recently read

I’ve read some real humdingers lately … books that have kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning, have made me roll around the bed laughing until tears roll down my face, have seen my eyes pop out in amazement, left me sitting at the breakfast table until well past when we SHOULD have made a move describing a particularly poignant scene to Abby, and begging Julian to listen because “you’ll never read it, will you, so just let me tell you – it was extraordinary!”

And so I thought it must be time to share a few …

Well … there’s not much I can say about Gone Girl without completely destroying the premise for you.  In fact, don’t read the reviews on Amazon – despite declaring that they contain no plot spoilers, they do.  So I shall simply say, very carefully, it’s about a woman called Amy who disappears from her house on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary.  Her husband Nick is frantic.  I shall say no more.  Did I enjoy reading it – oh yes!  Would I read it again – oh yes!  Do I recommend it – oh yes!  Would I call it a thriller – absolutely not.  More like a very very black comedy – a book of despair and bleakness that pokes the reader with a sharp needle, making me sit up and acknowledge my own flaws and failings.

The character development is fabulous – there are characters who you never feel comfortable with – in fact, I didn’t really become overly fond of any of them.  But they were engaging that’s for sure.  As for her descriptions of life in and the social and economic landscapes of Manhattan vs. Missouri – incredible.  At times, Flynn enmeshes her reader in environments that are so cringingly uncomfortable – positively Dickensian –  that you wonder what kind of future any of these people have.  Read it.  I would call it a light read – certainly not good literature – and it won’t take you long but you’ll never forget it!

Hee! hee! hee! hee!  I love Colin Cotterill.  I must confess, when I learned that he had ditched Dr. Siri, the septogenarian pathologist from Laos, for Jimm Juree, the unemployed journalist from Thailand who is just desperate to crack a big story after moving south to a derelict holiday resort with her family, I was very petulant.  I didn’t think this young upstart could hold a candle to the marvellous Siri, and I wasn’t sure I would find descriptions of modern Thailand anywhere near as entrancing as post war Laos. Wrong!  Totally different in one way – i.e. environment and people – but classic Cotterill in the other.  These are the first two in what I’m sure will be a new series.

Wacky cast of characters – some real gems – some are a little stereotyped but others – like Ed the fisherman and the local Buddhist nun are really sympathetically drawn.  The family is delightfully loopy – Mair, the mother who is beginning to unravel a little, Granddad Jah a bitter, almost silent ex-traffic policeman, Sissi the transexual computer hacker, Arny the body builder, and a menagerie of grotty dogs.  Lieutenant Chompu is divine.  If you’ve been to South East Asia, you can just imagine the village – hot, hot, hot, and exceptionally muggy where the most sensible thing to do is sprawl (you can’t sit, too many parts of you stick together with sweat if you sit, you must sprawl) in the shade with the fan pointed directly at you, and do not move until it is absolutely necessary .  Cotterill sets the scenes so beautifully – he has a magical way with descriptions – they not only leave you laughing out loud, but you can feel the steamy, damp settling into your hair, your eyes squint in the glare, and the smells of Thailand fill your nose and clothes.  The crimes are eccentric – a little creepy, sometimes sinister.  The twists and turns are intriguing and occasionally eye popping.  The political satire is very pointed and witty.   A very fun read – with the first being a bit better than the second.  I raced through the first – mad keen to find out what on earth had happened.  The second was more meandering.

Odd, odd, odd.  Continuing on with my fascination with the Orthodox Jewish culture (yeah, just in case you never heard me mention it, we live in a very Jewish neighbourhood which I find entrancing), this is my first read about life as a *dissatisfied* Hasidic wife.  And boy, Deborah was dissatisfied.  The book has been quite controversial with Deborah’s family and former friends, who vehemently denounce her recollections and storytelling.  I’ve no idea or opinion on whether her writings are fact or fiction.  Did I enjoy reading it – not really.  Would I read it again – no.  It’s a bit clumsy.  I don’t like Deborah’s voice – frankly, she’s a bit of whinger – not that I want to demean her story – it’s her written voice – it’s just not appealing.  She doesn’t have a way with words at all.

But I did read it to the end and it was very informative and at times fascinating – describing aspects of a rigidly traditional and patriarchal society that is usually so utterly closed to the eyes of the outsider.  At the risk of sounding a bit odd, learning about customs such as the ritual baths and the “logic” behind the many rules that control the everyday lives of Hasidic Jewish women makes me look at my neighbours with even more curious eyes. Some of the books I’ve previously read describing life according to the Halacha have left me feeling almost wistful that such a strong and vibrant community is completely out of my reach – such as Seven Blessings, by Ruchama King – I really love this book and have read it a few times now.  But Unorthodox has reminded me that any extreme culture requires conformity and the loss of individual at some level – bit of a pin popping the balloon moment really. So do I recommend it?  Y.e.e.e.e.s. – maybe.  But only if you’re really interested and can borrow it from someone else.

Markovits‘ first novel in English is in total contrast to the previous book.  Not overly sympathetic to the Hasidic lifestyle – especially the treatment of women and the expectation that they will expect NOTHING but a life of servitude to their family, community and faith.  Beautifully written, heartbreakingly sad, compelling character development, fascinating backdrop – starting with the war in Eastern Europe, moving onto Paris and England, and finally Brooklyn.

The theme that I was most drawn to was that of righteousness.  What is it?  Who decides? Is it ever okay to deviate?  If so, when and why?  Are men held to a different standard of righteousness then women?  The terrifying power one moment’s desperate indiscretion has to destroy many lives.  Can individual responsibility really exist when every single aspect of your life is so curtailed/shaped by religious law?  It’s a really good book.  Terribly sad. But really good.  If you’re interested in Hasidic life, then yes, read it.  You’ll be engrossed.

Ahhhh …. deep cleansing breath.  Complete change of pace here.  An utterly wonderful, funny, poignant, fascinating, inspiring account of a pair of young farmers, determined to create a better way of living and share it with their community.  I loved it.  Oh there were parts that were so sad – had to describe them to the family in great detail – such as the fate of the poor wee Jersey cow.  Kristin is delightful – and her style of writing, really appealing.  As for her husband Mark – I just adored him!  Like a cowboy, even more eccentric, version of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

It’s not rose coloured and romantic – for instance, their farm house sounds truly revolting.  I would go BATTY putting up with it.  And the work is hard, hard, hard, hard, hard, sometimes heartbreakingly unrewarding, painful and very very dirty.  Fabulous read.  Highly, highly recommended.  Especially if you enjoy the countryside and have any farming dreams.

Okay.  I don’t think Bella Bathurst is a great writer.  And in the hands of someone whose words flow and bloom, the Lighthouse Stevensons could have read like Treasure Island itself.  However, Ms. Bathurst provides a very sensible, well written and meticulous (at least it seems to me!) account of Robert Louis Stevenson’s incredible family and their passion for lighthouses.  Can you believe that for more than one hundred years, one family was responsible for building every lighthouse along the Scottish coast.  And even if the style is pedestrian at times … there’s a bit of “dum-dee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum” if you get my drift … the content is so utterly fascinating and the feats achieved by these men against the most mercurial seas and dangerous conditions, that the Lighthouse Stevensons is a compulsive read.  I adored it.  It will provide you with endless trivia to share :-)

Yes, if you share my lifelong love of lighthouses and have a shivery fascination for wild seas and terrible storms and bleak, lonely razor sharp rocky outposts … then this is the book for you!  Unbelievable stuff.  Just awesome.  And what a cast of characters – especially the old granddad.  I especially loved how it showed Edinburgh – unlike the cities of England – to be a place where education and hard work was enough to transform your life.  No need for family wealth or a title.  And it really reveals the marvellous disposition the Scots had for learning, experimentation and engineering.  What a bunch of clever clogs.  Would I read it again – yes!  Do I recommend it – yes!

Okay – can’t say too much about this final read, because I’ve only just started it.  However, it is FANTASTIC and I LOVE it!!!!!  :-) :-) :-)  Utterly divine!  Told in the first person by Professor Don Tillman who spends his days in his genetics laboratory here in Melbourne, getting mice drunk.  What a gorgeous fellow – a strong streak of Aspergers, unwittingly leaves you rolling around in bed laughing.  Oh so appealing – you just want Don to win and have a marvellous time whilst he’s doing it.

You see, he wants to get married … oh, even if you just read it for the description of his friendship with his elderly neighbour and her love of daphne, it brings tears to my eyes just writing this … but he’s had no luck thus far.  So – he decides to approach finding a wife in a more scientifically rigorous manner.  Really – just ignore the rest of the books on this post and just read The Rosie Project.  I guarantee you’ll be emailing me, with a smile from ear to ear, exclaiming “Oh my god, lily, thank you so much for introducing me to this book!”

Now … I’m going to bed to read.

sweetwater squares and a wee Roslyn blanket

My extra simple, sweetwater quilt was indeed finished off with the contrasting binding slip stitched into place last Friday eve.  Bliss!

I’m so pleased with the tying.  You can sort of see here how I made simple crosses before tying the thread off – double cross stitches and three layered knots.

I’m especially pleased with how soft the quilt is.  It drapes beautifully – a heavily quilted quilt is so much heavier and more rigid.  This is pure softness – just right for snuggling.

The fabrics are so lovely – they look so much like boardshorts that this quilt will always be a “summer” quilt to me.  And I love the plain fabrics too – I’m really getting into plain fabrics.  Isn’t that ballet pink so pretty?  I’m contemplating buying a few of those plain jelly rolls from Moda and then paying Abby to cut a heap of my scraps up into 2 1/2 inch squares and making a ginormous sort of Irish chain quilt.  Mmmm ….  or I could be truly lazy and extravagant, leave Abby out of the equation, and just indulge in some of the mini-charm packs to go with the jelly rolls.  There are so many lovely ranges to choose from … Chateau Rouge, Everlastings, Flirt,  La Belle Fleur, The Morris Apprentice … we are utterly spoiled for fabric choices aren’t we.

I love how the cross stitches “dimple” the blanket backing – so pretty.  And this one has a lovely check.  Mmmmmm ….

And I carefully made sure to incorporate the label (I usually have to trim the blankets to fit the quilt tops – but I try to use as much of the blanket as I can, and then save all the scraps for smaller projects and bunting etc.) – it’s a Roslyn Health Blanket from New Zealand.  I bet it’s from the South Isle – that’s where most of the sheep are – I googled it and it seems there’s even a suburb named Roslyn in Dunedin (the southern most city of the South Isle) .  A-ha!  Now the power of the internet comes to fore.  There was indeed a woollen mill in Roslyn – it stood in the centre of 14 acres on Kaikorai Road.  The owners were Mr. Ross and Mr. Glendenning (oh that makes me think of The Paradise!)

(source:  Encyclopaedia of New Zealand – Agricultural Processing Industries)

Eeeeeee!  Look at this – I even found a picture of the mill – goodness me, it was quite a concern.  The mill itself was famous for its immensity and strength – needed to counter the vibrations of the heavy machinery.  Behind was the wool store where the bales arrived and were sorted.  There’s a fabulous article here that describes in great detail the mill’s operations.  They had knitting machines for pants, shirts and stockings, and were famous for their weaving of cloth, yarn, flannels, blankets, plaids, tweeds, and rugs.  And mands.  I don’t know what mands are – do you?  I’ve tried looking it up to no avail.  By 1938, they were even making saucy pink swimming suits!  Check this out! (unfortunately I can’t download a copy as it’s available for sale)

( source: Hocken Collections, Library, University of Otago)
I’m assuming these folk are staff from the Mill – there are no further details,
but the university’s website is interactive and there are sections
where members of the public can add detail – so if you know anything!

The mill was such a modern wonder that, when this article was written in 1882, it even had a telephone and Joel’s electric lamps.  The writer predicted that the mill would provide jobs for many of the colony’s hands.  And that it did until the 1960s when the newfangled, man-made (read revolting) textiles began to challenge wool’s supremacy.  In 1960 there were 18 mills in New Zealand producing 10,000 tonnes of yarn, 3 million square metres of woven fabric, 223,000 pairs of blankets, and 67,000 rugs.  By 2000, all of the major mills had closed.  Heartbreaking.  Whilst it doesn’t mention the Rosyln Mill’s demise specifically, the Mosgiel Mill – which merged with the Roslyn Mill in the 1960s – closed in 1980 after 110 years of operation.

(source: Hocken Collections, Library, University of Otago)
Mounting Room

(source: Hocken Collections, Library, University of Otago)
Work room, 1938

(source: Hocken Collections, Library, University of Otago)
Worsted Room, 1938 … oh my, how hard they must have worked.  I find myself peering closely into the face of that young girl in the middle of the front row and whispering … “I have one of your blankets here!  It’s still so beautiful!” and wondering what became of her.  Did she have a family?  Did they stay in Dunedin?
What are her memories of the mill?

Oh my!  You’ve got to look at this – a job advertisement for a new manager for the Roslyn Mill, upon the death of the former manager.  They employed 800 hands and offered a liberal salary …

(source:  The Age, Dec 14, 1941) – that’s our local Melbourne paper :-)

As I think about the plethora of woollen mills that were once scattered across Australia and New Zealand – such a vibrant, vital and creative contribution to our communities – that are now closed, and the number of beautiful woollen blankets that were firmly tucked into people’s beds before the advent of doonas, I feel quite a sense of loss.  All that cleverness, all that work, all that beauty.  Just vanished – poof!  It makes me feel quite anxious that these blankets – probably the only tangible reminders of the glory days – will one day just disappear.  When my future grandchildren visit op-shops I daresay there will be no blankets to find then.  Eeeeee!  Makes me determined to visit every op-shop I pass and greedily hoard these gorgeous things.  I’ve met people who have told me how they’ve taken old family blankets to the DUMP.  Sacre bleu!!

I love the effort and time that was put into the warps and wefts, the colours, the labels, the blanket stitched edgings …  I actually met someone last year whose family OWNED one of the woollen mills (I even have some of their blankets which delighted him no end) – he described being all a bit impatient of his family’s blankets as a teenager – but secretly really loving being part of it all – hanging out at the mill, being there when the bales of wool were delivered.  He confessed that he actually thought one of their rivals did a better blanket stitch … that just made me giggle, the thought of this then young man – adventurous yet sweet – making a quiet study of blanket stitching.

I shall never have enough.  I know that sounds greedy.  But it’s true.  I love them so. Especially their labels.  And their stories – real or imagined.   Truly, tonight I feel so very fortunate that I was able to discover so much about this one wee blanket’s heritage.   Just tickled pink … ballet pink that is ;-)

quilting through the heat

It is freaking hot.  Has been for days.  Dry intense hot.  Yuck.  (see, told you I could whinge, I’ve been practicing all week.)

And – so bizarrely – there’s no cool change!  Melbourne is FAMOUS for its cool changes. CarolAnn will tell you – you walk into the cinema and it’s 42 degrees – you walk out two hours later and it’s 19 degrees.  But this – it’s been getting hotter each day since last Wednesday! Even the weatherman was amazed – he looked at us through that tv screen – straight at us, I swear – and said, “And strangely enough, there’s no cool change coming our way.  That’s right – this heat is just going to keep going.” Oh my god!  That sounds like we are going to miss out on autumn!

The heat drains me.  By the time darkness falls, I just want to lay on the bed in front of the fan.   At least – practicing some gratitude here – my family and home are safe, unlike the poor folk on the northern edges of our city who are facing a night of huge grass fires and dreadful smoke.  That would be terrifying.

So what have I done since it’s been hot … why quilt of course!  Nothing like layers of wool and cloth to make one forget about the heat beating at the back door.  Another reason to be grateful – our house is double brick – very well insulated.  Just before the morning sun hits, we close all the curtains (double layered with insulated backings) and inside the house still hasn’t reached 30 – phew.  Then, long after the sun has gone down, we open everything back up and let the incredibly small amount of night time relief, cool us down a bit.  You know, just to give you the picture, last night the outside temperature did not drop below 28 degrees until 5.30am.  That’s right – 5.30am.  I told you it was hot.

I’m weather obsessed.  I shall stop.  Here – take a look at my kitchen table instead.

A long lost, really pretty quilt top has been laying atop of it since Saturday – discovered in a box on a mad dash to the sewing shed to find something to play with before I melted.  It’s a bit like having a big, complicated jigsaw on the table.  Every time we walk past, we stop and add a few stitches.  Well – Abby and I do.  We haven’t converted Julian yet.  We’ve also had Saturday night cocktails on it, shared breakfast on it, read the papers on it …  good thing I believe in all those quilty mantras about being made to use etc.

And today I completely succumbed.  You see, I have a real problem with watching television during the day – makes me feel atrociously lazy and slothful so I never do it. However, when one is sitting almost motionless and alone for several hours, performing a rather repetitive and simple action, the rambling in one’s head can get a little rowdy.  I need to channel my inner Marcus Aurelius – wipe that imagination and confine myself to the present!

So I’ve decided a good way to do this is to embrace the glowing screen – silence the critical/anxious self talk and lose myself in the joys of ABC’s iVIEW instead.  Today I watched Midsomer Murders (marvellous), The Paradise (fabulous), Great Ormond Street (really cranks up my nursing brain), Midwives (made me cry four times), and Saving Face (made me cry and spit my teeth out and rage about the kitchen – you really should check it out – Julian wants to know why I need to watch things like this – I don’t know, but I do – topic for another discussion I think).  Fab stuff.

Now – I’m almost done.  That’s good because I have a hole in my finger where the needle hits.  But when it stings a little, I think “hee! hee! hee!  that’s because I’ve almost finished quilting/tying a quilt that I started over four years ago. awesome!”

Hope you are cool and comfy where you are.  We hope to be soon.

a quilty revelation

Like so many other patchworky types out there, I have many, many unfinished quilt tops. We’re talking filled packing crates.  And that doesn’t include all those quilt tops that don’t even have the patchwork quite finished.  Every now and then, I plough through one such packing crate and find myself moved to utter many an “oooooh!” and “ahhhhh!”  as I discover long hidden wonders.

Why is this so?  Hm … I’m actually not that fond of quilting.  I adore patchwork.  I love coming up with a new design and finding just the right fabric.  My idea of the most blissful day is to spend it from first light to dusk, piecing away at my machine.

But quilting … not so much.  I’m not a good quilter.  I struggle.  I never seem to have enough space.  It never looks quite like I’d hoped.  I persevere.  Sometimes I even declare that I like it – but that’s probably more affirmative self talk than reality.

Then – the day after we came home from our beach holiday … I BROKE MY QUILTING MACHINE.  Yup.  It didn’t mysteriously stop working, or work half-heartedly.  I BROKE IT.  As I sewed strips of fabric onto a bathmat (making a kitchen mat – I loathe getting wet feet whilst washing up and for some reason I always slosh the water) – my beautiful Husqvarna Mega Quilter made a hideous metallic crunch and the thick, rigid, stem that the needle screws into twisted and gnashed and that was that.

You’d have been proud of me.  I didn’t even cry.  I just sat there with my hands in my lap and said “Well.  That would be that for now.  It will be off to the machine shop with you when we have some money to spare.”  In fact, I think having my sewing machine repaired for my birthday would be the perfect present – did you hear that Jules and Abby?

So any thoughts I had of quilting – working on my and Abby’s quilted desk chairs (yes, they were on the summer holiday to do list),  quilting Abby’s Christmas Moomin quilt, finishing the blue and white little houses quilt, quilting any of those many quilt tops – vanished.

Until today.  See I was hunting through my everyday basket – the one I cart off to university – and at the bottom was this quilt top.  I had taken it to the shops to buy some pretty fabric for a border.  I did buy the fabric, but I used it for something else, and forgot all about this quilt.  Well who needs a border anyway.

And I thought, as I unfolded it and smiled at its summery softness, oooh this would be a lovely thing to do today – quilt it!  I’ll use a wool blanket for the back.  Uh-oh.  The machine’s broken.  And then I thought of hand quilting – slow and torturous – and then I thought of Alicia Paulson’s lovely TIED quilts.  Yes!  Aha!

Needs no machine.  No long, never ending hours.  Just knots.  Surely I could manage that. Oh yes!  I did.  I checked here for a quick tutorial on how to do it – I want those knots to last – and then settled down at the kitchen table to get it done.  I did it a little bit differently – I sort of did a double cross stitch over the join and then tied my triple reef knot.  Extra attached.

And it was fantastic!  Truly!  I’m converted.  Now, obviously I don’t want every quilt I’ve ever made to wind up with knots.  But what an awesome way to get the quilt tops onto batting or blankets, securely and neatly and usably attached, and bound.  Then – later, if so desired – I can add more quilting.  Heck!  I can remove those knots altogether if I feel like it!

This is liberating, folks!  Truly liberating.  This little sweetie is almost done – only needs the binding hand sewn down.  And for the rest of the weekend – why I’m thinking that Moomin quilt will look just dandy with knots.

I don’t know how it’s taken me this many years to recognise the wonder of this traditional and simple technique.  Eeeeeeee!

p.s.  mummy – this is our last block of cheese :-0