at the chook house

as i wait

plain doily

sewing the basket

high tech sewing tool

starting the stitches

finished and filled

knotted and looped handles

D72_5598

wolfgangs feather

aamzing sky

moon

watching her reflection

still stitching

the wrap

constant companions

full length

walking with basket

with basket

at the chook house

1 egg

January tumbled about with chaos and excitement as we moved and set up our new home.  The days began early, ended late, and every night when we fell into bed, our little esky-cottage looked more and more like “our place”.

February sizzled with unrelenting heat, and new routines and responsibilities that were both fabulous and baffling – you will truly laugh at this, but I honestly thought “drenching” must have involved showering goats from head to hoof :-0 Frankly, that would be easier than trying to squirt worming medication down their frantically jerking throats!

March dipped up and down with moments of such pleasure and more of overwhelming angst. Ah March you seemed such hard work at the time.  And yet, just last night, I watched the film “Defiance” and thought about the atrociously awful things people not only endure but survive then go on to create new lives of meaning and love (this is not to diminish the terrible long term effects such trauma can imprint on people).  It was a very humbling reminder of the privilege we live with in this time and place.  And how perhaps, when life is physically so very easy, I spend far too much time wandering about in my mind.  I don’t have any answers or conclusions.  I’m just very thankful to be here right now and the recipient of much love and good care.

April brought  much needed calm.  Our home was comfortable.  Our animals were settled.  Our routines were both simple and delightful.

Throughout all of this, the mere thought of working outside of our home as a nurse was way too much!  At first, I scanned the job advertisements every week, hopeful I would find the perfect fit.  By March I no longer looked because I didn’t want to find a job I’d feel obliged to apply for.

When I was finally ready to call the person responsible for bank nursing – a casual position where I can pick up the shifts which suit me seems like the ideal compromise at the moment – in April, it just so happened they were interviewing that week!  Noah and I headed straight for town.  Noah printed out my resume and application at the local copy store whilst I tried on interview outfits, with Noah arriving just in time to give the final thumbs up.  The interview went well.

One question asked how I would care for an elderly patient with end stage lung cancer, who had been transferred from a nursing home to hospital with a chest infection and decreasing mobility.  It was incredibly satisfying to think about how best to meet this character’s needs.  I thought of all the very similar patients I met and assessed in the cubicles of the Emergency Department, and the big and little questions I had to find answers too, all the while making the patients feel as safe and comfortable as possible.  Then of all the patients I nursed upstairs in the wards, their failing bodies, their spirits almost always endearing (sometimes bitter), and their hourly needs.  If the interview panel had demanded, I would have cheerfully written them a paper on the topic.  It felt so good thinking like a nurse again.

Since then, there has been an enormous amount of slow moving paperwork to complete and submit.  Along with blood tests for immunisation levels, immunisations themselves (I think my immune system is incapable of generating antibodies to HepB), police checks, working with children checks … Hopefully it is all done now and I’ll hear next week what the next step is.

And now it is May.  Almost half way through the year.  In just over a month, we will be celebrating the Winter Solstice and feeling all excited as the days begin once more to lengthen.  Oh my.

While the time speeds by and the job application plods along, I’m finding plenty of opportunity for all sorts of little crafty projects.  I’m painting, and knitting, and crocheting, and embroidering, and sewing .. frankly it’s beginning to feel a bit frivolous at times! But I’m making the most of the opportunity to trawl through all the fabric boxes that are sitting in the shed, finding just started projects along with those that only need an hours or so work before they are done and ready!

This week, I pulled out a lovely linen/cotton blend wrap around skirt I started almost 2 years back.  I remember really loving working on it – especially the pockets – they were so satisfying.  But then, just before adding the waistband, I tried it on and it was too big.  Sigh.  So it was shoved to the back of the pile.  Now – being a bit larger then I was then – it only needed the seams widened before it fitted just fine ;-) Then – on with the waistband – which was a bit tricky because I couldn’t find the directions – only the pieces – so had to bumble along best as I could.  After a couple of false starts it worked.

Then – well you know me – more is always more.  So I whacked on a lovely big hand crocheted doily that I recently bought from the oppie for just $1 and sat down for a day’s embroidery.  It was one of those projects that was a delight to start and then hours and hours of increasingly tedious repetition.  However, I was determined this skirt was NOT going back into the never never pile, so on I plodded.  Oh I’m so glad I did!  It’s exactly me :-)

And I whipped up another basket – one for egg collecting.  Tried the coloured stitching again – I definitely like it with just one colour but this one has a few too many stops and starts for my finicky eyes.  I added some rickrack – which I will never do again – it is soooooooo difficult – a looped handle which I adore – and a little appliqued and cross stitched egg.  Because why not?!  I have plenty of time at the moment!

Julian had asked for the egg basket – and he requested some kind of lining that the eggs would nestle into and reduce the chance of breaking.  I thought about it for a while before realising that STRAW was the perfect solution.  That’s what the chickens and ducks use – and when it gets a bit manky, I can tip it into the compost and add a fresh layer.

I have to confess, when I looked at these photos, it did remind me somewhat of Marie Antoinette dressing up to play shepherdess in the beautiful little “farm” her servants built for her to play in.  Hmmmm …. then I remembered all the time I have up my sleeve and reasoned why shouldn’t the egg basket be lovely!  As long as it is functional, it can be as sweet as I like – and Julian thinks it’s highly useful so there!

Now – well the day is cool and grey, the chores are done, the last of the paperwork has been emailed … there’s plenty of knitting to finish and what’s that? I think I hear some patchwork calling!

 

a pair of christmas stockings

supplies

julian

mum

floss

grass

stitching

hibiscus

mum and her squares

fu

noah

curry plant

beautiful yellow

lucy

noah and the floss

ready for stitching upI must say, it’s much easier to sleep during the day (after night duty) when it’s a wintery one – cold, grey and drizzling is just perfect.  Even better when the whole family are out and our home remains silent and still.

On a beautiful sunny day, just 2 sleeps until Christmas with the family bustling (quietly!) about making presents, tidying boxes, preparing lovely food … not so easy.  By half past two, I just could not keep my eyes (tightly clad in Julian’s airplane sleeping mask) closed any longer.

Instead, out to the back garden we went.  Banana lounges spread out under the oak.  Cool drinks by our sides.  Doggies bumbling about with bones and sticks.  Mum with her crochet squares.  Noah with his laptop.  Julian with his wine.  Me with my cross stitch.

I first started these a few years back.  It was a Christmas when, inexplicably, I just couldn’t seem to remember where I’d stashed the Christmas necessities the year before.  “Lost in the diaspora!’ declared one Jewish friend when I admitted I couldn’t even lay my hands on the nativity set!

With a week to go I set to cross stitching.  I have no idea where I found the patterns.  I think I must have used some of Mum’s old embroidery floss because do you think I could match a single colour to the hundreds in my floss boxes?!

So today they just got done.  I made the best colour choices I could and lay back out there in the beautiful dappled sunlight, needle slipping in and out of the linen, until the wee patterns were finished.  Bliss.

Now – Julian and Noah are watching The Empire strikes back whilst Noah fixes up my floss boxes (Fu sent them flying across the grass!).  Mum’s tucked up in bed with a magazine.  And me?

I’m off to shift 2/3 of night duty for the week.  I’d be lying if I said I was excited or even pleased to be going.  But, as I remind myself, this is what I do.  And it needs to be done.  So I am :-) And if I listen to the Muppets singing Silent Night on route, by the time I arrive I shall be feeling positively loving towards all those poor folk who are having a bummer of an evening.

The stitching up will wait til tomorrow.

 

better than malted milk :: a cross stitched chair

before

I had a wee bit of the glums today.  It happens.  Usually a week or so before my period.  Must be a huge hormonal swing of some sort.  I feel it creeping up, find myself feeling very sad, wonder why life is so hard, then remember to tell myself … ah, you feel glum because it’s just that time of the month.  So I stood in the pantry doorway and ate malted milk powder from the jar.  It didn’t really help.  And it made my mouth gummy and I choked a bit and had to dash down a glass of water.

Much better to text Julian in Las Vegas so he knows you feel glum and will call (which he did, straight away, he’s lovely like that).  Then find something simple to do that will let you just be with the feeling but also allow you to find some sweetness. Tried and true recipe for beating the glums.

So today, I vacuumed.  It wasn’t especially sweet, but it did make me feel virtuous – I loathe vacuuming – actually, I loathe all housework.  This allowed me to look at the bathroom with a critical eye – the bath tub had the blue bentwood chair and the clothes hamper sitting in it.  Not exactly conducive to bathing.  So I pulled it all out and cleaned the bath.  Again – big ticks on the virtuous scale – I loathe cleaning the bathroom.

Then I had the blue chair to do something with.  And as I looked at that lovely blue rattan … I thought of something I’d seen on Pinterest!  Check it out … cute as! Simple.  And something that would definitely provide a bit of sweetness :-)
book and fabric

So I got out some red gingham … I bought this gingham at the Vinnies in Bega on our spring break.  It was 5 metres for $3.  Only it was half price day.  So I got 5 metres for $1.50!  I made a skirt with a floral reprodepot trim, now I’ve cross stitched a chair, and I still have heaps left!  That’s a sweet bargain.

And I flipped through one of my all time favourite cross stitch books for a pretty pattern that had just the right number of stitches – couldn’t be more than 24 squares.

the pattern

Perfect!  And making this snowflake on that beautiful blue with the red and white gingham would look very Nordic.  Sweet and perfect!

the strips

I cut (hacked) my strips (just with the scissors) 3 squares wide.  Man do I love fabric that comes with self cutting lines.

fu

Settled onto the hallway floor with my sweet companion.  The only thing she won’t do with me is vacuum.  She’s a sensible dog.

stitching

And set to work.  As more and more of the pattern appeared, I felt those glums subsiding.  I felt stronger, more cheerful … content.  Especially when Abby came home.  There’s nothing like the lovely company of my Abby, Julian, or Mum to shove those glums away.

done

And in less than 2 hours … voila!  I must add … this is a hard rubbish chair.  Picked up from the footpath on the Nepean Highway on our way to Southlands one day.  It has a pair – the pair doesn’t have a seat.  I’m now inspired to finally buy that rattan and fix it just so’s I can cross stitch it!

Can you imagine a farm house kitchen with these lovely bentwood chairs in all different colours pushed in around a scrubbed table, all with red gingham cross stitch?  Oh I can.  It will be an immensely popular photo on Pinterest (hee! hee! hee!) And the best bit is – I see these chairs on the side of the road regularly – yes!

seat

closeup back

texture

Sigh …. look at that nubbly texture … so pretty.  And I love how, with a wee bit of distance, the gingham makes it look like wonderfully thread variegated yarn.

sideon back

And the  colours …. swoon!

side on

Yes, a quick bit of gingham cross stitch was a lovely balm on what was shaping up to be a pretty flat day.  And for that I am very grateful.

 

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.