with my oldest, son James, in 1980 … I think there’s wonder – and perhaps new mum nerves there too.  Baby James, with his hands over his ears, clearly doesn’t want to know …New mother Katherine with baby James 1980And here talking to my new baby Helen in 1983, a more confident mum, I think …Katherine talking to baby Helen 1983 Going further back, here’s my mother Mary with me in 1954. I’m just over two weeks old, and look pretty engaged …
Mary & Katherine 1954I guess she’s proud and delighted but on the back she’s written that I look rather like a little pig!Mary's note that K looks  like little pig 1954.jpgBut what an enchanting photograph this is of one-year old me feeding my mother with icecream!Katherine feeding Mary icecream 1955She looks enchantingly happy too with my sister Marian in this 1957 photograph … Marian with Mary, Leicester 1957My grandmother Doris looks thrilled with her baby son John as she rocks him in the pram in 1921 …
Granny with John, Dublin 1921But it’s Nurse Taylor who’s been captured lovingly reassuring my mother as a baby in 1924, not my grandmother. Different times, sometimes less hands-on mums …
Nurse with Mary, 1924But not always so! I love this 1926 photograph of my Australian grandmother Dora with my very newborn father Dick – she’s so clearly new-to-the-job, with the baby rather clumsily  bundled up …
Dora & Dick, Gnoll, Melbourne 1926And the sense of her joy positively leaps out at you from this photograph of them some six months later …Dora & Dick, Cowes, Australian, Xmas 1926Skip a generation back, and here’s my grandmother Dora with her own mother Nini. I’m guessing a first birthday photograph, so taken in November 1900.  It’s a very affectionate photograph even if it is a formal sitting.Nini & Dora c.1900By contrast the photograph of my great-grandfather Charles with his baby daughter Dora is most uncomfortable! I think you could say he’s holding her at arm’s length, which is perhaps rather strange seeing as she was his fourth child.  He clearly wasn’t what you might call a hands-on dad …Charles Church with his daugher, Dora c1900Which is atypical of the dad photographs.  Even going right back to the last century, there are many pictures of men in the family deeply involved in parenting.

I love this picture of my great-grandfather William rather tentatively giving his grandson (my father) a bottle …Graandfather WHGE feeding Dick 1926There are wonderful pictures of his son Vin with my father. He’s proud – and confident!And that look of glee on my father Dick’s face as he clutches his father’s hair!Vin & Dick 1927The hands-on confidence my father learned from his father is reflected in the beautiful pictures of my father with me.  This photograph just creases me up – the look on my father’s face really defies description …Katherine (8 days old) & Dick 1954Like his own father, my dad was perfectly happy to hoist me up on his shoulder – but what a hoot of a photograph this is – that expression on my face, and that pipe!Dick & Katherine, Chuzenji 1954He wasn’t alone to think that pipes and babies go perfectly well together.  Here’s my uncle John and my cousin Polly in 1953.  A lovely expression on his face – but I think she’s worried about that pipe!John & Polly 1953This pic of my uncle Bow with his son Tim in 1961 just has to be one of the sweetest of dad pics …Maritn with Tim 1961My father was lovely with his grandchildren too.  Here he is with his oldest grandson James in 1980 – a beautiful thoughtful expression on both faces …Dick with James 1980 DevonAnd new father Hugh is clearly having a very deep bonding moment with his baby son James …Daddy Hugh with baby son James 1980Some of the most fascinating pictures are of older children connecting with new babies. There are clearly deep thoughts in my older son James’ mind as he gazes on his new baby sister Helen …brother James and baby Helen This is my daughter Helen with her cousin Louisa in 1994. Helen was just old enough to realise how very special it is to hold a baby …Helen & Louisa 1994Here is the 3 year old Louisa talking to new baby Johnny!  What a conversation!Louisa & Johnny, 1996Coming back to the two new babies in our family, there are several other very touching photographs.  I love the sharing of joy between my husband Stephen and his other daughter Ellie when they meet little Reuben for the first time …Stephen & Ellie & Reuben, August 1918And how can you not smile when you see new parents Helen and Elias beaming down love on little Felix …Helen, Elias & Felix, July 2019It was a deeply emotional moment for me when I met my first grandchild Felix for the first time last week …Katherine & Felix, July 2019In later years may there be many happy times spent with these new little lads.  This is a charming photograph of another great-grandmother of mine, Mathilda Rose, here shown in about 1890 with her two little boys.  It’s my grandfather Percy with his back to us, and his brother Bill looking at the camera.  Were they reading together, I wonder?  Or perhaps it’s an impromptu nature lesson on that daisy-filled lawn …Mathilda Rose with Bill & Perks, Devon c. 1880My grandfather Percy went on to have four children of his own. Despite having a demanding work schedule, he had very happy family holidays with his young children in the 1920s in Devon. That’s my mother Mary comfortably cuddled between his knees …Waterfield family 1920s DevonThis 1959 photograph is a lesson on how not to be all together for a family photograph! My grandmother Dora and aunt Shirley smile glamorously, but how miserable my mother Mary looks – and as for those harassed dads! And I don’t think you can say anything nice about those wriggly, grumpy and bad-tempered children!family pic 1959No, let there be the best of holidays – just as my young parents are enjoying here. A positively glowing photograph of them with me and their dog Chad …Dick & Mary & Katherine& Chad, Chuzenji 1954Here’s to happy children, happy times! (cheers to my sister Marian and her little daughter Bel!)Marian & Bel, Christmas 1997

 

Exploring Dod Law

Goodness, what a long time since I last posted!

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it – or been without topics to write about. It’s more that I have questioned the whole raison d’être of personal blogs …. the internet seems so crowded … who am I to add to the general digital busyness ….

I have sort of resolved this in my own mind. I can’t resolve the problem of internet busyness, but I do really love blogging when I get into my topic.  And right now, that seems a good enough reason …

So here I am,  with a wonderful wonderful walk from last week,  in one of our very favourite parts of North Northumberland – the lands about the Cheviot Hills and the Milfield Plain.view over to the CheviotsWe were looking for something, something that we had looked for before and not found.  Would we be successful this time …. ? Hmm, you’ll have to wait and see!

Our walk started from the village of Doddington, parking not far from what appeared to be a Holy Well. I would guess this was an ancient sacred spot, Christianised perhaps  in the 19th century with the addition of the cross …Doddington's holy wellA trickle of fresh water running gently at the foot of the cross … this is a mysterious and elemental place – a good start for a walk into mystery …water trickling out of holy wellNot far up the road we found a worn and shabby signpost, barely legible for the lichen … but it’s definitely pointing the way to Dod Law … just half a mile up the hill!waymarkerSo up we go! You’ll remember that I’m always behind …
Stephen leading the wayInto the gorse …Stephen leading the way through gorseWhere pretty soon it becomes clear that this path isn’t walked often …. the gorse so overgrown even the sheep are finding it tricky to get through … almost impassable gorseBut then it opens out, and really this is the best sort of walking, the ground springy underfoot, the bracken too young and freshly green to give anything but pleasure …Stephen walking up the pathAnd the flowers! Foxgloves looking statuesque amid the gorse …foxgloves at their bestLittle white starry flowers underfoot … I wish I knew what they were!
young bracken around pathEven more delightful when mingled with small blue flowers, some of which are Speedwell (thank you, we will) but I can’t identify the others. Any ideas?
starry white and blue flowers underfootAnd the bell heather is just coming into bloom …bell heather coming into bloomJust when it all seemed to be going so well, we hit a problem … This stile has collapsed.  As I said earlier, this route no longer seems to be much walked.  The path over the stile takes us onto Access Land (private land where permissive walking is granted but no right-of-way footpath exist).  The unrepaired stile is probably  a reflection not of landowner disinterest but austerity.  Footpaths such as these were once the responsibility of local authority councils but their budgets have been so heftily slashed that footpaths must be bottom of their to-repair list.

Never mind – I did get over it, but only just. Lucky there’s no barbed wire on top!
broken styleOnwards and upwards … you can clearly tell which way the prevailing wind blows …no doubting which way the wind blowsExposed they may be, but these trees clearly offer welcome shelter to sheep …
sheep sheltersOnwards and upwards again … track leading invitingly upwardsAnd then up to scrubbier ground – with providentially a bench for respite …
happy benchmanWith what a view!a great place for coffeeThe land stretching down and round over the Milfield Plain …new growth on the hillsideGaps in the bracken show clearly where the farmer has burnt back growth – so much preferable to treating the bracken with herbicidal sprays …evidence of scorching down the brackenJust a little further and we find ourselves at the hill fort – that’s Stephen ahead, just entering it. This hill fort is thought to have been constructed about 300 BC.entering the hill fortSadly it’s very difficult for an amateur photographer such as I am – and on the ground too – to give a real impression of the magnificence of these remaining earthworks. But the farmer’s trackway gives an idea as it runs through the inner and outer ramparts.modern trackway running through hill fortOver on those hills in the distance were many many other hill forts … An almost unimaginable world …walking through the hill fort rampartsJust as we are immersing ourselves in the magic of this place, we look back to see somebody spraying the adjoining golf course! Aagh! is not even a spot as wild and beautiful as this safe from the common use of pesticides?!spraying the golf courseThe hill fort is a magnificent distraction, but it’s not what we’re really here for … We’re looking for rock art!  Some of the most intriguing and fine specimens are to be found on Dod Law.

Well, apparently so.  But last time we visited we couldn’t find them.  On that occasion we approached Dod Law through the golf course (a route almost parallel to the more circuitous one we had taken today), and we walked round and round and round and round – and found nothing.

You see everywhere – all over Dod Law – there are stone slabs lying exposed to the elements … there are stones everywhereYou can ramble around here, through the golf course, over the hills – and find nothing .. wandering through golf course looking for rock artDespite having Ordnance Survey maps, mobile phones, and hand-drawn maps from the master, Stan Beckensall’s Prehistoric Rock Art in NorthumberlandStephen at the trig pointOK, we did find the trig point – and were pretty pleased with that.at least we found the trig pointAnd – just above the Shepherd’s House – we found some very moving modern rock carvings …
the Shepherd's houseBless you, Sadie and Tom Young – what a place to be remembered!  You must have loved it very much up here …
modern rock artAnd then suddenly it clicked!  And the maps made sense, and I found the three clearly exposed pieces of rock art on Dod Law!

This is the first we found, and probably the most indistinctive of them all.  The problem isn’t just that my iPhone wasn’t really up to the task.  A June day – even if cloudy is not a good time to see the markings clearly.  Best days to see the rock art are in the low light of autumn and winter.

However, if you look very carefully you may be able to make out the cup and ring marks near the top.cup and ring marks on the rocksYou can see the engraved spiral much more clearly on this slab.circular rock artAnd it’s not too difficult to make out the patterns on this so called Main Rock. These are the most distinctive and unusual patterns.unusual rock art on Dod LawI can’t quite tell you how mind blowing it is to see these carvings, worked so many thousands of years ago (latest thinking is that they were made by Neolithic people between 6,000 and 5,000 years ago). But to stand on Dod Law with these very ancient rock messages and the Cheviots in view and a lark singing takes you, I reckon, almost as close as it is possible to our very distant ancestors …rock art with the cheviotsNobody knows what our ancestors meant with these rock carvings. There has to be a religious element, surely – some expression of peoples’ relationship with place and nature and life and death?

I’m intrigued to have read recently that a new project, Belief in the North East, has been set up under the aegis of Durham University “to explore the rich archaeology of the belief, religion and ritual of North-East England”. Studying the local rock art will be part of their brief.  I wonder what they will come up with ..

Back down the hill – just as pleasing as coming up, if not more so for mission accomplished – and the views as good as ever!following Stephen down

A new take on Kaffe Fassett …

I’ve been nuts about Kaffe Fassett knits since his wonderful colourful designs exploded into the knitting scene in the early 80s. You may have read in my earlier blog about the knits I made using his patterns. But my Kaffe knits (as I like to think of them) sort of fizzled out as we came to the Millennium – partly this was because I was very busy on the employment front, and partly fashions in knitting had changed.  Like many other knitters I explored knits that focused on texture rather than colour.  I now have lots of lovely single colour shawls.

But last year I sort of came to a halt with my knitted shawls.  I had lost heart – they weren’t really my thing.  What I really longed to do was to return to my original knitting passion and knit multi-colour again – with strands and strands of differently-coloured yarn – just as Kaffe had taught us.

But those huge boxy garments! To some extent they were necessary for the enormous dramatic patterns, but I knew I just wouldn’t wear a new knit that was as large and ungainly as this.So I began to think small pattern.  This is Kaffe’s Little Circles pattern (which you will find on p.136 of his Glorious Knitting)If you look carefully at my sample piece (and in much better light) you will see that my circles are much smaller than in the original pattern, and some rows feature designs that are not circular at all. Because most of the yarn is so variegated, in many rows you lose definition anyhow.I was pleased with this – I liked the colours, especially the odd shots of fuchsia, and the pattern may be pretty random at times but it still looks regularly patterned to the casual eye.

This irregularity was important because I’d decided to knit a cardigan using Truly Myrtle’s Timely pattern. This is a striped top-down knit – and far from being baggy and saggy as those old Kaffe knits were, this is fitted, and funky!  I love it! Because it is a top-down knit with no seams there are lots of increases and decreases.  The irregularity of the stitch pattern is important in that it allows me to make all these alterations without revealing these adjustments as glaring mistakes.

I’m sorry to do this to you, Libby, but here is my very shabby printed copy of your lovely pattern – you can tell it’s well-loved …I selected two yarns for the background stripes. The vibrant green yarn is Madeline Tosh.  It’s a fingering weight merino (Tosh Merino Light) called Jade.

The other yarn is my own hand-spun.  It’s predominantly a blue/green/black alpaca batt dyed and prepared by The Border Mill but I have added bits and pieces of my own hand-dyed silks and wools.  It’s very light and soft, and combines beautifully with the Madeline Tosh, making this garment much softer and lighter than my old Kaffe Fassett knits (into which I threw every yarn I could find – including my own hair.)As for the rest of the yarn …. well, in proper Kaffe Fassett style it is a motley collection.  There is handspun, and shop-bought – but most importantly there is Rowan Kidsilk Haze.  This is such a useful yarn for projects such as this.  Being a very fine fluff yarn, it lends itself so well to padding out another yarn that is just too thin to fit in to the general ensemble … So, I started knitting …It was tricky.  After all, I was knitting alternate pairs of rows in first one background colour and then the other, with extra yarns introduced to give the stitch pattern. At times the variegation of colour in the yarn meant that I was knitting with almost identical colours …With any knit like this, you are going to have to stop and sort out muddled yarns frequently …However with persistence, I very soon had enough body to try it on.  This is the beauty of a top-down knit.  You can tell so easily how well the fit is working out – and see too how the decorative pattern is developing.  You can tell that I’m pleased!The original Timely cardigan pattern had a deep ribbed border, but I felt that wasn’t suitable for such a very patterned knit , so I opted to knit a picot edge instead …It looks nice here – a very pleasing detail – but alas, it was so darned frilly! I’d have to think about it …Picking up the sleeves and knitting down on 6 needles (yes, 6!!) was horrible knitting.  So fiddly! It didn’t help of course that I was working with so many yarns …The knitting needle and yarn muddle made for truly miserable knitting – the sort when you really don’t want to pick your knitting up because you know you’ll have to concentrate so hard …How pleasing then to get to the bottom of the sleeves and finish them off with these very fine cuffs! As I said earlier, I didn’t feel plain ribbing was suitable for this very patterned knit, but this two-colour rib works very well. (It’s a 2 purl, 2 knit rib.)Then I returned to compare that picot hem against the ribbed cuffs.  Yes – it’s definitely time for some frogging …I got so excited with the success of the re-knitted two-colour hem rib that I forgot to photograph it before I completed the cardigan.  But this pic does very clearly show how much nicer the ribbed hem is than the picot one …Now for the button band.  I did get my picot edging in here.  Because the yarns were so soft, I double knit each band and then folded them over. This works more easily with the button band than the buttonhole band (where you end up with rather unshapely buttonholes which have to be tidied up.)The tidying-up method I favour is binding with buttonhole stitch (of course). When pressed it gives a very nice edging …And finally for the neckline – where I followed the Truly Myrtle instructions to the letter. I do like this informal slight neck border …That last pic reminds me: there were ends to darn in. Lots of people hate this part of the process, but I (luckily) find it rather restful …So – now for the finished cardi!I’m very pleased with it!  The Truly Myrtle pattern is just what I wanted for this project – it’s a comfortable and stylish fit. The cardigan is very light and soft to wear.

And no – I didn’t block it.  I pressed the button bands with a hot iron through a very damp protective cloth, but that was all.  I like the rough texture of this multi-yarn knit.

Of course, I made it much harder for myself because I used a two-colour background.  Were I to knit such a cardi again (and yes, I’m already mulling over how I might translate one of Kaffe’s bolder patterns to a modern knit), I’d definitely restrict myself to a single yarn for the backing.  Perhaps a variegated yarn or I might change the yarn as I went along, but I definitely wouldn’t want to be carrying two main colours right the way through another knit.

Off now for some serious mulling …

Weddings

Just before Christmas I completed the mamoth task I’d embarked on several years ago of scanning my parents’ photograph albums. What a rash offer it was!  Some 20 photograph albums, dating from the late nineteenth century to 2008 – and of all sizes and shapes.  The very old ones were small and easy to scan, but as time progressed, the albums got bigger and bigger – with the very last albums requiring four separate scans a page and then digital processing to unite them.  Aagh!

But as I began to lose heart, I had an idea – and it was what kept me going.  I was going to draw together all the weddings in these albums to create a wedding story blog through the twentieth century (with a little leeway at either side). After all, weddings aren’t just a great excuse to dress up for the bride, they also show us aunts and uncles whom we never normally meet up with – and they are all wearing their wedding finery too … And what illumination weddings shed on changing mores!

The earliest photograph I have is of Charlotte Bethel who married my great-great-grandfather Edward George Lane probably in about 1857 (their eldest daughter was born in 1858) in Heidelberg in Melbourne.  It’s an extraordinarily early photograph. In those days those who could afford it went to a photographer’s studio to have their photograph taken to mark the occasion of their wedding.  You can just make out that she’s wearing a wedding ring on her left hand. I rather think the dress may be one of the photographer’s props because it doesn’t appear to fit very well …  But I really love this photograph – Charlotte looks very happy, very self-assured (dress loan or not) – and very elegant with that simple unfussy hairdo …By contrast her daughter, Marian, looks most ill at ease in her wedding portrait. By this time the family had settled in New Zealand, so her marriage to Charles Church took place on the 30th March 1880 at St Luke’s Church, Oamaru. Marian is looking a lot more dressy, staged and formal than her mother does above – and frankly a bit fussy too.  She doesn’t look particularly comfortable (perhaps she realises this photographer’s prop, the fur rug, is stealing the show) …Leaving my Antipodean family aside, we now skip across continents to my step-grandmother’s Leicester wedding. Nancy Goddard (daughter of chemist and businessman Sir Joseph Goddard) married Arthur Evans on the 15th June 1904.  The quality of this photograph is stunning, really capturing the radiant beauty of the young lady we later called Great-Gran.  Again, it’s a studio photograph – and I’m quite sure it was taken by the very best Leicester society photographer …Then we come – in 1919 – to the first wedding photograph that was actually taken at the event itself.  The saddest thing is that I cannot tell you anything else about this charming bride other than the fact that the wedding took place in June 1919.  The photograph is in my grandmother’s photograph album, and I guess the people were so familiar that she felt no need to add further details.  Tantalisingly overexposed so it’s very hard to make out much of the details of her wedding dress – it looks like a sprigged fabric with a light overcoat and a long tassel-y thing that she’s carrying over her arm (part of a train?).  And oh – those funny little mob caps on the bridesmaids!Her husband is in military dress, so I guess recently demobbed.  So soon after the end of the first world war – how can we possibly imagine their feelings when so many of their friends and relatives must have died …The war did have a visible impact on my maternal grandmother’s wedding.  She married my grandfather at St Mary’s Church, Leigh Woods (on the outskirts of Bristol) in October 1920. But her sister, Phyllis, had died earlier in the year of septicaemia which she had contracted as a trainee medical student in Bristol.  Here is Phyllis – smiling, several years earlier ….So there were no wedding photographs – but my grandmother did have a formal photograph taken to mark her engagement, and it shows a sweetly smiling optimistic face … Back to Australia now for my other grandmother’s wedding. Dora’s wedding to my grandfather, Vin, took place at St George’s Church in Melbourne’s Surrey Hills on April 23rd 1923. It’s very hard to see what she’s wearing in this overexposed photograph – though they do look blissfully happy and in love. Their stance and the loving look between them is quite unusual for wedding photos of the time …You get a much better idea of the very simple dress she is wearing in this photo taken in the family summer house (perhaps before the wedding?)  My grandmother was an enthusiastic gardener all her life, and I am sure she has chosen particular flowers for her bouquet – I just wish I could identify them! Rather strangely she  seems to be wearing long gloves …My grandfather’s  brother, Cliff, features in the next wedding with his wife, Edith. Cliff was working as a doctor in England, so this 1926 picture is of the couple outside Hammersmith registry office.  She’s wearing a real flapper dress – such beautiful detailing round the hem …Tragically my Australian grandfather Vin died in 1933. My grandmother had met an English colleague of his through their business dealings,  and her second marriage in 1937 was to this Englishman, Roger Evans, at Chislehurst church in Kent. What is striking about this wedding is the simplicity (again) of my grandmother’s dress (silk, cut on the cross, I think, with a lovely drape) in contrast with the stuffiness of all the affluent Leicester family and friends who had travelled down to Kent to attend the wedding …His mother’s dress is a fussy disappointment – look how creased it is! But I rather like his sister Daphne’s bold dress on the left.  These are all black and white photos of course so we have no idea what colour these clothes are.  I’m guessing the creased dress is a very safe dark blue, and I rather fancy Daphne’s dress is cream with blue spots on it …The star of the guest show is definitely Vera (in this fabulous spotty number and perfect little raunchy fur cape and jaunty cap) and husband Holland in his spats!But just look at the other aunts and uncles here!Perhaps the most poignant thing about this wedding is the two little boys running to keep up at their mother’s second marriage …1950 now, and the next generation are getting married.  This is my Uncle John marrying his glamorous American wife, Lee, on the 25th February in St George’s, Hanover Square. His sisters, Mary and Jill, are the adult bridesmaids  in attendance. I really like the dark velvet dresses they are wearing – perfect for a winter wedding …The weddings are now coming thick and fast for this post-war generation.  Here are Stephen’s father and mother, Robin and Betty, getting married on September 8th 1951 at St Paul’s Church, Peterborough (his workplace as he was curate there!)A most unusual wedding photograph of theirs shows the crowd of his parishioners watching. Such a common sight to have a village turn out to see a wedding but so seldom captured … (however they may have come to see the groom’s brother, David Dunhill, who was a well-known BBC radio presenter of the time and is the man who appears to be speaking to the crowd here) …1952 and another glamorous London wedding – this time for my father’s cousin, Australian theatre designer, Ann Church. Looking fabulously chic, she married Raymond Bury in St Paul’s church, Knightsbridge … ( pity about the scaffolding) …Now it’s my parents’ turn!  Their wedding took place on 25th October 1952 at St. Agatha’s Church in Brightwell, near Oxford. Traditional – and very sweet. They look so young …But you have to laugh at the juxtaposition of articles that appeared in the Oxford Mail!This is my favourite photograph of the two of them – scampering off together for a private word …1953 and another cousin of my father’s gets married – this is the little girl (all grown up now) whom he scampered after at his mother’s second wedding …The Leicester contingent turned out for this wedding in their usual style. I’m amused to see that my grandmother (who married twice in the most simple of dresses) has succumbed to Leicester style.  That’s her, second on the left – and if you look carefully you’ll see her stealing the show with her glamorous confident dressing in many more wedding photos …1955, and Shirley was the most beautiful of brides when she married my Uncle Bill at the Church of the Immaculate Conception (what a name for a marriage venue!) in Sicklinghall near Harrogate. I guess my grandmother’s allowed to glam it up for her youngest son’s wedding …Skip a few years to 1961 and this enchanting picture of my Aunt Jill marrying Harry at St Michael’s, Chester Square – I just love that bouffant veil! It was February 18th and chilly so we had the most delicious little white furry muffs to keep our hands warm (I’m the littlest bridesmaid on the right) …And here are the wedding guests.  This is my mother’s side of the family – and they just don’t do glam like my other grandmother …1962 brought another family wedding for my grandmother Dora to get her wintry glad rags on. This is my great-aunt Daphne’s wedding to New Zealander, Philip, on December 29th at St Mary Magdalene Church, Knighton (in Leicester). This was a surprise wedding – the couple were both in their fifties when they met – and I don’t think her family ever expected her to get married …Aunty Daphne (as I called her) died some years ago now. When she died, I received this very touching little box containing the leftover scraps of her wedding dress. It’s just the most beautiful shimmering and creamy fabric – with pictures of magnolias woven into the fabric.  You really have no idea from the pictures that were taken that day …1970 and I was a bridesmaid again – this time for Patricia who was marrying Dave at Holme-on-Spalding-Moor church.  Several years older than me, she’d been my companion when I stayed with my grandparents at their Yorkshire holiday home …And my goodness, the next wedding in the albums is mine! Weddings are funny things.  I can show you all these lovely pictures of happy couples and their dressed-up relatives, but that doesn’t really tell you anything like the whole story.

Whereas with this one, I can reveal a little more …

I married Hugh on the 1st of September 1979 in the church of St Peter and St Paul, Farningham, Kent.  It wasn’t really the marriage that Hugh and I intended.

We’d like a quiet wedding, we said. Our mothers shook their heads, reached for their address books …

I’ll make my own dress, I said. I’m thinking an ivory silk piped with scarlet edging.  Our mothers looked uncomfortable …

So – in the end, Hugh and I went back to Devon where we were living (together) and working, and left our families to get on with it … I chuckle to remember this when I think of modern weddings I have attended where brides have organized details down to the nth degree.  I didn’t even chose my sister’s bridesmaid dress (my mother did) …As it turned out it was a very happy wedding, a really great party. The local bank manager told me afterwards that is was the wedding of the year for Farningham! What more can I say …!

The photograph albums are full of pictures of us all getting the family home ready in the days before  – trying on the dresses, getting out the family Honiton lace wedding veil … My mother made Elizabeth’s bridesmaid dress, – and her own dress, – and the very fine patchwork cope the Reverend Dennis Sweetman is wearing here.

I didn’t make myself that ivory silk dress piped with scarlet but I did make the lace dress I’m wearing (as I cuddle the discomfited oldest daughter of my current husband) … My dress was pieced together from all sorts of bits and pieces of lace. There was a beautiful lace overskirt with swags and a scalloped edge …Where did I get the lace, I wonder now? I don’t honestly remember – but there were always lacy bits of fabrics in our home, handed down no doubt from all these ladies you’ve seen earlier in this blogpost. And it was very easy to buy exciting old clothing in markets and secondhand shops in those days …I still have the dress – but recently had cause to start unpicking it (of which more later on) …The next wedding was my new husband’s brother’s wedding to Georgie just before Christmas 1980 at Motcombe in Dorset. Such a beautiful winter wedding..That brings us to the end of the classic white weddings with rather a jolt because the next wedding is my brother’s at Oxford Registry Office in April 1985. He and his bride Sohani were followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who had enjoined his disciples to only wear red-toned colours ….I am struck that although the early weddings I’ve written about took place in hot weather in Australia and New Zealand, they give no real indication of heat. How different are modern hot weather weddings! Here is my sister Marian marrying Philip on Tobago just a month earlier, but also in 1985. So elegant for its simplicity …There’s another change that creeps into the photo albums at this point: divorce followed by second – or even third marriages. Of course there has always been divorce and separation, but it was much more common at the end of the twentieth century.

Sadly, my marriage to Hugh didn’t work out, and after several years of difficult marriage we called it a day – and I was a single parent, until I met an old friend now twice divorced and with a bevy of beautiful daughters … We got married in August 1991 in the Great House, Tiverton followed by a blessing in the Chapel of St Lawrence in Crediton – and I got to wear orange with my lace!This was a very “homely” wedding – our six children decorated the cake …Sent out the invites …And attended the wedding very much in their own way …I particularly love this photograph taken at the end of the day in our garden when the children were very obviously rather tired ( and several children who weren’t ours had temporarily attached themselves to our new family ) …There was another family second marriage this same year. Sadly my Aunt Lee had died a few years earlier. My widowed uncle met up with her old flat mate Tilla and they married in Connecticut …My sister Marian’s marriage also hadn’t worked out. In 1993 she married Bob at Marylebone Registry office, dressed from head to toe in her own most distinctive and wonderful fashion ….Marian was heavily pregnant (their daughter was born just over a month later)..But our mother didn’t bat an eyelid (she who had objected in 1979 to my ivory piped with red) …Another distinctive marriage in 1994 – Lucy and John in Edinburgh. I think these marriages mark another change in wedding mores – it’s no longer fashionable to wear the fashion of the day.  It is fashionable to wear just exactly what you like. I’d have expected all over purple from my purple passionista cousin but she kept the purple to just the bouquet and came up with this stunning cream and gold outfit accompanied by a most enchanting hat. All of which suits her so well – and that is exactly what modern marriage is about …When my youngest sister, Elizabeth, wed James in 1995 at the church of St Andrew Undershaft in the City of London, she chose a more traditional style of wedding. It was a winter wedding (very early January) – and just look at that delicious touch of delicate furry warmth round her wrist …What perhaps was more than a little remarkable was the palanquin James had constructed to convey them from their Merchant Taylors’ Hall wedding reception to the train in nearby Liverpool St station …Into which this trusting bride stepped all smiles (doubtless remembering the promises of obedience she had just made to her beloved) … And off they went ….! Accompanied by friends and family bearing blazing torches (which unsurprisingly completely freaked out the railway station staff) …Ten years later and there’s another generation of marriageable age.  Stephen’s eldest daughter, Zaza, married Matt in a small Spanish chapel in August 2005.  The bride and her accompanying bridesmaids looked just gorgeous – but those long skirts were very hot for a Murcian August wedding …Stephen invested in a stylish light summer suit – which was going to do repeat duty at several weddings as more of his daughters got married …Three years later and the suit was out again when he accompanied his younger daughter, Zacyntha, up the aisle of the tiny church of St Martha’s on the Hill just outside Guildford to marry Mike in 2008 …2015 – and there’s the same suit as he prepared to accompany youngest daughter, Ellie, to the registry office in Helston for her marriage to Jak …They were blessed with the most beautiful September day for their wedding celebrations at nearby Helford Passage. What lingers in my memory is the sight of them wandering around the beach among the rest of the holiday makers … (you can see many more picture of their wedding  in an earlier blogpost I wrote) ..September 2018 and my own daughter, Helen, got married.  She married her Argentinian husband, Elias,  in Las Vegas, in most definitely their very own style! (They had made the outfits themselves – intricate beading and all) ..With an Elvis lookalike officiating … Oh and that bit of lace I took off my wedding dress? Why, there it is in Helen’s hair!What would Charlotte Lane think of her great-great-great-granddaughter’s wedding, I wonder? I’m sure she’d be surprised – and I’m pretty sure she’d wish them every happiness …!

Technical data: All images were scanned at 300 dpi with the exception of a few very good quality old photographs which were scanned at 600 dpi.  The images were scanned on an old HP Deskjet Scanner F4180 which had the advantage that you could completely remove the cover.  When we sought to replace it with something more uptodate, we discovered that modern scanners tend to have covers that are integral to the scanner and cannot be removed. It’s very tricky to scan a large photograph album on such a scanner!  Large pictures were scanned as two or more images, and these images were edited in Adobe Photoshop Elements 2. Joins were made using the program’s Photomerge facility.