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!

All change

I’ve been both a town and a country mouse. One thing that stands out for me as I revert to country mouse status is how oblivious I’ve been to¬†natural change¬†when living in towns and cities.

It’s been partly due to my occupations in these places, of course, that I have noticed things so differently.¬† When rushing to work in town or city, you may indeed notice the seasons change, but the micro changes so often pass you by.

Everything at Seaview conspires to remind us¬†that the old Greek adage from Heraclitus ŌÄő¨őĹŌĄőĪ ŠŅ•őĶŠŅĖ¬†(everything flows) is true. Life here is constant flux.

The sun and the moon show this as well as anything.¬† These photographs of a wintry sunrise on the solstice last year (December 21st) were all taken in the matter of minutes¬†as the sun rose¬†to the west of ¬†Bamburgh Castle. First a tiny hint that something was coming …sunrise-1-on-the-solstice-21-12-15Then a bit more …sunrise-2-on-the-solstice-21-12-15And as the sun continues to rise, it appears to swivel to the right …sunrise-3-on-the-solstice-21-12-15Now you can see clearly the¬†orb approaching¬†…sunrise-4-on-the-solstice-21-12-15Likewise the moon, here captured on the night of the Supermoon¬†last month, (14th November) …supermoon-14-11-2016Through the early evening, the moon moved rapidly across the sky, in and out of the clouds.¬† But there were other changes afoot too – man-made changes.¬† In the blink of an eye, a train slipped across our line of sight, travelling down the mainline East Coast railway line …supermoon-14-11-2016-with-trainCloud banks constantlychange, sweeping across the huge Northumbrian skies in a fascinating variety of patterns …cloud-formationsRainbows shimmer for a moment (here over Holy Island) – and then pass on …rainbow-on-holy-islandSometimes the moment appears to linger. This foggy sunrise last winter seemed trapped in a cold still world …washing-line-in-the-misty-sunBut the lingering is always an illusion, usually fostered by the light on cold days, as captured in this picture of Berwick, golden in the setting sun …winter-sun-on-berwickYou’ve got to be quick to catch the birds sweeping through our skylines too.¬† Starlings over the neighbouring houses …cloud-of-starlings-copyCrowds of seagulls following the plough …seagulls-following-the-ploughOr this solitary bird caught in a recent sunrise …bird-at-dawnUnremarkable¬†hungry black birds, looking extraordinary in black and white …wintry-birdsAnd our very favourites, the little sanderlings (who only visit this area in the winter), running in and out of the waterline on the Tweed …sanderlings-on-the-shoreJust occasionally we manage to capture the boats coming into the Tweed – not often.¬† Entry is difficult, limited by the tides, and so dodgy (because the channel is very narrow) that only the local pilots are allowed to navigate these boats to the Tweed Dock. Magical to see them rushing past Berwick’s old lighthouse …marinda-entering-the-tweedTides – ah, yes, tides. Nothing, of course, demonstrates the inevitability and variety of natural change like the tides.

“Twice daily the tides are here, sometimes¬†
breenging shoreward like an army
of small, mad, angry locals,
at others, creeping in on tourist feet.
They are their own beginnings & endings …”

from At Douglas Hall by Stuart  A Patterson (a Borders poet) 

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to record these changes by photographing the Tweed Estuary from our lane throughout the day.¬† In all these pictures, you should be able to make out¬†the wide panorama, stretching from Berwick’s old lighthouse on the far right to Berwick’s Royal Border Bridge on the left of the picture. These pictures¬†start at 9.21 am with very low tide, and the sands of Spittal Point stretching out almost down to the lighthouse …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-9-21-amAn hour later (10.22 am), the sun has come out, there’s a van coming down the lane, and the sands of Spittal Point are succumbing to the incoming tide …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-10-22-amBy 11.26 am, the sky is really blue, there are some gorgeous light clouds mirroring the line of the pier, and only a few islands of sand are still uncovered by the tide …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-11-26-am12.20, and the sky is far less exciting, the sun has gone in, there are still a few very small islands of sand in the Tweed – and there’s a train running up the East Coast mainline, Berwick bound, I think …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-12-20-am13.17, and rather a dull picture of high tide and no sun …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-13-17-pmAn hour later (14.20 pm), and shafts of low wintry sun are running over the picture from the left (the west) as another train is captured on the Eastcoast railway line.¬† It is very high tide …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-14-20-pmBy 15.17 pm the light is beginning to go, but an odd flash of blue sky is revealed in the dying light.¬† The tide is¬†on the turn¬†…view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-15-17-pmAnd the last picture of daylight, taken at 16.15 pm, the sky and sea are delicately rose-pink from the rays of the setting sun in the west.¬† The tide is still only a very little way out¬†…view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-16-15-pmHow uplifting – in a year when the world has seen such radical and disturbing global changes – are these ephemeral sudden shafts of light …

 

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 Рie 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!

 

 

 

 

A Paxton walk

The meteorologists warned us last week of horrible cold wet windy weather to come, so we seized the opportunity to get out on Friday. Thank goodness we did. We had a truly golden day.

It was cold – look how wrapped up I am! The first time this winter that I’ve had all my winter woollies out and on.We decided to park our car on the English side of the Union Chain Bridge, walk over the bridge to Scotland, up along the Tweed to Paxton House, through the grounds and onto Paxton village where we could get lunch at the newly-refurbished Cross Inn.¬† Then retrace our steps.¬† Not a big walk at all – more of an amble really.¬† mapThe Union Chain Bridge is one of our very favourite places in the locality – (you can read my paean to this fine bridge here.)beatiful-union-chain-bridge-bannerIt sits across the magnificent river Tweed, and for much of its way separates the countries of England and Scotland.walking-over-union-chain-bridge-to-scotlandSomebody had put/left/forgotten a little clown vase near the centre of the bridge.¬† An appeasement to the gods of the river?small-clown-vase-on-bridgeAt the far side, we followed a path to the river bank just below these enormous suspension cables.suspension-cables-of-union-chain-bridgeLooking back up from the path at the enormous stone pillars supporting the suspension cables, you can’t help but be impressed.looking-up-at-the-union-chain-bridgeThe walk along the river embankment was very muddy – it’s obviously a heavily-walked route. But no¬†matter –¬†so much to see, so much to enjoy.¬† How clear the water is!¬† Autumn leaves being carried along with the water.¬† Perhaps we will meet these same leaves again when walking on our local beach at Spittal¬†where the Tweed meets the sea?water-so-clear-leaves-drifitng-down-streamThere were birds getting on with their own¬†lives. We glimpsed a heron fishing through the trees.glimpse-of-a-heron-through-the-treesOur walk took us past small private and secretive doors …past-little-private-doorsThen, in the distance, ¬†we caught our first glimpse of the rosy stone wall surrounding the Paxton estate …glimpse-of-paxtons-wall-up-the-riverNot far to go now …approaching-paxtons-groundsCloser, the door¬†was a magical invitation to a private world …through-a-hole-in-the-wall-into-paxtons-groundsInside the estate, the walk¬†was as golden as ever …a-golden-walkThere¬†were fine trees – and a little teddy bear trail ….childrens-find-the-teddy-bear-game-in-evidenceLooking up we¬†were able to catch¬†a glimpse of Paxton House through the trees.¬† Paxton House was built in the 1760s to be a fine mansion looking out on the river Tweed – but alas, they have allowed the trees to grow so tall that there is almost no view of the Tweed from Paxton House any longer – such a pity.paxton-house-glimpsed-through-the-treesBefore long we reached Paxton’s fish and boat houses.paxtons-fish-house-and-boat-houseThey run boat trips from here – something we’ve never done, but definitely plan to do one day.boat-trips-run-from-paxtonNow it was¬†time to climb up from the banks of the river Tweed and through the Paxton estate …walk-takes-us-up-hill-to-housePast the children’s play area – it looked a most imaginatively designed place for children to enjoy!wonderful-childrens-play-areaAnd a brief glimpse once more of Paxton House …finally-get-to-paxton-housePast their masonry treasures/leftovers/rejects sitting casually on the lawns …casual-masonry-piecesPast the apple trees so skilfully espaliered on the red brick wall of the walled garden …walled-garden-wallOver the Linn Burn … aaaah the tree colour!over-bridge-in-paxton-groundsAnd on to the main Paxton entrance gates, guarded by some fine stone lions (and a modern touch: matching grey wheelie bins).entrance-guarded-by-lions-wheelie-binsOur walk to Paxton village only took twenty minutes or so further, but still more of interest¬†to see.¬† A stylish teal bench – in the middle of nowhere, should you need a rest.¬† No, I don’t think it’s a bus stop.teal-bench-in-the-middle-of-nowhereWe met an engineer working outside the old telephone exchange to¬†connect somebody up to broadband and had an engrossing conversation, though I must confess much of the technicalities of multi-coloured cables passed me by.arriving-at-paxton-villageThen we turned down a long slicket at the backs of peoples’ houses …walk-down-slicket-to-paxton-villageMuch more fun when you can see the fronts!¬†¬† These folk have got a rather nice mini- Paxton lion …mini-paxton-lion-outside-this-houseAnd look at these fuchsia cushions outside on the teal bench! – but, oh dear, it’s going to rain!!fetching-fuchsia-pink-cushionsAll right for us luckily – we got to the pub, the Cross Inn, before any showers started.paxtons-cross-innIt’s been pleasantly refurbished and looked welcoming – and indeed was so, with tasty food, and perhaps more importantly for Stephen, tasty beer.newly-refurbished-pub-is-welcoming-insideThen we retraced out steps. I much prefer circular walks, but our return walk was so different that it didn’t matter that we were going over the same ground. The light was completely different – and spectacular – on return.¬† No longer so gold and so friendly – more stark and much more exciting.

We approached Paxton House the proper way (as it were) on return. paxton-house-bannerBack¬†along the¬†fine avenue of trees …wlaking-back-through-paxton-groundsDown the leafy banks to the river Tweed …walking-through-fallen-leaves-down-to-the-tweedAt first, the Tweed glimpsed through the trees appeared with the gentleness of a John Nash painting upturned-boats-by-the-tweedBut then we veered¬†downstream into the light …river-tweed-glimpsed-through-the-treesMirrored perfection …fantastic-light-walking-back-along-river-tweedDark clouds overhead, rain threatening … but a¬†reassuringly golden sign¬†that we were on the way home …reassuring-way-markerAnd some dappled green ambling …dappled-green-return-walkBefore we had the Union Chain Bridge once more in our sights …first-sight-of-the-bridge-on-our-return-walkDistinctly dark clouds hovering over the bridge now …dark-clouds-over-bridgeThe mighty stone supports of the suspension bridge …stephen-walking-over-the-bridgeBack over the bridge to England …walking-back-over-the-union-chain-bridge-to-englandWhere the bridge supports are cut into the soft local red rock. Back in England just before the rain!back-in-england

Old haunts, dear friends

Last week I was in Devon, visiting old and dear friends – people and places.

I lived and worked in Mid -Devon for over thirty years. My first husband was a keen sportsman, so I knew the sporting venues.  In later years and after a second marriage to a secondary school teacher, I got to know the local schools well as my children grew up. We were involved with the local churches, brownies, cubs, schools, the local community. So there are many, many places and people I know there.

I usually pay an autumn visit to Devon.¬† It suits me because our own garden isn’t so demanding at this time of year.¬†¬†And I¬†must also confess to a longing for trees! If you live by the sea, as we do, you¬†may understand this yearning. ¬†However, beautiful and refreshing the sea is,¬†we need green.conker-tree-in-shobrooke-parkSo Shobrooke Park was probably top of my list of places to visit.¬† Few¬†things give me as much¬†contentment as a walk down its lime walk …lime-avenue-at-shobrooke-parkSo many memories come flooding back. My¬†children when small making dens¬†…making-houses-in-shobrooke-parkIt’s a wonderful historic park with several lakes … lakes-in-shobrooke-parkOne winter, it was so cold and snowy that we did the unforgiveable and let our small children play on the ice …walking-on-snowy-ice-at-shobrooke-parkAnd here is one of most beautiful settings for a cricket pitch, surely, in all Devon ….shobrooke-park-cricket-pitchMy first husband was an enthusiastic cricketer, so I was regularly involved in the¬†making of cricket teas – quiches, cakes, sandwiches, pies – the cricketers were wonderfully fed!¬† I don’t think today’s partners slave as biddably as we did in the cricket pavilion then.shobrooke-park-cricket-clubroomIt’s all very superior nowadays – they even have proper nets!nets-at-shobrooke-park-cricket-clubBut somethings don’t change – isn’t this the grass roller I¬†perched on in my 20s?pitch-roller-at-shobrooke-parkkatherine-as-a-young-mumWalking round Crediton, I passed our old home – why they’ve repainted the front door pale blue!western-villasPast the school where Stephen used to teach …qecc-boardTrees round the old buildings (which we could glimpse from our house) looking fine in the autumn light …old-qecc-and-treesOn the nearby green is the Millennium Cross …millennial-crossWhich I lovingly garlanded with a primrose wreath one Easter …primrose-wreath-on-millennial-crossNext a small detour to see the Chapel we used to look after …st-lawrence-glimpsed-from-the-gateThe sign we wrote is still there …old-st-lawrence-signThere’s some new-fangled QR reader sign now there as well!qr-sign-outside-st-lawrenceWe looked after the Chapel and its garden for twenty years, and over that time the garden really blossomed.¬† Here is the younger me, one springtime, weeding there.k-gardening-at-st-lawrenceIt was a fabulous place to garden – a small enclosed space¬†…st-lawrence-gardenAnd the¬†plants set against the warm Devon red stone of the mediaeval chapel wall …st-lawrence-with-our-house-in-backgroundWhy, in my mind’s eye, I can take myself back to this¬†very same spot twenty-five years ago when Stephen and I were married here, bringing our two families of six children together …getting-married-at-st-lawrenceOn then to visit one of my oldest friends (literally). For a while Eileen was my neighbour, and, perhaps most preciously of all, she taught me to spin. What a debt I owe her! My spinning was never anything like as good as hers, but after all she was President of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.¬† And here she is, well into her nineties, inspecting my latest knit of my own homespun wool.showing-eileen-my-knittingThen lunch with some more of my dear Devon friends, the Shobrooke Ladies ¬†– we all lived in that village when our children were small.¬† We have shared each other’s lives as our children have grown, settled, married, moved, our parents have passed on, grandchildren have appeared, and we have all finished our working lives, and moved on to retirement.¬† How special to catch up – it was just as though we still met up once a month to share the latest news in our lives!shobrooke-ladies-lunchingThen time to visit Topsham where I stayed with another dear friend, one of my old library colleagues.¬† Such a magical view out over the Exe Estuary from her home!sunset-on-the-exe-estuaryAnd a beautiful walk round the estuary the next day.¬† Topsham fascinates me with its similarities to Berwick-upon-Tweed where I now live.¬† Both¬†are estuary towns, – and both have a fine collection of swans …swans-awakening-in-topshamLike Berwick, the buildings in Topsham reflect the pursuits of local business.¬† In Berwick there are red pantile roofs that merchants brought back as ballast from their business trips¬†to Europe.¬† In Topsham, you can see the Dutch gables the merchants learned to build after their continental travels.¬† What¬†struck me particularly¬†is the wealth here in affluent Devon compared to the poverty of north Northumberland – these buildings are so well kept.¬† dutch-houses-in-topshamWe had a magical walk, along the estuary, turning off to see the fine display of cyclamen near the Goat Walk.walking-with-jenny-amid-cyclamensAre they not a delight?!wild-cyclamen¬†Our walk took us further along the beautiful Exe estuary …information-board-at-exe-estuaryBack down woody lanes – I was drinking in the greenery all the way. What really struck me was that this was almost the first sighting of trees colouring that I saw.¬† What very late autumns we are getting …autumn-coloursAnd past the Shrubbery house where Stephen’s¬†Aunt Barbara¬†used to live.shurbbery-house-where-stephens-aunt-livedAnd back to Shobrooke village for my last night in Devon, and a glimpse of the beautiful red Devon hills from the cottage.devon-red-fields-glimpsed-from-devon-cottageA hug and a giggle with an old friend – indeed, we were flatmates together in London in the 1970s so we go way, way back – before I caught the train back to Northumberland …girls-gigglingSo why – I hear you asking – don’t you still live in this lovely county with these dear folk?!¬† Ah well, I have been seduced by a small Northumbrian cottage with the sunrise in its windows …dawn-reflected-on-our-seaview-cottageand our view of¬†dawn over the North Sea!east-coast-dawn

Loving my clothes …

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

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

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

No thanks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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