All is safely gathered in

(I was away when they harvested the grain in the fields in front of our house, so guest editor Stephen has kindly written a harvest blog for you – and me! to enjoy.)

It’s harvest time. For many people now this has become an almost mythic time of the year. City dwellers rarely see grain fields except on long car journeys or from train windows as they speed through the countryside. Even though I was brought up in a small industrial town in the midlands and must have passed many fields either ripe with grain or covered in stubble I would rarely, if ever, have seen the actual harvesting of the grain – perhaps only glimpsed on a country excursion.

Birds and harvester

And so for many people harvest was celebrated for one day of the year in church at Harvest Festival, a Sunday when the church would be decorated with flowers, and produce from gardens and allotments would be placed around the altar – along with tins and packaged foodstuffs. A rural vicar might cadge a sheaf of wheat from a local farmer; but what my father obtained as a vicar in North London during my teenage years I have no recollection. (Ironically he was responsible for a group of local clergy, and for this he received a special title – Rural Dean!)

The harvest services had their special hymns, only sung at this time, which add to the atmosphere and memories of this festival. Come ye thankful people, come (from which the title of this blog comes), Fair waved the golden corn, & We plough the fields and scatter.

But we are incredibly privileged to live in the midst of open fields where we see the whole cycle from planting to harvesting unfold before us.

And there comes that magical day when weather and season rhyme, and the combine arrives.

Harvesting against sea

And most spectacular it is. The combine is assisted by grain lorries which take the grain from the harvester even whilst it continues to reap.

Transfering grain

Time is of the essence here and so they speed away to the farm where the grain is transferred into their silo. Even with a pair of lorries they find it hard to keep up. From there the grain is sold on to grain dealers – and who knows where it ends up. For the farmer is now at the mercy of the international forces of supply and demand over which he has no control.

Harvester in action

There is a decreasing demand for straw for a variety of reasons – mainly to do with the decrease in the size of the national dairy herd. And so for most of the crops harvested on the local farms the straw is simply chopped inside the harvester, spewed out the back, and left as a mulch on the fields. So far this year we have yet to see bales on any of the harvested fields. Last year the grain was grown right up to our boundary. Up close the combine harvester is an awesome beast.

Bit too close for comfort

Harvesting doesn’t usually start until about midday. This gives a chance for any dew on the grain to dry off – but once started a keen eye is kept on the weather forecast. This year rain was forecast for the next day and so they continued on into dusk . . . .

Twilight harvest

. . . . and beyond. Finally it was all finished at about 11pm, long after it had got dark.

Night harvest

In olden times there would now be a huge celebration – a feast called Harvest Home. The whole community would turn out to escort the final wagons laden with the stooks of corn back to the farm. Here is a depiction of this in a print from around 1820.

harvest home

And then the feasting would commence – a scene often depicted in costume dramas, and most memorably in John Schlesinger’s film of Hardy’s novel, Far from the Madding Crowd.

Villages and parishes still commemorate this event with a Harvest Supper, though many of those attending will have little if any connection with agriculture. Changes in farming practices and  increased mechanization have meant that the agricultural workforce in the UK  has shrunk dramatically in modern times, from 22% of the workforce in 1841 to less than 1% in 2011.

And the increasing efficiency of modern harvesters means that very little grain goes unharvested. In olden times this was left on the fields for the poor of the parish, who would come and glean what they could – a scene memorably captured in Millais’s painting, ‘The Gleaners’.

Millais Gleaners

And you might like to look at Banksy’s reinterpretation of this painting Click here

Modern harvesters are so efficient that very little is left, and the only gleaners now are the birds who descend on the stubble in large numbers – pigeons, seagulls, crows, and starlings. Huge flocks of starlings turn up from who knows where, and when frightened all fly up in alarm.

Birds against sea

They seem to swarm about in an extraordinary coordinated way . . . .

Swirling starlings

 . . . . or settle on the nearby power lines. Shades of Alfred Hitchcock!

Bird on a wire

But they don’t have long to feast. Fields are now often planted straight after harvesting with winter wheat which is hardy enough to survive the winter and gives improved yields due its longer growing season. For this the fields need to be prepared.

Fields were normally cleared of stubble by burning, but this practice was banned in 1993 for a variety of reasons. I remember the countryside covered in smoke at this time of year. This year our farmer tried to burn off some large standing clumps of dead grass along a fence line. The fire got out of hand and the stubble started to burn. This picture gives you an impression of how the countryside might have looked at this time:

Stubble burning

So stubble is now either ploughed in or roughly combined with the soil by harrowing. Modern farming practice is for fields not to be ploughed every year as it can break down the soil structure. At this point manure may be spread on the land. Our farmer uses the manure from his herd of Aberdeen Angus beef cattle – and with the wind in the right direction very pungent it is too!

Muck spreading

Here is the field in front of our house being ploughed in September, 2013. The seed was planted a day or two later.

Ploughing

It was a mild Autumn and so the crop got off to good start. Here is the scene one month later – already turning green.

New growth Oct

And finally by early December the fields almost look like a lawn, here with a flock of fieldfares resting during their migration from Scandinavia to Southern Europe.

December field fares

And so the cycle of the farming year rolls on.

And what of the future? Global warming may well result in some other sort of crop being gathered from these fields. Perhaps, a hundred years hence, the occupants of our home will be looking out over rows of vines or groves of olive trees.

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Blowsy

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

The Book of Psalms

Over the last couple of years, I have been re-reading the Psalms.  I was brought up in a Church of England family, and went to Church of England and Roman Catholic schools, so I am familiar with the psalms from church liturgies.  However,  I don’t think I have ever read the psalms straight through before.  And although I’ve been a Christian for much of my life, I wouldn’t call myself one now – theist, yes, but not a Christian.

I don’t know why I decided to re-read them again, but there is sufficient distance from the Christian that I once was for me to be able to read them afresh.My PsalterMy reading copy of the Psalms is this nice little cloth-bound and gold-tooled copy which I bought for £1 in a second-book shop in Hay-on-Wye on one of our summer holidays in the 1990s – so it has been with me for some time!

It has the benefits of both including a Latin translation and red rubrics.  Don’t know what red rubrics are?!  My mother was obsessed with them! – no prayer book or Bible came up to scratch unless it had red rubrics.  They are the red letters denoting the titles and numbers at the beginning of each psalm – and actually my mother’s phrase “red rubrics”  is a tautology because the word rubric is also a reference to the redness of the script.

They do look nice – perhaps my mother was right to place so much importance on them.

As for the Latin – well, in my youth I was a student of Latin, and I still find it a helpful gloss on places where the English text is curious.Psalm 1 - Beatus virThis is a very old English translation, and it is salutary to remember what it cost some brave and very principled men to give us a translation in the vernacular.  Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) is credited with this version but his translation was based on those by William Tyndale, Martin Luther and others.  Some of these men died for the principle of providing a Bible that everyone could understand; others experienced long periods in exile and many trials and tribulations.  It is almost beyond our modern comprehension that some five hundred years ago, you couldn’t hear the texts of your own religion in your own language (nor read them either, but then most people couldn’t read anyhow).Pslam 23 - the Lord is my ShepherdThere are all sorts of treasures to be found in the Psalms.

Firstly, there is great honesty with the human condition.  The psalmist knows how shitty life can be and truly excels in recapturing how absolutely miserable one can feel: “I am feeble and sore smitten: I have roared for the very disquietness of my heart.” (Psalm 38)

The psalmist is also good on how nasty one can feel when things are going well for everybody else, and just rotten for you.  How spiteful is this: “… it shall come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones…Let it thus happen from the Lord unto mine enemies…” (Psalm 109)

But the psalmist is also good on comfort: “Thou tellest my flittings; put my tears into thy bottle: are not these things noted in thy book?” (Psalm 56)  What an exquisite image of our tears being so valued that they are bottled!

Evocative  language just flows from Coverdale’s pen, and one of my favourite psalms (and I think the most beautiful) is Psalm 121.  A psalm of great comfort, it is commonly read at funeral services because of the last verse: “The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in: from this time forth for evermore.”Psalms 120 and 121It is the first line of this psalm that intrigues me most (of perhaps all the lines in the psalms). I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills: from whence cometh my help.  Some years ago we found it engraved on the window of a small church of Capel-y-ffin in Wales.  The trees were a bit overgrown, but you could just see the hills behind that the little window looked out on.  What a beautiful use of the psalm!  So comforting, so reassuring – but why? What is there in the hills that is so full of help?

Levavi oculos meos in montes, unde veniet auxilium mihi.  No clues from the Latin.  A phrase to ponder over.Window at Capel-y-ffin churchThere are great stories in the psalms too, and nowhere more poignantly than with Psalm 137:

“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept: when we remembered thee, O Sion.  As for our harps, we hanged them up: upon the trees that are therein.  For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody in our heaviness: Sing us one of the songs of Sion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song: in a strange land?”

Perhaps, like me, you have Boney M’s version in your ears now?!

It’s the story of the Jews in exile, of course, who cannot muster their spirits to sing as their Babylonian captors demand – a despair shared with other captives, at other times, in other places.  In the Iliad, Homer wrote poignantly of Andromache lamenting to her husband, Hector, about the treatment she could expect as a captive when he was dead.  In recent times, we have heard the heartbreaking stories of Yazidi women taken into slavery and Nigerian girls stolen from their land.  This Jewish lament in the psalms is the song of all these captives.  The beauty of the lament moves us just as much the anguish expressed.

Small phrases crafted by the psalmist and his translator (they were all men) are just wonderful.  You don’t have to be spinner to enjoy  “He shall come down like the rain into a fleece of wool: even as the drops that water the earth.” (Psalm 72).  or know confusion to recognise “For I am become like a bottle in the smoke: yet do I not forget thy statutes.” (Psalm 119)

What I am left with above all else after my re-reading of the psalms is that these are the musings and poetry and songs of a people looking for answers to the human condition – just as we all are.  Who could not sympathise with the exasperation with which this psalm addresses God: My heart was hot within me, and while I was thus musing the fire kindled; and at the last I spake with my tongue:  Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days …” (Psalm 39)

There is great and deep comfort – similar to that a mother might offer when she croons over her crying child and reassures the baby that it’s alright.  She doesn’t, of course, know that things will always be alright for her child, but in that moment – yes, things are alright, and she is being completely honest.  Psalm 121 again: The Lord himself is thy keeper: the Lord is thy defence upon thy right hand;  so that the sun shall not burn thee by day: neither the moon by night.  The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil…”

Now – there’s something else in this little book – something that I missed until now, and I can’t think why I didn’t see it before!Offizier - Gefangenenlager - ColbergThere is a purple stamp on the front page.  Researches on the internet reveal that it is the permission stamp for the prisoner-of-war camp at Bad Colberg in Saxony where captive British officers were housed during the First World War.Name plateLook at the front page.  I reckon that there are four hands here.  Somebody has printed J.H.Goodall at the top of the page in pencil.  There is a £1 marker below that.  Then somebody has written JHHGoodall in ink – this looks like a signature of ownership.  Below that is my name, and my notes on where I acquired the book.  We can account for the £1 price marker too as it is linked with my acquisition of the book.

But the printed pencil name and inked name are the same and it has always puzzled me why there is this duplication.

Further searches on the internet, using the London Gazette website and the ICRC records of POW camps, reveal that a Captain J.H.H.Goodall was seconded from the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment to the Royal Flying Corps in March 1917. But in June 1917 he was listed as missing, and then just a month later he was reported as being a prisoner in German hands.post-59858-0-10162600-1428357000(Bad Colberg sanatorium/POW camp, courtesy of the Great War Forum)

It is likely that the ICRC supplied small religious books as well as letters and parcels to POWs.  This would explain the pencilled name at the top of the page, and the personal signature below.

I just hope this little psalter was a comfort to him.

Extraordinarily, I even found a photo of Captain J.H.H.Goodall – aah, the miracles of the internet!  (He is standing at the very back – he was nearly 6 foot tall – , and his brother, Marcus, who died in the fighting on the Somme, is in the row just in front of him.  This photograph, taken on April 13th 1915 on the steps of York Baths, courtesy of the Yorkshire Film Archive.)  JHHGoodallFinally – and almost by chance – I happened upon the full story of Captain John Humphrey Herbert Goodall and his courageous war service on the Hazlewood School Great War Roll of Service webpage.

My batik dress

Rooting around in my fabric stash, I found that I had quite a surprisingly big piece of teal-blue batik fabric left over after making myself a skirt several years ago.  This is one of my favourite fabrics, and it came from one of the best  fabric shops I know,  Truro Fabrics.

There are lots of things I like about this fabric – I find the simple geometric patterns and the streaks of colour change particularly pleasing.  In places there are yellow streaks, as though I’ve spilt my coffee on the fabric – I just love these variegated shades!variegated colours in fabricSo I have the fabric – and I also have a pattern.  This pattern belonged to my grandmother.  Simplicity paper patternShe liked to wear very simple straight cut dresses.  I don’t think the dress she was wearing below was cut from the pattern I’m using, but it’s very similar.Dordy wearing batik dress 1971So I have fabric and a pattern – but the finished dress isn’t at all what you’d be expecting!

First of all, I cut through the paper pattern at bodice level.  Then I cut a skirt nearly twice as wide as the existing skirt pattern, and I fitted it to the bodice with four pleats in the front and six on the back.dress showing pleats in skirtStupidly, I cut the front bodice without thinking – (but as the pattern dictated) – in two pieces.  Unfortunately, the central join looked stupid – the pattern just didn’t fit.  So I added a central placket to take the eye of the mismatched pattern.  It looked a bit better.correcting bodice problemsNow I’m toying with the sleeve lengths.  I’m not sure whether to go for elbow length or shorter.  And I don’t like the way the inset sleeves are puffy where they join the bodice – hmm, that doesn’t appear to happen on the original pattern.  Out come my pattern-cutting guidebooks to help me work out how I can get the smooth inset sleeve that I like.working on the sleeveTime now to play with the neckline!  I’ve cut it right down from the original pattern as that was too tight round my throat.  Would I like to add a collar?  Small or large?  Or perhaps use some other fabric for the collar?working on the collarI want to add pockets, but they’re not included in the pattern, so I have to get out another dress that has good pockets to use them as a template. making a pocketI’ve decided to scrap the idea of adding a collar, but I can’t used the original facing that came with the paper pattern as I’ve cut the neckline down so low.working on the collar facingThe back of the dress is a bit “bustley” – it looks as though I’ve got a tail, or a bustle (as they wore in Edwardian times).  So I’ve stitched down the skirt pleats at the back in a fan shape – the central pleat stitching is longer than the side pleat stitching.Pleats in back of dressThe only trouble with this fabric is that is stiff.  I guess it is because of the residual wax from the batik printing.  Consequently, the skirt doesn’t hang very softly.  Luckily, I’ve got a lining left spare from a skirt I’ve taken to pieces for patchwork.  This lining is a soft rayon, and it’s cut on the cross.  It fits perfectly!  It doesn’t make the dress to swishy (I hate it when you can hear your skirt/dress lining swish as you walk along), but just adds to the soft hang of the whole.skirt liningSo here is the finished dress!Katherine trying on dressNow to experiment with what I can wear with it!!Katherine trying on dress with orange cardi

Northumbrian Rock Art

Northumberland is full of secrets!  We’d lived here awhile before somebody mentioned the rock art to us.  Apparently, there were some rock carvings, just off the road to Lowick, not far away from us.  We didn’t think very much of it, and then one day we sort of happened upon the spot.  There’s no sign on the road that something momentous is just off it – only evidence of a track, the indentations in the undergrowth left by people walking off the road, into the little wood.entrance to Roughting Linn gladeFollow the track then, and there you are, in the grove – a lump of sandstone, with heather. moss and foxgloves growing on the mound and about.  This is Roughting Linn.Roughting Linn stonesLook carefully, through the lichen, and you will see the carvings.Roughting Linn rock carvingsThese photos above were all taken when we revisited the site last week.  And they do not do justice to the carvings – a summery day is not the time to look for rock art!  You need the shadows of evening or autumn.

Our first visit was in October 2011 and the photographs we took then show the carvings much more clearly.Roughting Linn carvingsRoughting Linn carvings 2They are extraordinarily mysterious and fascinating.  What are they and why?  Who did them?  How were they made?  When were they made?

Lots of questions and there are no answers.

What puzzled me most about the Roughting Linn carvings after our first visit was why somebody had felt so strongly about this particular place that they had wanted to enhance the stone with these carvings.

Of course, we see the site quite differently from how our ancestors did.  These rhododendron bushes – modern imports – are a clear reminder that localities change.  The greenness adds to the mystery of the place for us, but the Ordnance Survey map shows there was a small hill fort here – something you’re quite unaware of now because of the trees and shrubs.undergrowth around Roughting LinnIt’s the small waterfall nearby that is thought to hold the answer as to why our ancestors wanted to record their art on this stone – a strange, mysterious and magical place.

Again, you step just off the track into a green world as the path steps down steeply to the stream.path to waterfallWet, muddy and very slippery – we both ended up on our bottoms several times as we went down.uprooted treeNot as old as the rock art perhaps, but people have wanted to record their presence here for many years.graffittied treeA small cave just off the path adds to the feeling of mystery here.small cave near waterfallFirst glimpse of the waterfall.First glimpse of waterfallYou cannot but approach with the feeling that you are in a special place.  Archaeologists and theologians speak of the liminal: where places are “thin”, where the “other” is more present than elsewhere.  Roughting Linn waterfallThe twisted corpse of a tree – it is as though the very trees are watching guardians of this place.twisted corpse of a treeBack to where we had parked the car nearby, and we found this on the wall.  An offering to the gods of the place?sheep's head watching usStan Beckensall was the man responsible for the serious recording of these rock art carvings.  A local teacher, he became fascinated with them, and has pushed for their appreciation and conservation over many years.  The Northumbrian Rock Art website, set up under the aegis of Newcastle University with an AHRC grant, consolidated his hard work.  You can read therein his assessment of the Roughting Linn rock art.

Roughting Linn is perhaps the best known and most easily accessed of the local rock art sites.  But we were lucky enough to enjoy a walk with Ron Shaw up Chatton Hill recently to find more rock art.  Ron is most knowledgeable about this area, having devised the St Cuthbert’s Way path when working as a tourism officer in Wooler.

We set out on a gentle trek up Chatton Hill through beautiful grasslands.  It is credit to the farmer that this site is accessible and well-managed (as recorded in this BBC article).Ron and Stephen climbing Chatton hillLooking back over the gentle incline to where we had parked the car (the small white speck on the road).Looking back to parked carWe’ve got a worried sheepy audience – you can sense them wondering why these people are in their fields and heading their way?sheep watching us warilyAah – we’re after the rock art on the brow of the hill.  It takes a while to find it – there’s plenty of sandstone slabs about, and it could be any one of them.   Sadly, it’s not unusual to find examples of modern graffiti.modern graffiti on Chatton HillBut find it we do, and here is my photograph of the find with the magnificence of Northumbrian skies and the Cheviots in the distance.Chatton hill rock carvingsThere’s time for photography and the recording of the triumph of finding the specific stone.Ron and Stephen taking photographsHowever, we encountered the same problems we’d had at Roughting Linn: the light of a summer’s day (even if overcast) is not conducive to good rock art photographs.  So Shirley, Ron’s wife, has most generously allowed me to reproduce her photos of the same site, (both taken in the early spring, but on different years – you can see the snow of the Cheviots in the lower photo).  These are great photos that do full justice to the site, and allow you to capture the sense of awe our ancestors may have felt on top of a glorious Northumberland hill.Chatton Park Hill 05Chatton Park Hill 08We continued Ron watching Stephen aheadWe’re now looking for Ketley Crag which Ron tells us is somewhere on this hillside, but since he was last there the bracken has completely taken over.  We spent quite a while ploughing  through the bracken from sandstone slab to sandstone slab, but no luck.  The Ketley Crag is not for viewing on this trip!View over bracken to the CheviotsLuckily, Shirley is able to help out again, and here are her photos of the Ketley Crag rock art, taken in the very early spring.Kettley Crag rock shelter 03Kettley Crag rock shelter 01It’s quite different from both the other rock art examples I’ve explored in this blog, sitting as it does under a protruding rock, on the side of a hill.  Undoubtedly a beautiful place, but liminal, awe….no, neither of those descriptions seem to match this spot.  But then, I haven’t actually seen it in person – perhaps if I did, I would “get it”.  Definitely a trip for another day – probably in the autumn when the bracken has died back and the light is softer.  For now I’ve got to settle for these fine photos and what the Northumberland Rock Art database has to say on Ketley Crag.Kettley Crag outlook westThese places leave you silent.  The mystery, the wondering, together with the magnificence of the Northumbrian landscape – what did these artists want to tell us?

(Many thanks to Shirley and Ron Shaw for the use of their photographs and a wonderful guided walk.)

Fleece

Most spinners will recognise that uncomfortable moment when their partner remarks “And is that all the fleece you have? Really? Promise?”  Crossing every digit, you mutter “yes, of course“, knowing full well there’s another stash buried deep in a little-visited cupboard upstairs.

Well, here is my coloured fleece stash – and yes, I promise: this is all of it!  Honest.Baskets of coloured fleece in gardenA full coloured fleece assessment was called for yesterday as I checked over my spinning projects.

Earlier this year I’d decided the time had come to dye some more fleece.  It was spring, and my  palette was strongly influenced by the colours of nature.greeny fleece on washing lineUp close and personal, as the wet fleece begins to dry you can see what gorgeous colours these are.closeup of green fleece on washing lineA little bit of acid lime to pep it all up.closeup of greeny yellow fleece on washing lineI couldn’t help letting a little bit of fuchsia creep into the dye pot.pink fleece on washing lineI had it in mind to knit a cardigan for myself.  I was very taken with Julia Farwell-Clay’s Tambourine (which appeared on the front of the Spring Issue of Pom Pom Quarterly). I love the rondels on front.Pom pom map coverWithstanding all the temptations of amazing indie yarn producers, I was determined to spin the yarn for this cardigan myself.  After all, I had all this fleece, and I loved spinning.  What I found I was doing was spinning odd little hanks that weren’t really enough for anything much.  Yes, they would work for the odd scarf, but I really had enough of those.

So, I assessed my fleece …pile of dry greeny fleece did some carding …Carding green fleece and got spinning.  Here’s the product: some lovely variegated green yarn.Spun green fleece hanksI wasn’t satisfied.

Let me explain.  It looks lovely as hanks, incorporating all the flecks and variegated colourings that I like.  But when knitted, it was rather dull and muted.test knitting samplesIf you go back to my fleece “puddle”, you’ll see why I was disappointed.  Look at that glorious top note green on the top of the pile.  It’s being swamped by the darker greens lying below.pile of dry greeny fleeceBack to the drawing board…err, dye pot. And a completely different colour palette.stainless steel bowl of dyeing fleeceAll these yarns (and they encompass wool from Shetland, Jacob, BFL and other sheep, mohair, silk) are rainbow-dyed using acid dyes.  You can now purchase excellent small dye kits which are complete in themselves (in the old days you used to have to add vinegar, washing up liquid, levellers etc).  And modern acid dyes are very safe – I wear a face mask, rubber gloves – and I clear all food stuffs from the kitchen before I start.  In recognition of the possibly undesirable effects of the exhaust, I pour as much of it as possible into the ground.  It’s not a small undertaking, so I set aside a day for dyeing and will dye at least half a fleece at any one time (making successive dyepots, reusing the exhaust from the previous dyepot).

My first dye pot and I got berry colours – nice, but a bit darker than I wanted.winey red fleece dyeingNext lighter redder, orangier colours – very pleased with this, but a bit taken aback when folk greeted my instagram pic with the statement that it looked like body parts!  Wonder what you think?body part fleece dyeingFinally some blues as well.blue and red fleece dyeingNow, lets go back to where I was at the beginning of this blogpost.  A fleecy assessment.Baskets of coloured fleece in gardenWhen you pull the fleece out of the baskets and boxes and bags, you realise just how much coloured fleece I’ve got here (this is a very honest post).  This fleece has come from a lot of sheep!centre basket and piles of coloured fleece on grassIt looks even more abundant when I start to make plans and move this gorgeous stuff around.

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I have several projects in mind.

First, I’ve decided to try spinning some blue yarn for the Tambourine cardigan. blue fleece on grassSecondly, I’m putting together some nice brightly coloured fleece to take to spin when I’m demonstrating with the Tweed Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers at the Border Union Show near Kelso at the end of this month.  Last year I took some fuchsia fleece and it was a great success with the young beginner spinners.  This is what I’ve come up with for this year.red orange pink fleece on grassI’m very taken with the orangey/scarlet/red tones that I’ve dyed so I’ve allowed myself to put a little bit aside for some comfort knitting this winter – I’ll probably end up with just a few skeins that will make a nice scarf.  Doesn’t it look cosy in it’s basket?red orange fleece in basketI’m also very excited to start spinning the basket of blue fleece.  Hmm – I’ll have to think this through – shall I card, or just spin?  Perhaps a bit of both.  The difference is that carded fleece will give me gently variegated colours.  If I just pluck the yarn from the basket to spin as is, I’ll get much more sharply contrasted colours – and you’ll see I’ve added some red and green mohair for sparky little contrast.blue fleece in basketI’ve already started to spin the fleece for the Border Union Show.  It looks great!spun pinky fleeceThe rest of the fleece gets packed away in the baskets for other projects other days.  There are colours in my bags and boxes that are leftovers from ancient projects that I worked on a long time ago.  I’m always careful to make the fleece unappetising to moth before it gets packed away.fleece and moth ball But I’ve left some fleece out for the cat to enjoy for a bit.

Happy cat, Poe!Poe on fleece

Our Seaview garden story

I have been much in the garden lately, enjoying some fine warm days.  And I have been reflecting on how our garden has grown with us – and what solace it has given.  But it has been hard work.

As I have written elsewhere, we inherited a garden that had been unloved, and grown wild. Wild Seaview garden when we first arrived The grass was long; some of the fencing had come apart round the oil tank; and in the corner you might just glimpse the sad remains of the plastic shed that had been blown apart in storms.

The first chore was to mow the lawn.  Stephen mowing wild gardenThe garden was well-fenced in.  This was useful while our cat Poe made her preliminary expeditions in her new territory, but meant we couldn’t see the view from the house.Poe exploring garden for first timeSo the next task was to reduce the height of the fence.  Then we could see the sea!  Lowering the fenceAfter that we replaced the shed.  This sounds an easy task, but was complicated by the fact that we were experiencing very strong winds at the time, and there was no way we could hold the large wood panels correctly in place with the wind blowing as it was.  Everyday we checked the Met Office forecasts.   A week later our opportunity came and we got the shed up.Stephen building the shedSitting in those pots on the patio were the plants and seedlings we’d brought from our old Devon home.  We now needed to make some flower beds in our new garden so we could give our much-travelled plants a new home.Seaview with the wild lawn tamedWe started with a large bed in the corner of the garden….. first bed we dugand that’s when we realised how hard it was to dig this ground.  Eventually we acquired a pick-axe.Stephen pickaxing new holeWe learned that digging flower beds here involved removing all the earth, clay and stones and rubble from the proposed spot, sieving it, putting back a little bit of good earth and buying a lot of expensive compost and top soil to refill the hole!Stephen inspecting a newly dug holesThis is why it was such hard work.

One of our neighbours kindly showed us some pictures of the old farm steading when it was being converted into homes.  This is our kitchen.  That pile of rubble behind the kitchen is our garden.  We further learned that our garden was where the tractor was usually parked.  To keep the mud under control, the farmer regularly tipped hardcore and rubble on this spot.  Aaaaagh!Seaview farm kitchen being built

Despite the hard work, we did finish the little beds beside the fence in time for our little seedlings to be transplanted there in the early spring.view out of garden to seaIt felt such a triumph to sit out in early summer as we came to the end of our first year here.Stephen sitting in the gardenThese little beds under the fence were still very empty, so we bought poppy and cornflower seeds.  This was the result in high summer – just amazing.first year crop of poppies We added a conservatory.  new conservatoryThis has been a huge bonus for us in windy, colder Northumberland, meaning we can shelter ourselves and our more delicate plants.morning glories around conservatory doorStephen put a lot of care into making raised beds to grow our vegetables inStephen building the raised bedsIn a few years we had transformed the garden with the addition of water butts and three raised beds.  new raised bedsAnd, of course, a greenhouse.Stephen putting up the greenhouseThis is the last garden bed Stephen dug.  Judging by his expression, I think it is the last he is ever planning to dig.Stephen beside new garden holeSuddenly it looked like a proper garden!plants growing well in raised bedsAnd we got produce from the raised beds.  Our first year carrots were a little curious.weird carrotsBut last year we had these beautiful courgettes …yellow courgettes from the gardenand tomatoes …tomatos from the gardenand chilli peppers too.chillis from the gardenI cannot believe that we now have what looks like a proper garden!  There is still often work to do.Katherine weeding the garden pathThe garden is now showing us that it has a mind of its own. How silly of me to think it is our garden.  Of course, it isn’t!  It belongs to the place itself …

Self-sown poppy seedlings are growing round and through our bench …Poppies growing through benchand in our raised veg beds …Poppies looking gloriousand in the lane …Wild poppy seedlings in laneNever mind, Poe can still do the fence walk …Poe doing fence walkand she can still find the bird water when she’s thirsty.Poe drinking from the birds' waterAs for Stephen and me, – well, we’re happy so long as we can still see the view.Poppies in the gloamingWhat we have tried to do, is build a garden where the plants we grow merge into the natural grasses of the fields around us. Garden merging into field

The essayist, Francis Bacon, was surely right when he wrote that “…[a garden] is the purest of human pleasures.  It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man; without which buildings and palaces are but gross handyworks.”Poppies in the new garden bedHow lucky we are to have a garden for solace, beauty, abundance – and hopefully a lot less hard work!