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!

Advertisements

Bags of fun

I find great solace in my little Woolly Room – there is fabric, and wool, and books, and buttons, and knits, and pictures …  and there are also bags!  If you are hoping to hear about Gucci, and Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors, then read no further.  These are handmade, vintage, passed down, charity shop finds.  Yes, there is the odd Orla Kiely or two, chosen because of my passion for pattern, but they don’t really count as designer in my eyes (sorry, Orla!).

There are bags I’ve made for myself, and there are bags others have made for me. But let’s start with some of the very oldest.  These are bags that have come to me from my grandmothers.Grandmothers' bagsI’ve never used the teeny weeny one at the top –  the silk is perishing and it is very worn. It came from my maternal grandmother, but I think it is Victorian and may well have belonged to my great ( perhaps my great-great?) grandmother.  A real treasure.

On the top right is a beautiful little petit point bag – and petit is the operative word here.  The stitches are teeny tiny!  I used it quite often when I was much younger – but now I am older and appreciate the workmanship more, I’m a bit reluctant to use it.

As for the bag on the bottom left  – it is one of my favourites and it comes out for special occasions like weddings. It’s stamped leather work, Florentine, very soft. The handle had perished so I replaced it with a ribbon which I can change to match my outfit.

The bottom right beaded bag is Japanese, and what a labour of love! Teeny, tiny beads, subtle patterning.  Just very, very occasionally I go to a very, very special evening event, and then this is my bag of choice.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with bags of such quality – where to go from there?!  Well, I have lots of other bags in my Woolly Room.  Let’s see what I’ve got hanging on the wall.bags of fun wall displayRight at the centre back in the photo is this bag which I made about 10 years ago for my father who died last year.  It was for his 80th birthday, and I’ve recorded the date and details on the strap (“written” with my sewing machine).  It’s a bag I treasure especially because I know he treasured it too.Strap of RHE bagIt’s a knitted bag (lined with quite stiff fabric to stop it sagging), and I had a lot of fun picking out words and patterns that were important to him.  He excelled at his classical language studies in his youth, and a love of Greek and Latin stayed with him for the rest of his life.  You will find μηδὲν ἄγαν (the Greek writing on the left)  written on the temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece.  It means: Nothing in excess – or Moderation all things.  On the other side, the Greek writing could be translated (roughly) as Everybody chooses the best path for themself.  Both these mottos were important to him, as were the Latin words from the Book of Psalms: The Lord is my illumination (on the left) and In you, Lord, have I trusted (on the right).  And I have knitted Greek key patterns all over the bag – great fun to knit.Back and front of RHE's bagSo you’ll realise I love to work with words, to incorporate language into my designs.  I also studied Classical Greek as a university student, so this next bag celebrates a motto that sums up the thought of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: Πάντα ῥεῖ.  It means (very roughly): All is flux.  Life is constant change.  The fabric was once my grandmother’s curtains!   It’s a very coarse linen weave, hand-embroidered with these wonderful wild flowery patterns. They were magnificent curtains, but don’t they just lend themselves to a fabulous bag?  I just love that huge flower on the cover.back and front of Dordy's curtains bagPart of the fun of making your own bags is the nice surprises you can put inside.  And the buttons!inside Grandmother's curtains bagOften the fabric suggests the bag – as my grandmother’s beautiful curtains above did.  But with this next bag, I made the fabric myself. That is to say, I knitted the pattern I wanted, put it in a hot washing machine wash to felt it – and then cut the resulting fabric up to make the bag.Felted bagThe interior treat is this gorgeous Alexander Henry fabric, featuring these terrifying knitting ladies.  That is some knitting!  They reminded me strongly of the three Fates of ancient Greek myth, the Handlers of the Threads of Time so I’ve added that story to the Alexander Henry one.  You’ll see that I’ve embroidered the names of the three fates in their hair.  In the Greek legends, Clotho (on the left) was the spinner of the thread of life, Lachesis ( on the right) measured each person’s lifeline, and Atropos ( in the centre) cut the thread of life.  My Fates here are knitters not spinners – but still wickedly witchy women, and I have a sure feeling that they are knitting and measuring and finishing the knitting of my days. inside felted bagIn recent years, I’ve been particularly drawn to the poetry of Mary Oliver, so several of my bags feature her words.  This bag utilises boldly patterned fabric to make a statement with : Tell Me.Tell me bagI’ve always longed to be accosted by a stranger, asking “Tell me – what?!”  Nobody ever has asked – but since you do, I’ll show you the answer, which is, of course, inside.  This line is much-quoted, and justifiably so.  It’s a good thought to carry about with you.  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.Inside Tell Me bagI also used a poem by Mary Oliver for my green leaf bag.  Again, the fabric – a leaf-green printed batik – inspired the pattern.  When I’d embroidered all the leaves in place on a plain background, I felt the bag needed something else, and searching through Mary Oliver’s book, Thirst, I found “When I Am Among the Trees”.  Just what I needed.  It captures the sway and the breath of the trees calling out. “Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out ‘Stay awhile.’ … And they call again, ‘It’s simple … you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.'”

Exactly. Thank you, Mary Oliver.  How do you always manage to say it so well.

(I’ve altered her words slightly to fit the space on the bag)Both sides of green leaves bagOther poets inspire me too.  How evocative is this  line is from John Donne’s poem of impossibilities!  “Go and catch a falling star.”Falling star bagLots of other little bags hang on the walls of my Woolly Room.  This little group below features a charmingly hand-embroidered sewing bag, a colourful beaded bag from Monsoon below, a glam little evening bag cleverly made by my daughter from a gorgeous scrap of one of my grandmother’s dresses – and a Little My brown paper carrier bag!  It takes all sorts!Mixture of little bagsThe next two little bags are both Japanese.  My father worked in Tokyo for many years in my childhood, and my mother acquired a lot of beautiful Japanese fabrics while there.  These don’t get much used, but they are much treasured.Japanese bagsThis piece of daughter Helen’s work glitters and glams it up.   Featuring Alex from the Clockwork Orange, it’s a student piece of hers, made when she was a beginner seamstress. It’s just cool!Clockwork orange bagSome thirty years or so ago (goodness!) I had a spell of enthusiastically painting patterns on fabrics.   I wanted a commodious bag for a family trip to Paris, and this bag was just perfect.  It brings back very happy memories.painted bagThere are lots of green bags, of course (my favourite colour).   That’s an Orla Kiely bag on the far left; next is an amazing mock-croc I found in a charity shop; then, there’s my embroidered leaf bag; next is a bag made in the Phillippines of recycled packaging (so ingenious); and on the right, a ditsy little grass effect bag – much faded, alas, but still convincingly grassy.Line of green bagsJust – very occasionally – I will buy an expensive bag.  I found this bag on Ebay, whilst searching for felted bags, and  – it was irresistible.

What makes it so very fascinating is that the pattern is completely created by the embroidery – and what an extraordinary range of embroidery stitches there are! Was it a sampler?   So often I have looked at it and wondered who CF was, and when she (he?) lived.  I’m guessing it was done in the 1920s-30s – what do you think?Both sides of Ebay embroidered bagThere are working bags of another sort – my sewing and knitting bags.  This is my much-travelled Solace bag which accompanies me with my knitting when I go away.  It was a gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle (so had quite a journey in the first place to get here from Melbourne), and it does indeed give me great solace.  Portable solace, you might say.Solace bag in useAnd there are still new bags coming!  This is another needlework/knitting bag, and another generous gift.  I just love the lemon-slice print – thank you so much, Issy.Issy's bagNot just bags of fun – bags of happiness, inspiration, memories, treasures, generosity … and love.