Well! You’ll need to settle down with a lovely cup of something to read this one! The lovely and creative Rebecca of Needle and Spindle asked me to participate in this little bloggity hop, where we get to ramble on about the whole creative process as it fits into our lives. It’s taken me hours to collect all these thoughts and put them down in some kind of order, but I do hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did thinking about it, and perhaps it will add a little light to the creative chaos that is so often on display here at block-a-day :-) And once you’ve ploughed your way through this, you can follow the links back to read how other lovely, like minded folk approach their craft. It makes for inspiring reading.
What am I working on?
I always have so many different projects on the go. I adore planning a new project, and starting it provides a thrill that literally makes me smile and jig about and even squeal a little. But finishing – well, I can honestly say, it just doesn’t give me the same zing. Bizarre but true. I am definitely more seduced by the crafty doing than the crafty finish. Is this a good thing or not? At the moment I think it’s a good thing. Starting new projects is my way of recording all the ideas that swirl around my head. And you know, giving these started projects lots of time to marinate – moving them in and out of the doing zone – gives me a chance to refine them, improve them, adapt them to new purposes. All good things.
So – what am I working on? On the knitting front, I am currently knitting my Mum a grey and red stripey jumper (that has to be finished in time for her to take to Canada at the beginning of December), my Abby a vivid purple Lopi jumper that it is now too hot to wear (ah, there’s always next year), my Julian an argyle vest (truth be told, those needles haven’t been touched for months!), and a cinnamon coloured cardigan for myself that has a fair isle band around the chest and upper sleeves.
Patchwork – definitely the black, mustard and turquoise triangles. Started as a simple star that has just kept on growing and growing and growing. It really is quite addictive. And everytime I think, that’s it! no more rounds! I find another piece of lovely fabric and quickly start cutting. And my Spring House version of the Winter House. And my fox faces.
Embroidery – Working on my Norwegian Queen. I got heaps and heaps done last week in Merimbula and am really pleased with her progress. I’m keen to finish this one, because then I want to make a Norwegian King! I’ve also dragged out my Hawk Run Hollow Village cross stitch – quite the epic project.
Applique – oh the fox chair! I am completely in love with the fox chair. It’s been slow going but very very satisfying.
Upholstery – Putting hessian, lace and cross stitch together to recover an old English Oak card chair I found by the side of the road.
Crafty – I’ve recently bought Salley Mavor’s book “Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects” and oh, it is truly enchanting :-) I’ve just made a wee doll of Lucifer – he’s part of a Michaelmas mobile – he’s been pushed out of heaven and is suspended amongst the starts and blackberry leaves and berries. I foresee many many more of these little folk. They are such fun to make.
Sewing – tshirts and skirts for summer. My first two tshirts- great successes – shrank when I washed them. So they’ve been handed down to Mum’s lovely neighbour and I’m now a devoted preshrinker.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I think the thing that really defines my work is my lack of concern for perfection or the “right” way of doing things. Soon after I became really interested in making in my mid 20s, I became obsessed with things being perfect. Lines had to be dead straight. Corners had to be precise. Errors were intolerable. Evidence that it had been MADE rather than conjured up out of the air meant I had failed. And I didn’t think anything I made could stand up to being touched or used by anyone. It was horrible. Stressful for everyone – I remember a friend taking me for a walk through the university garden one lunch time to show me that there were no straight lines in nature. And my husband declared that if something I made couldn’t be USED than it simply wasn’t of any use. After a few years of this my making ground to a halt because I knew I could not make things perfectly. I decided that the only craft I was any good at was cross stitch – making those little crosses neatly on strictly gridded fabric met my need for order and the perfect finish. I literally gave all my wool and knitting needles to my Nanny and declared that I would have to save my few finished quilt tops up until I could afford to pay an expert to quilt them. It was all rather crushing.
Then, after finding the bloggy world of making and being so utterly inspired by so many incredibly talented people, I began making again. I also began blogging and strangely enough, that encouraged me to just keep going. There was always a new blog post to be written ;-) I began playing with many different techniques and genres and it was so fun that I slowly let go of that perfection. I wanted to be a maker – a sewer, a knitter, a crocheter, a doll maker, a patchworker, a quilter, an appliquer … I really worked at teaching myself that the beauty of making was in the making. I didn’t want to be a passive observer, I wanted to actively create.
So my seams are not perfectly straight and my points are sometimes missing. I cheerfully re-chop things if they don’t fit, and if I realise I’ve missed something on the pattern I can usually rejig it so it works. My quilting is higgledy-piggledy and I never bother with batting and backing (vintage blankets all the way). I don’t care what patchwork fabrics are the latest or what colour background the cool quilters are using. I cheerfully make my clothes out of old tablecloths and curtains. My quilts are made from fabrics gathered here, there and everywhere. My knitting is almost always dictated by what my local yarn store has dug up for the bargain basement this week. My furniture is gathered from the side of the road and brought back to life with elbow grease and Danish oil.
I just keep swimming the Lily way and when I’m finished, what I’ve loved making is free to be used and worn and dragged and squashed and crumpled up and that’s all good. If the candlewax drips onto the appliqued table cloth that’s fine. If the armhole stitches are wonky – so what, the jumper is still eminently wearable and cosy. If the little visitor dirties the felt doll, oh well, it looks loved. I don’t even blink when Mum’s old dog pees on my quilt or our dog wipes her chicken wing juicy chin on my crochet floor rug.
That’s not to say my work is clumsy or I am careless. But I think handmade needs to flow in a way that fits in with everything else that is going on. It’s not a precious art form that I set aside a few hours for each day/week or a finished item that needs to be guarded. My work is simply part of our lives, often created amongst the dishes we’ve just eaten from on the kitchen table, and as such, never needs to be perfect or cosseted. Just lovely. And useful is good too.
Why do I write and create the way I do?
You might have noticed, I have no problem with writing on and on and on (I have never been able to write to a word limit – such a constant problem with my academic work :-) and whilst my punctuation is sometimes erratic, my style is rather formal. But, this being my blog, I can write however I like. And I think it probably reflects both the constant chatter in my head, and my love of richly detailed, more old fashioned literature (oh Charles Dickens – you can take as many pages as you like to describe a house!) Honestly, I do talk to myself most of the time. I think it comes from spending a lot of time at home alone – first as a stay at home mum, and now living in Melbourne where I have no family or friends to visit. Instead, I potter about, doing the chores, looking after Abby and Julian, writing essays, or making – a constant stream of quiet chatter keeping me company. Describing what I see around me, what I could do next, how I could proceed with a project, what tack I’ll take on a paper, what I’ll talk about with Abby when I collect her from school, what I’ll write about on the blog, what’s infuriating me in the news, what my worries are for the future … And so my writing reflects this same tumbling chatter. If you were sitting here beside me, I would sound exactly the same in person as I do in writing :-)
Why do I create the way I do – hmmm … I like to do things the old fashioned way. I don’t like our society’s emphasis on new and modern, fashionable and sophisticated, fleeting and disposable. My grandmothers and mum taught me the basics of all my making. Nanny Cottam taught me to knit when I was 8, crochet in my teens, and her love of patchwork inspired me when I was in my early 20s. We went to classes together and have spent countless days side by side at her place, running up clothes, curtains, sofa covers, patchwork etc. on the machine, looking through magazines and books together, plotting our next projects and purchases … my dear old Nanny Cottam is without doubt the most important creative force in my life. Her admonition when the going gets tricky “Now, let’s just sit down and we’ll have a quiet look at it” will guide my creativity for the rest of my days.
Nanny Dougall – who sadly died when I was just 11 – is another huge influence in my life. She was the queen of making do, making from scratch, using what she had, and appreciating beauty. She taught me to handsew when I was little – we made a wee doll’s quilt from little squares from her stash. She started me on my embroidery career – first with making wonky white crosses on blue gingham, then moving on to a Holly Hobbie embroidery kit. And whilst we cared for her during her last weeks, she taught me to make pompoms – I was so amazed with their cleverness. My little sister and I were devastated to wake up one morning and find that she’d died overnight – she was going to teach us to crochet that day. But whilst I never had the chance to spend the time with her that I have with Nanny Cottam, it is what she left me that helps shape my creativity. I have her crochet books, her carefully embroidered doilies, the beautifully crocheted and knitted jumpers and cardigans she made us, the fabric scraps she gathered, the spools of crochet yarn she inherited from her mother, pieces of pretty china, her piano stool, her tin chest. She appreciated what she had, she carefully gathered what was important to her, and she celebrated beauty.
And then there’s my Mum. She’s an exceptional seamstress. She sewed all our clothes when we were little and most of them when we were older. She sewed my school uniforms, my ball gowns, my pregnancy clothes, Abby’s bunny rugs … There has always been a sewing machine set up in the centre of the home, ready to go. Everything we’ve ever seen and liked is matched to the refrain “We could make that”. Mum gave me the invaluable belief that we could make whatever we needed or wanted, and we could make it beautifully. She also let me make stupid things really badly. When I insisted that WAS what the Vogue pattern said to do, she just shrugged her shoulders and said “alright” and I wore the jumpsuit with the lining sewed in with the seams visible and fraying. That was awesome parenting Mum!
So yep. I’m wordy, old fashioned, hopelessly sentimental, determined to do it for myself, and yearn for the days of old when people DID things instead of simply shopped for things.
How does my creative process work?
Hmmm … I think my work is very much shaped by my confidence with that particular genre. When knitting, I tend to stick very carefully to what the pattern says because at this stage in my knitting “career”, I don’t have a good understanding of how knitting patterns are created. All those shapes and increases and decreases are all a bit of a mystery to me. I mean, I know how to do them, but I don’t know how to put them together myself. Thus I am very happy to bow down to the creativity and skill of those that know so much more. However, I do spend a lot of time thinking about the magic of knitting – how did people come to think of winding yarn around sticks and pulling it in and out in different ways to create all kinds of wonderful stitches and build beautiful, warm, hardy fabric. I love that. It makes me feel incredibly connected to something that has intrigued, delighted and protected people for thousands of years.
In most of my other work, my increasing confidence with how things are put together has led me away from the patterns of others. I like to draft my own patterns and most of my projects are inspired by what I see about me, what my family likes or is doing, and especially thinking up ways to add extra handmade decoration to our home and the festivals we celebrate. I adore decoration – I remember seeing the film “Carrington” when I was at university in the late 1980s, watching Dora Carrington and her friends embellish everything around them, and thinking yes! That’s exactly what I want my world/home to be like. Colourful, rich, detailed, so very connected to the past, unique to me and my family (I have a loathing of the homeware catalogue look) and most importantly handmade. I want my work to please me and be lovely and useful for my family but I also want it to show the world what it is we love and value.
The grill door on an Art Deco block of flats in Fitzroy becomes a simple quilt. The photo of a fox in a English rural magazine marries the lovely rounded shape of a hard rubbish chair and becomes a piece of embroidered and appliqued upholstery. The lovely artwork of my Nanny’s Figgjo china collection inspires me to recreate it as embroidery. I see a pretty piece of fabric in the shop and wonder what it could be, what it could go with – it can be as simple as wrapping hebel bricks to make a bookshelf or trim a skirt. A book of antique samplers inspires the start of a huge and complex quilt with hundreds of tiny pieces and seams. A collection of coloured china on the draining rack makes me want to sew a quilt or knit a stripey jumper capturing just that light and colour. It comes from everywhere, my creativity
Most of all, it’s very spontaneous and cheerfully repurposes what was bought for another project because at that moment, it’s the perfectly right thing to do.
Wow! We made it to the end! Now. I am supposed to be linking you to another maker however, with the end of the school term, a quick holiday in Merimbula, and Julian’s departure on a month long work trip to addle my brain, I’ve not lined anyone up. I’m so sorry. However, I am sending out some emails right now so I will let you know where to visit next as soon as I can :-)
While you wait – go make something – it’s just so good.