Field of the Cloth of Gold

As the seasons pass, the fields outside our house change colour – sometimes it’s because of the weather, sometimes it’s because of the crops growing there.   Sometimes it’s just the light.  It is extraordinary how different our view can be because of this colour change.

We spent our first night here in July 2010, and this was the view looking from our home out down the coast to Bamburgh Castle.  Gold – and a rainbow to boot!  The crops – wheat, barley, oats – were ripening.  One field had already been harvested and ploughed up for winter sowing.  You can see the reddy-brown soil of the locality.  But the overwhelming colour and feel of the place when we first arrived will always be gold for me.golden fields and rainbowBy October, the fields were green.  The farmer had sown winter crops, conditions had been benign, and the young crops were growing well.  There were still plenty of small creatures about for our cat Poe to hunt.Poe exploring green fieldsThen in November, and on through the winter, we got snow.  Sometimes, it was a white out.snow white outSometimes, it was that blue-white, picking up the colour from the brilliant sky-blue and sea-blue.blue white of sky and sea and snowIn other years, we’ve know that sort of semi-snow state where it’s not white or green or brown.Sunrise on snowy fieldsEarly spring is an intense green – and blue.  I just love days when the forget-me-nots pick up the blue of the sea like this.  (Think it’s a hare in the field).Hare running on green fieldAnd the plants get greener and bigger.   Field, garden, lawn – all an abundant luscious green.abundant luscious greenThen the crops start to  change in colour – they’re on their way to gold via a sort of fresh lime-green.   At the same time, stronger and bolder colours take off in the garden.lime green fields and the odd poppyThen back to gold again.Poppies in front of golden fieldOn light evenings the colours shift. Some nights a dense blue dominates.deep blue of moonlight Golden fields are harvested.Harvesting golden fieldsThe stubble turns a softer faded gold.Golden stubble fieldOne year the farmer had planted broad beans in the field nearest our house.  These were left until late, late in the season when the beans were hard as pellets, and then they were combine-harvested like the other crops.  Apparently dry beans such as these are sold to Pakistan.  A dirty scuffed brown view for a long time.Dirty scuffed bean plantsThere’s also spring muddy-brown , with just the hint of green as the new shoots burst forth.  We had had heavy rain just before this picture was taken, and then hot sun resulting in mist steaming off the fields.steaming brown fieldsThis is the best brown – the rich chocolatey brown of the freshly ploughed field.Chocolate brown field being ploughedIn the right light, a field will take on a completely different colour.extraordinary golden evening light on fieldThis year, the farmer has planted rape for the first time (that we have known).  It has just come into flower.  A Northumbrian field wearing a cloth of gold.field of the cloth of gold and double rainbow

My story quilt

Katherine holding quilt wide Last year, several things came together for me.

I found myself spending much more time sewing than I had for many years.

I was inspired by a blogpost I read by Rebecca of Needle and Spindle in which she wrote about the Needleworks Collective and their GiveWrap idea.  In brief, they aspire to reduce the horrific throwaway culture of Christmas and present wrapping paper by replacing it with beautiful handmade fabric wrappers which could be used and re-used many times.

As it happened, my cousin Polly and I were looking for a project that we might work on together.  In her spare time from music and Alexander teaching, Polly is a part-time printmaker.  Together we evolved a system of making joint GiveWraps with her printed fabric scraps incorporated in my surrounding patchwork.  We had such fun!  Here is our first GiveWrap (you can see Polly’s inclining printed ladies in the centre bands).First joint GiveWrapWe made a lot of GiveWraps last Christmas.  And I realised with a start that I was using up all my special fabric treasures on GiveWraps that I would probably never see again (the central tenet of GiveWrappery is that you pass it on, and then the GiveWrap is passed on again and again).

Further inspiration came at Christmas when Polly gave me the powerful novel, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  This is a story of slavery in America’s deep south.  One of the slaves, Charlotte,  is a fine seamstress, and makes a quilt to record her life story for her daughter.  Aha!! My quilt is nothing like Charlotte’s quilt (it’s arrogant of me even to compare them), but the seed of an idea was sewn, and I embarked on my own story quilt, sewing the odd fabric pieces together in the same way that I had made my GiveWraps.The invention of wingsTo give some sense of structure to what was really rather a haphazard quilt, I decided to restrict myself to the red, orange, yellow colour spectrum on one side, and blues and greens on the other.  Purples and browns, blacks and whites crept in unbidden everywhere.

I started with a mess.  So many fabrics, so many scraps, so many memories – just so much to put in.fabrics strewn everywhereIn the end, I had to be strict with myself.  After I had completed the central body of each side of the quilt, I allowed myself to put in only one piece of each of the fabrics that were left in the mitred edges.  Here the blue/green side is being built up to match the completed red/orange/yellow side.building up blue green side of quiltI added the polyester wadding to the red/orange/yellow side first.  You can see my basting threads holding the two layers together.  Our cat Poe thinks it is a new play place, and is not helping with the next step: adding the blue/green layer to complete the whole. Poe on battingWhile all this piecing was going on, I was researching quilting methods – after all, this was my very first quilt.  I watched youtube training videos, searched the internet for advice, dug out my mother’s old quilting and patchwork books.  I invested in thimbles and a curious thing called Aunt Becky’s finger protector  (which helps prevent you ending up with sore, needle-pricked fingers).  With all three layers well-basted together, I set to with my thimble, Aunt Becky’s finger protector and needle.

Disaster!  I really am very bad at quilting!  My nice level running stitches on one side were completely wonky on the other.  Nothing for it but to ditch the hand-sewing and turn to the man and the machine.

The man is the measurer and calculator – absolutely essential if you are as dodgy with numbers as I am.  Here he ruminates and studies my wonky efforts.  It’s going to be tricky to get straight measurements here……. Stephen measuringBut with old-fashioned rulers and long metal tape-measures, we did get straightish white chalk lines on the quilt.  They are 6.5 inches apart.  I managed to machine it up – just!  I’m not sure my machine would have been able to cope with a larger or thicker piece of work.measuring toolsThe machine quilting worked surprisingly well, and it looks good – I now had a proper quilt! getting all quiltyTime for the edging.  I’d originally planned to use a single strip of brown and purple fabrics for the edging, but it soon became clear this wasn’t going to work.  The purples and browns planned for the red/orange side were far too strong and intense in colour for the lighter-toned blue/green side.  So I had to make a special binding, combining suitable toned colours for each side.sewing the bindingThen the bindings were hand-stitched onto the quilt.  sewing on the bindingSo what have I put in my quilt?  Well, all sorts really. There are fabrics that have come from clothes I have worn, my sisters and mother have worn, and my grandmother wore too.  There are little bits of projects I have started or done as test pieces.  The fabrics used include silks, satins, cottons, tweed, towelling and jersey.  (You can click on all these images to see the text more clearly).quilt story edited with textThere are new fabrics, fabrics that have come from much-loved clothes, fabrics that have just been in the family for so long that I don’t know where they came from.

I have added my name to the quilt and the date and place.  A little bit of Latin (and elsewhere Greek) since I was a student of Greek and Latin at university. There are knitting sheep at either end of my name – new fabric, representing my fleecy knitting interests.  Katherine's signatureThen there are the hearts.  I put the first heart in because it was a left-over from one of my mother’s sewing projects.  Mummy's original heartThen I realised that I had the perfect use for all those extra bits of fabric that I badly wanted to include but no longer had any room for.another fabric heartThis heart is from an exquisitely embroidered Serbian blouse – it’s probably 50 years old as my grandmother wore it before me.  The rest of the garment is yellowed and perished but the embroidered panels are still in good condition.Yugoslavia embroidery heart   There are bits of poetry too.  The words in this photograph  have come from one of Stephen’s poems. Stephen's poemThe squirrel in a go-kart in this photographic is fabric I used to make bedheads and pillow cases for my children when they were young.children's fabricsI don’t think my quilt will ever really be finished.  This bit of text that I’m currently working on acknowledges Stephen’s help with maths and measuring: Mathematics by Stephen!mathematics by StephenIt’s a great pleasure to lie in bed under the quilt and look at all the pieces, to remember stories and people, events and places.  What I did not expect to enjoy so much is the handle of a quilt – it is so light and comfortably squishy.  Perhaps I’ll just wear it for a while.Katherine huddled up in quilt

The Black (and White) Dog

My father died earlier this week.  It is deeply deeply sad, and he is much mourned by his family and friends, but it was also a blessed release.  He had been unable to walk for some years, and towards the end we discovered that he was suffering from Lewy Body disease.

This is a surprisingly little know neurodegenerative dementia considering that at least 5 percent of 85 year olds are thought to suffer from it.   It shares the mental symptoms of confusion and loss of memory with Alzeimer’s, but the really distinguishing feature for many of those suffering from this disease are the visual hallucinations. For many these are visions of animals.  In my father’s case, it was a black dog.

I don’t think the black dog was really surprising because there had been a black dog in the family several years ago.  Brackler was of mixed  Springer and Labrador parentage, and originally came to live with Hugh (my first husband) and me in Devon in 1978. He was a fine dog – almost completely black, apart from a white flash under his chest.  Apart from this, he could easily be mistaken for a pure Labrador.Proud Brackler 1980 Sanctuary LodgeHowever, he had inherited a wild untamed need-to-explore trait from his Springer mother, and when my son was born in 1980, I couldn’t cope with Brackler, so he went to live with my parents in Kent.  Memorably, Hugh and my father met to pass Brackler on to his new owners at Guildford Cathedral – a place forever etched in my father’s mind as completely miserable because Hugh was so extremely upset to have to part with his dog.RHE Brackler 1987 BSBrackler went on to live an extremely happy life with my parents.  When they moved to Budleigh Salterton in 1987, he took to amazing sea swimming.  He would swim the entire length of the bay from the red cliffs at the west of the beach to the River Otter without break.  A very powerful dog.  My father adored him, and grieved terribly when he died in 1992.  (They went on to have another dog, Pellow – featured in the photo below.)9 RHE Pellow 1994 BudleighA couple of days after my father’s death, one early afternoon,  we were visited by a black and white collie dog running round the Seaview properties.  It was racing around, up into our gardens and off into the fields – a sloppy walker I thought, not walking with their dog conscientiously.

But later in the afternoon, by teatime, it was back – in our garden, nosing around the fat balls that we crumble up for the birds to eat on the path. It ran away when I went up to it – clearly shy and anxious. It had a broken leather lead round its neck, looking as though it had been tied up and pulled free.

It kept on running off into the fields and back into our garden – was clearly hungry. So I went to our neighbours’ house to get Jan and Craig to help me catch it.

They are very experienced dog-owners who originally hailed from Gateshead, but have been tempted to Spittal like us because of the beauty of the place.  Jan says she’s half gypsy. She’s a carer, and if I was old, ill or dying, I would like her to care for me – she’s a wonderfully warm woman.

Anyhow, we couldn’t catch the dog. It kept on running off into the fields – miles and miles away, we could just see the small black dot. We were worried because we are quite close to the main eastcoast railway line. Then it would come careering back.

Eventually, Jan got close enough to give it some food. It scoffed everything really quickly. She managed to stroke it – then it bared its teeth, so she left off.

We rang the police – but they won’t help as they no longer have facilities to house lost dogs. I rang the local council dog warden. Somebody else locally had reported the dog. They also wouldn’t help – unless we caught it, and then they would come and take it away.

We just couldn’t catch it, so eventually we tempted it into our greenhouse with food and water, and left a blanket in there for it to sleep in. The idea was that in the morning we hoped to find it asleep, shut the greenhouse door and phone the authorities.

As we hung around in the twilight trying to tempt the collie in, I told Jan that my father had just died. Lightbulb moment! “That’s why the dog is here! It’s come from your dad, he wants you to know he’s alright!”

Stephen and I had a small chuckle about this later in the evening – but it felt curiously comforting.

In the morning the dog was gone

I’m with Hamlet on this one:  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

RIP RHE, born in Melbourne’s Surrey Hills, 9th March 1926; died in England’s Surrey Hills, 31st March 2015.RHE snow 1966

One of my favourite photographs of my father, taken in the garden of No 5 embassy house, Tokyo, during the snowy spring of 1967.  Behind is the Diamond Hotel which featured strongly in our childhood dinner conversations as we could see it very clearly from the dining room, and my father would regularly comment on the seasons with the (to me) immortal phrase:” Soon we won’t be able to see the Diamond Hotel any more.”  It was code for spring approaching.  It is lovely to remember him smiling, happy and having fun!

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

A new spinning wheel

new Innerleithen spinning wheelI have a new spinning wheel! It is a beautiful little ash wheel, handcrafted by Rod Grant of Innerleithen Spinning Wheels.  So elegant to look at and it spins like a dream.

Those of you who know me will understand how much this means to me.  However, it is also time to say good bye to my old Ashford spinning wheel which has been my good friend and comforter for nearly 30 years.old Ashford wheelThe Ashford came as a great boon to me at a very difficult time in my life.  I had just parted from my first husband, Hugh, and was at home most of the time, single parenting, with two very small children and little opportunity to get out of the home.

My dear friend and neighbour, Eileen Seddon (then President of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers), saw that I needed distraction, and taught me to spin – and found me a spinning wheel.  It came from another member of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers who was forced to switch to an electric spinning wheel because of arthritis.

I had a brief lesson from Eileen, and I was away! – couldn’t stop! – up until the early hours of the morning spinning and spinning!  I had to stop eventually because I had filled all the available bobbins and didn’t know how to ply.

I was so very enthusiastic that I would take my spinning wheel everywhere with me.  Here I am spinning in the hot Devon sun in my Shobrooke garden.  Nice basket of fleece – I think it is probably one of the first complete fleeces I ever purchased, a lovely Shetland sheep called Charity, who was raised most lovingly in the glorious pasture land of Stockleigh English.K spinning Shobrooke 1987Here is James having a go at spinning in our Shobrooke home.  A great basket of Welsh Mountain fleece to get through there, James!Xmas 1989 Jam ShobrookeThe wheel has accompanied me through many travels.  Perhaps its saddest time was when it was run over by our car at the Border Union Show.  Stephen hadn’t realised where the spinning wheel was standing as he straightened the car into the parking spot, and reversed straight over and into it – crunch, crunch, crunch.broken Ashford wheel at Border Union ShowI was demonstrating at the show, so the wheel had a hasty fix to make it spinnable – you can see the masking tape holding one leg together, and more masking tape binding the mother-of-all in place.

While my Innerleithen spinning wheel is the Emperor of all spinning wheels, the Ashford is a work-a-day wheel, Ashford logoand showing signs of wear and tear.  The very good news is that a beginner spinning enthusiast has given it a new home in the Borderland wilds of the Ettrick Valley.  She plans to collect fleece on her walks (as I used to).  Most conveniently her wood cabin is insulated with wool and cashmere purchased from the last mill in Selkirk when it closed down.  Not only does it provide fantastic insulation, but it has been dyed the colours of the rainbow!  How wonderful to think of those layers of colour wrapped round her cottage.  No need to worry that she will ever run out of fleece – she has only to prize a little out of the building structure!  I am sure my old spinning wheel has gone to a new home where it will be much loved and enjoyed – and become part of the furniture.

I’m spinning some pretty multi-coloured fleece myself.  Last summer I dyed a local Jacob’s fleece these amazing pinky purpley colours.  (I’ve always wanted to dye fleece this fantastic fuchsia pink!  I took it with me to demonstrate at the Border Union Show, and it attracted much interest, both from sheep farmers, and little girls who rushed to handle my pink wool!) purple pink fleeceI’ve added mohair and silk to the mix, and a few bits of other coloured fleece for extra effect.  Out come my old carders…carding fleeceRod Grant has made me a fine ash Lazy Kate to accompany the new spinning wheel.  It’s not just a very elegant piece of equipment, it’s brilliantly designed.  You may just be able to see the tension string stretched over the bobbins to make sure they release the yarn evenly and smoothly.  To help thread the yarn through the holes at the top, he’s added a specially designed hook which is resting in the central orifice. new wool winder for plying Here’s a basketful of my finished product.  So tasty, it’s almost edible.  Are you wondering what I’m making?  So am I!  I’m just spinning away for the sheer pleasure of spinning.  One day this yarn will find it’s purpose.purple pink yarnA final spin then of the old wheel with my new wheel waiting in the wings.  K spinning on Ashford wheel2Ave atque vale.K spinning on Ashford wheel

Let me introduce you to Poe

Poe in Crediton garden, hiding behind nasturtium plantPoe and her sister Monet came to live with us in our Crediton home in 1999.    Monet and Poe as kittens, sitting on old knitting machineThey were sweet little kittens, and we loved them ……Young Monet and Poe cuddled up to each other while Poe washes Monetand they loved each other too.Monet and Poe cuddled up to each otherBut that love did not last.  Before long, they preferred to keep an unfriendly distance from each other.Poe and Monet on benchMonet was an anxious cat, and had some very difficult problems so eventually she had to leave us for the great cat home in the sky.  RIP Monet.Monet lying in the sunCuriously, with Monet’s departure Poe found her voice.Poe making her voice heardWe weren’t at all sure how Poe would take to our move from balmy Devon to the windy open spaces of Northumberland.Poe on garden fence looking out to the seaShe loved it! – and took to mousing with such enthusiasm that even when the snows came she was out there, catching mice.Poe outside with mouseShe liked to bring the mice in to play with – but often lost them so they ran off to make new homes inside.Poe inside with mouseRecently high blood pressure caused her retinas to detach and she went completely blind over night.  Luckily medication (very expensive!) means that she can now see again.Poe's damaged eyes after collapsed retinasThese are a few of her favourite things …
hogging the best spot in front of the fire…Poe in front of firedrinking Jammy’s cereal milk ….Poe watching Jammy eat cereallying in the sun…….Poe in woolly room sunlightdoing the fence walk with you know who ….Poe doing fence walkrolling around in a smelly man’s shirt……..Poe smelling Jam's smelly shirtwatching bird tv (broadcast live from our woodshed)!……Poe watching Bird tvand her Christmas mouse! Poe and her Christmas mouseOh Poe – we love you!

Windy, windy, windy-blow! *

We’ve just embarked on a period of real winter storms.

They started yesterday, gathering  full momentum over the evening and night.  By the time we went to bed just before midnight, they were into full rampaging mode.  I lay awake and marvelled at the sound.  Yet, curiously, when I woke in the early hours, the storms had completely abated – no sound at all.

But they are back now.

Our house sits on an east-west axis; to the north lie the old steading courtyard and more buildings; to the south are the open fields, sea and the view down the coast to Lindisfarne.View from our garden to the castles and seaWe are protected from the brunt of the nasty cold Northerlies, North-easterlies and North-westerlies by the rest of the steading buildings.  Westerlies stream along the length of our house and are funnelled by the shape of the buildings out to sea.

It is the dirt-laden, shifty Southerlies that we hate most.  They blast over the flat coastal lands before the house, and slam into our buildings.  You might think they would be balmy, warm and good-natured (and of course some are), but most are edgy and difficult.  Our windows are grimy from the Saharan dust they carry.  And if they are really boisterous and bad-tempered, the gusts will slam down our chimney and can put out a blazing fire with one casual puff.

Right now the winds are all over the place.  The only common factor is that they are powerful.  They find out every little nook and cranny and we are cold, cold, cold.  I sit typing looking just like a comfy old rotund teddy-bear because I have so many layers of clothing on.

Our bedroom is right under the eaves so bedtime when the winds blow does not mean peace and quiet!  In fact it can be blowing a gale and we are hardly aware of it. At other times the slates rattle persistently. It all depends on the wind direction. It seems to be when the wind strikes the roof obliquely rather than sideways on or straight at it.

Last night we went to bed with 40mph winds and it was hard to get to sleep with all the rattling. By morning the wind had not abated but had swung round further to the north and we were hardly aware of it.Sloping bedroom roof right under the eavesWhen we first arrived here, – indeed our first night here! – a storm blew up, and the winds lashed against the roof.  I lay in bed and thought how mad we had been to come to this dreadful, frightening place.  Now I lie in bed and marvel at the sound.  Often the winds just grumble round the roof.  Nights when they complain like last are extraordinary – and to be wondered at.

Not that I always think that.  I have discovered that I can take about 3 days of windy noise, and then I have had enough.  Please please oh go away oh noisy wind.

For the moment the thing is to keep warm and busy.

*technical term of Stephen’s

Busy old fool, unruly Sun

Sun right behind Bamburgh castleIt’s now 18 days since the winter solstice, and although each day that passes lifts my spirits as the minutes of daylight increase, there’s an accompanying sadness.

We are losing our sunrise.

Our house looks south,  out over the North Sea coast,  so on a good day we clearly see the castles of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh.View of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh castlesNo view of sunrise, you would think.  But that’s where you’re wrong.  Until I came to live here some 4 years ago, I hadn’t realised that because of the tilt of the earth, during the winter months sunrise moves over across the eastern horizon towards the south.

Imagine our excitement the first winter we were here in 2010 to see this magnificent sunrise exploding over the snowy fields.  At this point  sunrise has moved to half way between the two castles.Sunrise over snow between Lindisfarne and Bamburgh castlesA more furious sunrise here; now the sunrise has moved right up to Bamburgh Castle and you can just make out the silhouette of the castle with the sun rising behind.more furious sunrise behind Bamburgh castleChristmas Eve last year, just a few days after the solstice, and the sunrise is far past Bamburgh Castle.  But it’s started out on its journey back.sun starting return journey to Bamburgh castleOh, busy old fool – teasing us with all that promise  ….sunrise - teasing us with all that promiseto when you make your cosy little egg yolk first appearance ……sun making first little egg yolk appearanceto playing mean and moody………mean and moody sunrise over snowto coquettish, mysterious ………Sun looking coquettish beyond Bamburghto simply gorgeous ……simply gorgeous sunriseI don’t want you to go –  I shall miss you!