Completing my father’s embroidery

When my parents moved to their Surrey nursing home several years ago, my mother had to clear out her sewing and knitting things to make space in their new smaller home.  She passed all these goodies on to me.

Among the many bags of wool, patterns, fabrics and threads etc was this tapestry that my father had stopped working on. Sadly towards the end of his life, he lost interest in so many things. I put it away, along with all the other things my mother had given me, and forgot it for a while.

Then, this summer, remembering what pleasure I had had stitching tapestries in previous years over the long light days (when I can see clearly!), I looked to see what I might stitch this year. This tapestry came to hand.  Sufficient time had passed since my father’s death in March 2015 for me to feel ready to pick it up again.

It was somewhat unusual for a very conventional man of his time (born in 1926) to do tapestry work, but his step-father was also a very talented stitcher, and perhaps that was what inspired my father.  Whatever, in retirement, my father did a lot of tapestry work, making pieces for many members of the family. I wish I could show you a picture of him stitching, but although I have combed the family albums for such a pic, alas, I cannot find one.  But I have found a pic of him knitting – KNITTING?!! I never knew he knitted! It’s a lovely happy pic of him with grand-daughter Bel.Before I could start work, it was important for me to look at his other work to pick up ideas and influences.  As you’ll see, he had such a distinctive way of working. I sent a call round the family – and these are a few of the pieces that turned up.

This tapestry cushion was made for my uncle and aunt’s wedding anniversary in 1980, and now belongs to their daughter, Polly. It’s very characteristic of his work in that he includes initials, dates – and lots of Latin, Greek and Japanese quotes (all languages he was very familiar with). He’s made a most distinctive feature of the Japanese character at the centre – very bold, and very effective.I don’t need to offer any translation, because Polly had the initiative to ask him for one –   Brilliant foresight, Polly! Another early piece (also of his own design) is this cushion which he made for me in 1982 to mark the occasion when I gave up smoking (and oh, boy, was I a dedicated smoker, so it was indeed a big occasion – and shared especially with my father as he too had given up smoking a long way back). You can see how very skilled he was in featuring words and characters. The Greek text at the centre – πᾶς γὰρ νοῦς αἱρεῖται τὸ βέλτιστον ἑαυτῷ  – is from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics: Everyone chooses the right path for themselves.  According to my father, the Japanese characters round the side mean: Good health. No smoking. This cushion is very dear to me.I don’t remember this Viking cushion below commemorating any particular event (sadly wonky – I have taken the pillow out to reveal the text and side patterning but it does not really show the cushion to its best). It’s interesting because it shows a change in his style of working.  At some point, he started to purchase pre-designed tapestries, but continued to make them his own with the quotes and initials that he added.  What prompted him to add, I wonder, La vie est trop, trop est pas assez (Life is too much, and yet not enough) and La Vie et un poème, un poème inachevé?  (Roughly meaning life is like an incomplete poem, not going as one would wish.)The other striking thing about this Viking tapestry is that he started to break tapestry rules here.  I cannot trace the original kit, but I am sure that the designers did not encourage stitchers to work those wheels in that casual manner. And look at the freehand patterning in the border just below the wheels! How very effective!One of his finest tapestries is this piece which he made for my mother to celebrate their ruby wedding anniversary on 25th October 1992 – alas, so difficult to photograph because it is behind glass.  On the back he has stuck a note (that’s so typical of my father) informing us that he bought the kit in Esztergom in Hungary in 1988. It’s a beautiful design, but how much lovelier it is for my father’s addition in Latin: Uxori JME Dilectissimae. (for my most delightful wife JME) He’s smuggled his initials (RHE) into the piece too …And this is a beautiful tapestry that he did for my cousin’s wedding in 1994. Again a pre-designed pattern to which he’s added their names and the date.He obviously liked ducks because two of his granddaughters got duck embroideries from him! This is the one he stitched for granddaughter Bel in 2000.  A fine duck embroidery. I couldn’t translate the Japanese character, but I am indebted to Robin for her very helpful comment below this blog that “The character in the lower left corner of the duck tapestry represents “snipe”, pronounced “shigi” (with a hard ‘g’). If you see that the character has both a left-hand and right-hand side, the right-hand side can also stand alone, representing “bird”, pronounced “tori”.” Such a pleasure to know my father’s purpose in adding this character – thank you, Robin, very much indeed!And my daughter Helen got this one which most conveniently lives with me so I was able to refer to it for patterns and designs for my project.Two more fine tapestry cushions live with my sister in Cumbria. This beautiful 1981 work is a wonderful mix of patterned motifs and borders set in a particularly lovely colourway – and with the usual sprinkle of quotations.  I couldn’t translate the Japanese character in the centre, but I have been informed by cousin Hermione that this character means truth or reality. As for the Greek, thanks to her sister, Katy, I now know that it is from the Corpus Hermeticum: God is without sin; it is we who are sinful. Not biblical (as I originally thought) but from the Gnostic tradition. (Perhaps a more fitting biblical quote might be: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy – can you see that tell-tale hole? )It’s a challenge to do justice to this next cushion because the writing sits on the rounded border.  Many thanks to Hermione, I know now that the Japanese characters refer to the seasons. Top left is spring, top right is summer, bottom left is autumn and bottom right is winter.   That fits so well with the Latin. It’s from a very famous Horace poem Diffugere nives (The snows have fled), and has a familiar melancholy tinge: Immortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum quae rapit hora diem. (Housman’s translation is most elegant: The swift hour and the brief prime of the year Say to the soul, Thou was not born for ay.) A particularly lovely cushion, I think – and Horace was a favourite poet of his.So it was with all these very distinctive tapestries in mind that I picked up my father’s work earlier this summer. My first task was to find some proverb or poetry to add to the piece. I searched through poetry books, collections of quotations, and then suddenly I saw it – why up there on my noticeboard! Almost top right.No need of the list – the lines from Lao-Tze were just perfect: What the caterpillar calls the end, The rest of the world calls a butterfly. It related to the picture, and there were just the right amount of words for me to fit them around the embroidered butterfly.Now for some elaborate calculations to work out exactly how to fit the words to the tapestry. I decided to use the same font as that used on his Viking cushion. So now for a bit of stitching …With the Lao-Tze text surrounding the butterfly completed, I was ready to think what more I might add to his embroidery. I knew that I wanted to add some words that explained how I was finishing what my father had started. This time there was less room for expansive text so I consulted an old book of embroidery designs that I had given my father for Christmas in 1979  (also part of my mother’s gifted treasure trove) …And came up with this: Started by RHE c 2000. Finished by KMD 2017.I thought that would fit in nicely in the space between the butterfly and the lower border.As well as this embroidery, my mother had given me all her old notes and designs. It was very moving to look through these – patterns and notes dating back to her teenage years. Here is a pattern she had copied from her childhood bedroom carpet.Along with careful drawings and colour plans, there are odd bits of schoolwork …But, most usefully for me, there were also her designs for when she was first starting to make embroideries for her new husband.  She had met my father in Tokyo in the early 1950s.  He was a young diplomat at the British Embassy, and she was looking after her brother’s child (her brother also worked at the British Embassy).Ah – a fine Japanese character! Just the sort of thing I could well incorporate into the butterfly tapestry!  But I had no idea what it meant … Luckily, my daughter’s friend, Yuki, was able to help and with a little Instagram communication she was able to tell me that it’s a Buddhist symbol meaning good fortune, happiness and in olden times was also associated with giving alms.  It was just perfect for my generous and very kind father.At this point I happened to put my developing embroidery on my Instagram feed, and among many interesting comments, I had one from a French friend: A quatre mains! she declared.  Why just so, thank you, Isabelle, because this piece is a sort of duet.  And it fits perfectly, balancing the Japanese characters on the top right so well.As the embroidery progressed, I was regularly consulting the other tapestry pieces I had to hand.  I’d copied the little motifs that my father had embroidered round the duck to fill in the gaps of my butterfly text (those little blue flowers amid the orange)  and then I came back to these small flowery motifs again for the finishing touches. I wanted something else in all that empty space – after all, my father was known to cram patterns in very effectively!The motifs at the bottom found their homes easily,But I struggled to work out where to put them at the top, eventually having to fiddle around with some paper cutouts.Through the lovely light summer months, there were happy days of stitching …Visiting Red Admiral butterflies … a sort of blessing on my project …Steadily, slowly all the background was filled in … (great train journey occupation) …And then I just had to stitch a small border pattern.Finally, there is was – completed!With a handsome red velvet backing.I made a special cotton inner cushion for it, and stuffed it with clean fleece – my father would definitely approve: he loved my fleece habit!And here it is – comfortably among our other tapestry cushions …It’s been a most happy summer stitching companion – I have so enjoyed working on this project. It’s brought back many very happy memories of my father and made me reflect on some of the ideas that were important to him – all those quotations! I think he’d pleased with what I did …

(The Red Admiral butterfly tapestry was designed by Elian McCready for Ehrman Sadly she passed away in 2010.)

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To Cumbrae and back through the Scottish borderlands

Last Monday we left our home near Berwick and drove over the country to the Scottish west coast, roughly on exactly the same longitude as our home in England. It has always fascinated me that we are so close, have so much in common … and yet are so different.To our delight, whilst English Berwick on the east coast was bitterly cold, Cumbrae, in Scotland on the west of the UK, was sky-blue – shorts and sandals weather! We waited for the ferry to take us from Largs to the Isle of Cumbrae.Our visit to the Isle of Cumbrae was prompted by my wish to visit West Kilbride and some very talented Scottish craftswomen there.  Stephen was tasked with finding us somewhere to stay in the locality … and he came up with the College of the Holy Spirit, which adjoins the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae.These establishments were designed by William Butterfield in 1851, at the request of the 6th Earl of Glasgow, George Frederick Boyle. Boyle was an enthusiast of the Oxford Movement, believing in the reinstatement of older Christian traditions.  He wanted the College to train priests for the Episcopal Church – perhaps like the men enjoying the College grounds in this old print below.Alas, Boyle, an enormously generous and devout man (he was also pouring money into the building of Perth Cathedral at this time) depended too much perhaps on divine providence – Dominus Providebit (God will provide) is the Boyle family motto – and went bankrupt in 1885.Luckily the College Chapel had been consecrated as Cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church United Diocese of Argyll & The Isles in 1876, so the Diocese was already responsible for these buildings.

The Cathedral Spire towers over the island, even when glimpsed from the hills above.We first glimpsed it through the trees. You get an idea of Butterfield’s original concept from this drawing that appeared on the front of “Butterfield Revisited”, edited by Peter Howell and Andrew Saint, and published by the Victorian Society. The Cathedral stands proud, surrounded by manicured lawns, with a young avenue of lime trees.That’s not how it is now!  The Diocese may have funded the Cathedral buildings, but there was no money to pay for garden upkeep.

By a magical transformation, those uncared gardens have become wild and more beautiful than one could imagine. Trees have grown up everywhere – the lime avenue is enormous. Underneath the trees, are masses and masses of flowering ramsons (wild garlic).The fine lawn banks host bluebells as well as the ramsons.I do so hope George Boyle is not turning in his grave as he contemplates the changed garden!  He is indeed buried here – in the large flat tomb in the foreground of this picture. He must have loved this place very much. It is extraordinary to find such buildings on such a tiny island. Butterfield’s vision of this small group of buildings is harmonious and elegant.  Here you have the windows of the Lady Chapel, the Cathedral and the Refectory – all varied in pattern and size, but united in stone and form. And look how very deftly Butterfield has highlighted the Cathedral window with the descending dove of the Holy Spirit above it.We stayed in the North College which had once housed the choristers. Our room was the upper left hand window, set amidst the tiles.  We had the place to ourselves for the first couple of nights, and after that only another couple came and stayed at the other end of the building. It was extraordinary!The rooms are called after Christian virtues.  Ours was Fortitude ……hmmm.Inside was all dark wood and heavy carving. The corridor …The fireplace in our bedroom ….. huge and cumbersome!The common room …What I didn’t like was the inside of the Cathedral.  It looks OK from here …But once you go up into the Chancel, you get tile madness!  I don’t care for the Victorian tones of green and brown anyhow, but, that to the side, it looks to me as though some student was told to see what variety of patterns they could come up to fill the space available. It’s truly tile pattern madness!Sometimes we joined Warden Amanda and Lay Chaplain Alastair for morning and evening prayers – quiet and peaceful, though the Scottish rite (just slightly different from the Anglican one we know) caught us out a bit …Outside the calm inner sanctuary lurked danger … In the evenings we explored Millport.  I don’t think the authorities meant us to take this image away with us ….And we chuckled at this …..There are lots of boarded up properties round Millport, looking just a little bit sad and unloved … Masses of rabbits everywhere … (not an easy place to be a gardener, I guess) …Including several black ones (or was it the same one and it just got round a lot?)  …After our evening walks, we went back to the College and lowered the ecclesiastical tone, sitting in the warm, evening sunshine with a bottle of wine …The road round Cumbrae is perfect for cyclists of all ages.  This looks like a 1960s group setting out to enjoy a bicycle ride en famille.You can hire all sorts of cycles …We hired two quite ordinary bikes to get round the island.  This was extremely brave of me since I haven’t been on a bike for well over 15 years.  It was a glorious ride, and despite much moaning on my part (the seat was horribly uncomfortable), it was a wonderful experience.Picnic lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the view of the islands of Bute and Arran (grey and lowering in the far distance).I don’t think I have ever seen a war memorial as powerful as this. It is dedicated to the men and women of the British and Allied forces who have no known grave.After our bicycle tour of the island, we spent a couple of days on the mainland about West Kilbride. I got to do the workshop that I have longed to do for so long with lovely Lorna of Chookiebirdie.  We spent an entire day sewing together …. Oh, just look at this sewing heaven!Lorna was teaching me to make paisley botehs like these ones of hers.And I was so thrilled with what I made that I have only just stopped carrying it round with me!Another day I finally got to visit Old Maiden Aunt’s yarn shop in West Kilbride – somewhere else I’ve longed to go to for ages! So many gorgeous colours.  And we got to peak into her dye studio too. As an amateur dyer, it’s fascinating for me to see her professional systems – though perhaps the multi-coloured spatters behind the pots is the give away that Lilith herself might not call it that …I have to confess that I find yarn buying overwhelming.  I may have decided that I am going to make a green scarf, and need green wool, but when I see the yarns available, all my carefully thought out plans go awry.  This is what we came away with – all lovely stuff, but not a lot of green, and certainly not the grassy-greens I had in mind …At the Barony in West Kilbride we found an amazing exhibition of Radical Craft. Doesn’t this Landfill Tantrum by Pinkie MacLure just say all you really long to say about waste and rubbish and pollution?!!Who could not love Rosemary McLeish’s What I Do When I Don’t Do The Ironing ?! Dedicated I think to all those who hate this chore …But the pièces de résistance for me were these two works paying homage (as it were) to Angus McPhee.  They were both made by Joanne B Kaar – the boots are copies of Angus McPhee’s orginal boots (those too fragile to be exhibited now) and she made the hats in the spirit of his work. I came upon the story of Angus McPhee from Donnie Monro’s song, Weaver of Grass.  As far as I can see the pop song world is dominated by mostly saccharine love songs, so  it amazes and delights me to hear such a glorious song about a mentally ill man. Perhaps it is really a love song in another guise …..

Time then to say goodbye to the little Isle of Cumbrae. The weather was changing as we headed back to Largs …On to sunny Sanquhar – another place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time because of their famous knitting designs.  The little Tolbooth Museum there is a gem …Holding information about and examples of lots of historic Sanquhar knitting patterns …..We were also interested in the displays there about the local brickworks.As it happens, we have a small collection of lettered bricks.  This started with us finding them on our local beach at Spittal.  There is an entire history of northern English and Scottish collieries and brickworks to be revealed from those names.  Luckily the lovely museum attendant at the Tolbooth Musuem knew just where to send us!And so we found ourselves quite unexpectedly rooting around the old Sanquhar brickworks.There were the sad remnants of the buildings ….And we found a brick or two …..Most poignantly, Clarks Little Ark, an animal rescue shelter at this site, have constructed a memorial wall of the old bricks for those dear ones they have lost.Finally our last stop in Sanquhar, the Euchanfoot B & B – and, yes – would you believe it! – more bricks!  (along with a very comfortable room and delicious breakfast).Norma, our lovely hostess, explained that the collapsed old mill buildings which stood at the end of her garden were now just a pile of local bricks.  So there we were, brick-foraging again ….Time to go home – perhaps crawl would be a better description for our heavily-brick-laden car. The weather got nastier and nastier as we travelled up through the Lowther hills …Still extraordinarily beautiful ….We had decided to travel back via the source of the River Tweed, high up in the Lowther Hills. There, masked in the mist and murk, we found this sign. From this point, a tiny stream and all the little tributaries that run into it flow eastwards to where it meets the sea on Spittal beach.This is an iconic spot to many (including us) because it is a great river. Appropriately there is a finely ornamented stone, incorporating words that speak off the Tweed: “it is one of Britain’s cleanest rivers …”Sadly, it was not a clean site.  The rubbish was disgusting and a terrible reflection on lazy, casual visitors. I have an uncomfortable idea that people feel they have license to behave so because Dumfries and Galloway council have not provided a litter bin ….Oh dear, what a negative way to end a great holiday!  So I won’t.  As we travelled through the Borders, the sun shone through the damp leaves, and we slowed down to enjoy the wonderful countryside …. and an antique Rolls Royce … Festina Lente!

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.

Christmas makes

Part of the fun of Christmas for me is the making of both gifts and Christmassy stuff. It’s an excuse to make all sorts of things.  In the lead up to December, we were busy with lots of such projects, but because they were presents, I haven’t said much about them. Now – with Christmas well behind us – this is the opportunity to show what we were busy with in those autumn months.

I started my GiveWrap making in September with lots of fabrics spread around, and some very intriguing printed pieces from my cousin Polly. When I’m working with Polly’s prints, I sort them first into colours, and themes.  These two predominantly blue GiveWraps mainly incorporate a mix of her human body prints.  Her images are bold so I try to marry them up with fabric that has equally strong images – thus, in the top example, there are striking Japanese ladies from an old yukata, and some wonderful owly pieces too. The images in the lower givewrap are softer in colour and tone, and have accompanying softer fabrics.mixed-polly-katherine-blue-givewrapgivewrap-incorporating-pollys-blue-printsOther prints from Polly inspired work in different colourways. Her “little people” are all facing inwards here, dancing to the central tune, in a golden melange. It’s a particular favourite of both of us.gold-givewrap-incorporating-pollys-gold-peopleThis wine-coloured GiveWrap is at heart a worn-out cushion cover of Polly’s. I covered up the holes with bits of new fabric, and built up the edges.givewrap-made-of-pollys-old-cushion-coverLater in the autumn, I made more GiveWraps. These blues, yellows and golds worked so well together that I got carried away and made two more similar GiveWraps.blue-and-gold-givewrap3-blue-and-gold-givewrapsAnother old cushion cover (this time an old green one of mine) got re-pieced here.  The holes and stains were removed and I added some strong contrasting purple.  Interestingly, this GiveWrap attracted more interest and likes on Instagram than any other that I have made.green-and-purple-givewrapLastly, I made a small red silk GiveWrap with my mother in mind. This to my mind is the best of the lot! I loved it – was sad to part with it – but my mother loved it too. And when a recipient loves the gift that is best of best!glorious-red-silk-givewrapOff they went to new happy homes, bearing Christmas wishes and love!givewraps-ready-to-postApart from GiveWraps, there were practical things to make like the Christmas cake – here garlanded with our own gorgeous glossy holly.christmas-cakeWe also made jams and jellies.  Here’s Stephen concentrating intensely as he pots up his chilli pepper jam.stephen-making-chilli-jamThe finished products – chilli pepper jam and spicy harvest jelly – don’t look bad for Christmas presents, do they?finished-jam-productI made two little Toft monsters this year as gifts.  The patterns come from Kerry Lord’s brilliant flip book of patterns, Imaginarium. A mix-and-match pattern book to enable the crochet creation of just the monster you want.  small-green-ghost-toft-friendThe other little monster I made is quite different – but that’s the whole point of a book with so many pattern choices!small-toft-friend-for-stephenDifferent they may be, but they look like good friends, sitting here together.small-toft-friends-togetherYou may have read an earlier blog I wrote this autumn about our Seaview poppies … we collected as much seed as possible, and packaged it up to send off to friends and family, hoping to spread a little bit of poppy colour in other gardens.seaview-poppy-seed-packsI made hats too.  Some I forgot to photograph.  But one I did remember to photograph was this pink two-eared beanie for my daughter.  The pattern came from my beloved ancient (1977) Paton’s Woolcraft, and I knitted it using odd pink scraps from my stash.  The scraps included some Rowan Kidsilk Haze so together with the alpaca pompoms, it was a fluffy hat!pink-twin-earred-hat-for-helenJust right for our beach walks …wearing-christmas-presents-on-the-beachMy son is fascinated (and most knowledgeable about) the periodic table.  So what better to give him than periodic table pillowcases?! Stephen found the fabric on the internet, and I sewed them up.  Does he now dream of the elements of the periodic table? …. I must ask him …periodical-table-pillowcasesThere was the usual making as well.  You might say, the bread and butter making. Wonderful to have a man around who makes all our bread.homemade-breadStephen made some wonderful knits for Christmas presents.  He wrote in an earlier blog about the blanket he knitted on his knitting machine as a present for his youngest daughter.  That knit incorporated a knitted monogram of his daughter and her husband’s first initials: J and E.  My cousin admired it especially because her two daughters share those particular initials.  So how about some cushions with your daughters’ initials on them as a Christmas present for my cousin! Here is the maker man himself with his wonderful knitted cushions.stephen-with-his-machine-knitted-cushionsHe made two scarves for other daughters.
Stephen here: Here is one of the scarves I knitted about to be cast off the machine. blue-christmas-scarfFor the technically mind it is knitted in 2-colour tuck stitch using every third needle with tension dial set at 10 (the largest possible stitch size) to give a lovely loose feel. The wool is Rowan baby merino silk double knit – in all I needed 100g of each colour. When washed carefully they came out beautifully soft, though somewhat narrower and longer than anticipated.

I also experimented with some Christmas designs. Here are two panels I knitted just for fun. The left hand one is of random snowflakes ( see the end of our blog Ellie’s Blanket for  more details of this design) and the second is derived from typical Scandinavian Christmas designs and made using their traditional colours.2-xmas-patterns-3Perhaps by next year I will have my own machine-knitted supply of Givewraps.

Katherine here: I’ve written so far about the pre-Christmas preparations.  But there was one project we made that involved all of us who were here over the Christmas period.

One of my most treasured Christmas decorations that comes out every year looking sadder and more worn is the crib my children made when small out of toilet rolls, tissue paper, and a bit of glitter and trim. There’s only one shepherd these days, and one king has gone AWOL.rather-sad-cribI put this picture on Instagram, and a helpful virtual friend of mine from Nice suggested it was missing a Ravi as well. You don’t know what a Ravi is?! Well, a character from the santons of Provence, the Ravi stands amazed at the events taking place, with his (or her) arms in the air. So we got to work, and we got delightfully carried away.  I made a Ravi, Stephen created a new king, and son James added a Cagador. (James knows this character as a Cagador having lived in Spain, but it is elsewhere known as a Caganer.) new-characters-for-our-cribWhen the Cagador turned round and revealed his true intent, the King and the Ravi turned away, a bit giggly and embarrassed.the-king-and-the-ravi-dissociate-themselves-from-the-cagadorBut they all came together to make a much happier crib scene … all-sorts-of-things-came-to-the-cribSeveral other creatures and presents crept into the mix … but that’s life isn’t it? All can come to the manger …

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!

Loving my clothes …

Social media is awash right now with discussions about what you wear – whether it’s Truly Myrtle talking about her Local Wardrobe or Fringe Association’s Slow Fashion October.  So, I guess it’s timely for me too to be looking at the clothes I wear right now.

First of all, I need to confess to loving my clothes deeply – ever since I was a very little girl.katherine-aged-3-and-halfIn the 1960s, in our tiny little London home, I would wake up early – and to my mother’s utter exasperation – take out my entire wardrobe and try it on.  In the end she was so fed up with the mess I created that she put locks on all the cupboards and drawers that contained my clothes.  I don’t remember my reaction …

I was lucky enough to have a large wardrobe of beautiful clothes, many of which were made by my mother. Tartan was absolutely the thing for young children to wear when we were young, and I am amused to see that while my sister and I are wearing identical dresses, I’ve been to the trouble to add a little extra necklace decoration.katherine-marian-in-tartanI can vividly remember having a major paddy aged 10 or 11 because I was fed up with the frilly girlie dresses my mother put me in.katherine-wearing-dress-made-by-her-motherBy 1971, in my mid teens, I was beginning to experiment with clothes (perhaps as a result of the paddy, my mother had given me a small clothing allowance). Here, we are at Hythe beach in Kent, and I’m all dressed up in a baby doll up outfit I’d recently bought for myself and a homemade cloche hat.1971-seaside-wearA later family holiday (1972) and this time we’re on Dartmoor and I can see that I’m experimenting with my clothes even more – those are tie-dye jeans, and a fantastic man’s corduroy jacket!1972-dartmoor-wearI went to university that year and there, free for parental inspection, I was definitely in full experimenting mode. I’ve had a perm, and I’m wearing an old fur stole (it was trendy to wear real fur in those days) and a camel coat, both hand-me downs from my grandmother.katherine-as-a-studentA few years working in London followed university, and they were sort of smart, sort of still hippyish.  This was the 1970s after all.  It was quite by chance that my sister and I are dressed so similarly in the picture below – we hadn’t discussed our clothes before going to this London wedding (of my current husband to an earlier wife – yes, I know!)katherin-marian-at-stephen-zitas-weddingBy complete contrast to London, the late 1970s found me living a more rural, truly hippyish existence in Devon – and you can see that in my clothes.hippy-mumThere were practical things to be done with gardening, chickens – and children – and I was much more of a scruff.katherine-as-a-young-mumThe odd times that I looked smart were for family events like this picture taken at my daughter’s christening. She’s wearing the family christening robe, and I’m wearing a dress I’ve made out of an old Japanese yukata.katherine-at-helens-christeningMy abiding memory of my clothes during this period while my children were young was this enveloping brown coat.  I’d bought it when at university and it was quite stylish then, but it lingered on and on and on – partly because we were very hard-up and partly because it was wonderful for carrying children as their muddy boots just brushed against muddy brown fabric.katherines-brown-coatI trained as an early years teacher when my children were small, and that meant respectable, practical clothes like this dress I was wearing when TEFL teaching (in those days, headteachers frowned at their staff wearing trousers – seems unbelievable now.)katherines-first-teaching-jobLater, I went to work in a library, so I dressed as befits a librarian!librarian-clothesBusier and with more money, I ceased to make clothes for myself.  I think the last garment I made was this coat. It was cut from my grandmother’s old curtains – yes, I kid you not – when I was very broke (proper Scarlett O’Hara stuff here), and it was indeed gorgeous, and much-admired but completely failed to keep out the cold.my-grandmothers-curtains-coatWhere am I going with all this, you may well ask?  Well, in this mini-tour of my clothing life, I’ve looked at all the different clothes I’ve required for my various occupations in so many places.  Now in retirement, in very northernmost Northumberland, you might think it would just be a case of jeans, thick woollies, wellies and a Barbour.

No thanks!

I do have some of those garments, and wear them on walks out and about – that’s for sure.  But I would hate to be restricted to wearing them all the time.

So, over the last few years I have been looking again at my wardrobe. I went back to dressmaking last summer, and wrote about my first attempts in my Batik dress blog post .  It wasn’t easy because I’m quite a different shape from the young woman I used to make clothes for.  And there is that indefinable je-ne-sais-quoi that restricts older women from freely wearing whatever they see on young people.

I’ve discovered that what suits me is to wear tunics or short dresses – I’m not very tall, and longer dresses dwarf me.  Shorter garments do me no favours: make me look round. Under my tunic, I almost invariably wear leggings or coloured tights – these are immensely comforting to one like me who has curious white legs.  Also I feel the cold.  I don’t wear jeans – at all, if I can help it.  I find them so uncomfortable and restricting – and dull!

So, with that in mind, I started sewing earlier this summer, using my grandmother’s old Simplicity pattern number 9141.  How the young Katherine would have laughed to see me making myself the same style of clothes that my mother and grandmother wore!Simplicity paper patternMy first experiment was with a gorgeous African veritable wax de luxe fabric which we bought on our spring trip to Paris. I wasn’t really thinking when I cut it out, and so have ended up with a long dart down the front which slightly spoils the fabulous pattern. african-fabric-dressDespite that flaw, it is a wonderful garment, and I have worn it a great deal – sometimes more wrapped up than others. I dithered about adding sleeves – after all there’s a certain reluctance for ladies of an older age to bare there arms, but I took heart from this Advanced Style post and went for bare arms.african-shift-dress-dressedupIt was followed by an enormously brave attempt to make myself a plain-coloured linen dress using the Merchant and Mills dress shirt pattern.  It’s brave because I don’t usually wear plain colours.  It did take me a long time to fit this dress satisfactorily.  I found the pattern too big for my frame, so had to trim quite a bit of width.  I do love it – another great success.  And I like the plain colour very much – my only caveat would be that I am an enormously messy person, and spills don’t show so much on pattern.turquoise-linen-dress-finishedMy next attempt was to make a copy of a dress I’d designed for myself years ago.  It was made from some gorgeously soft cotton that I bought in Habitat, and I have worn it and worn it, and shortened it, and worn and worn it again.  A really good old friend. habitat-pleated-dressI was a bit hesitant about this – still nervous about my seamstress skills.  So I bought a cheap and unremarkable fabric for the copy, and I think the dress I came up with is also unremarkable. two-pleated-dressesIt took endless patient pinning and re-pinning to get the seams right.  There are no darts in this dress – all the shaping comes from the seams, so it was essential to get them right.pinned-pleatsBut it does look very good when dressed up – and can you see the slight curve I gave the back for added interest?  I was very pleased with that.new-pleated-dressBy now (mid- August), I was beginning to feel a lot more confident.  On the spur of the moment I decided to make another tunic dress using my grandmother’s Simplicity pattern with this gorgeous fabric I’d found in Newcastle’s John Lewis. I didn’t worry about cutting this dress out.  I knew it would be OK!  And it was! grren-and-pink-tulip-dress-styledI’d taken on board the problems with a front seam spoiling the pattern, and just added a few tuck darts round the neck to cope with the extra fullness. So there is no centre front line to spoil the pattern. three-of-this-summers-handmade-dressesMy grandmother’s pattern fits me almost perfectly  – bar the bust darts. I have to lower the bust seam by about an inch which I find quite inexplicable.lowered-dart-on-my-grandmothers-patternBuoyed up with my success, I returned to a dress I had started at the very beginning of the summer. This is Grainline Studio’s Alder shirtdress.  It is cut from some fabric my husband bought me secretly on our Paris trip earlier this year – an enchanting Japanese doll fabric in several colourways.  I cut it out with great enthusiasm, and then realised I would have to do buttonholes – oh, no! So it got put to the side.

Come the end of the summer, with all this dressmaking experience under my belt (so to speak), I knew I could tackle buttonholes satisfactorily.  And I did indeed sew some very good buttonholes. This is another garment that I love wearing – I love the mix of fabrics (which was forced on me because there wasn’t enough of either fabric). And I love the pattern.  It also has a slightly curved back hem.alder-dressThis garment also dresses up well for colder days. Just what I needed on my recent London trip!togged-up-for-london-selfieIt feels such an achievement to have completed these different dresses. I’ve written about them speedily in this blog, but actually they took ages and ages of pinning and unpinning, trying on, measuring and repinning.  It may not really be what Karen Templer had in mind with her Slow Fashion October, but it is still a sort of slowness that has been reflective and patient and careful, quite different from the younger me who would throw garments together in an afternoon – and could carry them off however ill they fitted.

I’ve revisited Karen Templer’s Slow Fashion October since I started this blogpost, and she does indeed allow for a multiple of different interpretations for this slow project.  Perhaps the uniting factor running through this month is thoughtfulness. (I hesitate to use the word, Mindfulness because it is becoming tarnished with overuse) And with that thoughtfulness there is an accompanying pleasure – a delight in the simplicity and care of detail, a relish in getting garments that fit well and that are worn regularly and comfortably.  Well, my summer sewing projects certainly fit that bill.

And, if you were to listen to the Truly Myrtle podcast on Your Local Wardrobe that I referred to you at the beginning of this post, you would hear that she too is, like me, searching for the right clothes for the right place in her life right now! I can identify so much with her search for colour and fun in her clothing.

Perhaps best of all, I can now say that I have confident plans for more making ….. ideas for more garments … my mind is buzzing. handmade-dresses