pinning it on

whilst the cake baked

original label

batter

fabric choices

cutting

hemming

ironing the pockets

pinning it on

skirt

from corner

closeup

pansy

1 slice left

chickens pottering

moon rising

on the way home

sun setting

 

I love skirts.  Long, full, gathered, brightly coloured and richly patterned skirts have been my favourite thing to wear for many years.  I love the traditional skirts of many parts of Europe with their richly embroidered details and cheerful sprigged florals.  I love the full skirts of 19th century dresses.  I love the batik wrap around skirts of the 1970s. I love tiered skirts with their crazy mixing of colour and pattern.

Since I realised all I had to do was buy twice the length I wanted, chop it in half, whip up two side seams (if you leave the selvedge attached you don’t even need to zigzag anything) add an elasticised waist and hem and voila!  I was ready to step out, I have filled my wardrobe with skirts in whatever fabric took my fancy.

Then, of course, there’s the amazing potential for extra detail – contrasting hems, rickrack edges, chicken scratch embroidery, rows and rows of ribbon, mix and match panels – so good!  The more time on my hands, the more loveliness I can add (remember, I’ve never embraced the less is more philosophy!)

For the last 18 years I have teamed my skirts with reasonably fitted tshirts that neatly covered my quick to sew elasticised waist – I confess, I have been victim to the notion that I couldn’t add a full blouse that needed tucking in to an elasticised waistband because I would look like a trussed up bag of potatoes.  But now, with the wonderful liberation that comes with age and ever growing confidence, as well as lovely inspiration from around the webby world (the styles of the gorgeous and creative Phoebe Wahl and Ms. Partshade-Fullsun have been very encouraging!) I now know I can add whatever I like to my gathered skirts!  And this winter I have been doing so with gusto.

I’ve added big colourful patch pockets – absolutely awesome for gathering eggs and seashells and carrying whatever tools around the place I might need – and wide fabric belts to my repertoire and many mornings lately, my routine includes, let out and feed the poultry, gather the eggs, feed and chat with the sheep, then plunder my fabric boxes in the shed and come back with armfuls of potential.  Then, I sit here in my jammies and whip up a new skirt and possibly belt, and by 10am I’m newly dressed – shirts tucked in! – and ready for another good day.

Of course, I do like to squish in as many things as possible, so I often put on supper, or mix up a cake to bake, or put on the washing whilst I’m sewing and this here skirt and cake are the products of just that.  There were Plymouth Rock chickens to collect from Wyndham and quilting for mum on the agenda so I was up early, my fabrics already picked out, sewing and baking – a Jamie Oliver recipe – Sweet Potato and Apricot loaf – and on the road by 10:30.  And it was indeed a good day.  There was great company along each step of the way, quilting was finished, cake enjoyed, four beautiful chickens brought home, a gorgeous sunset to stop and admire … and a beautiful skirt stitched up from vintage opshop fabric teamed with an opshop shirt and velvet belt that fulfils the Kate Bush in me!    Pretty much everything one could hope for in a day :-)

And this practice of skirt making connects with so many of the ideas I hold as not only important but essential to a life well lived. I refuse to be told by merciless, environment and community exploitative, greedy big businesses what the current “must-haves” are.  I refuse to conform to what our mainstream society declares is attractive or beautiful at this one point in time.  I refuse to treat my clothes as disposable items that are only good for a year or two before being discarded.  I refuse to play that game where an item of clothing that was adored one year is expected to be laughed at and scorned a couple of years later.  And I utterly refuse to walk around looking clone-like.

Every day when I wake up I want to be a creative participant in life – not a passive consumer. I want to make what I can, using what I have or what I find.  I want my clothes – let alone my home and activities – to be symbols of who I am and what I love.  I want to tread gently on this earth but also embrace and celebrate the joy and satisfaction humans have gained for thousands of years from adorning themselves with loveliness.

I read in a recent memoir, by a woman who survived the Holocaust, that being able to dress herself in proper clothes and put on lipstick made her and her fellow survivors feel like real people again. Being stripped of her clothes, having her head shaved and being forced to dress in filthy rags by the Nazis stripped her of any sense of being a human and part of this world.  Being able to choose how to dress herself again helped her feel like a valuable human being with inherent dignity once more.

Now I’m not comparing my incredibly privileged skirt making to this woman’s experience.  But reading her words strengthened my belief that to dress up – to gather what we love, hold is pretty, and adorn ourselves with it is such a natural and positive thing to do.  And as such, I know it’s time to reclaim our clothes and the pleasure we receive from dressing ourselves from the ugly, exploitative, disposable industry that has become the world of fashion.

Make and wear what you love!  Make and wear what makes you feel good and comfortable!  Make and wear what says “This is me!!!!!”  Step away from the dreary blacks and greys that the clone producing businesses tell us we should wear – let me tell you how many birds flaunt their stuff with black and grey – NONE! – and embrace the energising and cheerful beauty of colour and pattern! And look after it and wear it for as many years or decades as you like and when you no longer want to wear it, add it back into your fabric pile and smile when it pops up in a quilt, or a curtain trimming, or a sweet pair of shorts or dress for little ones.  Or wash it, neatly fold it, and send it off to the oppie where someone like me – or the fabulously stylish and creative folk of Freetown – will pounce upon it with delight and give it another whole new life.

You’ll love it … and our earth will thank you!

 

under the applegum

finding our faraway tree

milkshake and crochet

julian

noah

Fu

Noah and Julian

Julian and fu

upside down

looking up

crochet hook

pakkun

bark stripping

tasty

peaceful pooches

on the quilt

sunlight

under the applegum

front door

sunbeam

so twisty

down to the faraway tree

Early Friday morning, we sat on the porch, third coffees on the table between us, me with my crochet, Julian with his moleskin, and we brainstormed all the things we’d love to achieve around the farm over the weekend.  Then we marked off the most important seven for Friday and set to work.  It was mostly a day of orchard planting.  The raspberry patch was finished off – 5 metres long by 2 metres wide, thoroughly dug over with old duck bedding, liberally seasoned with the neighbour’s horse poo, edged with timber and secured with a nice deep row of poultry netting, steel hoops and black netting.  Nothing can be left to chance around here.  If the ducks don’t get in with their destructive flat feet and jack hammering bills, or the rats and rabbits eat it down to a 1 inch stick, then the rosellas and king parrots annihilate every last bud. We’ve learnt the hard way.

Then we planted plums, pomegranates, peaches, blackcurrants and gooseberries.  At the moment the whole thing looks like a graveyard of sticks with a half dug pond piled with dirt around the edges.  Nothing to show off for sure.  But oh, when I look down from the kitchen window, I dream of what it will look like in a few years time.  The pond will be deep and full, edged by water plants with a lovely rock wall at one end, and ducks and geese cheerfully swimming round and round the water lilies.  Those fruit trees – including the already planted apples, pears, hawthorn and almond will be tall and blooming.  That raspberry patch will be glistening with fat juicy berries.  And off to one side will be the lovely wooden rotunda that Julian and I plot every time we stand amongst the fruit trees – a handmade octagon with no railings but wide steps leading into the orchard from each side and tall roof thickly covered in wisteria. Mmmmmm …..

Anyways – that was Friday’s list.  Yesterday’s was filled with niggledy little tasks that needed finishing off as well the building of a proper, functioning compost system, and the relocating of the sheep.  A big and busy list, that one, but oh so satisfying to tick each thing off.  And last night – when I looked out and could see our five dear sheep on the other side of the house fence – it felt just right.

This morning, we sat at the table with our third coffees and ambitiously checked off the next seven items.  We may even have said “And once we’ve done all that. we’ll start digging the next 10 metre long raspberry patch.” Yes, I ordered 20 more canes (on top of the 10 we planted Friday) and they’re arriving this week – eek!

First on the list … weed whack around the new sheep fence.  But by the time we got down there, we were already discussing number 2 – move the goat tethers over to the field next to the sheep so that they’d have plenty of shade from the nearby small gum grove.  We wandered down amongst the gums to pace out where we needed to start.  The grove was delightfully cool but sun speckled and the kangaroos have been doing a sterling job keeping down the grass.  It was almost the grove of our dreams.

Our talk turned away from weed whacking and goat tethering to … if we cleared this bit here, got rid of that clump of bracken, dragged these logs up to edge the herb garden.  Next thing, Julian was weed whacking in an ever increasing circle around the huge central apple gum whilst I raked and made bush turkey styled piles ready to be carted off to the bonfire.  We plotted where we would put a rustic wooden table and benches.  We ooohed and ahhhed about how lovely it would be to sit down here on a hot summer’s day with jugs of iced lemon and mint water.  I dreamed of slipping away to wile away the hours with needles, wool and books.

Then, pushing all thoughts of lists and chores away, Julian weed whacked us the perfect path back to the house where we made icy cold banana milkshakes, dug out the picnic quilt, coaxed Noah away from his laptop, and returned to the applegum.

Julian shook out the quilt and we all plonked down.  Through the trees, green fields dotted with cows, rolled away to the north, and mountains loomed to the west.  A spider scuttled across the quilt and Noah caught it in his gumboot – he says it was the first thing that came to hand.  A pair of kookaburras sat above us in the tree, cackling away.  Pakkun tried her hardest to share our milkshakes whilst Fu snuffled about in the grass, and the nearby sheep mooed.  I stitched away at my granny bolster cover, and Julian stripped the bark away from a narrow log he plans to turn into a tamper handle (pond digging stuff)

It was blissful and as I looked up I realised we were really sitting under the Faraway tree!  I pointed out the little doors and porches to Noah and stared up into the sun kissed, twisty turning branches wondering what Silky and Moonface were up to.  I don’t know that Noah was quite as bewitched as I :-)

I adored the Magic Faraway Tree books when I was little.  I read them over and over and over and wished, for the umpteenth time, that I could live a life as wonderful, mysterious and magical as the children in Enid Blyton’s books.  You know, I daresay this was the start of my passion for the English countryside.  It was patently obvious to me that the grand adventures of the Famous Five, the Adventurous Four and of course Jo, Bessie and Fanny could never happen in Australia.  You clearly had to be in the English countryside to camp out in abandoned castles, capture smugglers, rescue kidnapped European princes, and spend lovely days up a tree with the Faraway Tree folk.  Sigh.

And as I sat under our beautiful Faraway Tree, I realised that it was never the promise of that magical land at the top of the tree that really drew me into these books.  I even remember skipping over those bits.  What I truly loved were the homes the funny little people of Faraway Tree – and later, Roald Dahl’s Minpins and Mary Norton’s The Borrowers – created.  The cosiness, the warmth and welcome (mostly), the nooks and crannies, the corners filled with fascinating items, and especially the fabulous make do philosophy they all embraced as they built their wee homes, turning other people’s cast offs into the loveliest of belongings.

I didn’t care about running around in Candy Land or whatever had zoomed in that week.  I longed to peek into little sitting rooms, and take tea by the fireside with people whose lives revolved around the dear little homes they had built all by themselves.  I wanted to live there with them.  I wanted to build my own home just as lovely and creative as theirs. And I wanted them to come visit me.

Forty years later, and I don’t believe I’ve changed one bit :-)  Here we are, Julian and I, building our little home bit by bit.  Weekend by weekend.  Making use of what we find, what other people cast away.  Building it by hand.  Making it so utterly descriptive of just who we are, what we love, and what’s important to us.

Making it cosy.  Making it welcoming.  Making it creative.  Making it ours.

 

done

sunny and hunflower bread

So many years ago, when Julian and I first set up home in a tiny flat in Paddington, we used to frequent a small strip of old shops in Auchenflower.  There was a magnificent European style delicatessen that was literally packed to the roof with preserved meats, unheard of cheeses and exotic chocolates, an excellent wine cellar, a newsagent that always had my favourite English Country Living, and a bakery that on Saturday baked Honey and Sunflower Bread.

My idea of the perfect Saturday was for me to stay in bed with a cup of tea and some cross stitch whilst Julian rode over to the shops for the newspapers, magazines, special treats for lunch and of course the Honey and Sunflower Bread.  He’d return with an overflowing backpack, hop back into bed with me and we’d spend the next few hours reading the papers and eating thick slabs of bread with almost as thick slabs of cold butter.  It was perfect.

I’ve never visited a bakery since that bakes this bread.  But it has always stayed so fresh and good in my memories.  Especially since that Saturday morning when I went to the bakery and asked for Sunny and Hunflower bread and everybody laughed and laughed :-)

So, since I’ve been so enjoying making bread again – and having it turn out just lovely with very little effort – thanks to the ever so helpful and encouraging Rhonda of Down to Earth Living – I decided to try baking my own Honey and Sunflower bread.  And it turned out beautifully.  And we ate it with thick slabs of cold butter.  And reminisced about the little shops in Auchenflower.  And laughed again about Sunny and Hunflower.

And because several people on Instagram asked, I thought I’d share a wee photo tutorial on how to make your own Hunny and Sunflower bread. Here we go …

Step 1

The night before you want your bread, mix the dough before going to bed.  In a large bowl, add 3 cups of bakers flour, 1 cup of sunflower kernels and 2 teaspoons of dried yeast granules.  Whisk about until they are well blended.  Then add 1 teaspoon of salt.  Whisk about again.  Next, add 2 cups of water (just tap water is fine), 60g of runny honey,  and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  With a wooden spoon, stir this into the flour mix until well combined – you might need to add a little more water – but do so just a couple of tablespoons at a time otherwise it will be too sticky in the morning.  When you have a shaggy and sticky but well mixed dough, cover the bowl.  I use a beeswax wrap – you could easily use a tea towel with the edges tucked under, or a clean shower cap.  Leave sitting on the kitchen bench – you don’t need any heat – my kitchen is currently around 8 degrees overnight and it works fine – and go to bed knowing that in the morning, you are going to have the loveliest fresh, homebaked bread!
all the airbubbles

Step 2

Look at that risen dough!  Full of air and smelling of yeasty goodness!  Sprinkle some extra bakers flour on your kneading surface (I use a wooden bread board), some on your hands, and some on the surface of the dough.  Remember its pretty sticky.

overnight rise

Step 3

Pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl.  This is my favourite step.  I love seeing how the yeast worked its magic overnight.  So stretchy!  So bubbly!

pull it out

Step 4

Place dough on well floured surface and knead lightly for no more than 5 minutes.

just a quick knead

I use a poor imitation of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s method (poor but effective!) – leaving the dough on the board, I pull the end closest to me towards me – stretching the dough out …

stretch

… then, I lift the pulled out end up and fold it back over the top end …

fold

… turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat.  Every second pull, fold and turn, I flip the dough over.  I do this no more than 10 times.

turn

Step 5

Now, leaving your dough on the bread board, spin the dough round and round whilst keeping one hand on top and firmly tucking the bottom edge under with the other hand.  I do this about 1o times.  The top becomes your presentable surface and the bottom gets a bit of a fold in it.
IMG_0473

Step 6

Place your beautiful, barely kneaded dough into a generously floured proving basket.  Proving baskets are little rattan baskets lined with calico.  We recently bought some because that’s what they use in Julian’s sourdough book.  You could easily use a bowl lined with a well floured teatowel.

ready for the basket

in the basket

Step 7

Cover your dough in its proving basket – again, I use a beeswax wrap, but you could use a floured teatowel – and place in a warm spot to rise.  If it’s a sunny day I stick mine on the north facing (where all the sun comes from in the morning) porch railing.  I’ve also put it on the wood burning stove – on the turned on coffee machine – and even on top of the turned on Xbox.  Any warm spot will do.  Leave for 45 minutes.  At the 30 minute mark, turn your oven on to 260 celsius (that’s as hot as mine goes) and put the well floured container you will be baking your bread into the oven to heat up.
cover and put in a warm spot

Look at that!  So blossoming!  So sunflowery!  So ready for the oven.

risen

Step 8

I bake my bread in an old Romertopf I bought in those early days of feathering our nest.  It seemed exotic, old fashioned and useful at the same time – all my favourite things – and has given us over 20 years of excellent service.  Julian uses an inexpensive cast iron Dutch Oven that was bought at the camping store for his bread baking.  Both provide a lovely heaviness, excellent heat distribution, and having a lid that seals creates the highly desirable steamy atmosphere needed to create a delicious crisp crust on your loaf.  Now your baking container has been heating up for 15 minutes.  Take it out of the oven (don’t leave the door open) and carefully lift your glorious dough out of the proving basket and into the hot container.  Put on the lid.  Pop it back in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

into the heated romerotpf

Step 9

When that timer dings, take your container out of the oven.  Take off the lid and inhale that delicious steamy breadiness!  So good.

Give it five minutes rest, then carefully lift the bread out and set to cool on a wire cooling rack.  I cover the bread with a tea towel at this point.  Cooling it on a wire rack allows the bottom of the bread to dry out.  If you leave it in the container, the bottom will become damp and soggy.
done

Step 10

Huzzah!  You have now baked a beautiful loaf of Sunny and Hunflower Bread!  And the whole thing only took up to 10 minutes effort last night.  Then only 10 minutes effort this morning.  Then a bit of proving and baking, during which time you had a coffee, did some other chores, or sat and knitted. Or you might have done the school run – extra brownie points for you!  And what a treat you receive in return!

When it’s cooled a little, slice with a sharp serrated knife, smother with butter and savour every mouthful.

Hopefully I’ve written this out in a coherent manner.  If you find something that doesn’t make sense or doesn’t work for you, let me know and I’ll see what I can fix.

Now it’s Friday night.  We’ve planted fruit trees all day.  I’m stiff and tired but Julian’s cooked a lovely supper.  And later, before I stagger off to bed, I shall mix up some Sunny and Hunflower dough.

Because tomorrow is Saturday morning …

 

on the sofa

grey with a splash of colour

fabric choices

first stripe on

pins

all in a row

off we qui;t

like ocean washed sand

chair

binding

with pug

one corner

one fold

the pocket

with sun

one valley

on the porch

in the garden

with wind

still blowing

the whole quilt

on the sofa

If you’d told me last year – or any of the last six – that I would love making quilts with swathes of grey I would have hooted out loud.  Why on earth would I do that when I was so often drenched in the grey of Melbourne’s mercurial weather and inner city living.  Honestly, when there would finally be a splash of sun after a week of heavy grey, especially in winter, I would almost cry with relief.

But here, on the glorious south coast of NSW – glittering sea to our east, smudgy purple mountains to our west, and rolling green hills and huge old gums round every bend – why, I’ve come to really like the soft smooshiness of grey.  So much so that first I started making an exploding star quilt with 5 different pieces of grey and was so excited by that, I bought I few more pieces and started making a very simple quilt to hang behind the newly restored antique organ.  In my head, four simple squares of four simple grey stripes, each turned a different way, with a riotous ribbon of all the favourite fabrics that were going into the exploding star and had already been stitched into the little houses quilt (still to quilt and share that one), finished with more simple grey then a turquoise binding.  Hung behind the organ (hiding a redundant door).  Looking just tickety-boo!

Within a handful of days the quilt was pieced, pinned out onto a lovely cream blanket (didn’t want any checks or stripes showing through those soft smooshy greys), quilted with the best squiggly wiggly I’ve ever managed, bound, a hanging pocket sewn on and boom!  Ready to hang.  With Noah at the dining table drawing – patiently jumping to help everytime I shrieked – and the fabulous Juliet Stevenson reading Elizabeth Goudge’s sweet tale of the Little White Horse in the background, I armed myself with ladder, hand drill, screwdriver and ruler to hang my first quilt at Wombat hill.  Such bliss!

Except it looked ridiculously awful!  I think it’s a beautiful quilt – I love it!  And would cheerfully make it again and again and again with different colour combinations etc.  It was a very satisfying make and looks serene and fresh at the same time – but with this lovely splash of colour that draws your eye, begging you to say “Oh look!  There’s birds and unicorns and little girls playing hopscotch and foxes hiding amongst the foliage, and dachshunds that make me think of Toph, and pheasants strutting across the fields, and Kaffe (there’s always Kaffe) and wow! look at that glorious , favourite ever Anna Maria Horner mustard floral!”

Even better, it is related to the little houses quilt and the exploding star quilt.  I adore when I gather together a melee of prints – fat quarters, half metres, specially bought, dug out of boxes, trimmed off skirts – that I so love putting together and using over and over.  They bloom into my “cousin quilts” and make me smile when I look at them.

Nevertheless – despite almost an hour’s awkward effort with that ladder, hand drill, screw driver and ruler – my grey with a splash of colour looked stupid behind the organ.  Wrong dimensions, wrong colour (the greys blended too much into the off white wall) – and just way too crisp for an extravagantly turned and carved Victorian bellows organ with mirrors and candle holders.  Sigh. One of those moments.

Thankfully, after I’d climbed back up the ladder, and Noah and I slid the quilt off its hanging rod and dropped it onto the sofa in a huff … we realised that was exactly where grey with a splash of colour was meant to be.  On the plain white sofa, against the glowing yolky yellow walls of the living room.  Reflecting the wonderful, riotous colours of fields and trees, animals and flowers, sky and sunshine just outside the glass doors.  With the richly coloured Persian rug at it’s feet, and the needlepoint cushions resting in its corners.

And two dogs.  Of course.