gentle making

another one started

One of the lovely things about only visiting Wombat Hill for the last few months (as opposed to BEING there), is that once we arrive and unpack, there really are very few pressing chores for me to do.

Not much point gardening because we’re not there to take care of it.  Same for our animals – we can’t buy our chickens or goats or cows, until we are there to care for them.  Nor are we really sure where best to put them when we do get them, so whilst there has been lots of research on how to build their shelters, we’ve not got down to the nuts and bolts.

And of course, there’s no nursing shifts to be done.

Which leaves a whole lot of time for just pottering.  Something I do awfully well :-) Especially when there’s a beautiful verandah to sit, with my favourite people around me, and boxes of lovely supplies that magically managed to get squeezed into the car.

Just small and simple things.  Easy to make, quick to finish.  So very lovely.
dishcloth knitted

So on our last trip, new kitchen dishcloths were knitted …

pinned out

binding to be sewn down

blanket stitching the edge

edge scalloped

I not only covered a lovely big milo tin with some of Heather Ross’s fabulous new Tiger Lily fabric, but I crocheted a scalloped edge on it, and then served chickpeas for the next 2 night’s supper so I could cover those tins too! (Strangely enough there are no photos of them – I’m sure they’ll pop up in future posts)

birthday fabrics

quilting the copic wrap

Noah asked for something handmade for his birthday – and as he also requested more copic markers, I sewed up an epic quilted copic marker wrap.  It has space for 2 notebooks and 40 copic markers – that could be easily squeezed up to 80 if he puts 2 in each slot.  (Again, no finished photos – slack I know!)

new curtain for dresser

A new yellow curtain (made from a divine Lecien print of which I bought every last centimetre Darn Cheap had! And I bought its mates in red and green!) was whipped up for the kitchen dresser – now that the walls are painted a glorious egg yolk yellow, the dresser really needed something a little brighter than civil war blue.  Which means it needs new wee prairie point bunting for the shelves – sigh! fancy being obliged to make more prairie point bunting :-)

I do adore Lecien’s little floral prints – they remind me of the lovely dresses my Mum made for us in the 1970s – and are exactly the kind of fabric I always imagined Ma making Laura and Mary’s dresses from. Delicious!
D72_2018

I started a beautiful project with Misti Alpaca from the knitting baskets that were secretly stuffed into Tuppance’s corners – an Advent shawl – a new clue each morning.  Oh and I was so good whilst at Wombat Hill – every evening I was all excited about what would be published the next morning, and then I was up just after 5am, coffee pot and cup before me, out on the verandah in the “good morning sun”, cheerfully knitting up my next several rows.  Alas, since I’ve returned to Melbourne, there has been only the tiniest amount of knitting accomplished and I am weeks behind.  Hmph!

echidna cushion

echidna

I even stitched up one of Elizabeth Hartman’s wonderful Hazel Hedgehogs!  It became a cushion for the front verandah – only it’s not Hazel – it’s clearly her Australian cousin Evie Echidna.  They are everywhere in our neck of the woods – wombling across the grass and shyly sticking their noses into the dirt in the hope that if they can’t see us, we surely won’t see them!

Oh we do love them so – one day, on a utterly failed trip to buy donkey poo for the garden, Noah and I came across one toddling along the side of our little secret road (I’ll tell you about that another time) – we pulled over on the other side, hopped out and spent so long quietly watching her that Julian was quite sure we’d decided to ride the donkeys home!  Noah wants a tamish one that will come visit each day.  High hopes there methinks.

I clearly need to get back to Wombat Hill – there’s more gentle making a-calling – especially the kind that requires sitting on that verandah for long and lovely hours, a nice drink by my side and my favourite folks nearby.

how to survive night shift :: the tale of a colourful shawl

from front of chair

There are many knitting projects stuffed into many baskets around Bootville.  All started with much enthusiasm.  All still loved.  And oh I am looking forward to finishing and wearing them.  But there are weeks when carefully knitting a sleeve on double pointeds with regular decreases is just too much like work.  Let alone unravelling an Icelandic yoke to reknit with less rounds.  Oy!  That one fills me with dread.

arm

So when I had my first block of night duty, I needed something warm, colourful and comforting with which to busy my hands and provide some sort of normal during the late afternoon hours that are all you have between a day of sleeping and another 11 hour overnight shift.  across top

I sure found just the project … The Sunday Shawl by Alia Bland. a.k.a. The Little Bee NZ.  A crocheted shawl in DK weight that literally leaps off the hook!  The pattern is perfectly written – so easy to follow even with the most night duty addled mind.  For many peaceful hours you just crochet back and forth and back and forth, creating a simple, ever growing triangle.

close up of edge

By the time you get to the colourful border, you are ready for a bit of adventure and there’s just the right amount – a variety of stitches, none of them too complicated.  And …. here’s the really good bit … because it’s crochet, if you make a little mistake somewhere and don’t wind up with quite the right number of stitches … you can bodge it a little and no one will ever notice ;-)  Ahhhh the easy going nature of crochet … knitting is never that kind to clumsy fingers/mind!

beautiful back

I had the dark purple Cleckheaton DK in my stash – bought it from Wondoflex’s bargain basement.  And the colours were all found stuffed into baskets around the house from different projects.  So good – I didn’t even need to leave the house. It made for lovely afternoons – just what I needed in order to confront looooooooong nights with double the patient load.

corner

Night duty is weird.  The whole hospital seems to be asleep – except the patients – they rarely sleep.  All activities apart from nursing are pared back to the barest of essentials.  The throngs of people – doctors, allied health, orderlies, visitors – they have all vanished.  The lights are mostly out.  The whole ground floor with its shops and cafes is closed.  Only a skeleton staff of ward nurses bob about in the lamplight.  Doing obs, giving meds, helping patients in pain or providing bathroom relief.

And then there’s the Hospital in the Night nurses – they are true Florence Nightingales – created as a support to the halved number of ward nurses, they are highly experienced professionals who roam the hospital with pagers – need an urgent IV site, they come; need a complicated dressing changed, they come; have more meds than you can possibly deliver in a short space of time, they come; have a four bed room turned into gastro isolation at 2 o’clock in the morning, they come and STAY until everything is under control.  Oh, by the end of my first night, I LOVED the Hospital in the Night nurses and the moment they appeared I knew everything would be good.

including side

Then there were my ward sisters – I was very fortunate to work with my preceptor for the whole block – she’s a gem – an excellent nurse and incredibly supportive.  And our team leader each night was wonderful – supportive, highly skilled, buckets of experience and friendly.  Yep – it definitely makes the night flow well when you are in it together.   In the back of my mind, no matter how out of my comfort zone I was, I knew I would get through it because those around me would never let me fall.

putting it on

from front
wearing it

So the ingredients for a successful block of night shift – awesome ward sisters who have taught me so much, super hero Hospital in the Night nurses who can always be counted on to ride in and pull off the otherwise impossible, and a colourful Sunday Shawl to fill in those spaces that are neither days or nights and bear little resemblance to normal life.

I have loved wearing the Sunday Shawl to work on early mornings and late nights, tucked around my shoulders, its vibrant colours literally making the sterile corridors of the hospital glow.  I am definitely the only nurse who arrives looking this colourful :-) I’ve even had people comment in the lifts.

But this week, I gave it a lovely wash, gently stretched it out to reveal all those lacy crochet bits, and dried it in the back garden during a rare day of sunshine.  Then I folded it up and posted it off to a wee farm.

I hope the love and all the super hero nursiness that is stitched into it brings the marvellous farmer a bit of extra cosiness and comfort during these chilly months.

When it warms your shoulders, know that this shawl came to life alongside the encouragement, vast experience and potent skills of a powerful group of women who dedicate themselves to the care of others *

And now … well I’m about to start another block of night duty tonight (oh my!) but first I may well need a trip to the wool store :-)

* I do work with wonderful male nurses too – but there were none on duty during my first block of night duty :-)

 

sharing the crochet

molly makes pattern basket of colour

Each time we visit the Bega Valley it feels like we are yet another step closer to our dream of moving back to the east coast.  We always spend some time checking out the realestate – driving around houses by the sea, bumping down dirt roads looking at land. Some of the houses are instantly checked off the list.  But the land – oh I can always imagine great things for the land :-)

One piece we looked at these holidays was the perfect distance from the town and hospital – many huge and beautiful gum trees, hills worthy of the Sound of Music, lush grassy fields with big boulders tumbled here and there, a sparkly dam.  By the time we’d pulled up, I’d chosen just the right spot for our straw bale house, planted the flowering plums along the drive, and built a little wooden jetty on one edge of the dam with places to sit and a row boat so that Julian can take for me for romantic little rows across the water whilst I hold a parasol :-)

Abby, however, was more fixated on one of those boulders under a distant tree.  “It’s a dead cow,” she declared. “Rubbish!” I said, “It’s just one of those boulders.  “Yeah, a black and white one with legs,” she replied, sharpening her focus on the binoculars.  “It is not!” I insisted, “How could there be a dead cow!” “Well, there is,” she winced, and passed the binoculars.  She was right.  It was definitely a dead cow.  We couldn’t decide whether that was a bad sign or just one of those things.  This is the country after all.  We crossed our fingers that the nearby farmer was about to discover his dead cow and moved on to the next address.

The other lovely aspect of visiting is our growing friendships with some of the locals, especially one of Mum’s neighbouring families.  An IT dad, a craft-loving mum (Shauna), three little boys, and all great beach lovers – such fun!  And this holiday, after a lovely long rainy-day lunch with them, Shauna and I hit the local yarn store for supplies for an impromptu crochet lesson.  Even more fun!

Mum had just the right pattern – a granny square blanket in the Molly Makes Book of Crochet and we spent a lovely couple of hours mastering the crochet hook, chains, and eventually a granny square.

recording the first chain shauna

Shauna is a natural – very persistent, heaps of enthusiasm, and a keen eye!  We practiced and practiced – I would slowly do a round, pointing out each step whilst she watched – maybe do it again. Then I pulled it out, passed it over, and Shauna would try.  It worked really well and by the time she headed home, she had one complete Granny Square and another started.  We were all on a crochet high!

And she hasn’t stopped!  Each night, a new granny square pops up on the Instagram :-) and should she run into any complications, she can always pop across the road to Mum who will be able to set her back on the right path.  Even nicer, she can pop back across the road and sit on Mum’s front porch, with the beautiful Sapphire coast before them, and they can work on their projects together.  Sigh – such envy!

getting the hang of it very nice edge Just as the dead cow boulder was probably a sign that that wasn’t the perfect block of land for us – I can see signs in everything – I do declare that this lovely afternoon of sharing and making with the neighbour was DEFINITELY a sign that there are great things to look forward to we too become happy residents of the beautiful Bega Valley.  Shauna, Mum and I are especially looking forward to woodwork classes with these great women – Two Sheds Workshop :: Woodwork for Women – with a view to making our own Adirondack chairs.

Just imagine the fun we’ll have – not just meeting more great people, learning all those skills, and making our own beautiful furniture – but then all the hours we will have sitting in them with our stitching.  On a jetty, overlooking a dam, with no dead cows in sight.

hoppity-hoppity

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.

quilting

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

dresser

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.