afternoons in the summer backgarden

 

Living in Melbourne for the last 5 years has granted me an entirely new appreciation for the sun and its warmth, for brightness and colourful cheer.  One could almost call it an obsession.  See, in Brisbane, it is almost always hot and usually sunny.  There is so much colour and brightness it almost verges on the garish, and our upper legs were usually stuck together with sweat!  Gosh – we thought it was terrifically exciting to have a cool grey day and couldn’t wait to break out the woolies – even if it meant we had to sit under the swirling ceiling fans to really enjoy wearing them :-)

But here in Melbourne there are soooooooooo many bleak grey days that when the sun does shine I cannot bear to sit inside.  I’m not overly fond of sitting by myself either so, if there’s family around I drag them out into the garden too.  We set up the banana lounges (hard rubbished from an incredibly posh house on Beach road in Sandringham!), lay out a quilt and cushions, bring out our reading, drawing, knitting, crocheting, sewing … whatever takes our fancy, make up trays of drinks, tea, snacks, and soak up every last moment.

The dogs, of course, come voluntarily … they think its fabulous when we “play” in their territory.  They rush around and make sure the cheeky rabbits are behaving, those dastardly birds are staying away, and that there’s no alarming or new smells to be found,  then they flop down next to us, their eyes squinty shut in the sunlight and snooze. Oh we do love them so!

Now, we are heading into the last weeks of summer … soon the leaves will fall from the oak, the days will become so much shorter, the sitting room, with its cosy lamps, will become our favoured spot.  But for now – we will take every summery moment that’s offered, with even the humblest parts of the backgarden aglow and colourful

It’s so good for my soul.

curry plant

sun dappled quilt

mum knitting

a basket of wool

turquoise feet

even the washing basket glows

surely the last potato

lucy

Fu

child

tea

mum and tea

such a rainbow of a cardie

the bag

So I had this bag of Zara I bought at Wondoflex’s Annual Spring Sale.  I was certain there would be something I could do with it and the colours were oh so pretty.  Within minutes of arriving home, I found the perfect pattern – Alpinia by Claire Slade.  So pretty.  Simple.  And could probably be made using just these three hundred grams. But in the months leading up to Christmas, I had so many other projects in the knitting basket (oh alright! baskets!), that I simply couldn’t justify casting on yet another cardigan.

the wool

But once we were home from our summer holidays – during which I so adored knitting Mum’s Pitch – and work/school was in full swing – oh I so longed for a quick and pretty knit.  Absolutely nothing else was rocking my boat, so I hunted down the bag of Zara, printed off Alpinia, bought some new needles (that’s one of the more irritating dilemmas of having too many things on the needles – you run out of needles), and got stuck into the loveliness that is creating a knitted yoke.

the yoke

Folks this is truly the perfect knitting project.  A beautiful yoke.  Pretty eyelets.  Easy peasy super squeezy construction.  Sheer pleasure to knit.  And boy did it knit up fast!  I can’t wait to knit another!  Maybe a wonderful green one.  Yes, definitely green.  Maybe I’ll even call into Wondoflex tomorrow on my way to work and find just the right green ;-)

finished

So here’s my Rainbow Alpinia in all its crazy, stripey loveliness (ravelled here).  Now the 300g would probably have done it – I have quite a bit of pink left over but I by the time I reached the body, I didn’t want it to be overwhelmingly pinky so I headed back to Wondoflex and bought two more balls – mustard and more of the purple.  With hindsight, I should have bought some more of that dark aqua I started with, just to tie it altogether a bit better – oh well.

close up right

See, I’m reminding myself that part of knitting from just scraps – $10 scraps at that – is definitely the discipline of making do with what you have.  I probably would never have chosen some of these colours by themselves but thrown all together, I love every stripe.

back

edge of seleeve

pinks and yellows

yellows and purple

lovely eyelets

Alas, I have only had one opportunity to wear it and that was certainly stretching it – truly it wasn’t really cool enough, but hey!  When you’ve knitted your little fingers off in less than 2 weeks, of course you want to pop on the new cardie and give it an outing :-)

back of yoke

buttons
close up of front of yoke

And what pray tell am I doing here … why casting on the next knit!  Mum and I are having a wee bit of a competition.  We’re both knitting up Heidi Kirrmaier’s Climb Every Mountain.  Me in a mauvey gray, Mum in a bluey grey.  Both Cleckheaton, both from Wondoflex.  I’m definitely in a Cleckheaton mood at the moment.  Now, Mum should really win this little event as let’s face it, she’s retired and I’ve just joined the working world.

knitting the next one

However, it would seem that despite a truly dreadful knitting technique, I’m quite a fast knitter.  Makes no sense.  My dear old Nanny is perpetually puzzled that anything wearable makes its way off my needles. But there you go :-) Dreadful, but fast, accurate, with pretty decent tension …. and at the moment, very productive.

It’s all about squeezing in a row here, and another row there and then, as Nanny would say, “Boom done!”  – it’s finished and on my back!  Very satisfying indeed.

 

a little koala

regathering

After working my first weekend – which really, from a nursing perspective, is no different to working a week day, it’s just that sense of knowing that my family and most of the community are enjoying their rest from the working week whilst I’m still working on – today was a much appreciated home day.  It was a little cooler than it has been.  The dining room was full of pretty light.  The house was quiet and tidy.  And there on the piano, was my little koala, started way back in October I think, and still in a scattering of pieces.

pieces

I haven’t used a commercial pattern.  I’ve drafted it myself – from scratch, over and over and over and over.  There have been several versions – some of them truly funny in their dreadfulness.  I finally settled on this design – and set about preparing the body for the arms, legs and head.

patches on the inside

My idea was to machine sew stabilising patches – like joints – on the inside of the body, then machine sew the back of each of the limbs onto the front of the body – through the joints.  Thus protecting the limbs from being prone to tearing off.

looks like a pie

And it worked really well!

turning out

Until my final head turned out way too small. Argh!  Abby tells me – she of the immense doll making experience – that even if the drawn head looks more than fine on the drawn body – and even if the unstuffed head still looks fine on the stuffed body – it will look like a bad case of microcephaly once stuffed.  Apparently you need to make the head BIGGER because when it is stuffed it sort of shrinks.  So the first head had to be discarded.  Bum!  And the body unstuffed.  Double bum!  It was soon after that, that the koala found herself abandoned on the piano.

head and stuffing

But today, I was determined to finish her off.  So much time and effort had gone into the creative process, and the fabric was so pretty.  It just had to happen.  Thus, the knitting was laid aside.  A cup of tea was made.  A story tape put on.  And off I set with my stab stitch and blanket stitching.

pinned patches

at last

And as often happens, when projects have been left idle for a loooooooong time, the finishing off was nowhere near as arduous and lengthy as I expected.  However, it did require an unexpected trip to Winterwood for stuffing.  Oh well – I’ve never been one to say no to a trip to the lovely Winterwood :-)

in amongst the curry plant

close up of face

with log

close up of leg

Finally, with the late summer sun just tilting over the trees, my sweet little koala was finished and ready for photos.  Isn’t light funny stuff – she looked positively spot lit in the setting sun – I was waiting for her to burst into operatic song.

little paws

like shes spotlit

Here’s the back – I ladder stitched her head onto the front of the body.  I like this construction – will definitely do it again.

from the back

And here she is in a tree!  Looking right at home, I might say.  Even if it isn’t a gum!  We don’t actually have any gum trees near us – all very European – oaks, elms, birches, and ornamental fruit trees.  There are some gums down at the Caulfield Park but they are sooooo tall there are no branches even remotely low enough for me or my little koala to reach.

in a tree

Never mind.  It’s only another 11 months and we’ll be in the beautiful Bega Valley and there will be PLENTY of gums for her to spend her days in.  And next – I have the fabric for a little wombat, a black wallaby, and a whale.  They’ll be the Bega Valley Collection.  And maybe I may even write up the patterns – with stories.  Now that would be truly lovely!

looking up

7 edwardian chairs :: a mother daughter tradition

beautiful detail

Late last year, just after I’d had one of my huge and infamous rearranges – where the front room was dismantled, its furniture redistributed about the house, the living room shoved into the front room, the dining room recreated in the middle room, and the kitchen transformed into a working kitchen divided by a sideboard with a lovely cosy study / armchair area set up in the nook – I decided what I “really needed” was a lovely armchair to sit in the corner of the dining room, in front of the bookcases.

I scoured the opshops, the footpaths … and a long time favourite, good old eBay.

At first, my imagination was filled with those extravagant French styled armchairs with their ornately carved backs, rolled arms, Queen Anne legs, and outrageous floral velvet upholstery.  I found a lovely pair in Sydney – green and cream velvet floral – awesome price – but they were in Sydney.  I even considered driving up and fetching them – what an adventure that would be!

Hmmmm … I would have had to have a towbar installed on the car and bought a trailer.  More then possibly a wee bit extravagant.  But Julian was away for the month and anything seems possible when Julian’s away :-)  However, when I ran my grand plan past Abby, she merely raised her eyebrows and went back to her books.  I took that as a no.

In fact, there were heaps of lovely armchairs in Sydney and all at good prices.  Here in Melbourne – no, no, no.  I rarely saw any, and when I did, they were way out of my price range.  So I loosened up my expectations and quickly found a gathering of seven Edwardian chairs – two armchairs and five dining chairs – in various stageses of reupholstering – that were an incredibly reasonable price, right here in Melbourne.  No one else bid on them and a few days later, I was the gleeful “winner”!

the chair

Now, there were six more chairs than I had originally anticipated buying but I figured a pair of armchairs was always better than just one lonely one.  And five gorgeous dining chairs would always come in handy.  Most extraordinarily, I bought the whole lot for just $120.  Can you believe that?!?!?  Seven beautiful Edwardian chairs for less than $20 each.  Oh my goodness.  I felt like I was robbing the previous owner, but that’s the spin of the eBay wheel, isn’t it.

However, it did mean two trips to bring them home which turned into an all day adventure whereupon I also got to meet a sweet family and hear a lovely, lovely story about my new chairs.  And as I’ve mentioned before, I always love furniture that comes with a good story, and this one is especially touching because it describes just the kind of relationship and adventures I have with my lovely mum.

tricky bits

In the late 1960s, a young woman – recently married and hoping to start a family – hunted through the antique stores with her mum for Edwardian dining and arm chairs they could restore.  Her mum had been taught upholstery by an elderly aunt – the young woman vividly remembered going to visit her great aunt in the countryside where she would play whilst her mother and great aunt would work away at their antiques and upholstery.

Eventually she too learnt the skills and when she was setting up her own home, she and her mum knew just the chairs they wanted.  They found these seven, brought them home, and set to work.

Their work was slow, meticulous and employed traditional techniques.  The chairs were carefully webbed.  Their springs were handstitched with jute twine.  The backs of the armchairs were buttoned through hessian that covered carefully layered and stitched coconut fibre and upholstery wadding.  Calico lining and upholstery fabrics were perfectly stretched and tacked into place with blued tacks.
beautifully webbed

But then the young woman fell pregnant with twins and it was hard to find the hours needed to keep working on the chairs.  Nevertheless, they kept at it, bit by bit, and her little girl (one of the twins) was now making her own memories of playing in the garden on weekends whilst her mum and grandmother upholstered chairs.  She thought it was just what mums and grandmothers did!

This bit made me laugh – that’s exactly what Abby thought when she was little.  When asked what she got up to on the weekend, she would answer “Oh stripping with Mum and Nan as usual!”  People were always a little bemused by just what “stripping” was.

However, life became busier and busier.  Eventually the great aunt – bestower of all upholstery knowledge – passed away and then so did the young woman’s mother.  The chairs moved further and further into the dark corners of the garage and were almost forgotten.

Then, decades later, the time came when the young woman was now becoming older and more frail herself and needed to sort through a lifetime’s belongings and move into a smaller, more easily managed home.  And there – in the garage – were the seven chairs.

gathering of tools

The chairs brought back so many lovely memories and she was in a quandary about what to do with them.  She felt sad that she and her mum had not managed to finish them.  But she no longer possessed the skills required to finish them off, and even if they were finished, had nowhere to put them in her new home.  Nor did her children need or want them.

No antique dealers were interested.  She couldn’t imagine giving them to an opshop – even less putting them out for hard rubbish.  So her son-in-law offered to put them on eBay where hopefully someone would see that same beauty and promise spied by her and her mother all those years ago.

tapemeasure

Well, I think the perfect person did ;-) Together, the older lady and I examined the chairs – ooohed and ahhed over the lovely woodwork, and delighted in the still excellent upholstery.  I described my experience with upholstery – I spent two years attending weekend classes at the Holmesglen TAFE here in Melbourne – and we discussed fabric and braid options.

We talked embroidery, knitting, patchwork and antiques.  And I shared funny stories about the furniture adventures Mum and I have had, our methods for restoring furniture, and the lovely treasures we have found over the years, and filled our homes with.

It was a lovely day, and the woman, her daughter and son-in-law were all delighted that the chairs had not just found a very suitable home, but a much valued tradition of mother and daughter, working together, would be continued.

positioning the roses

measuring

So this weekend, with my Mum newly returned from her Christmas adventures in Canada, we tackled the loveliest of the chairs.  Look at that carving on the back – it is so beautiful!  I wonder whether it was intended as a dining chair or whether it sat on an altar in a lovely old church.  You know how in Catholic and Anglican churches you often see beautiful chairs lined up for the different attendants to sit on during mass, yes?  Now, this one sits at my desk in the kitchen.  It’s just perfect.

fiddling with corners

tacked corner

And I found the perfect toile in the sewing shed – bought for something else of course, that never eventuated, but that’s the way things go sometimes.  It’s a linen/cotton blend with a lovely firm hand.  Just right for upholstery and such an appropriate pattern for chairs that have elegant, swirly flowers and leaves carved into their wood.

tucking in the edges

flattening the tacks

I daresay, Mum and I too will take our time with these chairs :-)  Let’s face it – we’re no professionals and every step taken is checked against my notes and books, then ummmmed and ahhhhhed over and carefully tested before we settle on the best way to move along.

And who knows, maybe one day soon, Abby and I will be finishing off a couple for her future home.

pondering the back

adding some blanket

And of course, there are funny mistakes that need to be ripped out and redone.  After doing such a careful and satisfying job on the seat and front of back, we completely lost the plot on the back of the back.

We were so engrossed with getting the rose perfectly centred and balanced along the edge, we failed to notice we had moved the fabric 3 inches up and after tacking it down, it had no HOPE of reaching the bottom!  What silly billies!

Another moment that had us in fits of laughter was when we finally realised – after a whole afternoon of wondering why the staple gun was not working properly – all the staples were loose, no matter how hard we pushed, and had to be banged in the last few millimetres with the hammer – that the setting had been bumped from 6 (nice and tight) to 2 (hopeless).

loose staples tight staples

However, that’s just the way mother-daughter restoration rolls.  Don’t you think?  Full of experiments and victories, flops and giggles, hours of pleasure, the creating of wonderful memories, and a life-long, shared appreciation of the old and lovely.

Yes, these seven Edwardian chairs have settled into our home beautifully.  It was meant to be.