Tape measure tidies

Some eighteen months ago I posted this picture on my Instagram feed. These are small felt tape measure containers that my mother made.original-instagram-pic-october-2015Several people were kind enough to be interested in these little containers, and I was asked if I had a pattern.  Well, I didn’t, but now – over a year later – yes, I do!

I started by examining the oldest tape measure tidy quite carefully. It’s all made from felt with just a cardboard inner at the base and in the lid. All the stitching is buttonhole stitch (also known as blanket stitch), but it is a little bit fancier on the lid, with some woven threads to enhance the buttonhole stitch. It’s very old (with a few mothy marks on the bottom). I’ve had it as long as I can remember, and I really treasure it.examining-oldest-tmt-carefullystitches-joining-pieces-of-original-tmtinside-old-tmtdiscovering-cardboard-base-of-original-tmtI think my mother made the other two tape measure tidies much later in life for sale at her local church.  Although she’s used a different stitch (an Oversewing stitch), the decorations on the lid and the rest of the work are very similar to the old one. The only real difference I can identify (apart from the stitches) is that she has lined the cylinder with card.exmining-top-of-one-of-the-old-tmtsexamining-bottom-of-old-tmtsinside-other-tmtsTo make one of these tape measure tidies, you will need:

  • Thick cardboard to make your own templates
  • Thin cardboard for lining
  • Felt
  • Beads
  • Embroidery floss (I used three strands of DMC or Anchor embroidery cotton)
  • Fabric glue (I used Impex Hi-tac Fabric glue)

You first need to select your felt colours.selecting-the-felt-colourwayHere are the templates I worked with, devised from my mother’s old work.cardboard-templates-for-new-tmtsUse the templates shown above to cut:

  • one large rectangle (3 x 11.9cm) of felt for the outside of the cylindrical case
  • one smaller rectangle (2.7 x 11.6cm) of felt for the inside of the cylindrical case
  • one smaller rectangle  (2.7 x 11.6cm)of thin cardboard for the lining of the cylindrical case
  • three large rounds (3.8cm diameter) of felt for the outer base of the cylinder and the top and bottom of the lid
  • one small round (3.5cm diameter) of felt for the inner base of the cylinder
  • two small rounds (3.5cm diameter) of thin cardboard for the linings of the base of the cylinder and the lid

First assemble the pieces to make the cylinder and its base.cut-out-pieces-for-bottom-of-tmtGlue the inner cardboard to the outer felt. glue-cardboard-to-sides-of-feltAnd then glue the felt lining to the already glued pieces to make a felt-cardboard-felt sandwich.glueing-felt-innerBefore the glue dries, it is important to work this sandwich into a curved shape.bending-glueing-bottom-side-piece-before-glue-sets Then you can glue the round base pieces similarly (outer felt base, cardboard lining, inner felt) and leave both pieces to dry for an hour or so.glued-pieces-of-bottom-of-tmtWhen the glue has dried satisfactorily, overstitch the top of the cylinder sides with blanket stitch (or oversewing stitch if you prefer)buttonhole-stitch-along-topWhen you have completed working round the top of the cylinder, join the two ends together, still working in buttonhole stitch.joining-cylinder-with-buttonhole-stitchAnd work down the side of the cylinder, using what I believe is called Buttonhole Insertion stitch (you can see a rather more elaborate version of that stitch here)joining-cylinderUntil you have completely joined the sides of your tube together.completing-felt-cylinderThen you can join the felt base to the tube, again using Buttonhole Insertion stitch.joining-base-to-cylinderAnd working all the way round until you have joined bottom and sides completely.completing-joining-of-base-to-cylinderIt should look like this.completed-baseNow to make the lid.

In one of my early attempts (the purple and pale blue example below), I followed the same procedure as when making the sides and base. I made a felt-cardboard-felt sandwich of two larger rounds of felt and one smaller piece of cardboard (see measurements above). When the glue was dry, I stitched round the circumference and sewed the lid to the base.

Now to have some fun with decoration, I thought!  I glued on some leaves, let them dry, and then started to stitch. Big mistake!  Because, of course, the completed lid is really inflexible at this point making it very tricky to sew.embroidering-completed-lidI did manage to sew some beads on … stitching-on-beads-to-complete-lidAnd add a little stitchery to the leaves. But it wasn’t at all easy – didn’t allow for anything really fancy.finishing-embroidery-on-completed-lidSo, what I recommend is that you embroider and decorate the top felt layer of the lid before you stick the lid parts together. I decided to work a Chain Stitch pinwheel on this lid.working-the-lid-pattern-in-chain-stitchchain-stitch-pattern-on-lid-completedThen I added some beads.adding-some-beads-to-lidcompleted-lid-embroideryAnd when that was completed, I stuck the three layers of felt – cardboard – felt together.glueing-lid-pieces-togetherWhen the glue was dry, I blanket-stitched round the circumference, and finally stitched the lid to the base.stitching-round-lid-edges-and-sewing-lid-onTo finish, I sewed on a bead fastener, and made a buttonholed loop to hold the tidy shut. Et voilà! My completed Tape Measure Tidy!buttonhole-stitch-loopNo, better than that, seven little Tape Measure Tidies!  My trials and experiments along with the three old ones my mother had made.seven-tape-measure-tidies-old-and-newShould you wish to make a Tape Measure Tidy of your own, I hope you’ll find this tutorial helpful.  If any bits are muddled, incomprehensible or downright wrong, please let me know ….

Mending

The penalty for having such a nice time before Christmas making all sorts of fun creative gifts was that a large pile of mending didn’t get done!  Despite the exciting projects bubbling away in my mind with the start of a new year, I knew that I had to be strict with myself and clear the decks of some these mending chores before I started anything new. I know I won’t be alone in needing clean, fresh space and a clear mind before starting new projects. It’s deeply important to how I approach a new idea that all the old bits and pieces associated with previous projects be put away.  Not so much the slate washed clean – more the spare room bed (AKA my Woolly Room) be emptied of clutter.

So to the mending then! We are great menders here.  At the heart of it – far beyond the desire to help our planet (though that’s important too) – is the fact that we like our old things, and it makes us sad to get rid of them.  Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than with Stephen and his attitude to his clothes.  He loves his existing stock of check shirts with a passion …..err, no, I wouldn’t go that far.  But they are part and parcel of our lives, being mostly hand-me-downs from a motley selection of family.  His very favourites came from his oldest daughter’s ex-boyfriend, and have never been superceded in affection.

So, though my heart sinks when I see his shirts with frayed collars and hole patches on the elbow like this …stephens-shirts-needing-repairI know how very much it means to him, that with a little loving attention …old-repairs-need-new-attentionActually, particularly loving attention, and very hard work when they get as bad as this …collar-of-shirt-in-a-very-bad-wayThey can be carefully re-pieced ….machining-black-cat-repairIt’s worth it in the end … when they are almost as good as new …black-cat-repair-on-shirtIronically enough, the more loving repair and attention his shirts get, the more precious they become, and the less likely it is that we will throw them out ever!repaired-shirtEven his trousers needed repair this time.  I minded this less, because although trouser repairs are hard work, the only damage to these jeans is where he caught the leg on barbed wire …trousers-requiring-repairA new patch carefully stitched on …careful-trouser-repairsAnd a little loving sashiko work …sashiko-work-on-the-trousersI may criticise Stephen for hanging on to old friends for far too long, but truth to tell, I’m just as bad.  This chiffon leopard print scarf once belonged to my grandmother, so even though it was as worn as this …worn-out-animal-print-scarfIt’s worth putting in the repairs (even though the fabric is perishing as I stitch)…repairing-the-animal-print-scarfFrom a distance you might say it ended up as good as new …animal-print-scarf-mendedI finally got round to sewing on the replacement buttons on my vintage alpaca coat …replacement-buttons-on-my-winter-coatThey don’t really look that special like that, but up close and personal you can see how very beautiful these buttons are.  They also belonged to my grandmother, and I have longed for ages to find a garment worthy of these beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons.  Aren’t they just gorgeous!!mother-of-pearl-buttonsSo that’s the clothes sorted.  Now you might think that I could rest on my laurels, and turn my attention to a new project.  But no, there is more repair work to do!

This is an old wooden red lacquer tray – so worn that the picture has almost completely disappeared. Can you just make out a faint Japanese scene? I broke it a couple of years ago …broken-red-lacquer-trayI must have picked it up carelessly, because the corner just crumbled off in my hand, the wood so friable that it just snapped.  Luckily, very easy to glue together, and the tray just looks a little bit shabbier.detail-of-broken-traySome repairs have hung around waiting for love and attention for a long time – because I really don’t want to do them.  The laundry basket was just such a case.detail-of-damaged-laundry-basketI won’t tell you in so many words how the damage occurred.  Let the picture speak for itself …naughty-ilsa-destroying-laundry-basketI hesitated to get started with repairs because I wasn’t really sure how I was going to tackle it.  But once I started – with some of my homespun, hand-dyed yarn – it sort of fell into place. Binding round the edges … starting-laundry-basket-repairsAnd then a little weaving to tie in the broken bits …repairing-the-laundry-basketI am so pleased with the end result!laundry-basket-repair-completedAnd so, I think, is Ilsa!ilsa-loves-the-laundry-basketAnother sort of repair project that I have just completed was to make a cover for the old leather photograph album which housed the photographs of my father’s Australian childhood. Old leather powders and sheds which isn’t only unpleasant because it leaves brown dust everywhere, but causes further damage to the leather.  It was housed in an old plastic bag, but plastic can’t be good for leather, so I decided to make the very precious album its own special cover.

I cut up an old tablecloth that I found at a local charity shop and machined a cover together, and then decided to stitch a label on the cover.  First to print out a mirror image of the words I wanted to embroider …preparing-lettering-for-transferThen to iron the text on …transferring-lettering-with-the-ironNow the embroidery work …stitching-lettering-on-photo-album-caseIt looks OK …rehousing-the-old-photo-albumA very satisfactory result for a family treasure …newly-covered-photo-albumHmm …. that’s almost it.  But there’s one more chore that I made myself face with beginning of the new year.  I unravelled my blue homespun cardigan. You may have been one of the kindly folk who gave me advice on this knit – and if so, thank you so very much.  I thought I long and hard about what to do with it, and for quite a time, I really wasn’t sure.  frogging-my-blue-cardiganThen a new project bubbled up from my subconscious.  What about if I used the blue yarn for a blanket project like this little swatch here …..?! Oh, inspiration! Definitely time to frog!unwound-blue-yarn-and-a-new-project-perhapsWhew! That’s it, folks!  Am I glad to have finished this batch of repair and mend!  Wouldn’t it be easier to just chuck some of these damaged things out, and just buy new?  After all, a new laundry basket won’t break the bank …

I couldn’t do it.  I grew up with parents who had lived through the second world war, and they saved and scrimped every little thing.  Mending was core to their way of life. It’s definitely sunk deeply into my psyche.

Goodbye 2016!

So many ups and downs in 2016! It’s been a topsy turvy year – a year of sadness and upsets for my family and a deeply shocking year in global politics. I have travelled through the year with a pervading sense of loss.

But, in the last few days I’ve been indulging myself drawing up a #bestofnine2016 for my Instagram feed. I’ve looked through all the pictures I’ve posted online, and selected the nine pictures that most capture 2016 for me.  It has taken me quite a time to finally make a selection, but it was a good exercise because after that, I didn’t feel so bad. So many little ordinary happinesses and pleasures that I have taken for granted!  Here are my chosen nine:bestofnine2016Top left: That’s my dearest husband Stephen and our lovely cat, Poe, who passed away in her 20th year, this August. This photograph was taken on her last night of life, when we knew she was extremely ill and would have to visit the vet next day, probably to be put down. She is curled up asleep, comfy and trusting, next to Stephen, on the sofa, as she regularly did. RIP Poe, faithful friend.stephen-and-poeTop middle: Lots of little pleasures here. My knitting, my nails – and my travel knitting bag! Those of you who know me well will know I almost always have my nails painted – and doesn’t this colour match the knitting so well! The Solace bag was a generous gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle and symbolises to me the constant comfort of knitting, and the friendliness of the wonderful online community of knitters and makers.solace-bag-and-knittingTop right: This is our lovely local beach, just five minutes away from our home, and my very grown-up children, visiting from London, on a beautiful blustery day.  Stephen and I walk here several times a week, and watch the tides and waves and sands move, the holiday visitors with their families come and go.  To share this with my own family is the greatest of all pleasures.j-h-on-spittal-beachMiddle right: A golden GiveWrap, made with the Japanese and Indian silk scraps I was given for my birthday, and mixed up with some very treasured pieces of old clothing.  It’s been another year of GiveWrap making, sharing the ideas with my cousin Polly, and spreading the word about sustainable wraps.golden-givewrapBottom right: I wrote about the poppies that we grow here in a recent blogpost. They are the best of our gardening in this wonderful place, right up on the north Northumbrian border, exposed to all the elements.  Lots of plants won’t grow here – it’s too salty, too windy, too cold.  But poppies flourish, and best of all, they self-seed.  They grow where they will, not just where I choose.  Don’t they adorn the view so very well …poppies in laneBottom middle: In the turmoil of family events earlier this year, two little cats, Eggy and Ilsa, found themselves needing a new home – so they came to Seaview!  And look how these little smilers love it here! These little London softies have become Northumbrian toughies.  They’re good at mousing, chasing the neighbours’ cats, exploring their territory, and finding the comfiest places in the house to sleep (usually some special fabrics I have carefully laid out).eggy-and-ilsaBottom left: Nothing says Seaview to me as much as the big skies with their endlessly-changing weather stories.  Through the winter months, we are privileged to watch the sunrise as it moves over the south-eastern horizon. So often it is explosively dramatic and exciting. Perhaps best of all, the sun doesn’t rise until a decent time (8.38 as I write on 31st December), so I don’t sleep through it … You never tire of these skies.seaview-sunriseMiddle right: On the 23rd June 2016, Great Britain voted in a referendum on their European Union membership – and we all now know the result.  In the days leading up to this referendum, those of us who hoped to stay in the European Union became increasingly worried about the result – as indeed there was good cause – and I was inspired to stitch my Love letter to Europe, incorporating some lines from John Donne’s poem No man is an island.  Embroidery isn’t really my thing, so this was a textile experiment for me. It wasn’t, of course, an earth-shaking contribution – really rather feeble – but it was very comforting to stitch at the time.  Now it hangs up our stairs, and it speaks to me of our continuing membership of Europe, even if we lose the membership of the European Union.love-letter-to-europeCentre: We saw this little 18th century ladies patch box on display at Traquair House – a very happy daytrip to a most interesting place to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So there are lots of things bound up in this picture for me: my very happy marriage to Stephen, the pleasures we have out and about exploring this beautiful part of the world, and above all else it speaks of hope.  More than anything else in these unsettled times, the message of this little box comes back to me, and I find in it great, great comfort.  At some time in its history, it must have given hope to another person.  Now again, it is holding a hand out to a dodgy future.patch-box-from-traquairGoodness knows what I will be writing at the end of 2017.  But hope isn’t a bad travelling companion.  So thank you for your company on the journey through 2016, and may you all be sustained by hope in whatever comes your way through the next year.  Happy New Year!

Bags of fun

I find great solace in my little Woolly Room – there is fabric, and wool, and books, and buttons, and knits, and pictures …  and there are also bags!  If you are hoping to hear about Gucci, and Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors, then read no further.  These are handmade, vintage, passed down, charity shop finds.  Yes, there is the odd Orla Kiely or two, chosen because of my passion for pattern, but they don’t really count as designer in my eyes (sorry, Orla!).

There are bags I’ve made for myself, and there are bags others have made for me. But let’s start with some of the very oldest.  These are bags that have come to me from my grandmothers.Grandmothers' bagsI’ve never used the teeny weeny one at the top –  the silk is perishing and it is very worn. It came from my maternal grandmother, but I think it is Victorian and may well have belonged to my great ( perhaps my great-great?) grandmother.  A real treasure.

On the top right is a beautiful little petit point bag – and petit is the operative word here.  The stitches are teeny tiny!  I used it quite often when I was much younger – but now I am older and appreciate the workmanship more, I’m a bit reluctant to use it.

As for the bag on the bottom left  – it is one of my favourites and it comes out for special occasions like weddings. It’s stamped leather work, Florentine, very soft. The handle had perished so I replaced it with a ribbon which I can change to match my outfit.

The bottom right beaded bag is Japanese, and what a labour of love! Teeny, tiny beads, subtle patterning.  Just very, very occasionally I go to a very, very special evening event, and then this is my bag of choice.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with bags of such quality – where to go from there?!  Well, I have lots of other bags in my Woolly Room.  Let’s see what I’ve got hanging on the wall.bags of fun wall displayRight at the centre back in the photo is this bag which I made about 10 years ago for my father who died last year.  It was for his 80th birthday, and I’ve recorded the date and details on the strap (“written” with my sewing machine).  It’s a bag I treasure especially because I know he treasured it too.Strap of RHE bagIt’s a knitted bag (lined with quite stiff fabric to stop it sagging), and I had a lot of fun picking out words and patterns that were important to him.  He excelled at his classical language studies in his youth, and a love of Greek and Latin stayed with him for the rest of his life.  You will find μηδὲν ἄγαν (the Greek writing on the left)  written on the temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece.  It means: Nothing in excess – or Moderation all things.  On the other side, the Greek writing could be translated (roughly) as Everybody chooses the best path for themself.  Both these mottos were important to him, as were the Latin words from the Book of Psalms: The Lord is my illumination (on the left) and In you, Lord, have I trusted (on the right).  And I have knitted Greek key patterns all over the bag – great fun to knit.Back and front of RHE's bagSo you’ll realise I love to work with words, to incorporate language into my designs.  I also studied Classical Greek as a university student, so this next bag celebrates a motto that sums up the thought of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: Πάντα ῥεῖ.  It means (very roughly): All is flux.  Life is constant change.  The fabric was once my grandmother’s curtains!   It’s a very coarse linen weave, hand-embroidered with these wonderful wild flowery patterns. They were magnificent curtains, but don’t they just lend themselves to a fabulous bag?  I just love that huge flower on the cover.back and front of Dordy's curtains bagPart of the fun of making your own bags is the nice surprises you can put inside.  And the buttons!inside Grandmother's curtains bagOften the fabric suggests the bag – as my grandmother’s beautiful curtains above did.  But with this next bag, I made the fabric myself. That is to say, I knitted the pattern I wanted, put it in a hot washing machine wash to felt it – and then cut the resulting fabric up to make the bag.Felted bagThe interior treat is this gorgeous Alexander Henry fabric, featuring these terrifying knitting ladies.  That is some knitting!  They reminded me strongly of the three Fates of ancient Greek myth, the Handlers of the Threads of Time so I’ve added that story to the Alexander Henry one.  You’ll see that I’ve embroidered the names of the three fates in their hair.  In the Greek legends, Clotho (on the left) was the spinner of the thread of life, Lachesis ( on the right) measured each person’s lifeline, and Atropos ( in the centre) cut the thread of life.  My Fates here are knitters not spinners – but still wickedly witchy women, and I have a sure feeling that they are knitting and measuring and finishing the knitting of my days. inside felted bagIn recent years, I’ve been particularly drawn to the poetry of Mary Oliver, so several of my bags feature her words.  This bag utilises boldly patterned fabric to make a statement with : Tell Me.Tell me bagI’ve always longed to be accosted by a stranger, asking “Tell me – what?!”  Nobody ever has asked – but since you do, I’ll show you the answer, which is, of course, inside.  This line is much-quoted, and justifiably so.  It’s a good thought to carry about with you.  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.Inside Tell Me bagI also used a poem by Mary Oliver for my green leaf bag.  Again, the fabric – a leaf-green printed batik – inspired the pattern.  When I’d embroidered all the leaves in place on a plain background, I felt the bag needed something else, and searching through Mary Oliver’s book, Thirst, I found “When I Am Among the Trees”.  Just what I needed.  It captures the sway and the breath of the trees calling out. “Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out ‘Stay awhile.’ … And they call again, ‘It’s simple … you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.'”

Exactly. Thank you, Mary Oliver.  How do you always manage to say it so well.

(I’ve altered her words slightly to fit the space on the bag)Both sides of green leaves bagOther poets inspire me too.  How evocative is this  line is from John Donne’s poem of impossibilities!  “Go and catch a falling star.”Falling star bagLots of other little bags hang on the walls of my Woolly Room.  This little group below features a charmingly hand-embroidered sewing bag, a colourful beaded bag from Monsoon below, a glam little evening bag cleverly made by my daughter from a gorgeous scrap of one of my grandmother’s dresses – and a Little My brown paper carrier bag!  It takes all sorts!Mixture of little bagsThe next two little bags are both Japanese.  My father worked in Tokyo for many years in my childhood, and my mother acquired a lot of beautiful Japanese fabrics while there.  These don’t get much used, but they are much treasured.Japanese bagsThis piece of daughter Helen’s work glitters and glams it up.   Featuring Alex from the Clockwork Orange, it’s a student piece of hers, made when she was a beginner seamstress. It’s just cool!Clockwork orange bagSome thirty years or so ago (goodness!) I had a spell of enthusiastically painting patterns on fabrics.   I wanted a commodious bag for a family trip to Paris, and this bag was just perfect.  It brings back very happy memories.painted bagThere are lots of green bags, of course (my favourite colour).   That’s an Orla Kiely bag on the far left; next is an amazing mock-croc I found in a charity shop; then, there’s my embroidered leaf bag; next is a bag made in the Phillippines of recycled packaging (so ingenious); and on the right, a ditsy little grass effect bag – much faded, alas, but still convincingly grassy.Line of green bagsJust – very occasionally – I will buy an expensive bag.  I found this bag on Ebay, whilst searching for felted bags, and  – it was irresistible.

What makes it so very fascinating is that the pattern is completely created by the embroidery – and what an extraordinary range of embroidery stitches there are! Was it a sampler?   So often I have looked at it and wondered who CF was, and when she (he?) lived.  I’m guessing it was done in the 1920s-30s – what do you think?Both sides of Ebay embroidered bagThere are working bags of another sort – my sewing and knitting bags.  This is my much-travelled Solace bag which accompanies me with my knitting when I go away.  It was a gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle (so had quite a journey in the first place to get here from Melbourne), and it does indeed give me great solace.  Portable solace, you might say.Solace bag in useAnd there are still new bags coming!  This is another needlework/knitting bag, and another generous gift.  I just love the lemon-slice print – thank you so much, Issy.Issy's bagNot just bags of fun – bags of happiness, inspiration, memories, treasures, generosity … and love.

A Judi Dench embroidery pattern

In the deep deep distant past of the 1980s, I used to have a subscription to a magazine called Pins and Needles.  Oh how I loved it!  I was a young parent with small children, a marriage on the rocks and a very isolated rural existence in a small Devon cottage.  The monthly arrival of Pins and Needles was in many ways my salvation.  It had so many exciting projects and articles in it!  Of course, I couldn’t afford to make most of the items featured in it – nor would the cool 80s hairstyles and shoulderpads have been very relevant to my rural existence if I had been able to adopt them.  But I could dream….. and just occasionally an article would spark me into action.

One such article was an interview in the September 1983 issue with Judi Dench about her embroidery.Judi Dench embroidering, Pins 1983 - with Michael WilliamsIt’s a lovely article. She was rehearsing at the time with her husband, Michael Williams, for the television comedy series, A Fine Romance.  In breaks, her embroidery would come out and she would stitch away.

“I can’t work without doing something,” she told the interviewer.  “I’ll tapestry during a play and the nearer we get to opening the quicker I go at it.  It may be nerves that are spurring me on, but the wonderful thing is that it looks so calm.”

According to the article, all the designs were her own, and her production rate was so prolific that she would give away her finished designs to other actors, her little Hampstead cottage being far too small to house all her work.

I was very taken with this pattern, and it stayed in mind until many years later (in the 1990s) I was looking for a travelling embroidery project.  From the picture below, I was able to work out the basis of the pattern.  I’ve no idea what colourway she was working in, but mine was to be orange, yellow, green, red and a little brown – oh, and some fuchsia for “lift”.Judi Dench embroidering, Pins 1983 3The embroidery travelled round with me for a while, but then it fell into disuse, and I realised that I preferred to take knitting with me rather than this embroidery work.

It’s rather a sad reason why this had occurred.  I’d chosen to do my embroidery in a great range of colours, many of them very close to each other.  And I have to admit that now I am in my 60s, I can no longer see the colours so clearly – except in clear daylight.  In trains, other people’s darker homes, I just couldn’t make out exactly which shade of red or green I needed.  It’s a particular problem for me even at our own home when the days are grey and dark.  We have small windows, and when there’s very little sunlight outside – it’s pretty grey inside too!Misty grey daysWhen I was a teenager, my family would work on a large jigsaw puzzle together over the Christmas holidays.  And how clearly now I remember my mother lamenting that she could not see well enough to distinguish between subtle colours under electric light.  My turn now.

I still love the colours and the pattern of this old embroidery, and this summer, I decided to have a go at finishing it off while the days were long and light.stitching away on summer daysI’d run a bit low with some yarns, but – most conveniently – my mother’s move to a retirement home meant she had passed on to me many of her sewing materials, including this large fabric bag which she had made, tied up tight against moth.family bag of embroidery threadsInside were more bags.sorted bags of embroidery threadsAll is revealed!  Inside each old carrier bag were masses and masses of embroidery yarns, all carefully sorted by colour.  Embroidery thread bags opened and sorted into colourThese yarns go way back – my grandparents on both side of the family did embroidery work, as did my father.  Before I chose the yarns I needed, I couldn’t resist laying out all the different yarn labels I could find.  embroidery threads - different makesTime to get to work and finish it off!Nearing completionWhen I poured through my old copies of Pins and Needles, searching for the original article so I could write this blogpost, I discovered that Judi Dench actually delights in a particular quirk with her embroidery. “I like the thing the Elizabethans did of hiding initials.  They used to put little messages secretly in their work and I think that was a wonderful idea.  We’ve got a cushion that I did during Much Ado About Nothing at Stratford that’s all little squares of tapestry in different colours, and in it are hidden our initials, Michael’s and mine.  Nobody knows they’re there unless they really look.  I like that.”

Oh, that passed me by – I wish I’d remembered that and put some secrets in!  Even more intriguingly she admits that “it’s also a wonderful ploy for incorporated rude words into a design.”

I will have to embark on another Judi Dench-inspired embroidery one day, if only to incorporate some interesting words!  For now, here is my completed and anodyne cushion.completed cushionIt fits very well in with the other cushions on our sofa.completed cushion in new homeActually – the sofa usually looks more like this.How it really looks

GiveWraps

About a year ago, my cousin Polly and I found ourselves searching for a textile project we could work on together.  We had lived quite divergent lives but as we approached the age of retirement discovered a new friendship from our shared love of textiles and gardens – and family history.

We cast around, floated various ideas.  And then I came across this blogpost by Rebecca of Needle and Spindle on GiveWraps.  Lightbulb moment! – could this be what Polly and I were looking for?  I emailed the link to her in hope, got an enthusiastic response, and we were away!

In a nutshell, Rebecca’s idea – implemented with her friends at the Needlework Collective – was to replace our wasteful culture of disposable wrapping paper with handmade re-usable gift-wrappers.  Each GiveWrap gets a label on the back, giving the maker’s name, locality and date.  Then they are set free: given, wrapped around the gift and the new owner can re-use them so (ideally) they get passed on and on and on. (Some people have been known to keep them because they like them so much …)

Polly and I were inspired.  She is an artist and print-maker; I am a knitter, spinner and sewer.  We were excited at the prospect of making gift-wrappers together, both because we love making things with fabrics and prints and colours, and because it is so sensible – after all, it is horrendous that so much wrapping paper gets thrown away after Christmas and birthdays.

So this is how we started.  Polly gave me some of her fabric printed pictures and I stitched them together with a sort of patchwork of fabrics.  This is one of the first GiveWraps we made together – one of my favourites.  I wonder where it is now?Polly and katherine's Second GiveWrapThere are stories in all these GiveWraps.  There are stories in the fabrics I have used, where they have come from, what people I associate with them.  There are stories in Polly’s prints too.  (She will explain more later on.)

We were having such fun!  We made contact with Rebecca and the Needlework Collective and told them how much we were enjoying ourselves making GiveWraps.  Rebecca was kind enough to write a follow-up blogpost about our English take on their wizard Australian idea.  By Christmas, we had made lots of GiveWraps together to send off to family and friends.Lots of GiveWraps for Christmas presentsWe decided to set one of our GiveWraps flying back to Australia, so we sent a GiveWrap to the Needlework Collective.   (The fabrics and prints have stories: Polly has printed the Japanese character for eternity in red, along with other patterns, on an old napkin that belonged to our mutual grandfather; I have stitched it onto a green backing that was once a dress belonging to my Australian grandmother.)Christmas GiveWrap for NeedleworkCollectiveAnd we received one back from them.  (This one also has a story: it was made from worn and much loved shirts by Rebecca and embellished to just brilliant effect with simple decorations made from these same shirts.)Rebecca's worn & loved shirt GiveWrapAnd then – as is the way with the best bands – there came a point when we decided we were going to do our own thing.  Not, of course, that we were splitting up – we still planned to work together again…

I’ve got a large collection of knitted tension and pattern swatches, and they lend themselves so well to GiveWrappery.  This is a sample for a beaded cardigan I made myself.  I have crocheted round the edge of the swatch to finish it off.Katherine's Beaded knitted GiveWrapThese knitted swatches got me thinking.  Why not knit a GiveWrap straight off? Here is my first attempt.  It looks woven but is actually knitted.  (I think it is what is called Woven Stitch).Knitted woven stitch GiveWrapYou can make GiveWraps from all sorts of things.  Another cousin, Lucy, gave me her beloved pink cashmere cardigan when it literally fell to bits and became too moth-holed to wear, hoping I’d find some use for it.  I patched the moth holes with stars, cut the arms off and gave it a fabric backing.  Whey hey! – it’s a GiveWrap.  Lucy got her Christmas present wrapped in this GiveWrap that year.New life for Lucy's cardy GiveWrapWhen my mother moved to a retirement home, she gave me all her sewing materials, including these blue squares of fabric, pre-cut for some project she’d had in mind.  They make a nice GiveWrap – and, of course, I used it to wrap a present to her.Re-using Mary's patchwork GiveWrapThe best GiveWraps are made with people in mind.  My son’s girlfriend, Barbara, loves cats, so I knitted this GiveWrap for her one year. (I don’t think she’s passed it on 🙂 )Katherine's knitted cat GiveWrapFor my daughter Helen, I dug deep into my stash and put together a GiveWrap of all the animal print fur fabrics she loved.  (I know she hasn’t passed on this GiveWrap 🙂 )Fleecy and furry animal print GiveWrapThis GiveWrap was made with a very special friend in mind.  I wanted to convey to her what it is to live here in Northumberland, within sight of the sea.  I was sewing it when the fields around the house were gold and yellow, and sky and the sea were oh so blue.Northumbrian sea and sky and golden fields GiveWrapEnough of my GiveWraps!  Now I’m going to pass you on to Polly for her to tell you about her GiveWraps and the stories behind them.

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For me the pleasure of the GiveWrap project has been in connecting with people: with Katherine and family history, with Rebecca through her original inspiration, with the friends I pass the GiveWraps on to, and more widely through Instagram. It’s a way of sending my work out into the world. It’s about value which has nothing to do with monetary value.

I was already printing a bit onto fabric with Akua inks, but with the GiveWrap impetus I went into full-scale production! As well as old family linen I used beloved worn-out clothes, and rummaged around in charity shops for interesting fabric. I got out my old lino blocks and was pleased to see these images reincarnated as repetitive patterns. Here is an early one, printed onto a woven silk scarf that Katherine’s mother (my aunt) had given me long ago.Polly's GiveWrap G1Katherine asked me to print something for her mother’s birthday – it had to be blue, her mother’s favourite colour. It turned out very blue indeed! She then backed it with her old Japanese dressing-gown and beaded the edge beautifully. Katherine is an ace sewer whereas my sewing is perfunctory – I prefer the messy business of printing and developing an image that way. You can see our mutual grandfather’s name embroidered in the corner, most likely by our grandmother.Polly and Katherine's GiveWrap for Mary G2I rarely plan ahead, but start somewhere and then see where it takes me. Even when I think it’s a disaster, the Japanese kanji for eternity – repeated and dancing across the surface – will miraculously pull a design together. Katherine’s father tapestried this symbol onto a cushion cover for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, and it has become a recurrent motif in my GiveWraps (did you spot it several times in Katherine’s blog as well as in these last two pictures?)

Rebecca sent me a damaged table-cloth all the way from Australia and I had such fun working around the spoilt area and turning it into a GiveWrap. Here is the finished result:Transformation of damaged tablecloth into GiveWrap G3With a close-up of the rescued area:Detail of damaged tablecloth GiveWrap G4I sent it back to Australia with little English presents from Cambridge for her family. The backing is from a duvet cover I made for my parents in my 20s, fabric I still love.

Friends started giving me fabric once they saw what I was doing. I was inspired by an old sarong to print fish onto a silk handkerchief . Held up to the light you can see the fish from the backing as well as the fish I’ve printed. Often friends receive gifts wrapped in a GiveWrap of their own fabric.Polly's GiveWrap G5On the left there you can just see a silhouette of me and my mother, taken from a photo. My mother didn’t like the precise business of sewing any more than I do, but she did have an old Singer machine and there are intimations of her showing me how to thread it whenever I use my much more modern version. In my current imagery I am on a journey with my mother – though she died in 1990. Here we are together, on our way somewhere with the fish. (Katherine can’t resist commenting here that this is my favourite of Polly’s GiveWraps, and it’s with me at the moment – may not be travelling for a while!)Polly's GiveWrap of her mother and childIn this one you can see my mother as a child peeping out from the corner with her doll. The Japanese onlooker is the lamp that sat on my brother’s bedside table throughout our growing-up years. She is often looking on, a kind of witness, in my images.Japanese doll and Polly's mother as witnessIt’s astonishing how clear printing can be on old linen, often with the added beauty of the damask pattern showing through. This one is a drypoint, for those of you interested in the printing process. I still have stacks of family table-cloths and napkins to use – what a satisfying way to give them another lease of life.Drypoint image GiveWrap G8I love the process of putting imagery onto fabric that already has history and meaning – texture in the fullest sense – and then turning it into a beautiful gift complete with carefully chosen ribbon. I used to be impatient with wrapping presents but now I enjoy it – no more carting rolls of wrapping paper home, no more sellotape and wasteage! The only problem is that sometimes the gift has to be chosen to fit the GiveWrap – to be honest often the present is only an excuse for the GiveWrap…….. This one’s on a silk handkerchief that belonged to my father, and I gave it to my brother for Christmas. I can’t remember what was inside……GiveWrap ready to go G9

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Let’s end where we started.  Recently Polly and I started making GiveWraps together again.  Here are Polly’s green fish, set in watery and weedy fabrics.Polly & Katherine's recent fish GiveWrapIf you use Instagram, you can check out these and many many more GiveWraps that we – and lots of other people – have made.  Search under the #GiveWrap hashtag, and be sure to add any GiveWraps you may make 🙂 .  A big big thank you to Rebecca, Aisha and Emily (AKA the Needlework Collective) for setting us on this wonderful GiveWrap journey!

(If you too are inspired to make a GiveWrap, check out Rebecca’s original post for ideas and instructions.) 

Blowsy

We are in “blowsy” time.  The fresh flowers of early summer are mostly over and we are looking out on a garden full of seeds, and deadheads.flower bedIt has been hot and sunny and windy, all of which have combined to give us that blown over feel.   loosestrifeThe grasses are long and wild.colours may be hot but grasses are wildIn sympathy with the season, yellows and golds predominate in the garden.flowers and golden fieldsgolden alchemilla mollisyellow and white flowersThere are just a few flowers left on the scattered poppy seedlings in the lane.poppies going over in laneAs the lilies go over …lillies go over… the sunflowers (finally) come out. sunflowersOut for walks, we find fluffy thistle seeds waiting to catch the breeze and depart …fluffy thistle seeds… and purple swathes of Rosebay Willowherb – such a beautiful name, such a beautiful plant and such beautiful colours here where it sits next to the russets of sorrel.Swathes of purple willowherbThe grain fields catch the mood of the moment with their golden moments.golden fields and golden flowersSometimes the skies do too.golden skiesWaiting time. We are waiting for harvest, for the next season.stitching away on summer daysMustn’t let this beautiful time go past without enjoying it to the full.