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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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.

A London walk

I found myself in London last Sunday and at a loose end.  “A loose end, in London?!” I hear you say. Well, yes.  All my family and friends were otherwise engaged, and it was far too nice a day to be inside a museum or art gallery. An exceptionally beautiful day with piercing low winter sun, perfect for a walk –  just icy, icy cold!

There is no doubt that London is a fabulous place to walk.  Everywhere, at every spot, every corner, there is something or other interesting, if not beautiful, to see.

I caught a bus from Mornington Crescent (the 88, should you ask – that which remarkably my very proper grandmother would call the Bastard since it was always a tardy bus) and alighted at Westminster Abbey.westminster-abbeyFar too busy and crowded (and expensive – £20 to go in!!!) for me, so I walked on to Victoria Tower Gardens on the Embankment, through the respectable streets around the Abbey.  They speak of another age.  Ordinand House with its wonderful plaque of sheaves and fruit trees above the old entrance – perhaps speaking of the spiritual bounty the ordinands were expected to glean, or possibly marrying in with the road name, Abbey Orchard Street …ordinand-houseRemembering my late mother-in-law, Betty, who was a strong supporter of the Mother’s Union as I walked past Mary Sumner Housemary-sumner-houseThe plaque marking Westminster Public Baths and Wash-houses is a memory of a far-forgotten time when people in this now-affluent part of Westminster did not all have their own proper washing facilities.westminster-public-baths-plaqueA marvellously vivid illustration above this building of athletic swimmers and lithe divers promotes the facilities.detail-of-public-bathsI came out into the sunshine and trees of Victoria Tower Gardens, a small patch of green, right beside the Houses of Parliament and running along the Embankment and the River Thames. A freezing, freezing cold day, but this couple were taking their wedding photos here … interestingly, not with the Houses of Parliament or the Thames as their backdrop.wedding-photos-in-front-of-parliamentNo, this was their backdrop, looking further down the gardens to the Buxton memorial. Magical light and shade.victoria-gardensBefore I walked on to the Buxton statue, I had to pay proper respect to the wonderful Rodin sculpture of the Burghers of Calais which most appropriately sits right under the Houses of Parliament – a constant reminder to our politicians of Mercy, Courage, Dignity, Generosity, Altruism.

The original of this statue is, of course, in Calais. It marks the deliverance of the 6 Burghers of Calais from the rage of the English King Edward III (a ruthless king, if ever there was one).  In 1347, his siege of Calais continued to the point where the citizens were starving.  In desperation the Burghers offered their own lives to Edward, if he would spare the rest of the citizens of Calais.  He agreed, and here are the noble and immensely courageous 6 Burghers.  They are weary, beaten, hungry – starving actually.  They have nooses round their necks, and the one on the right carries the enormous key to the town of Calais.

However, Edward’s Queen Philippa heard of their action and asked her husband to show mercy and spare these men.  And he did!

These statues never fail to move me.rodins-burghers-of-calaisTurning my back on Rodin’s statue, I walked along the embankment to another powerful landmark: the Buxton memorial. This little tower marks a defining point in history – the emanicipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834.  It was commissioned by Charles Buxton in memory of his father, Thomas Fowell Buxton, who along with Wilberforce, Macaulay, Brougham and Lushington fought for the abolition of slavery.

But this memorial means so much more to me than just historical interest – it takes me straight back to my childhood, when we would come and play here. Later on I used to bring my own children to come and play in this park. There are drinking fountains inside (or used to be – they don’t seem to work now), and we children had a lovely time running around and splashing here.buxton-memorialTime to say goodbye to the beautiful beautiful Thames …view-over-the-thamesAnd Lambeth bridge glimpsed through the trees before I turned down Horseferry Road to our little family home – of many, many years – in Maunsel Street …horseferry-bridgeMy father was a diplomat so he travelled all his working life, and, of course, his family travelled with him. But very early in my life, back from a stint abroad,  they moved to a small house in a quiet little Westminster Street. In the ups and downs, and moves and travels, nothing is quite so evocatively stable in our family as this house. Maunsel Street.london-home-maunsel-stWe arrived when I was eighteen months old, and before long I had a little sister.marian-in-pram-1957And in another couple of years, a little brother too. Although I love this picture of my mother looking through the front window at her chubby baby, I find it quite extraordinary that my mother would park the baby outside the house!henry-in-pram-1959Perhaps it was because there was no room inside? The house was teeny tiny for our growing family, and doubtless we all got on each other’s nerves at times. Probably best when we children played our games in the little garden at the back.playing-in-maunsel-st-garden-1962There were family gatherings in the garden too.  Here we all are, smartly turned out with the grandparents, for my brother’s christening in 1958.henrys-christening-party-1958We were still there in 1962, in the freezing cold of the winter of the Big Freeze.snow-in-maunsel-st-1962Inside it was very cold too – no central heating, of course.  My mother would turn the cooker on and leave the cooker door open to get heat into the icy little kitchen.  They made us an indoor play space by covering over part of the outside yard.  There was even a sandpit under that playpen. Judging by this photo, we appear to have played there happily and biddably, even though it was always cold.  I remember that heater so well – indeed, I think it was only thrown out a few years ago.  And those are my father’s geranium plants on the shelf.playing-in-conservatory-early-spring-1959In later years my parents travelled abroad again for my father’s work and eventually settled in Kent.  Our last time staying in the Maunsel street house as a family was when I was about 14, and it was a real squash with 4 big children. However, my step-grandfather’s early death meant my grandmother was looking for a smaller home so she came to live here when we left for Kent. She was a great gardener, and that is reflected in the photographs of her time there. No room for perambulators here now!!Dordy wearing batik dress 1971Through my teenage years and early twenties, I often stayed here with my grandmother. I look very smart, don’t I?! But, after all, I was staying with my grandmother …katherine-outside-maunsel-st-1973Other family members passed through – here are my father and brother en route for a French bicycling holiday in the 1970s …rhe-henry-1975After my grandmother’s death in 1980, my youngest sister moved in and lived here for quite a long time.  I would visit regularly from Devon with my two young children.november-1991-half-term-visitThere were children playing in the freezing cold conservatory sandpit again…katherine-james-helen-in-conservatory-1986Eventually she married and moved out, and another sister and her baby daughter moved in.marian-louisas-first-birthday-1995Another child playing in the conservatory and garden – looks a bit warmer here, thank goodness!louisa-playing-in-maunsel-st-conservatory-1996The garden is abundant and lush, quite different from what it was when we first lived there …louisa-playing-in-garden-1996And – suddenly – that was it.  This little house had been a wonderful central London home for so many members of the family for so long, but there came a time when nobody wanted to live in it.  So, with not a little sadness, in 1996, my father decided to sell it. Happy memories – ups and downs, of course.  But happy memories.

Keeping us quiet as small children meant lots of walks.  When we weren’t walking to Victoria Tower Gardens, we visited St James’ Park, so that is where I went next on my walk, rendezvousing with my sister.meeting-my-sister-in-st-james-parkThe park was absolutely at it’s best, looking magically beautiful. Icy, icy cold – if you look carefully you will see the birds are standing on the frozen lake.icy-waters-at-st-james-parkbrids-at-st-james-parkThe highlight of our walk was the pelicans. Pelicans have been here since 1664, apparently a gift from a Russian Ambassador! They are very friendly, probably because they are also very greedy, and with lots of tourists about hope to get lovely treats.  Which I expect they do – even though there are plenty of signs forbidding the feeding of them.pelicans-in-st-james-parkFamily photos record trips to the park in the 1950s. No London Eye in this photograph.st-james-park-1957In 1959 we visited the park with our fascinating and very dashing American uncle.  He had a Rolls Royce – oh, we thought him so cool (not, of course, the phrase we would have used then).  Did he drive us all to the park in the car?  I don’t remember, but I guess he must have.  What amazes me is the casual way he has left the car in Birdcage Walk.bow-with-his-rolls-royce-1959 We all crowded round to be part of the next photo., but judging by the expressions on our childish faces, we were a bit fed-up.family-with-bow-rolls-royce-1959Then we went off to feed the birds – looking a bit cheerier now …feeding-the-birds-st-james-park-1959In later years, when staying with my younger sister with my small children, we would also come to St James’ Park to feed the birds …feeding-the-birds-1986I walked on from the park up Clive Steps.  Nothing says Empire like this. There is Robert Clive, commonly known as Clive of India, imposingly placed between these magnificent buildings of colonial rule.clive-of-india-statueBut stop – there’s something new here that I haven’t seen before.  Justifiably surrounded by young tourists – because it’s a most touching and beautiful memorial, is this wonderful globe covered all over with doves of peace.birds-of-peace-on-terrorism-memorialThe script on the circular stone behind explains. In memory of the 202 innocent people killed by an act of terrorism in Kuta on the Island of Bali, Indonesia on the 12th October 2002.terrorism-monumentThen on,  up the Clive Steps, through King Charles Street.  Here’s the entrance to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where my father once worked.foreign-commonwealth-officeIt’s not the same entrance, but here are my sister and I, having accompanied him one Saturday for some reason I forget, sitting outside the Foreign Office (as it was called in 1959).K & M FCO 1959Farewell ancient memories, distant times! “The past is a foreign country.” The present beckons. Time to return to reality and walk on to Whitehall where I can catch a bus back to Mornington Crescent!

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!

Ellie’s Blanket

Guest Editor Stephen:

I was in my early thirties when I first got interested in machine knitting, and having obtained a machine, used it to knit garments mainly for my two youngest daughters. The only garment left from this time is this child’s lace top knitted in cotton:
1-childs-cotton-topWhen, we moved to Devon about 5 years after I had knitted this, I continued to use the machine, but focused on knitting whole panels which were sewn up into blankets. I am more interested in the patterning possibilities of the machine than constructing garments.

Here are two blankets from that time that we still use on our bed:
2-old-blanketsThe left-hand one is all my own work; the other was put together by Katherine from her hand-knitted and my machine-knitted samples and test swatches. When we tried to put this blanket on display at a craft show in Devon there was much debate about whether it should be included as some on the selection committee did not consider my pieces ‘craft’! Eventually it was displayed, thrown over a beam high up at the back of the room.

I also knitted a blanket in black and white for my stepson. It recently returned to us for repair and washing when he moved house.
3-black-white-blanketThese 3 panels show off some of the inspirational ideas I use for my design.
The top one is mathematically based on Sine Curves with alternating wavelengths. The all-black portions are where the waves overlap.
The middle one is based on stitches whose colour is chosen at random. The chances of a stitch being black gradually changes from 11/12 at the left to 1/12 on the right.
The bottom one is influenced by Op Art, in particular the work of the British artist Bridget Riley.

This photo is from the time I made this blanket and shows my holding the punchcard for the sine curves. Like all punchcards for this machine it has a width of 24 stitches, but can be as long as you like. The ends are clipped together and so it operates as a continuous loop.3a-stephen-with-punchcardIn September last year my daughter Ellie got married in Cornwall – and asked me if I could knit her a new blanket. There’s a challenge – but happy to oblige for this late wedding present. The themes I thought I would use were the sea and dogs – she and her husband Jak have a dog called Bailey who is somewhat spoiled.

Here are some of our collection of cones of wool, including some monofilament glitter to add to the mix, from which K put together a palette of colours for the blanket. The machine will knit fair isle – ie two colours in one row. And I got designing –
4-cones-of-wool– and setting up the knitting machine. It is a similar model to the one I had all those years ago. When we moved to Northumberland 6 years ago I got rid of all my old equipment, but have since been re-acquiring it.

Just as Cornwall is bounded on the east and west by the sea, so my blanket is framed by patterns based on waves. Each wave pattern uses Sine Curves such as this which are stacked up, and given a sideways shift.6-sine-curve

Sine curve

Here is the punchcard for this design:
7-cornish-waves-1-punchcardwhich gives this when knitted up:
5-cornish-waves-1aIndeed, it gives an optical illusion when viewed from a certain angle, that the fabric is not flat but undulating:8-cornish-waves-1bThe second wave design is similar, but the stitches between the wave forms have been chosen at random, gradually tailing off until the next wave to given a broken effect, almost like breaking waves.9-cornish-waves-2aIn addition I broke up the pattern by having a completely random section across the panel after every third complete sine wave. That occurs at either end of this pattern’s punchcard:
10-cornish-waves-2-punchcardAgain, from the right angle, the fabric no longer appears flat:
11-cornish-waves-2bAnd so to dogs! This was a real labour of love as I have no great fondness for dogs and find it very difficult to be in a room with a dog. But I put together two dog-themed panels to go next to the waves.

The first used 4 different dog motifs from a book by Wendy Phillips, along with some doggy words:12-doggie-punchcardsI alternated each pair of dogs with one of the word motifs. I also had a common background, white, for the whole panel, and added the diagonal stripes to tie it all together.13-joined-dog-panelI particularly like the Dalmatian design. Notice how I have had to put the letters of the words stepping down so that I didn’t have a single float for the row underneath the words across the whole panel.

The other dog-themed panel is based on a print by one of my favourite artists, MC Escher:14-escher-dogsThis design has always fascinated me as to how it works with its tessellating dogs pointing in two different directions. It took me a long time, and many failed attempts, until I came up with this punchcard:
15-escher-dogs-punchcard-1And this is what results when it is knitted:16-escher-dog-knitThe central panel is specially for my daughter and her husband with a motif of their initials, J & E, intertwined. I placed this in tessellating hexagons, alternating with a star motif.17-hexagonThis is the punchcard I created:18-je-punchcardYou can see the initials quite clearly. You may notice that the hexagons on the punchcard are somewhat elongated. This is because, when designing patterns for the machine, you have to take into account the fact that each row is roughly half as high as the width of a stitch – ie to knit a square with a width of 100 stitches, you would have to knit 200 rows. An added complication.

Here is part of the end result:19-je-panel1What’s gone wrong here? In fact the punchcard snagged on the edge of the machine and jammed for about 16 rows until I noticed – hence the elongated legs on the star!

Now, with all five panels knitted, in total about 560,000 stitches, that is 5 panels of 140 stitches, each with 800 rows, they could be sewn up. Katherine did the bulk of this but I did one of the them:20-s-sewing3But our cats, Eggy and Ilsa, sometimes were not very helpful:21-je-eggyBut we managed, and then Katherine crocheted all around the edge several times to give a weighty edge to the blanket and to tie all the colours together. I have tried to do this, but somehow I just cannot master this task that she makes look so easy:22-k-crochetAgain, the cats thought they had a found a wonderfully warm place to sleep – and things ground to a halt:23-cats-not-helpingBut eventually all was completed. Then Katherine very lightly washed the blanket using a machine wool wash to get any wax or oil out of the wools, and we hung it outside to dry:24-drying-in-windHere it is laid out on the lawn. You can clearly see all the designs, and Katherine’s crocheted edge tying it all together:25-whole-rug-on-lawnAnd so we sent it off to Cornwall to the happily married couple,  about 13 months after their wedding. Here is one happy recipient along with Bailey – Enjoy this blanket made for you all with love:26-happy-ellie

The technical stuff:

In case you are wondering how I construct my designs here is a brief explanation:

Once I have worked out my design, I write a computer program to convert it into the stich pattern I need. I do this using a program called BASIC, which I first learnt over 35 years ago. I use a freeware version of this program called Just Basic or JBASIC, which you can download at: http://www.justbasic.com

At present I am working on a Christmas-themed design called Blizzard. It consists of overlayered snowflakes, the size, orientation and position of each snowflake being chosen at random. Here is the program I wrote:27-programWhen I run this, it generates possible patterns to use. When I find one that is particularly interesting I can then print it out. It comes out like this, 24 stitches wide and repeating every 108 rows:28-printoutThis is then transcribed onto a piece of punchcard cut from a long roll, and punched out to give the following:
29-blizzard-punchcardBut what will the resulting knitted pattern look like? Watch this space!