an unexpected love of rope & baskets

crochet basket


julians basket

ostheimer basket



scrap basket

next to tv

close up rickrack

adding colour

the loopy mat

beeswax wraps basket

fork hook

detail in yellow

basket with flowers

kitchenaid basket

noahs basket

drawstring top

paint basket

I’ve always loved baskets – from the hard bottomed baskets of my childhood with their colourful pieces of narrow plastic piping intertwined, to the soft seagrass baskets of the mid 1980s with their long leather straps, and now the bolga baskets with their stripes and malleable sides.

I still have the sewing basket my Nanny Dougall gave me when I was little – and have since collected a few more of these sweet work baskets – and we have the heavy, salt encrusted fisherman’s basket my Poppy hung about his waist when he was surf fishing.

We have baskets full of wool, fabric, toys, musical instruments, jumpers, baby clothes, computer parts, board games, Sylvanian critters, dolls house furniture.  I take baskets shopping, to the beach, to work, when we go visiting, on picnics – I even used them when we were moving, filling them up with last minute things I thought would be useful to have on hand and squashing them into the corners of the car each time we drove up to the farm.  Yep, we love baskets.  They fulfil that wonderful criteria of being both beautiful and so very useful.

But when I first saw the rope baskets people were making early in 2015, I have to say I wasn’t tempted.  I couldn’t quite see how it would work.  I thought any I made would wind up looking wonky with uneven stitching.  And even more, I didn’t want to end up with a home filled with cream rope coloured baskets that looked exactly like those being made by everyone else.  Baskets that in a few years, we would say “Oh my goodness, remember when these bloody rope baskets were “the thing” – what on earth possessed me!”

Then, there I was at Bunnings one Saturday afternoon with Julian – he was probably looking at tools and screws and things – and I found myself in the rope aisle contemplating the choices.  I wanted to crochet a large cotton doily styled wall hanging out of narrow rope – and there was a lovely natural coloured cotton rope available in big balls – perfect.  And there were also bundles of sash window cord in different widths.  Now all the rope baskets I’d seen made in the US were made from clothesline cord but we didn’t seem to have anything like that.  Maybe it’s Australia’s passion for the Hills Hoist – or our wicked climate – but most people here have clotheslines made from fine metal cord or plastic coated metal.  But sash window cord – it was cotton, sturdy and a lovely natural colour.  Could be good.

Home I went with my packet and after several false starts, I finally got the hang of it … and it was deliciously satisfying :-)  I wanted more!  Everybody at home liked them and wanted one for this, that and the other, so Julian went out and bought me a whole SPOOL of cord – it has several hundred metres on it – and oh what fun I’ve had with this!

Every time I think “we need to keep this in something so it’s easy to find and grab”, I drag out the spool of sash cord and off I go.  And the most satisfying bit about it – I have endeavoured to never make the same basket twice.

I’ve woven fabric scraps around my cord as I sew making gentle bursts of colour.  I’ve folded wider scraps in and out and in and out as I sew round and round – creating colourful columns.  I’ve painstakingly sewed in rickrack to the top edge – my goodness, that took forever. I’ve added fabric yoyos, felt embellishments, vintage buttons, and even a cut down pair of wooden knitting needles .

After many months, I finally plucked up the courage to use coloured thread – and whilst I’m not a 100% sold on the look of the multicoloured thread on the basket I whipped up last week for my paints, I adore the soft variegated lemons on the basket I made for our beeswax wraps.

I’ve left gaps for yarn to be pulled through. I’ve wound lots of ends into snails and secured them with perle thread. I’ve added loopy crowns to the top, long handles, short handles, and knotted handles.  I’ve even made a large flat table mat with strips of coloured fabric – and then a round of loopy gaps before returning to solid rounds – it is divine and probably my favourite one so far – but it went to Queensland as a birthday present.

I’ve sewed small ones, big ones, straight sides, sides that grow, big bottoms, small bottoms, shallow sides and deep sides.

A couple of weeks back, I laboured over the most detailed one.  A craft basket for Noah to take with him on his journeys – a nice big one with a flat bottom, deep sides and … a fabric top that is gathered up with a proper drawstring so that everything inside can be kept nice and safe but efficiently accessed whilst en route, and a knotted handle for carrying.  He adores it – filled it instantly and has been using it constantly ever since.  All his wonderful felt and embroidery supplies are neatly stored away for his exquisite dolls and embroidered artwork.  Just the kind of thing a crafty mama loves to make :-)

Truly, these rope baskets that are finding their way into all the corners of our home and daily life are wonderful.  Sometimes I think they are even better than all the rest – because they are made by my hands, with my imagination and love, for my family and our home.

And there’s almost nothing better than that.





basket sewing

adding rickrac

on christmas day in the morning …


:: it seems the presents have become wider than the stockings ::

under the tree

:: we’ve all decided we’re quite fond of this funny little tree ::

his apron



:: it was all too exhausting for the doggles ::

for lily

:: Julian gave me a new lens for our camera!
It will be sooo good on the farm ::

reading the instructions

:: more complicated then lego instructions ::

practice radical self love

:: my favourite Phoebe Wahl print – I can’t wait to hang it ::

:: Noah needle felted me a Tina doll – it’s so gorgeous I cried ::

:: there’s a new photographer in Bootville ::


:: Yep – Noah needle felted Julian a Ron doll! ::

mum's stocking

:: and the stockings were finished and greeted with delight ::

julian's stocking

Oh it was such a marvellous Christmas – so much excitement, happiness and gratitude.

Isn’t it a lovely time of the year :-)

winter whimsy :: the gardening raccoons

paper cranes

by a wintry window

You tricksy Melbourne weather, you!  Both this morning and yesterday morning, I awoke to blue skies and sunshine – it was lovely!  So appreciated!

But before the hour was even out, you’d sent in the heavy clouds, gusty wind and rain.  Sigh! And to think, I’d coveted the delicious hope that by the end of this weekend, the top half of our newly acquired ($20 on eBay) Estey pump organ (circa 1880) would be scrubbed, all its lovely golden wood grain revealed.  No chance.

snoozy fu

needle felting

So after a morning shuttling the Year 12 child back and forth from a Japanese examination workshop – not the examination, just a 3 hour workshop on how to prepare for the examination – there was little else to do but embrace the indoorsiness of it all.

Julian settled in for an afternoon with his guru – Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall – we will know all of Hugh’s puns and witticisms off by heart by the end of the year.  Fu snuggled up beside him.  Abby scorned homework and spent hours needlepointing little dolls of her favourite characters from her latest anime passion – a series about volleyball players ?!

And I jumped into the marvellous paper lover’s edition of Flow that came out a couple of months back.  Now, I’m really dreadful with this kind of thing.  I gleefully buy it.  Reverently look through it – often over and over.  Sigh over all its loveliness … and then do NOTHING with it because it’s too special to use.

Which means it never gets used.


extra bunting


Well, not today!  A gloomy wet day was the perfect day to pull out the saved prettiness and put it to good use.

Now we are a paper doll family – I indulged something shocking when Abby was little.  We have a vintage suitcase full – Little House dolls, Narnia dolls, American Girl dolls, Russian Royal Family dolls, Curious George dolls … including more that were saved from my childhood.  But frankly, our paper doll playing days are over.

Yes I know, we should all be embracing more play, but it’s not happening.  So I took Flow’s dear little paper Raccoon doll and her outfits, had Abby scan them in to the computer, copy and flip one (and it’s costume) around, make another copy child size, popped them all on a USB and in between that workshop shuttling, printed them off at Officeworks for the grand total of $3.75.

laid out

I laid them out on a recently bought Muji wooden tray – like a little stage set, complete with a little string of Flow bunting …


fresh flowers

… then chose the lightest spot in the house to sit – at the old singer in the dining room window – and set to glueing and sealing it all with ModgePodge.  Julian was obligatorily horrified – why would I DO this to a perfectly nice wooden tray.  You’d think he’d understand by now, hmmm :-) Anything plain is just waiting to be Lilified.

In fact, I’m thinking of buying another wooden tray and the Phoebe Wahl paper dolls from Taproot and make Julian a FARM version.  He’ll love it.

looking for the bare bits

And so flew past a couple of sweet hours.  Hugh took his first pigs to the abattoir (yet again), made Parma ham (yet again), went diving for scallops (yet again), made lamb mince pies to sell so he could afford a goose for Christmas (yet again), had his Christmas eve gatecrashed by his apple cider / skittle mates (yet again) – whilst Julian ooohed and ahhhed with ever-growing excitement and regular detailing of next years plans to Abby who jabbed her needle up and down whilst answering “Mmhmm!  Mmhmm! Mmmhmmm!”  She’s very excited by the prospect of farming ;-)


closer look


And now we have a dear little wooden tray decorated with gardening raccoons that we can use come spring and summer when all we want to do is sit in a sunny warm garden with good food and a drink or two by our side.

Ah winter – you delivered a topsy turvy one today, but it simply didn’t matter.  There was too much goodness to be found inside to notice.



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.

purple knitting

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.

mustard and black winter house

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.

cross stitch cross stitch box

Applique – oh the fox chair!  I am completely in love with the fox chair.  It’s been slow going but very very satisfying.

fox face

Upholstery – Putting hessian, lace and cross stitch together to recover an old English Oak card chair I found by the side of the road.

appliqued chair

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.

felt doll

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.

skirt and tshirt

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.

blanket quilting

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.

cushion in the sand

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.

sewing feet

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.

craft table

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.

skirt trim.