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.

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Walls

Yes, you may well wonder where I am going with this blogpost ….

I confess to having become fascinated by walls since we moved up to the north-east of England …

It’s all down to building materials, of course.  When we lived in Mid-Devon, there was very little of the local sandstone, and what there was available was used for important and expensive buildings like the little St Lawrence Chapel which we looked after for Crediton parish church.Our own house (round the corner) and Victorian had nice brick garden walls in the garden itself …But once you ventured down the track behind the houses that the coal delivery man would have used, you were back to the older cheaper local stuff – cob. Cob is made up of anything to hand – mostly dung, mud and straw. It’s very vulnerable to the elements.  To protect the wall, it was preferably built on a small stone base, and roofed with slates  – both of which you can see in this picture. What you can also see in the picture is the render – that’s the modern casual way to repair a cob wall …I might once have been inclined to say there is no finer sight than a good cob wall (as you can see here on the shed wall at our B&B in Woolfardisworthy last damp summer) …Until I came to live in Northumberland where there is stone! Beautiful stone! Our own cottage (a converted steading) shows this particularly to perfection in the light of the rising sun a couple of days ago.  This is sandstone, abundantly and gloriously available here …And everywhere there are fine stone walls (sometimes with the odd little whimsical brick) …Which we took for granted until we saw where a local farmer had driven casually through a stone wall so as to deposit the manure from the barn in an inaccessible field …Elsewhere we saw how a collapsed wall had been – well, err, left collapsed …

Time takes me in mouthfuls; the teeth of the frost bit into my body here; here my mortar crumbles; the wind rubs salt into every wound  (says the poet, Kevin Crossley-Holland.) Yes, that’s just exactly what happens to the walls near the sea round here …Eventually the stones were cleared away leaving the bank alarmingly vulnerable …Walking up to Edin’s Hall Broch in the nearby Scottish Borders, we noted the irony of collapsed walls left to deteriorate and be replaced by barbed wire fencing … While the much more ancient stone walls of Edin’s Hall Broch itself were still standing well …Once we started looking at walls with these eyes, we saw a great deal that was both impressive and beautiful – and quite a lot that was sad. You cannot but be struck by the beauty of the wallflowers growing in the walls on Lindisfarne …Nor the mossy walls we found when on holiday near Lochgoilhead.  I am overgrown with insidious ivy …And – oh my goodness – how I love to see the willowherb growing in the walls along the East-Coast railway line …But these are the beginnings of damage. A young shoot breaking through the wall …Puts down strong roots …Without doubt a broken wall is an evocative sight, adding strongly to this picture of desolation and damp and mist in Scotland.  I am a desolate wall, accumulator of lichen …But a broken wall isn’t just picturesque – it can be downright dangerous. This is the wall separating the East-Coast Railway line from our local footpath – now, just think of the speed those trains travel! Why a hop, skip and a jump and I’d be over. I am unrepaired; men neglect me at their own risk …I was intrigued to see the anatomy of a good wall laid so clearly bare when walking on Lindisfarne recently …You can be sure that this hole (also on Holy Island) will be repaired properly. (I have to admit to being fascinated by this hole – what on earth caused it?  It’s very rare for a well-built wall to collapse like this.  I can only think a car drove into it.)Once – just once – we happened upon somebody repairing a wall (up near St Abbs).  This man deserves every accolade because it was a miserable day to be out working … After all, there is so much in a good wall to admire – and intrigue.  Can you see the faint line of stones in the centre of the wall sloping down to the left?  I can’t explain this …Sometimes falling render reveals old secrets, little unsuspected doorways …And even unconcealed doors in walls have a special lure …This door is set in the wall which surrounds the local Paxton estate …And walls of that size are in themselves a source of wonder – all that labour! We had to stop and admire the colour of the worn sandstone …At one point there must have been a rather fine entrance here. Just look at that worked stone at the top of the wall on the left!Repairs vary – the best are surprisingly successful (aesthetically as well practically). Just like this large brick patch   …Even painted walls have their beauty too. Every lump and bump is enhanced …And what a wall can do for a garden! This is Priorwood, in Melrose. These gardens nestle under the more famous Abbey, and my photo on a dull day doesn’t really do justice to them. But they are wonderful – and this large backdrop of a wall frames them perfectly  …Then I found myself in London, walking round Walthamstow, with walls on my mind. Oh, the variety of these little walls! All the houses have similar mouldings, porticos and bay windows – but the front walls!Just look at the creativity here!And here!So much personality expressed in just a little suburban wall!You’d think I’d have had my fill by now, but an unexpected birthday present last year opened my eyes to yet another aspect of walls – political walls … This is a fascinating book – I had no idea that so many countries had built – and were building – walls.  My business is to divide things, my duty to protect. It’s shocking – but I’m not going to dwell on it right now …I’m coming back to where I started – our home, and the walls around us. Because right there – on the boundary between our gardens and the next door farm – are some fascinating remnants of when this farm was a grander affair – coping stones.  There are only a few odd ones left now, and when these buildings were converted, they were shoved higgledy-piggledy amid whatever stone the builders could find.  Not very elegant, but a powerful reminder of what labour used to be.  These coping stones are rounded and would have been worked with the simplest of tools. Makes you think …My business is to divide things: the green ribbons Of grass from the streams of macadam …

All quotes from Kevin Crossley-Holland’s poem, The Wall.

A handmade starry Christmas

Earlier this autumn, my daughter and her husband arrived with a huge bag of fabric samples. They had been thrown out of a London college because they were out-of-date – but they were definitely far too good to waste!These were the sort of fabrics I’ve never worked with before – fabulous textured silks and satins …Extraodinary materials …Glitter to die for!And imaginative prints that I just loved – what I would give for a dress of that beautiful shimmery seahorse print!The thing is that most of these fabric samples were small – some very small indeed. Very tricky to know what I could do with such small pieces, but by chance I’d recently read a blogpost by Ann Wood on making little star folk and stars were on my mind …It seemed to me that these small glittery pieces of fabric would lend themselves so well to making those little starry folk …I got carried away.  I made quite a few – and some were different ….Some were pink …And there was even a cat star – yes, with genuine cat whiskers (no cats were harmed in this, I assure you – our cats considerately moult whiskers every now and then).Then it occured to me that I might be able to make beaded stars just as I had made beaded paisley botehs last Christmas. (I learned to make paisley botehs from the very talented Lorna of Chookiebirdie and wrote about my lesson in an earlier blogpost). So I set myself up in my woolly room with a tray of beads and some star templates (developed from Ann Wood’s original pattern) and these gorgeous little scraps of fabric …Tricky stitching …But the result was very pleasing …And I found it sort of addictive …As I stitched my way through November and early December, my bowls of stitched stars changed as stars went out to homes throughout the country, around the world … new stars were made, I got excited by different colours combinations … so much variety, so much potential …Still loads and loads of gorgeous fabrics sitting unused in my woolly room …I just had to make some GiveWraps … (These are handmade reusable present wrappers – you can find out much more about them in another of my old blogposts). Here I am working in one of my cousin Polly’s dragon prints into an orangey GiveWrap.The finished item here … the orange counterbalanced by some fabulously dark colours and very strong prints …Another orange one, but this one with soft blue-grey tones …Now for some black and brights … I loved working all these strong colours and patterns in together …And by complete contrast, here is a GiveWrap that is almost completely neutral tones … (featuring some fantastic Alexander Henry cats around the border and in the centre the Ghastlies around the dinner table).What a contrast this almost completely scarlet GiveWrap is! What a treat to work these strong patterns all in together …And of course for my mother (who only acknowledges the colour blue), a china-blue, gold and white GiveWrap …I have had such pleasure in all this making, but the icing on the cake (or far more accurately the hanging on the tree) is to see the stars and GiveWraps in their new homes …Dear blog readers, I would that I could send starry folk out to you one and all but I will have to make do with sending you stellar wishes for Christmas and the New Year! The world is full of such difficulties these days, so above all else, I wish that you may be richly blessing this coming New Year  – and that it be an easier year for so very many of us …

Potted gardening

I have been busy, busy, busy out in the garden over the last month, seizing every available wind-free moment to get out and tidy up.  As I’m a fair weather gardener (preferring not to be out when gusting westerlies are blasting around) that limits the available time somewhat.

Part of the drive to get on with the garden has been the need for pots! You see, we garden increasingly in pots, and over the last month the impetus has been to get the summer plants out and the bulbs in.

Let me take you through our gardening year and show you how we are increasingly becoming a (potty?) potted garden …

The first spring flowers – always a great lift – are in the pots on our patio.  These are February’s Iris Reticulata from a couple of years back. The plants here flower first because the patio faces south and is the most protected part of our garden, sheltered from all winds except the extreme (and very nasty) easterlies …Hard on their heels are daffodils, tulips, narcissi and forget-me-nots …Then – come April and May – we start serious potting.  The bulbs are all turfed out (to be replaced with fresh next year) and we pot up sweet peas (you can see them staked against the wall) and seeds …Seeds, seeds and more seeds …We grow poppies, cosmos, dahlias, nicotiana, nigella etc etc – all in pots. Early in the spring we have to accommodate these seedling pots and they find homes all around the garden. Here they are beside the raised veg beds …Meanwhile the main flower bed is looking just gorgeous with the plants that are growing in these little beds …The trouble is that these flower beds are just crammed with spring goodness, and there’s not much space for later flowering plants …Come mid-June we got an evil vicious blast of easterly wind, and this is what it did to the pot beside our front door!  One of the reasons we grow plants in pots is so that we can move them at such times, but alas, this one’s just too big to move …It also caught the bottom of the raspberry plants, but luckily the other pots are protected by the raised beds … Everything recovered of course, and in early July the pots took on a life of their own – bursting with growth, full of promise …The patio beds were really flourishing now  – and so were the pots around and about. Hard to tell which is which …The sweet peas we potted up earlier were doing very well in their protected spots beside the bench …There was a feeling of abundance and leisure about the place …The biggest problem with growing so much in pots is told in this picture which I rather think was taken with Ilsa in mind. But it’s the backstory that’s really important here – yes, the hose. All that constant watering! And this year – with hot hot days for so very long – called for more watering than usual …But while all is glorious around the patio, these little beds by the fence look tired and weary. It is now that the pots come into their own. Spread around in the flower beds, they don’t add much yet, but just wait – they will!In the pots round the patio we had some rather stunning black poppies in flower, and they demonstrate so well why we grow so many seeds in pots.  These seedlings need nurturing – sown in the flower beds they are often lost, eaten by snails, or just buried by other more dominant plants …Black poppies lose those sultry black petals all too easily, but when the plants are grown in pots we can easily take them in when strong winds are forecast …Come mid-August the pots in the flower beds are beginning to prove their worth with fabulous blasts of colour … This pot of mixed cosmos and poppy plants is my favourite …Look at the light on the sea behind these pots of poppies and nicotiana!This September the landscape was dominated by the rich brown of the ploughed field.  The hot hot summer had pushed everything ahead. Normally our view would be of golden fields for some time into September, but this year they are long gone.  With this view the pots are only just holding their own  …The Dahlias still look striking against the blustery sky …Happy gardening days for our little family! (this was before Ilsa’s attack that I wrote of in my last blog) What were Stephen and Ilsa talking about?!!And on the patio the sweet peas pots are still doing very well though everything else is looking a little lack-lustre …But come October it’s all change again – time to empty pots and plant up veg seedlings to overwinter in the greenhouse! These are spinach, lettuce and salad greens.  They won’t produce a great deal, but it’s still nice to be able to pick some fresh salad veg over the winter …And the other pots?  Well, they’re all sorted, emptied and tidied away – the glorious summer flowers consigned to the compost heap.

New spring bulbs have been planted, and here are the pots today, 24th November, – still a few lingering calendula and nasturtium flowers, but those pots at the back which look so dormant are – well exactly that!Watch this space come spring!

A cat crisis …

There we were – on the afternoon of Tuesday 11th September – quietly enjoying a balmy early autumnal afternoon in the conservatory with our two cats, Eggy and Ilsa. Some serious bird watching going on too.A few minutes later I went into the garden to water the plants, and Ilsa followed, ambling off somewhere …

Suddenly – noise – drama – and there down the path I could see Ilsa in the forecourt, but ….. under 5 dogs. There was a terrible din – they were all barking furiously while the dog-owner and his young son tried frantically to pull the dogs off her. I don’t really know how to convey in text my absolute panic and horror.  Suffice it to say I dropped everything I was carrying and tore out into the forecourt, yelling blue murder to those dogs and their owner.

Miraculously Ilsa escaped the dogs and fled over the neighbours’ wall, but then – perhaps in her panic – she continued into the nearby field.  So the dogs followed her – as did we all. At last we were able to pull them off her, and,  with her scooped up in my arms, get her away from the dogs.

At first it wasn’t clear how wounded Ilsa was, but she was breathing extremely fast, and I didn’t want to explore her wounds then and there for fear of making her more anxious.  So we had a brief sort of conversation with the dog-owner (who seemed as stunned as we) and his son, and set off for the vets.

The vets were lovely – professional and quick to give immediate treatment.  It transpired that Ilsa had been bitten on her rear right leg and her lower belly and was bleeding quite heavily from this wound.  However, they were particularly concerned that her breathing was so fast, and feared she might have also sustained a puncture wound on her lung.  So she was hospitalized for the night with antibiotics, painkillers, and tender loving care.

But she was OK.  Extraordinarily for such a dog attack, she hadn’t been ripped to shreds and left as meat.  The more I think about it, the more amazed I am that worse hadn’t occurred.  Had the dogs just been playing with her?

After leaving Ilsa at the vets, we went to see the dog owner. In part this was because I was aware that he’d had his young son with him who had been extremely distressed and tearful during the attack, and I wanted to give reassurance to this little boy that she would be alright.  I’m glad that we were able to do that because his mother reported that she’d put him to bed looking like he’d seen a ghost.  Poor little lad.

It transpired when talking to the dog owner that he’d been walking staffies and pit bulls and a chihuahua, and it had been a single disobedient staffie that caused the damage to our cat.  I really want to emphasize this because it’s not really what we are led to expect about such dogs. The dog owner immediately said he would pay the vet’s bill.

Of course, the problem only occurred because he was walking his dogs off the lead past our group of houses …..

The next day we brought Ilsa home.  It turned out that she hadn’t experienced any lung damage.  And we were reassured that her wound should heal fine – but take time as she was pretty bruised.

Oh, poor little Ilsa.  This what a cat does when it feels terrible – burrowing deeply into nice safe soft places (my unspun fleece basket) …Nevermind we thought – she needs to take her time as the vets said. But she’ll be back to normal soon.

But she wasn’t. Over the weekend she deteriorated and next week she was so poorly we headed back to the vets, only to be told that the antibiotics hadn’t worked and the wound was infected. So they whisked her back into surgery, put drains in her infected belly and gave her different antibiotics. Her poor belly looked awful …We’d been warned that suppurating drains make a terrible mess, so drugget preparation was necessary.  Our sitting room became a hospital ward (cat litter included) …Perhaps nastiest of all (to her!) she’d come home with the dreaded cone …Now a cone is horrible on all small animals, but is also a particular problem if you happen to have a very flat face.  Drinking required almost full immersion …Perhaps most worryingly she stopped eating, so we embarked on a program to syringe liquid high energy food into her mouth at regular intervals over the day and night. I made myself a bed in the sittingroom …Despite all this love and care, she was getting more and more unwell, so back we went to the vets as a second weekend approached.  We were at this stage more than slightly dazed from lack of sleep and worry about Ilsa and the growing vet bills (no, of course we didn’t have pet insurance) …

Horrific news.  Her wound was now so infected that the vets had to clean out a great hole of necrotic tissue (mercifully not on any of her organs) and she needed to spend the weekend at the vets on a drip with more antibiotics.  Her huge wound required sluicing out a couple of times a day.

We were allowed to visit Ilsa on Sunday in the surgery, and frankly it was almost more disturbing than not seeing her.  They were looking after her beautifully – faultless efficient medical care, very lovingly administered …But our little cat wanted to come home!We finally got to take her home on Monday, but had to return her to have her wound washed out every day that week.

The good news was that she didn’t require a cone, and coped very well with living with her horrible hole …How we welcomed the news after a week of regular expensive sluicing trips that she could have her wound stitched and stapled! It doesn’t look very pretty …But she really did seem to be so much happier – and so were we!Apart from anything else the dog owner had given us a decent contribution to the vet bills. It nothing like covered the whole expense of course, but at least made us feel that he recognised the damage that his dogs had done.She was starting to get back to normal pursuits, joining Eggy in the woolly room with me …And even taking tentative steps outside – tail up, a happy cat!Even back to a little mousing with Eggy …Whew!

Today Ilsa went to the vets and had the staples removed.  The stitches lying under the staples come out in a couple of days.  She’s been pronounced nearly back to normal – well, almost.  The bite damage to her leg is lasting and she will never quite have the mobility she once had with that leg – and there’ll be a scar!  But hey …

It’s been an overwhelming month.  Partly the horrifying initial attack – though that did not turn out be as bad as we originally thought – but even more the rollercoaster of worry about her increasing infections and the rising costs of veterinary care.  We felt out of control.

So we haven’t been out and about on long trips, but there has been quite a bit of quiet sewing and crocheting …

After my malaise earlier this summer which I wrote about in my last blog post, I was suddenly inspired to ask my cousin, Polly, if she had any of her fabric prints that I might embroider. (You can read more about her fabric printing in our earlier GiveWrap posts). These are some of the prints she sent me …I was very taken with the deep orange print with swirly yellow lozenges. It’s quite small, but once pieced together with similarly toned fabrics gave me an interesting start …The lozenges spread out …Until I reached the point where I am now with the piece propped up on a tall chest of drawers while I decide about the edging.  I can either go for the darker spotted fabric (on the right) or the lighter fabric (on the left).  What do you think?That embroidery was very pleasing to do – calming and meditative – and helped keep me occupied in difficult times.

I also crocheted these little Toft elephant friends for some little girls who have a new baby sister – a very belated welcome present to all the family.  When I wrote about my listlessness earlier this summer, somebody wisely told me that there is nothing like making presents for others to give you your mojo back.  Thank you, friend, you were quite right!What a relief to be back to normal!(Cats find mice in the darndest places!)

That darn Noonday Demon!

In the fourth century AD, Christian monasteries sprang up in the deserts near Alexandria in Egypt. In these harsh conditions monks struggled to live ascetic lives of prayer and deprivation in the belief that this would secure them eternal life.  One can easily imagine how these monks might lose heart and be distracted from godly prayer – particularly in the sleepy postprandial times of the midday lull. One monk, Evagrius Ponticus, wrote about the tiresome demon behind these temptations of listlessness and lassitude, calling it the Noonday Demon.

Over the last few months, I too have struggled with this darned Noonday Demon – though in my case, it has broken all the rules, and will not stick to the stipulated noonday hours of ten to two …

I did complete my doodle stitchery as I wrote in my blog post last month. But otherwise I seem to be just flitting from project to project, unable to find the energy or drive to complete anything in particular …

At the beginning of the summer I started another Judi Dench tapestry, this time replacing the greens with blue tones …It came on a couple of train trips with me, and then I lost interest and it got put to the side …So I thought I would try some spinning … I got out my best most glorious colours …And yes, I did find the spinning very comforting and pleasurable, and got quite a bit done.  But I lost interest when I saw what how the dark tones submerge the brighter colours in the finished spun yarn …A pile of my most beautiful fabrics came out one weekend when Stephen was away …I did a little machining …Played with some other fabrics …But it just didn’t grab me.  So I put it all away – and the only being happy with the whole event was the cat …I know! I declared to myself. I’ll go back to my first proper knitting love!  I’ll do some Kaffe Fassett knitting! And I was indeed very happy with this blue/green/purple strip of knitting – but then unruly thoughts niggled at me  … Was this planned knit really going to be useful … Kaffe Fassett knits are so cosy with all that stranded knitting at the back.  Do I really want to wear that sort of cardi any more …It got put to the side, ending up next to the wastepaper basket – oh dear, what indignity!I got books of inspiration out …I was sent fabulous fabric scraps by generous friends … but nothing seemed to spark my creative wires …I did complete one other piece – oh yeay! I was asked to stitch a Berwick Worm for the Tweed 1000 celebrations …This is a community stitchery being worked to commemorate the Battle of Carham of 1018. That almost unknown battle resulted in  the Scottish/English border being set as it is now, adjoining the River Tweed, rather than near Edinburgh. The pieces being worked are all linked with the history of the area.

There are many stories of Worms in the area – probably the best known is the Lambton Worm of County Durham.  The Durham locals have a song about their worm which you can hear here beautifully sung by a famous County Durham boy, Bryan Ferry. It’s a great worm story!

The worm got fat an’ grewed an’ grewed,
An’ grewed an aaful size;
He’d greet big teeth, a greet big gob,
An greet big goggly eyes …

I was so very chuffed to be allocated the Berwick Worm.  I got out my fabrics, and started stitching …Sadly, I have to say my heart wasn’t really in it. Although I think he’s quite a pleasing worm and I’m not in any way ashamed of my contribution, I didn’t find it quite as unputdownable as the best projects are …The one other long-term stitching project that I have toyed with this summer is an old friend which I started last year when I first learned about Alabama Chanin’s embroidered clothes.  I wanted to make a garment for myself but decided to start with a sample piece – and here it is at the beginning of the summer …I have picked it up recently and enjoyed adding quite a lot more different stitches to the background …I’m not alone to struggle with this problem. Others call it different names – for Ann Wood, for example, it’s Natsubate.  Some know it as Accidie.  Myself, I like the personalization of that imp, the darned Noonday Demon.

Perhaps it’s just this very long hot dry summer that we’re experiencing in the UK right now.  And I only need for the heavens to open to right my energies? With the political temperature soaring all over the world, it seems more than a trifle shaming to be so concerned with the pace of my creativity.

It’s just the small things though, isn’t it, that are really important?

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to rest.

Wendell Berry: Sabbaths 1999, VII

Ever in hope I have started a new knitting project! There is nothing like a knitting shawl for comforting ease of project and I have several very long car journeys later this summer when I will need some knitting.  I had to undo a shawl that I didn’t think was quite right for me to reclaim this beautiful Old Maiden Aunt yarn.  ( It’s a beautiful 4ply baby alpaca, silk and cashmere combo called ghillie ghu.) I’m hoping to knit it up as a Karie Westermann Bibliotheca shawl.Wish me luck – I so wish to find a project that will be absorb me!

Doodling a stitchery …

Or stitching a doodle … I’m not really sure …But I do know that I started this piece in the most playful of manner, with just some pieces of fabric machined together – perhaps originally I was thinking of making a GiveWrap? And then I took a turn off  (veered to the right as it were), and starting adding pictures and scraps, and embroidering, stitching them …
Some were strong images cut out from fabric … And others were just pieces I found in my scraps, exactly as they were…Scraps from all sorts of places.  Those strong green flowers came from my dear friend Mandy’s cast-off dress.  And the vibrant yellow silk lines were an unintended gift from my cousin Polly – beautiful scraps of sari silk used to wrap up a GiveWrap …parcel from PollyHappy stitching through the winter months, playing idly with fabrics and keeping the cats company as they bird-watched. My favourite times …winter stitching with catMy stitchery grew. I had started to add faces …whole piece 2I am fascinated by stitched faces.  One of my favourite feeds on Instagram is Spiritcloth who with such skilled dyeing and stitching produces pieces like this …Spiritcloth faceSo small green faces crept into my work too. I never quite knew how they would appear. They always started quite similarly – just a couple of scraps of green fabric, pinned together …smiley cat - startingroi soleil - startingI was nervous about stitching them, but I needn’t have been. They took on a life of their own. Some were catty …impish cat - working onSome were sleeping …sleeping child - startingAnother had a fawn-like appearance, I thought – especially when it became clear they wanted beards …thoughful man - finishedSo they all got beards – some wispy …smiley cat - finishedSome luxurious, as with the Roi Soleil …roi soleil - finishedThe cat has a fine beard too, complementing its whiskers!And a few beardy wisps too for the sleepy one – perhaps to complement those wisps of hair …My piece was now growing, and I was no longer thinking of it as an idle doodle.  It demanded to be seen as a whole – with backing (a lovely cotton Ikea duvet from a local charity shop) …whole piece 3And, once I started to see it as a whole, I had to think of balance. It needed some more of those strong yellows – and it needed poetry …
whole piece 6There usually comes a point when I am stitching when words come into my mind that I might stitch into the work in hand. Some of my embroideries have been stitched around text as in my Love Letter to Europe …Love letter to EuropeWith others, the words sort of drift in as I stitch away.  So it was with my Chinese Vase embroidery. For a long time it was just fabric pieces and embroidery …working on chinese vase embroidery Then – as I stitched – some of Eliot’s words from the Four Quartets (Burnt Norton) came to mind: “as a Chinese jar Still moves perpetually in its stillness.”chinese vase embroideryIt was T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets (Burnt Norton) that came to my mind again as I stitched those little green faces …TSEliiot quote 1
TSEliiot quote 2A little fiddling around with size and placement: “Go said the bird … for the leaves were full of children … hidden excitedly, containing laughter … quick said the bird … find them, find them …”whole piece 5And then some stitching …At first I was disappointed that it’s so hard to make out Eliot’s words and I wondered about re-stitching them.  But I decided that the almost-hidden words was in keeping with the sense of looking: Quick, said the bird, find them, find them …
whole piece 7My stitchery was drawing to an end.  Time now to add the backing, and quilt it with some comfortable sashiko stitching …summer conservatory stitchingThe cats approved …As the border stitching drew to an end, I thought – well, perhaps I’ll just add a little extra stitching here … and there … and there.  I realised that I’ve grown accustomed to having this stitchery around to pick up for a little stitching here or there.  The time had come to finish it.

By happy coincidence I was introduced at this time to the old Navajo belief that the spirit of the weaver literally enters the cloth they are weaving. In an article on the Spirit of the Cloth in the Spring 2018 edition of Spin Off magazine, Rebecca Marsh describes how the Navajo weave a spirit line from inside the border to the edge of the of the weaving to allow the weaver’s spirit to leave the cloth.

I needed a spirit line!

My spirit line – my escape from this stitchery – was to add my initials and the date.
stitching the signatureFinished!
whole piece 8