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.

cutting

extra bunting

modgepodge

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 …

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 ;-)

done

closer look

flat

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.

 

whale watching – mosaic style

with basket

glass prisms

work bench

After an intense week of learning on the new job, I awoke this morning with utter joy.  I have three whole days off AND today coincided with one of Merryl’s weekday morning workshops which meant I got to play mosaics in her beautiful studio for almost 3 hours.  Ah the bliss of it all!

shelves of glass

new cutters

I’m working on my second piece and it’s rather large.  The board is 1.2 metres by 90 centimetres.  That’s a lot of wee tiles and pieces of glass to cut, shape and glue.  Good thing I’m utterly bewitched and Merryl’s studio is filled with warmth, colour, creativity and lovely, lovely women who sit about the long work benches and chatter whilst they work.  Did I mention it’s bliss?  Oh it is.

cutting green triangles

This scene is one from my head.  I made it up as a cross stitch a few years back – “The Whale and her Girl” – but this version is slightly different.  Instead of the girl standing on the hilltop with her telescope, she’s inside her home looking out a large picture window.  Before her is my dream view.  A sun rising all goldy pink and orange against the sparkly sapphire sea.  A hilltop to her left, covered in Norfolk pines and crowned with a sturdy white lighthouse, resplendent in its royal blue trim.  An old fashioned ship, festooned with billowing white sails, bobs amongst the roll of the waves.  A glistening seal lolls about on a rock.

laying out the base

But even whilst it’s an imagined view, each of the elements speaks to my sentimental heart.

The sapphire sea?  It’s the east coast of Australia – the waters of the glorious Pacific Ocean which I’ve lived on for most of my life – stretching from Rainbow Bay on the southern tip of the Gold Coast, Queensland all the way to Eden at far end of New South Wales, the southern boundary of the lovely Bega Valley which we will soon be calling home.

And the sun?  Well it’s no surprise to you folks that I’m a huge fan of the sun, its light and warmth.  I didn’t have a clue about the reality of Seasonal Affective Disorder until I came to Melbourne.  Now, I cannot wait to get back to east coast, where the sun will rise over the sea each morning – and at the same time as me.

glueing the grass

The Norfolk pines?  I haven’t a clue who decided that the beaches of east coast Australia all needed to be edged in Norfolk Pines, but by golly, what a fabulous decision that was!  All the beaches of my childhood are trimmed with these lovely giants – Coolangatta, Rainbow Bay, Harrington, Crowdy, Clarkes Beach at Byron … I only have to see a stand of Norfolk Pines and I am instantly at home.  I shall plant a row of them on our farm and when I’m old and wobbly of memory, they shall be my good friends.

harrington norfolk pines

:: Harrington ::

norfolk pines

The lighthouse?  Well it’s my simple version of James Barnett’s favourite design.  He was the Colonial Architect for colonial New South wales in the late 1800s and was responsible for the 3 lighthouses that are so very dear to me – Byron Bay, Crowdy Head and Green Cape.  His lighthouses all have the same look – strikingly white against the blue of their ocean backdrops with royal blue trim.

Every summer as a child and then teenager, we holidayed at Byron and the fortnight was not complete until we’d trekked all the way round the beaches – Clarkes, The Pass, Wategos, Kings and finally up to the lighthouse which in those days had no safety fences, but did have goats grazing on the hillsides, and we’d take flattened cardboard boxes with us, so as to slide down the grassy front cliff face into the legs of our fathers who stood on the edge, stopping us from hurtling off and onto the jagged rocks below.  It was thrilling!

from the back

Crowdy Head was down the road from my grandparents’ cottage at Harrington.  You couldn’t swim at Harrington – the Manning River enters the ocean there creating wicked rips and enticing ferocious sharks. Instead, we would pile into Nanny’s hot station wagon and drive along the sandy track through the bush scrub to Crowdy.  It was so humid and sticky along that road.  There was never a breeze to be felt and the cicadas positively screamed through our open windows.

crowdy lighthouse

Then, just when we thought we would never get there, we’d pop out of the bush and there was the magical Crowdy Bay curving round in front of us, the lighthouse perched up on the cliff to our right.  We’d have a lovely long swim, ride the waves in on our boogie boards, dig in the sand, poke around the rocks.  Sometimes we’d call into the Fishing Co-op.  Often we’d drive up to check out the lighthouse and I’d recount my Famous Five induced fantasy which involved living in this lighthouse and defeating smugglers, and then back we’d go to Nanny’s.  By the time we got there, we were just as hot and frazzled as before we started.

grandad

Green Cape Lighthouse is a much more recent addition to my family story – I only visited it for the first time a few years back.  It was such a long drive in from the highway – a terribly remote spot south of Eden – but when we finally saw it standing proud on the edge of the fiercest of coasts, I recognised it straight away as one of James Barnett’s children.  The wonderful white. The smooth dome of the attached cottage – just like Crowdy.  The splendid blue trim.  Oh yes, this was one of my lighthouses.

But even better, I had my dear old Grandad by my side as we explored this beautiful lighthouse and its surrounds.  He was a little bit frail – we just didn’t realise how frail an old body could become! – but he was so determined to soak up every moment of that day.  He read all the signs describing the history of the lighthouse and its keepers.  He walked along every perfectly maintained path, slowly round each building taking in every detail, all the way down to the cliff’s edge so he could truly appreciate just what that light was protecting the ships from.

And he chatted to me non-stop.  Grandad was such a great talker.  We marvelled at the remoteness and how much effort must have been required to bring in all the supplies.  We chuckled over the tennis court, built by the government so that the lighthouse keepers and their familes could be the social beacons of the south.  We harrumphed over the ugliness of the modern light and its ghastly skeletal structure that has replaced the grand original.  We were saddened by the memorial to those who lost their lives aboard the Ly-ee-moon steamer.

round-401x600

When we finally arrived home Grandad settled by the window, looking out across the sea, with my laptop, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening reading the stories collected by the lighthouse keepers and their families who served at Green Cape, and filled us in on every detail.  

Oh I loved my Grandad so much.  We had such a special bond, he and I.  Maybe it had its roots in the very fact of being the eldest granddaughter (thereby sharing the most time with him of any of the other grandchildren) and living so close to him for most of my life.  But we shared so much more as well.  We both loved adventuring, exploring, history, and the stories of people and their places.  Best of all, we loved sharing each others company.

So Green Cape lighthouse – it will always tug at my heart.  I will look at this mosaic and smile, remembering all the fun, adventure and romantic notions James Barnett’s lighthouses have given me.  But most of all, I will think of Grandad and imagine him there beside me.

smiling whale

The billowing sailing ship – Master and Commander to be sure.  I adore those books – and really liked the film too.  In fact, you know that last scene, when Jack and Steven are in the captain’s cabin playing a duet, whilst the sailors, marines and officers beat to quarters – that’s from the String Quartet in C Major by Boccherini – “La Musica Notturne della strade de Madrid”.  And it’s the joyful music that my dear Grandad walked me down the aisle to when Julian and I were married.  I can’t decide which was luckier – to have married Julian, or be presented at my wedding by the finest gentleman I’ve ever known ;-)

My romantic heart does love a dashing naval commander and his intriguing nature-loving sidekick – such a fabulous addition to the high seas. Mind you, you’d never catch me out there aboard ANY boat. I can appreciate their loveliness just fine from the solid shore right here.

upside down lighthouse

As for the seal – well she’s a regular feature of the Fishpond (that’s what the little harbour is called) in Merimbula.  Every day when Mum goes walking with her friend Jo and Lucy, the little seal pops up onto the rocks near the bridge, lolling about all sleek and glistening.  Lucy stops and pushes her head under the railings for a better look and Mum and Jo chat to the seal.  She’s apparently an attentive listener but has dreadful teeth and is a bit smelly :-)  I look forward to meeting her and just love that Merimbula has resident seals!  It truly is such a magical place and very soon will be part of my backyard too.  Oh my goodness!

hands

I do find that every time I turn my hand to making, what I’m really doing is telling part of my story, expressing part of who I am, in yet another way.  Sentimental but true.

When we are in our farm cottage – it’s settlement next Friday, can you believe that! – I hope to hang this mosaic on the east facing kitchen wall that is without a window.  This will be my window – looking east across the Mumbulla mountains to the ocean, with a view that will warm my heart and set off a flurry of story telling every time I catch a glimpse of it.

Ah I can’t wait to get back to Merryl’s for more cutting, shaping and glueing!  With the whale, the hill, the Norfolk Pines and the lighthouse finished, I think I shall get stuck into the ocean itself with that rising sun.  Oooooh I’ve gone tingly all over just thinking about all the lovely colour.

 

mosaicing at Merryl’s

mum

Oh the frabjous day!  I’ve been pausing at the glittering windows of Merryl’s Mosaics – filled with awe at the beauty she and her students create – for as long as her studio has graced Glenhuntly Road.  Several times a year I pronounce to Julian and Abby “That’s it!  I want to go to Merryl’s and learn how to make mosaics!”  And yet it’s never happened.

second night starting point

But with the end of our time in Melbourne rushing towards us, and the recent death of Grandad, there was no more waiting for the right moment.  It had to be done!  Mum was coming from the sadness of Brisbane to spend a week with us before returning to her home.  Abby was on school holidays.  I had a week of days off before starting another fortnight of night duty (ugh!).  Perfect opportunity for finally calling Merryl and finding out just how her workshops ran and what we needed to do to start laying tiles.

tiles

It was ridiculously easy.  Isn’t that the way?  I always um and ah and um and ah and fret and hesitate … and yet, when I rang, she invited us to attend that very evening – no tools or supplies needed, she supplies everything, the workshops run for 2 1/2 hours, there’s a flat workshop fee that reduces when you bring family members and when you visit more than once in a week.  And there are sessions offered 3 nights a week and 5 mornings.  So delightfully flexible.

abby

And you just have to visit Merryl’s website and read how she came to start her mosaic workshop – very inspiring :-)  A passion for colour and design!  A desire to create a community of supportive creativity for women!  Merryl’s a woman after my own heart indeed. tiles with pencils

Within moments of arriving, we were settled at her huge work benches, our chosen wooden boards in front of us, tools by our side, and a breathtaking array of tiles and pebbles and glass laying before us.  The ultimate child in a candy store experience.

trees

I’m making a Hamsa (found in Jewish and Middle Eastern cultures) which represents the Hand of God and is said to protect your home from the evil eye.  Traditionally, they are highly decorated with an eye nestled into the palm.  Mine has a much simpler design – inspired by the beautiful art of Tomie de Paola, I’m creating a Hamsa that represents our little farm and when we settle in just 26 days, I hope to take my finished Hamsa and hang it on the walls of our little farm cottage.

Mum’s making a striking platter based on a Moroccan design.  She has cut and laid her tiles with painstaking precision – it is beautiful!  And I can’t wait to see how those rich blue stars leap when she’s filled in and grouted her background.

And Abby – she’s making a wallhanging based on a design from one of her favourite web based graphic novels.  You should see her in action – within moments of starting she mastered the tile cutter and grinder, carefully shaping her sparkling purple tiles to fit her meticulously measured curves.

end of second night

Oh we are so looking forward to returning next week!  And my pinterest boards are filling up with favourite pieces and designers … and birds.  I’d like to start a series of round pieces inspired by the work of the English mosaic artist Martin Cheek and representing the birds of the Sapphire coast.  And pieces for the garden.  And for the bathroom and kitchen of our strawbale home.  And for our paths.  And our exterior walls.  And …. And …. And … :-)

Thank you Merryl!

 

the building of a tensioning frame

the rug

For my recent birthday, Abigail gave me this beautiful McAdoo Rug design for needlepunching.  Melts my heart – she’s our Merimbula mermaid for sure, reminding me of the lovely mornings Julian and I snorkel down at Bar Beach, collecting mussels for our breakfast as the morning sun splashes like champagne across the water.

measuring her up

Now, surprisingly enough for someone who does as much patchwork as me, I’m not the best at measuring.  Trying to work out what dimensions my frame should be left me in a tizz – I just cannot visualise what’s needed!  So Julian took over – thank goodness – because he understood all that I did not and quickly worked up a simple design for the tensioning frame I would need to needle punch my mermaid rug.

making the cut

Of course, the fact that he got to use his newly purchased drop saw thingy was an added attraction :-)  Something nice and easy to make as he got to know the ins and outs of this fabulous new tool – purchased for our upcoming house building adventure.  Window sills!  Adirondacks! Kitchen work benches!  Courtyards! A deck by the dam! Oh yes, there will be much fun had with this little beauty!

the laser guide

He even had to admit to liking the laser guide which he earlier dismissed as a bit gimmicky.

the bits

drill press

lucy

Within an hour or so, we had the frame screwed securely together – Julian even countersunk the screws – such a lovely finish!

Now Julian doesn’t think there’s anything special to this – he called it a quick knockup – but given it will only be useful for rugs of this size – anything bigger or smaller will need it’s own frame – I think it’s bloody awesome!  I adore that my man can take $20 worth of materials and quickly knockup a frame just to indulge my whims.  Sigh!

countersunk

Then it was onto the bitey tacking which provides the tension.  Oy!  When we caught our fingers on those little points, we sure knew about it.  Now, Amy Oxford uses tacking with THREE rows which she declares to be the best – but at our local hardware store, two rows was all there was to be had.  We’ll see how it goes.

adding the tacky bits

Julian even knew to position the tacking with the tacks facing out – so as to provide maximum tensioning.  I’d have never thought of that – he’s so useful.

so bitey

Time for testing!  Just as Amy Oxford says, all those little tacks don’t tear at the fabric – they just hold it nicely in place.  And it’s even easy to reposition.  Excellent!

tensioning the rug

pulling it taut

The only thing I need to add now is some thick felt over the tacks so as not to shred my arms whilst needle punching.  I think I have some in the felt suitcase – hopefully!

a merimbula mermaid

Isn’t she gorgeous!  I’m so looking forward to starting.  I have most of the wool I will need – I’m using the lovely Dutch woollen felt from Winterwood Toys – sliced up into 1/4 inch strips with the rotary cutter.  Hopefully it will work a treat and look marvellous.  I tested some out already and it makes lovely nubbly loops.  If not, we’ll have lots of felt for applique and doll making :-)

ready for needlepunching

I’m just not sure I’ll ever want to stand on her.  Hmmmm …. after all the hours that will go into making her – not to mention the funds! – stomping our great big feet on her might be too stressful to bear! Maybe we could become a shoeless house …

Oh Julian, you are such a gem xxx

 

jeeping

photo

We’re one step closer to our wee farm in the beautiful Bega Valley – we have the means to drive down our driveway and up to our front door! Our own little Jeep!

filled with boats

I must confess, I have always been critical of people who drive huge four wheel drives in the city – the kind of people that have a massive Land Cruiser with street tyres that are only driven to school drop off and the supermarket because it makes the owner feel safer.  I just don’t see the point.

sunlit greens

But all the land we looked at over Christmas needed four wheel drive access once you left the road – in fact, some of the roads were even beyond our station wagon.  And so we had to reconsider our transport options.

chip buttie

Julian would definitely need a farm truck – the Toyota Hilux seems to be the truck of choice in the Bega Valley and from all reports they are very reliable and sturdy.  I would need something to drive to work – a little Jeep would not only be good for this but without the roof would be awesome fun to drive around the lovely beaches of the Sapphire Coast in summer.

But not on the beaches!  I’m absolutely opposed to driving on beaches – we’ve sucked up enough of our land for compressed highways and roads on which thousands of animals die every year – I think it’s environmental vandalism to drive along our beautiful sandy beaches. Get out and walk for goodness sake!

knitting

So, after much looking, we found a nice little second hand number that will hopefully give us many years service.  It also has a tow bar so we are buying a trailer and will be able to cart things up to Bega each time we visit throughout this year – hopefully making the end of year move a little less of a mammoth undertaking.

bare feet

We picked her up yesterday – I’ve named her Sylvia – and as soon as we brought her home, packed the picnic hamper and headed for the beach.  At first the day was very grey and cool – so roof on for our trip down the bay – but whilst we sat by the shore, munching our fish and chips, the clouds finally broke up and it turned into a glorious afternoon of sun, sparkle and warmth.  Off with the shoes and roof!

little boats coming home

by the waters edge

such coarse sand

paddling

treasures

green

However, Abby quickly found that the back seat is rather exposed without the roof – so she hopped into the front with me and Julian luxuriated in the windswept wildness of the back all the way home.

He adored it! Reminded him of his teenage years by the beach in Darwin.

in the back

So much fun!  And so exciting to be moving closer and closer to the next part of our journey :-)

in our garden

(And little Sylvia will mostly be a homebody this year – spending most of her time sitting on the driveway with the camellias and cotoneasters – I still think four wheel drives in the city are an indulgence!)

 

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

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.

pitch :: a cardigan

front on

It was just meant to be.  If you follow along on Instagram, you might have seen a cardigan I knitted up whilst on Christmas holidays.  It was one of those serendipitous knits.  There I was, with almost four weeks of lovely peace and pleasure stretching out before me, and I’d forgotten my knitting basket.  Which, I might add, meant I forgot dear Sacha’s Christmas present – a rich plum coloured version of Kate Davies’ iconic “Owls”.  And it was almost finished – oy!

right corner detail

However, Mum now has a sizeable stash of wool, courtesy of dear old Nanny.  No need to visit the local yarn store.  There were kilos and kilos of wool, in all imaginable colours, neatly stacked in Mum’s/Nanny’s downstairs dresser. And there amongst them, was a bundle of navy Cleckheaton Country Naturals that I had foisted upon Nanny, a couple of decades back, when I was completely bamboozled by a herringbone vest pattern.  All frogged and meticulously wound back up into balls.

back detail

I could just picture Grandad winding the little Toyota wool winder whilst Nanny unravelled my knitted pieces.  Nanny would probably have been sitting on one of the gold velvet armchairs.  Grandad would have been at the nearby dining table.  Nanny would have a fresh cup of tea in front of her.  Grandad would have the paper opened beside the wool winder, weighted down with his glasses case.  They were probably watching an obscure old movie that Nanny recorded in the wee hours of the morning.  That wool would have wound up so quickly – winding wool was a dance the two of them had long ago memorised the steps to and they never missed a beat. It made me smile, and I took the balls upstairs to find just the right pattern for 10 balls of 8ply wool.

front corner detail

That wasn’t hard – I’ve had Pitch at the top of my list for a few months now!  A truly lovely pattern – such a pleasure to knit and so simple to follow – by Susan Mills, for Classic Elite.  It knitted up nice and quick.  A few rows in bed as I watched the sun rise over the sea.  Another few on the front porch with my coffee.  Several in the car each day as we drove round and round the Bega Valley looking for land.  More at the beach.  Back to the porch.  In bed at night as I listened to the thundering waves of Tura Beach.  I do so love knitting.  And this had the extra special sweetness of being wool with family history.

front yoke close up

I cast it off just in time to wear home – a cold and drizzly journey that turned into!

cobargo button

Then today, I popped it on and asked Abby to take some photos so I could share it with you here.  Now, I must confess, I can be a tad difficult when I get Abby to take photos of me in my handcrafts – I remind myself of Dawn in our all time favourite film “Hope and Glory” when she smacks her little brother Billy on the head when he draws the stocking seam up the back of her leg crooked.

No! No! No! I grizzle.  The light’s all wrong, take it again.  Oh no – the composition’s all wrong – you’re supposed to be taking a photo of the cardigan not the rabbit hutch with a scrap of cardigan.  And on it went – with a few giggles but a fair dose of exasperation on both of our parts.

Until finally, Mum appeared and demanded “Give me the bloody cardigan to wear and YOU take the photos just how YOU want them and let poor Abby get back to what she was doing!”

shoulder detail

Awesome solution.  Abby was delighted and quickly disappeared.  Mum buttoned up the cardigan.  I fiddled with the camera.  And what do you know?  The cardigan looked so lovely on Mum that by the end of our little backyard photo shoot, I said “You simply have to keep it – it can be another Christmas present – it looks so good on you!”  Mum was very pleased.

It will be perfect for her in Merimbula, especially through the often chilly Autumn and Spring months when she’s out and about – gardening, walking on the beach, reading on the porch, sewing downstairs – and doesn’t need long, heavy sleeves getting in the way.  Something that snuggles her back and shoulders will be just right.

reading from side

So there you have it – the wool that travelled from me to Nanny, from Nanny to Mum, from Mum back to me, then from me back to Mum.  From an unfinishable vest to a lovely cardigan.  And a sweet side effect of all this wool swapping – I can now buy some more wool, guilt free, to knit another Pitch for me!  I’m thinking a nice grey.

Actually, I can just picture one of my gardening Aunties wearing one too – what do you think Auntie Jacqui?  Do you too need a Pitch for those cool Dunedin summer days?  What colour would you like?  We could all be matching!reading

We will be the family of Pitches :-)

p.s. the lovely buttons are repurposed cedar from a Cobargo artisan who sells at their local co-op.  The perfect buttons for a Bega Valley Cardie!

 

looking for land

bega in the distance

As a regular reader here at block-a-day, you would know by now that almost from the time we arrived in Melbourne five years ago, we’ve been making plans to leave.  Whilst the past five years have granted us some blessings – a wonderful school for Abby, a chance to gain my nursing degree and train in one of the country’s most highly esteemed hospitals, and the opportunity for Julian to really push his career a long way – Melbourne just isn’t our cup of tea – and so we’ve been …

Looking for land … getting ready for the big move … turning dreams for our future into reality …. oh yes!

We’ve just returned from a wonderful summer holiday, full of trips to the beach, snorkelling for our breakfast, visiting our favourite lakes, national parks, and local features, gathering of bountiful local food and cooking up a storm, and hours of wonderful chilling out on the front porch just revelling in the beauty and freshness of the Bega Valley and the sparkling Pacific Ocean.  I can truly say that in 22 years of being with Julian, the last 4 weeks is the closest and loveliest we have ever shared.

And much of this time was spent driving up and down, and back and forth across the Valley.    Each adventure would start with a gathering of addresses, plotting them in Julian’s map app, collecting hats, water bottles, camera, occasionally children (they were much keener on lounging about at home!) and off we’d go.

At first, there was great enthusiasm and excitement.  We were quite sure there would be lots of land out there and we’d find that piece with our name on it in the first week of looking.  Ha! HA! As all you experienced land/house lookers out there know, it was bloody hard work!  And we quickly became the Goldilocks of land lookers.

Some were too small.  Some were too big.  Some had no trees.  Some had too many.  Some had no water.  Some had so much we would have spent our lives in gumboots.  Some were too close to the main road.  Some were so far off it, we gave up and did 30 point turns on narrow, windy, rocky dirt roads and quickly scampered back to something a bit easier to traverse.

walking down to the lake

gentle slopes

cows

We quickly befriended a real estate agent, learnt about subdivision law, water rights, tree protection, the beauty of a well built dam, the obvious signs of a dodgily built one, the magic of spring fed gullies – Bega is blessed with an abundance of these – and easements.  By the end of the second week, we could recite for you the list of available land in the Bega Valley – and point out all the positives and negatives.  We visited land where the only positive was catching a glimpse of the local wildlife.

echidna

We visited land where you stood looking back and forth from the photos on the iPad which really looked inspiring – to the heavy tangle of bush in front of you – that was perched on a sheer cliff with absolutely no sign of the supposed dam, shed, fencing, and gentle cleared slopes.

But the funniest expedition of all – one that I know we will be retelling for many years to come and laughing until tears run down our face – was the “too good to be true land”.  The agent gave us the address and off we went.  Dirt road – but pretty good condition – with a lovely looking collection of neighbours along the way.  Exquisite northerly aspect.  A big dam.  A grove of trees.  Heaps of cleared pasture.  A wee cottage.  Two sheds.  Established fruit trees and a grape vine.  Solar.  Water tank.  Holy moly – we were beside ourselves with excitement – and it was all within our price range.

We raced back to Bega – debating all the way what to offer – should we just give them the asking price – let’s face it, there were no negatives on which to quibble.  We were planning our first morning there … and the next 30 years worth.  We plonked down with the agent and expressed our delight.  He looked a bit cautious.  I added – “There was even an Atomic coffee maker on the stove!”  ”What stove?” he asked.  ”In the little cottage!”  I answered, amazed he hadn’t noticed it.  ”What cottage?”  he asked, looking more perplexed.  ”Where were you?”

Turns out there are two properties on this road with the same lot number and both for sale.  The dream property – at double the upper end of our budget.  And another – a rather inhospitable, south facing, steep, heavily forested one. Yeeeeeees.

 

west view

old school

small dam

view north


under the ree

looking out from the grove

grapes

letterbox huddle

magnificent gum

After that debacle, we re-grouped.  Revisited our lists.  Reprioritised the list of essentials.  By week 4 we were planning on making do.  But still we ventured.

We visited more duds – and mused over the tendency of some land holders to subdivide the useless corner of their property that they were never able to do anything with, clearly in the hope that some city folk who only needed a house with a view would snap it up.

And cursed and praised the NSW state government for changing the legislation a few years back that blocked the further subdivision of valuable rural land, post a report that declared the regular chopping up of food producing land into hobby farm/house blocks would eventually put the state’s ability to sustain itself at risk.  Totally support this.  But it does make finding a smallish property just that bit trickier.

We walked across fields in hot sun and pouring rain.  Our car was befriended by 4 young steers who licked all our windows and used our side mirrors to scratch their heads.  We counted wedgetail eagles on the prowl and redesigned the chicken run.  We fed a horse that then traipsed along behind us for the rest of our exploration, nudging us with her head every now and then.  Shared supper with a farmer as we watched the clouds catch amongst the tree tops and rain settle in for the evening.  Ate blackberries and collected weather worn animal skulls.  Watched kangaroos casually lope across the garden.  Sat quietly by a creek as a wombat trundled out of his den and down to the water’s edge.

Our budget grew as did our plans.  We visited beautiful blocks of land and met some truly lovely people.  I have to say – it certainly left us with the knowledge that we will moving to a strong, friendly and forward thinking community when we finally close the door on Melbourne life in January 2016, and head north to the Bega Valley.  All three of us are so excited.

I don’t usually like saying “I can’t wait!”  I always feel as if it sounds impatient – totally failing to live in the moment and make the most of what we have now.  But folks we can’t wait.


more valleys

fence with lichen

trees and clouds

purple flowers

through the shed

walking with the farmer

bunnies and blackberries

apple gum

a glade on a hill

wombat den

hoppy visitors

So, without wanting to jinx ourselves – because this land buying is tricky stuff – we hope to have very exciting news soon.

For now – we have so many lists – opshop trips, dump trips, shopping lists (well, for the imediate future, this really only has two things on it – a Hilux and a trailer), to-do lists, and planting lists.  Julian is filling notebooks with plans and ideas for our strawbale home.  We are both reading and re-reading our books on planting and growing and raising.  We’re regular visitors to the NSW Department of Primary Industries online Fact Sheets.

And of course, I’m working hard at my nursing – hoping to learn heaps and develop my skills so that the Bega Hospital will snap me up!

This weekend just past – we started!  One trip to the opshop.  We’ve dismantled our raised garden beds.  And investigated stove options.  Such good stuff!

Only 50 weeks to go :-)

the teachers’ presents


crafting table

Hmmm … it’s just occurred to me, as I uploaded these photos and thought back to the crazy busyness of last week, that this is my second last season of teachers’ presents.  It truly is so unbelievable it gives me a jolt.  Surely it was only yesterday that I cross stitched a Prairie Schooler Christmas Sampler for the lovely Mrs. Solomon and sewed it into a little hanging quilt as a thankyou for a wonderful Year 1.

That’s one of the curses of just one child.  There’s no second and third etc. go round.  Nope – only one chance to get it as close to right as you can.  And no time for savouring.  But I also know how privileged we are to even have one go and for that I am grateful.

We’ve always given teachers’ presents.  Maybe because I spent so many years working in education, I know just how lovely it is to have a student and her family recognise the contribution I made to their year and present me with something sweet and thoughtful.  I’ve always wanted to pay that forwards.

And I want Abby to understand how important it is to show gratitude – it’s a sign of respect and affection.  Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but gee whizz, I think there’s a little less gratitude bumping around every year.  I want her to be one of those lovely people who are remembered and appreciated for showing gratitude.  It’s not hard or expensive – just a bit of time and effort.

Also – I am so very grateful for all that my Abigail has been given by her teachers.

She’s not the most straightforward of students and, apart from a couple of grim years half way through primary school (the Year 3 teacher – we seriously wanted to present her with the dirtiest lump of coal we could find – she was a drunk and a bully), has been blessed with lovely teachers who have always recognised her strengths, enjoyed her quirks and cheerfully walked the extra mile.

As for her high school teachers – my goodness, they regularly reduce me to misty eyes and choked up throat they are so wonderfully thoughtful, compassionate and encouraging.  No matter how grey and wobbly I become, I will never forget the incredible contribution they have made to our lives and will cheerfully sing Star of the Sea’s praises to all.

However, with the plethora of teachers Abby has in highschool, we’ve whittled down the handmade gifts to those who are TRULY marvellous.  For the rest we whip up a more generic but still homemade gift.  This year Abby chose her Japanese teacher – Mrs. Devine, her textiles teacher – Mrs. Pearson, and her Legal studies teacher – Mrs. Maraschello.

Well – no surprises who this cushion is for :-)  I am always a little dubious about themed presents – we can blame my Year 10 Music Teacher for that – she told us at the beginning of the year she HATED musical gifts.  But Abby assured me Mrs. Devine loves Japanese looking things so I dug this piece of simple sweet fabric out of the stash – I like to think it’s quite elegant and not at all corny – and found some pretty calicos to go with it.  I worked up the patchwork on the computer and quilted it with one single large chrysanthemum. It just seemed to need a yoyo in the middle.  Mrs. Devine was delighted.

japanese cushion

little people

The lovely pink and red fabric and the floral used for the binding are MADE in Japan – so that was an extra bonus!  And the blue check made me think of all those lovely indigo woven fabrics to be found in traditional Japanese textiles.

corner

yoyo

The crazy tote went to Mrs. Mara.  We gave her a cushion that last time Abby had her in Year 9 – Abby thought a bag would be a nice alternative for this year.  This was a truly last minute gift.  I had been mulling over the design for a few days and the night before Abby wanted to give it, even DREAMT about how it could go together.

So, Tuesday morning I was up at 5 knowing just what to do.  I cut and sewed the strips, used a dinner plate to make the circular bottom, added a heavy piece of cardboard (chopped out of the back of a large drawing pad) that I covered with the same red lining as the bag, lined it, added the strap and catch, sewed the two cylinders together and voila!  A tote.  I adore it.

And the funny thing – Abby left the Christmas card on the dining table.  Then popped the present on Mrs. Mara’s desk without a note.  Yet, that afternoon Mrs. Mara sent a lovely email saying as soon as she unwrapped it and saw the colours and lovely sewing, she knew exactly who it was from and loved it.  That brought a happy smile to this mum’s face … and the daughter’s too.
the bag

side on

the toggle

princess

lined

flat bottom

Mrs. Pearson’s cushion.  Same pattern as Mrs. Devine’s.  A few different fabrics.  Same chrysanthemum.  And yet it looks so utterly different!  So busy and hot and energetic compared to Mrs. Devine’s cool, quiet elegance.  Hmph – amazing what colour can do, huh!  I used precious Owl and Pussycat fabric because Mrs. Pearson is a fabric guru and I knew she would recognise and love it.  She did.

owl and pussycat

close up quilting

looking across

pink corner

For all my cushions, I use Ikea feather inserts – they just keep their shape soooooo well.  They can be completely flattened to pancake thickness by a sleeping dog, then with a few punches, be brought back to looking plump and gorgeous.  And, hating zippers like I do, I always use a simple envelope back – but I like it to cross over by a good 20cm.  That way there’s no gaping.

cookie jar

The rest of Abby’s teachers – and darling Bob, the lollypop man – each received a jar with the layered ingredients to make Donna Hay’s Choc-chip and Cranberry Oat Cookies.  Recipe included.  They were a big success.  Highly recommended.

Next year – our last year of teachers’ presents – will probably bring more presents for the same lovelies.  But there will be an extra special one for Bob.

Apart from my grandad, Bob is the loveliest gentleman I have ever known.  From the very first day he has shown Abby such friendship and enthusiasm for everything she does.  He waves to me every morning when I drop her off.  And I make sure to come at least 10 minutes after the bell rings every afternoon, because sure enough, Abby will be standing there with Bob and they’ll be chattering away about what they’re both up to, flipping through Abby’s drawing books, carefully inspecting her latest doll, or he’ll be nodding enthusiastically whilst she tells him her latest story.

He’s like her grandad.  (Apart from my dear old grandad, poor Abby completely lucked out in the grandad stakes).  I’ve got those teary eyes and a lump in my throat just writing this.  Words cannot express how grateful I am to Bob for being there for Abby everyday.  I know that she knows that even when some days are a bit hard, there’ll always be Bob in the afternoon.  He’s a school treasure.

So next year, for Bob, there’ll be a quilt – with stars of course.

 

magical mystery bay

looking out to montague island

It just goes to show what a difference a tide can make.  Last week we ventured up to magical Mystery Bay.  Abby’s first time – only our second.  And this afternoon the tide was waaaaaaay out.  Oh – it was an utterly different landscape.  Even more enchanting.  Montague Island was crisper – especially through Mum’s wonderful new binoculars – and almost enticing to me who is terrified of boats.  There was a funny gathering of birds on the far rocks – perched right on the jagged edge with their wings fluffed out like butterflies as if they were trying to catch treasures from the wind as it passed them by.  There were rock pools galore – worlds for miniature people, mermaids, pirates, their ships and treasure.  And the green.  Oh the green.  Sharp rocky fields of it.  It was thick, velvety and so beautiful, turning the broken rocky landscape into an aerial landscape of lush green hills and valleys.

fields of green

miniature mountain rounge

looking for shells

Mum searched for shells and driftwood … and made little movies with her iPhone to send to Grandad so many thousands of kilometres away.  He loved it – especially the roar of the waves.

watching the birds

inspecting needelpointing

Abby watched the birds, inspected the sea’s washed up relics … and eventually settled down on the park bench to needlepoint.  Oh my, she’s her mother’s daughter, isn’t she :-)

washing

I – being the only one with bare feet and legs – explored the rock pools and was made chief shell washer.  As I picked my way over the vivid green rocks and through the sun warmed pools, my mind was full of stories and plans to make the little felt people that could play them.

Wee fisher folk who catch the tiny, darting sparkling fish with the finest of fishing lines and nets.  Rock fairies who dwell in the deep holes of the steep, black rocks – like the cave homes of ancient China – decorated with the soft pinks and greens of the rock pool gardens.  Their little children who gather the sea snails and race them along the slippery rocks as the tide first slips away.  Tiny but fierce pirates who know all the routes in and out of the miniature bays, hiding their treasure in the sharp crevices of dagger like cliffs. And plenty of merfolk who dart about the rock pool gardens, tending to the sea weeds and coral, and collecting the soft green moss for their beds.

rock pools

sea gardens

like a model for pirates

washed up seedy thing crab underwater ponytail

blue bottle

I haven’t yet thought of a role for the blue bottles.  There were plenty – such an amazing array of sizes and shapes but all with that exquisite colour.  Always makes me think of the laundry “blue” that my Nanny Dougall kept to brighten the whites.

Doesn’t this just make you think of a face!? A sea troll who was caught out by the sun, doomed to squat there by the water’s edge for long centuries, the fierce, battering waves slowly wearing him away.  First his limbs, then his body until all that is left is his surprised face until it too is no more, his story forever washed away.

is that not a fac

Of course, this just has to be the bony spine of a long ago sea monster who was washed up one stormy night, too scared to crawl any further up the sand, to weak to return to his home in the sea.

spine

Mum and I are both especially fond of the fragments of sponge and coral that are washed up, drained of their colour and life, but still so very very pretty …

hunting for garden treasure texture funny critter sea witch hand chimeys
treasures lovely greys and sands me

And then, with the sun beginning to set, it was time to bump across this spindly, old beauty and head for home.  Isn’t it such a delightful bridge.  It’s wooden and rattly with the lake on either side filled with the most glorious of reflections, black swans, herons and egrets.  Picture perfect every time.

bridge home

Another magical day on the Sapphire Coast.  Oh I am so looking forward to when it is my home.

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.