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 pi√®ces de r√©sistance 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 voil√†! 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

Missoni exhibition

Earlier this week, I travelled to London to see the Missoni exhibition in the Fashion and Textile Museum.

I love this museum.¬† Founded by Zandra¬†Rhodes in 2003,¬†it starts and finishes with bold colour. No better place to house the Missonis’¬†exuberant creations.Fashion and Textile MuseumInside, the exhibition¬†announces itself¬†within a painting by Ottavio Missoni himself …Exhibition front… and then you are led through a corridor lined with paintings that inspired the Missonis and set the tone for their work.¬† (Here are just a couple of those pics as examples – and please bear with me for the poor photography, light flashes etc throughout this blogpost – the conditions were not conducive to the camera!)

I wasn’t surprised to see that Ottavio loved Sonia Delaunay (her 1936 Senza Titolo here).Sonia Delaunay - Rythme couleurAnd Gianni Monnet’s 1946 rich and¬†textured¬†Costruzione also sits well with the Missonis’ work.Gianni Monnet - CostruzioneFrom the corridor, you step into a big, dramatic room.¬† First thing, you notice the mannequins.walking into entrance hallAnd then you¬†take in¬†the huge patchworks of knitted pieces hanging …huge patchwork in entrance hall… ¬†all around the room. large patchworks in entrance hallThese are the most stunning pieces, and, best of all, it’s possible to get up to them quite closely to study the construction. They really do appear to be sewn together, but aren’t lumpy at all.more patchwork knittingNow back to the mannequins¬†– they are amazing – where to look first?¬† The purple short jumpsuit, perhaps?¬† I read elsewhere in the exhibition that Ottavio Missoni considered purple a wonder colour because it went with everything.¬† That’s quite different to my thinking, so gave me pause to reflect.¬† What is really striking in this garment, of course, is those patterned hexagons on the jersey top.purple jumpsuitWhat about the elegance here?!¬† Those fluid lines with the extra black gore panels so¬†perfectly inserted, and the skilful way the pattern sits on the body!¬† What a gorgeous and flattering dress to wear!amazing drape in the side panelsSuch an interesting dress here – the construction!kniting shaped to bodySurely my machine-knitter husband could copy some of these for me?!knitted skirt - inspiration for stephen .Trademark Missoni zigzags here!trademark use of zigzagJust take a more careful look at that dress glimpsed behind the zigzag pant suit – it’s actually mostly made of unconnected threads.¬† You’d have to be an Elizabeth Hurley to wear this dress.a dress made of stringHere’s one of my favourite garments, – this gorgeous multi-coloured, multi-patterned coat.my favourite coatOr is it?¬† There’s that red dress – right at the top – that I really like.¬† Can you see the one I mean?still trying to see red dress at the backStill trying to see more of that red dress … but now we come to one of the¬†faults in this exhibition – you couldn’t see the the back of the whole display properly, nor could you see the backs of the individual garments.¬† trying to see red dress at the backWould¬†anyone notice if I leapt quickly up the stand?wondering if I could slip up stand unobtrusivelyThat wasn’t the only tantalising thing with this exhibition.¬† I¬†rather think¬†the exhibition designers had got carried away with their exhibition designs,¬†forgetting the¬†point of the exhibition was to showcase the Missonis.¬† They had programmed the lighting on a loop which travelled constantly from highlights here to there, from dark, to shade – to finally (oh, thank heavens!) light all around.¬† Take a look:models in light sequence 1models in light sequence 2models in light sequence 3models in light sequence 4Stylish and cool it may be, but b***** ¬†maddening!

Upstairs I was distracted from my irritations by the abundant and sumptuous examples of pattern. ¬†These are Ottavio Missoni’s¬†basic studies for designs.¬†You can see how he takes simple graphical designs such as a child might do, and¬†develops them into the fabulous patterns we associate with the Missoni brand.designing patternI particularly love the way he completely shifts his colour¬†palette here.developing patternsMissoni zigzags.developing trademark zigzag patternsAnd this piece breaks out of the constraints of the grid to flow and ripple.designing irregular patternsAs well as these “starter” pieces, there were swatches.swatch samplesDetailed labelling was missing, but I guess some of these pieces became garments …sample knitsand others were just put to the side.Missoni zigzagsSuch a fabulous design resource here!sample swatchesmore sample swatchesIf you make garments, you will naturally be interested in not just the colourful patterns the Missonis designed, but the construction of the finished garments too.¬† So hard to see how those gorgeous clothes on the mannequins were constructed, but there was one Missoni jumper in a case upstairs which gave an interesting glimpse of how it was made.Missoni patchwork jumperIf you look¬†carefully at the detailed photo, you can see that it’s a patchwork! I cannot imagine how machines coped with this work – or was it hand done?¬† I would be very hesitant to embark on such a work lest I get lumpy knitwear seams, but no evidence of that here.¬† It’s a stunning garment.detail of patchwork jumperFinally, the exhibition took you to a room furnished with Missoni carpets – oh, wow!Missoni carpetA really lovely space to sit down and watch the Missonis talk about their lives and work. What¬†came over most strongly was the warmth between Ottavio and Rosita. This lay behind their successful business – and radiates today through the younger generations who currently manage the business.watching Ottavio MissoniA parting shot of the carpet in detail. I had a good look at these carpets and they are not made of separate pattern pieces seamed together – they have been woven as one continuous, flowing pattern. Remarkable!detail of carpetWhatever my complaints – a wonderful exhibition.¬† I’m just greedy – wanted to¬†understand more.¬† A final piece was a film by Turkish artist Ali Kazma showing the Missoni factories at work.¬† This was important because I think we need reminding that this wasn’t just genteel playing with colour and pattern – this was an extremely successful business functioning with super speedy, super efficient and super sophisticated machinery.

When I left the exhibition, I found that I had time on my hands so I dropped in on nearby Southwark Cathedral. Built between 1220 and 1420 it was the first Gothic Church in London. It was then repeatedly damaged by fire (including the Great Fire) so was rebuilt and repaired.¬† It’s a beautiful space.interior of Southwark CathedralBut with the Missoni exhibition still¬†in my mind, I was drawn to the kneelers …kneelers in Southwark CathedralNot quite Missoni – but sort of interesting …