orlando’s blue oak :: a quilt

beginning

I ventured out to the sewing shed yesterday.  A brave heart is needed when facing the sewing shed.  I cannot remember the last time it was possible to sit at the table in there.  For so long, I’ve simply stood at the door and hurled the fabric in.  Isn’t that dreadful.  It is.  I’m a little bit embarrassed – thank goodness you cannot see it.

Anyways … I opened the door, peered in, thought about starting yet another grand clear out of said sewing shed – with a view this time to only ever using it as a neat and orderly fabric storage area – gave a deep sigh and thought, oh well, you have to start somewhere so pulled out this incredibly plain quilt I pieced together one night several years back.   Squares of blue pinned to a vintage blanket and a few blocks of straight line quilting.  Like those fabulous Indian quilts – so tactile.  However, interest had waned – how many hours would it have taken to finish this?! – oy! – and this poor quilt had wound up buried under so much else, just its corner poking it.   So I pulled it out.  Pushed the escaping fabric back in with my foot, and slammed the door.

That’s a start, right?

where it was at

The straight line quilting was ripped out – I became so efficient at it – the quilt was pressed with a lovely hot, steamy iron – it lightly felts the woollen blanket onto the back of the quilt top and makes it sooo easy to pin – repinned it and got straight to quilting.
closeup of tree

Now I’m not a huge fan of the all over patterning you see with some long arm quilting.  To me it lacks a bit of individuality – looks a bit too computer programmed.  But my quilting skills are limited so I pondered what to do.  No squiggly wiggly.  No straight lines – or crooked ones.  Something that would fill each square but would also allow me to move onto the next one without having to break the thread.

I did spend a while trying to do this with paper and pencil – and a wee sailboat.  It was a complete failure.  Then, as I stared out the window at our messy back garden, it came to me … the oak!  Our lovely huge old oak that fills our back garden with prettiness, shade and colour.  Which made me think of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the oak poem that he holds close throughout his journey, and the tree – first young, then ancient – that was one of the constants in his life.  No matter what happens in our lives – where we go, how we go, when we come back … there stand our trees.

Always growing but never changing.  Little oaks it was.

last row

There are 90 squares – that’s 90 oaks.  By the third row, they’d really morphed into very curvy little oaks.  I unpicked a couple and redid them – but on the whole I’m very pleased with how they turned out.  They’re all slightly different and certainly not perfect but I was sooo into the groove of it by the time I got to the end.

Now I’m planning apples and pineapples and crowns.  I daresay I shall stick to straight lines of them at first … but as my confidence grows I hope to plan more imaginative layouts.  We’ll see.  It’s a slow thing, this getting of quilting :-)

binding

Found a lovely 1930s reproduction for the binding.  Spent last evening hand sewing it down.  So satisfying.  Then into the washing machine, onto the little indoors line for drying – we had a humdinger of a storm last night – hours of lightning and thunder and rain – I was transported back to spring evenings in south east Queensland -

sewing it on

- and finally, when there was more than 30 seconds of blue sky – a brisk dry to finish off in today’s blustery wind … and a wee photo shoot.

wild and windy day

closeup bottom right corner

even closer

floral closeup

I really do love the effect!  Now thinking of gathering some more of those lovely orange and yellow and pink and red spots, piecing more squares, and quilting pineapples.  That would be fun.

with pegs

And on the back – ta-da! – why it’s a vintage blanket – the only one I’ve ever found in these colours.  Very cheerful.

backing blanket

binding on the line

 

So blue!  So utterly unlike anything else I’ve ever made.  So sweet.  And that quilting!  Huh!  I can’t believe I did it.  I asked Abby what she thought we should do with it.  ”What we do with all the rest,” she replied, “Huddle under it!” For now, it’s hanging on the back of my desk chair.  I’ll have to think about it.  Hmmmm ….

In my dreams, our strawbale house has a lovely big guest room with huge windows looking out to the forest. The room has a sweet old bed in each corner and on each bed are cosy colourful quilts with pretty pillows, a wooden chest at the foot of each bed for bags and shoes, a small potty cupboard with a reading lamp beside each bed for clothes and books and spectacles, and a woven rug on the floor.  There’ll be quilts on the walls and quilted curtains too.  We might need to have two rooms like this … or more …

middle

kicking out from the side

bottom with chair

Isn’t it a grand thing, this learning and growing and changing and adding … I love it.

 

the secret hattifattener society discovers licquorice allsorts

 

See, I found this beautiful range of dotty fabric at Gail Bs.  It comes in about 30 different colours.  Of course, I would have loved some of every colour, but the purse was light so I bought just a few of my favourites – reds, oranges, yellows and pinks.  I adore these colours – they are so full of rich and cheerful life.  They sing of happiness and warmth – two things I know I thoroughly enjoy and you probably do too.  So the more I stitch with them, the more I have around me, the merrier I feel :-)

I chopped them up into little squares with the black for the teacloth quilt and oh they looked so pretty – like licquorice allsorts – and there were a few leftover – so I kept chopping until I had enough for a nice square of 11 by 11.  I stitched them up then tucked them away into the “currently-working-on” basket, unsure of what to do with them next.

A little mat would be quick and easy but there’s a limit to how many spots they can be used – specially since Julian’s not a big fan.  A centrepiece, on point, for a larger quilt would be lovely but would require so more fabric.

And then, this week, I decided to just throw on some lovely spring green borders and turn my luscious little squares into yet another cushion.  I love cushions – don’t you ?!

quilted hattis

Then there was the quilting.  I am trying to break out of the squiggly-wiggly.  I love how it looks and all, but it is nice to be a bit adventurous and try to expand the skills.

So I did … big squiggly wigglies!  Which – when I looked at them from the back, look just like Hattifatteners!  Without the arms.  And thus the Secret Hattifattener Society Discovers Licquorice Allsorts cushion was born.

close up of hattis

It needed a crocheted edging – of course it did – that’s my latest fetish :-)  So, once the binding was sewn down, I added a row of blanket stitch …
start with blanket stitch

… picked my crochet colours …
so bright

… and picked up those pink loops through the blanket stitch.

crocheting through the blanket stitch

The crochet took longer than the rest of the cushion.  Round and round and round.  But totally worth it … and finished just in time to catch the last of today’s sun – which, I might add, didn’t make an appearance until after 4pm this afternoon.  Fickle thing.

with the last beams of sun

finished

top corner

all those hattis

Oh I know I’m blowing my own trumpet – but aren’t these colours just beautiful!  Last week’s Spring Meadow cushion has that lovely soft spring look – like a delicate English garden just peeping out from the frosty cold.  This cushion is hollering a tropical gardening tune at the top of its lungs!

bottom corner

across the top

plain back

And here it is, in its new home, on my rocking chair, in the newly arranged front room – which I mightily adore  …

insitu

Of course, I wouldn’t fit onto the rocking chair with it :-)  That’s the funny thing about me and cushions.  I don’t actually like sitting with them.  Abby loves them – squishing them up under her elbows or hips, or behind her head, or resting her drawing pad on them.  Mum wodges them behind her back for extra support.

Lucy would carry them around with her, if she could.  Fu – she likes to prop herself up against them – as if she’s posing for a French classical portrait.  Julian – he’s the king of squashing them up.

But me – I like looking at them … they are my little feathery seat warmers and then, when I sit down, I push them to one side or prop them on the floor.  Silly huh!

on my rocking chairBut very pretty :-)

 

quilting the teacloths

finished

Some tea cloths are just too pretty to subject to the washing up and scrunched up to lift hot cast iron pans – which often leads me to thinking about what nice wall hangings they would make – and yet, I rarely get around to it.

closeup

Until recently, when I tidied up all the fabric that was shoved in around our little indoor craft table and found this sweet cloth.  I bought it with Mum when we made our epic 3 day drive to Brisbane at the beginning of the year.  We’d deliberately gone well out of our way to visit this little village in the Southern Highlands which had an amazing antique store.  Only when we finally got there – our pennies burning their way through our purses – the store had closed two years earlier after its owners had died.  So sad! We found this out at the Alpaca store – where we also found these lovely tea cloths by the very talented Australian artist – Red Tractor Designs.  I adore her work because it IS so very Australian.  Every piece I see brings a smile of recognition to my face – I can imagine the sun, the smells, the warmth …

I bought this one because it made me think of the future Julian and I are planning – see there’s me off to the left planting some seeds and Julian doing important digging on the right :-)


future lily

future jules

- and Mum bought another lovely one for dear old Nanny.  You can check out more of Rachael Flynn’s wonderful work here. Her Christmas cards are especially lovely – no snowmen or ice skaters in sight! – a girl after my own Australian heart.

cocoa lorax

The bright squares of colour against the black makes me think of licorice allsorts – another sentimental reminder of my childhood.  And the brown – why it’s that Lorax again (I bought metres and metres of him at Darn Cheap one day – I daresay he will keep popping up in things) – ’cause he’s the best gardener of all.

pocket for hangin

On the back there’s a wee pocket for hanging and lots of squiggles … I tried out a few new wobby quilting strategies on this.  Tried quilting round the loraxs – didn’t really work so well.  And made little loopy circles in the licorice allsorts squares.  They worked better and are definitely something I will keep practising. Oh and there’s a pocket at the bottom as well – I’m going to put another wooden rod in there and hopefully it will help it hanging straighter against the wall.

lots of squiggles

trees
first line

second line

And where’s it hanging now?  In the funniest little nook we have between the kitchen and the toilet.  That’s right – our only toilet is off the kitchen.  Let me tell you how much guests enjoy using our toilet when we’re all gathered in the kitchen ;-)  Funny story – sorry if I’ve already shared this – but Abby and I found our sweet little house during a hectic week in October the year before we moved.  It was quite the adventure, finding properties online whilst in the hotel room in the city, then catching trams and trains and walking for miles everywhere to see them.  Was particularly galling to spend 2 hours travelling to view a house that was hideously unsuitable and totally misrepresented online.

Anyways – we found our little house and snapped it up on the spot – without Julian.  He said he trusted us.  Only when he arrived weeks later with the furniture, he called – part bemused, part frantic – because according to him, Abby and I had rented a house with NO TOILET.

Now when he first said this, given all the appalling properties we had viewed, it didn’t seem completely implausible and I burst into tears.  ”Oh no!” I shrieked, “how could it have no toilet.  Surely they couldn’t rent a house with no toilet!”  Thankfully, Julian kept wandering through the house and finally exclaimed with relief “Found it!  It’s right out in the back corner – through a funny little door off the kitchen!” Phew!

tucked in its corner

And where the quilt is hanging – that was a locked screen door into the back garden with no other means of closing it.  Let me tell you how cold that was!  Made you think twice about going to the toilet on a cold night.  It didn’t take long before we whacked up a protective piece of MDF.

glowing

So now, on the way to our funny toilet, you’ll see this pretty quilt and hopefully think of nice things – instead of the fact that everyone in the kitchen will hear you pee.

 

 

a squishy spring meadow cushion

spindles

Well it’s only taken most of the week. But, after more stops and starts than I think I’ve ever before encountered in a simple patchwork cushion, I have FINALLY finished my Spring Meadow Cushion.

misleading

It all started last weekend when I said to Abby, “I’ll just whip up a couple of blocks with that pretty tablecloth fabric”.  In my head, the squares I needed to cut from the Mozi linen tablecloth were 10 1/2 inches.  In reality, I cut the first strip 10 inches.  Bugger.  Never mind.  I can work with that.  But then, I cut the first one off my strip at 9 1/2 inches.  That’s not a square dear.

So I decided to trim the wonky square into an octagon (which I kept calling a hexagon – good thing patients don’t come as either hexagons or octagons) and use it as the centrepiece for a new cushion cover.  I “found” one of the lovely huge feather cushions Ikea used to make – they now make this size in a nasty polyfill which would lose its shape on the way home in the car – in the sewing shed and thought it would be useful for Abby who likes to sit on the floor when she’s creating.

blanket octagon

In my head (a faulty place to be last weekend) I would sew scrappy strips round and round my “hexagon” until it was big enough.  Only when I was playing with my scrappy strips, I laid them on the cushion in a completely misleading way and then spent the next 6 hours trying to make my strips look like those above – with those nice little triangular bits.  Did this work? Of course it didn’t!!!!!!!  It was a “hexagon”.  It didn’t matter how many times I unpicked my strips, those triangles never appeared and I became very disillusioned by my obviously poor grasp of geometry.

I sat there, all Sunday evening, trying to draw it on the computer – to no avail.  Abby thought the only option was defeat – especially since my “hexagon” didn’t look anything like a hexagon.  ”Why does it have 8 sides?” she queried.  ”Because it’s a hexagon silly,” I said.  She rolled around the floor laughing.  ”No it’s not!!!!!  It’s an octagon!!!!!  Octagons have 8 equal sides.  You are NEVER going to make triangles appear on every second side.”

It was blindingly obvious the minute she pointed this out. And even if it was a bloody hexagon, its sides are even too! Folks, I am truly not usually this stupid.  It must have been all the stress of waiting for the grad positions.

oh no

There may have been many deep sighs.  And frustrated stitch ripping.  And flinging of scrappy strips.  There may have been cursing.  But the next morning, when I sat down and looked at it …. I could SEE what I needed to do.  And so, got stuck into it.  Round and round and round.  The only rule I needed to observe was to make the current strip overlap the previous one and the next strip – as you can see below.  It was peachy after that :-)

oberlap finally sorted it

I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself and before I knew it, I had reached the desired size, quilted my centre, added my envelope back, and bound it.  Then I started the crochet edge.  Ahem.  There were several errors.  Which required metres of unravelling and redoing.  But the best bit was late last night, when I’d sat up well past bedtime to finish the bloody thing.  And I ran out of lilac cotton.  With only two scallops to go.  Strangely enough, it didn’t even matter that I saw that shortage coming so crocheted FASTER.

Never mind.  Never mind.  I could just stop by Wondoflex first thing in the morning to buy another ball.  Except that Patons have discontinued most of their lovely 4 ply cotton colours and replaced them with incredibly harsh, bright ones instead – the sort that are usually found in an 8 piece box of children’s crayons – from a $2 shop.

ran out of lilac

So … there was more unravelling …

off it came wee ball

… which turned out to be very serendipitous because the green is much lovelier and so very very springlike :-)

outside for photos

So it is with great relief, I can finally give you … a quilted and crocheted squishy spring meadow cushion!

whole cushion with curry plant corner poking through landscape

With so many of my favourite fabrics … that vivid purple on the left – that’s leftover from Abby’s Christmas dress when she was 10.  That purple check with the little daisies – that’s from Old Nanny Cottam’s stash.  The Kaffe pansies – they’ve been in almost everything for the last 6 years.  The Christmas balls and boughs – that’s in Abby’s Moomin quilt.

lovely colours centrepiece more lovely colours

And I know Mum and Julian will think the crocheted edging is a bit over the top – but hey!  More is always more in lily-land.

with sage flower dimpled sides crochet edging squashy with rosemary

Lastly, here it is being put to very good squishy use on the floor.  Just as it was meant to be.

DSC_0400 under am

Unless you are a bit whiffy, a bit grotty around your furry edges, and your name is Lucy.  In that case – paws off!

 

the laziest quilt ever

with tree I made a quilt this last week.  From beginning to end.  All the ends are stitched in.  It’s washed.  Dried in the sun.  Now lying on my bed, waiting for me to hop in and snuggle down.

whole quilt with branch shadows( btw – the strange black blobs you can see smooshed across the quilt are actually the shadows of our oak tree branches )

 It wasn’t very tricky :-)  Mum and I went out to Gail B’s last Tuesday to find the perfect fabric for a quilt she’s making for a lovely old family friend – Jill.  Jill requested the colours of the sea and sun – she lives at the beach.  We knew we’d find plenty to choose from at Gail’s so off we trotted.  And you know – how could you possibly go to a patchwork store with so many bolts of gorgeous fabric and not buy any?

Well I can’t.  I tried really hard.  Truly I did – I even had several bolts of Tilda’s new range in my arms and then put them all back  But whilst Mum was having Jill’s fabric cut (there were 18 bolts to cut from) and I continued to browse, I stumbled across this old Alexander Henry fabric called “Indochine”.  Oh!

towards the shed top left hand corner

I adored the colours, the patterns and the beautiful girls – they remind me of paper dolls and I want to make outfits to wear like theirs.  So I bought 1.6 metres and then figured it would be better to buy more – its ALWAYS better to buy more – so bought another 1.6 metres and Mum and I figured that she could also buy 1.6 metres and then we’d split my second 1.6 piece down the middle lengthways and then each add the half to our whole piece and voila!  We’d both have a lovely big square panel.

Mum, of course is going to be terribly clever and good and make her pieces match.  I am terribly bad and just whacked mine on.

sewing the threads

( that there’s a needle – nothing as easy as identifying loose threads that
haven’t been finished off and stitching them in whilst
the quilt is hanging in the brilliant sunshine on the clothesline
)

the borders

We didn’t buy any fabric to go with it at Gail B’s.  Thought we’d drop into our lovely friends at Darn Cheap for that.  And sure enough we found this fabulous swirly fabric – by Alexander Henry no less, but printed several years later – that was the perfect perfect perfect match.  And a gorgeous lipstick red for a wee frame.  I love Darn Cheap :-)

circles

In the narrow red stripe I practiced some linked circles – some turned out a wee bit wonky but hey! I’m getting better!  I might even try a recognisable shape sometime soon.

three little maids the tree again

( our tree is so luscious this spring – and thick and humming with bees – that I have to keep including it – swoon worthy it is – and if you KNOW what it is,
do let me know – I haven’t a clue. )

red shirt purple shirt

On the back – why a vintage blanket of course :-)  It’s a double bed size and I hardly had to cut a scrap off.  Well a little bit – but what I did will be perfect for the lovely Spring banner I hope to make tomorrow.

folded over the back all those squiggles

I do adore how the quilted stitches embed themselves in the wool.  So pretty and so very very very tacticle.  Love.

colour and texture

And here it is on the bed.  Perfect!

You know – here’s a dreadful confession for you – since Julian’s been away and I’m still waiting on grad offers (next Tuesday at 9am!) and distracted beyond belief – I’ve moved on from crossword puzzles and computer mahjong, and have been frittering away the hours reading … Regency Romance Novels.  I know.  I know.  It’s dreadful.  They are dreadful.

But wonderful too in that dreadful kind of way.  Truly!  They are almost like Jane Austen – same era, same kind of characters, same clothes, same balls, same phaetons … but of course the writing is very different and there’s all this stormy romance!

I read some aloud to Abby last night – she was rolling on the floor, clutching her stomach, gasping for air she was laughing so hard.  I know.  They are a bit like that.  But anyway – they are passing the time and I’m now in love with Colin who appeared to be a rake but was really deliciously honourable, and want to come back in my next life as Minerva the sharp tongued geologist who despite her blue stockinged ways was actually wonderfully witty and passionate.  Of course she was!

However, it has made me think that Julian needs to work on his Regency romance skills so tonight, when he told me he missed me, I demanded that he describe what he missed. Now any good Regency rake would be able to do this – they wouldn’t even need prompting – and I waited with bated breath for something similar to the knee weakening descriptions I’ve been reading the last few days – something lovely about my hair, or my eyes, or my voice. What did he tell me … he missed my new quilts.

What!  What! My new quilts!!!!! Geez Louise!  I’ll have to lend him “A Week to be Wicked” so he can get some tips from Colin on how to make a lady swoon.

I replied – I don’t know if that’s very romantic.  You tell me regularly that quilts aren’t really your thing!  He explained – Ah but I love your creativity.

Oh … well that’s a little bit better :-)  A bit like when Colin told Minerva how much he admired her dedication to dirt, digging and fantastical lizards.

on the bed

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.

 

 

all over the place

 

I’m very unsettled at the moment.  You may have noticed.

Each day, I bounce from room to room, from project to project.  I hit upon something that takes my fancy for several hours – throw myself into it – it’s delightful – I’m delighted – I’m going to do marvellous things with it.  Then, the next morning, I’m back to bouncing.

Feverishly filling in a giant crossword book I found.  Spending waaaaaaay to long playing mahjong on the computer.

The one upside to this state, is that slowly, bit by bit, each room is getting a good shaking out and organising.  This only seems to happen by creating an unholy mess first.  And sometimes, the crosswords overtake me and the mess lurks about for a few days.

little boy teatowles

The reason for this chaos.  I am at a completely loose end.  You see, it’s a funny thing this nursing business.  You know how there’s this perception that there are never enough nurses.  Well that’s only sort of true.  The degree we undertake these days, to gain our registration, is so very very university based – with so little clinical practice – that no one wants to employ a newly graduated nurse.  She needs way to much training to be safe and useful.  No one except nursing homes.

They’re usually desperate and will cheerfully snatch up a new graduate and put her in charge of 40 – 80 residents.  She will be the only registered nurse on duty and will be expected to provide medication to frail and vulnerable people she’s never laid eyes on before and accept complete responsibility for their wellbeing.  It’s a recipe for disaster – the examples of which hit the coroner’s court.  Mention working in a nursing home and newly graduated nurses shudder with fear.

And so we have the graduate year.  I think almost all of the hospitals have them.  The big public hospitals have big intakes, the little private hospitals have little intakes.  And they all have hundreds and hundreds of new graduates applying.  And guess what – there are nowhere near enough graduate places for those who are graduating – at least a third of graduates will miss out.  Makes you wonder where they wind up.

Do they just grit their teeth and head to the nursing homes, fingers crossed that they don’t kill a poor old soul?  Do they go rural (another whole can of worms)?  Do they do agency work – as terrifying as nursing home work – imagine a ward in a hospital where you know nobody, don’t know how they do things, have never walked those corridors, navigated that drug room, met those patients, and you have almost no clinical experience – nice! Do they go bank (casual work for a particular hospital – not quite as bad as agency – at least you stick with the one hospital)?  Or do they wind up in all sorts of random places where they will never develop the skills they’ve studied for – like doctors’ surgeries and schools and occupational health and safety things.  All of these alternatives to the real thing send chills down my spine.

crocheted flowers fabric on piano

Where does this all leave me?  Well – I achieved a good GPA.  I have great clinical reports and glowing references from really good placements.  I put in my four applications for a grad year – you are only allowed four – and you can only apply one year (theoretically you can apply every year, but you will always be considered last after your first go – so given there’s a shortage of places … )  I received three interviews at 3 big public hospitals – all of which I had been to as a student and had great references from.

The fourth application – a private hospital where I’d also had a great placement and really clicked with the senior nursing staff – I missed out on an interview – they emailed me one hour after applications closed to advise me.  I was HORRIFIED to have been dismissed so quickly so queried their decision.  Turns out they didn’t like my clinical reports – I used my last two reports which were from the Royal Children’s Hospital and The Alfred ICU – two of the most sought after placements – this private hospital wanted general medical or surgical.  Really?  Bugger them.

owls crochet

I had my interviews.  The first two were up quick.  The third was a few weeks back.  I think they went well.  Hard to know.  And now – I have no clue as to what 2015 will hold for me because we don’t find out until October 14th!!!!!!!  Can you believe we have to wait that long.  My first interview – at The Alfred – was on August 5th.  That’s 2 1/2 months wait.  Aaaaaaaaargh!!!!!  And get this – the final joyful bit of the whole torturous process – we only get one offer.  That’s right.  Even if all the hospitals who interviewed you want to offer you a grad year, you will only hear from the one you listed first, so you better make sure you ordered that list just right.  AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGHHHH!

For this marvellous process, we say thank you to the State Government of Victoria and their canny little program ComputerMatch.

So, until October 14th, I am bouncing around, fretting hourly about whether I will get an offer.  Rehashing those interviews and thinking up 20 ways I could have answered each question better.  Filling out yet another crossword.  Wasting more time on mahjong.  Not finishing my quilts.  Not writing up my crochet pattern.  Not working on my needlepoints and cross stitches.  Not finishing off that yoke on Abby’s sweater or Mum’s stripey sweater or Julian’s Argyle.  Not upholstering the footstool.  Not painting the front porch chairs.  Jeeez I’m slack.

Instead, I’m hating that here I am – with months of blissful home time – and I am not using it wisely.  I am flitting about chaotically – perpetually lonely and seemingly unable to finish even one thing.  Wanting the day to pass quickly so that Abby and Julian are home.  Incredulous that another week has disappeared.  Sad that the weekend vanished in the blink of an eye.  Longing for the year to just jolly well slow down.  Wishing I could hack into ComputerMatch and get an offer now so that I can stop THINKING about it all of the time and just settle down to being lucky Lily at home.

Man, I am all over the place.

crumpled quilt

slowly … slowly

There was a sleepless night – we call it “hover sleep” here in Bootville, that kind of sleep where you’re not really asleep, not quite awake, but oh so aware that dawn is creeping closer and closer.  Followed by another early morning, grad year interview – intense occasions after which I can always think of much better ways I could have answered their questions.

The rest of the day needed to move slowly, gently .. with a good dose of uplifting.  And, as is so often the case, such balm was found in the warmth of my kitchen, a little green machine that hums like an old Hornby train set, and a table scattered with fabric.

brewing marmalade marmalade recipe

:: late winter always means pyramids of lovely, juicy oranges – the perfect time for some marmalade brewing.  I’m following a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe which calls for a good overnight soaking.  Slowly, slowly …

marmalade cupcakes

:: not so slowly enjoying yesterday’s Nigel Slater’s marmalade loaf baked into cupcakes – with sultanas because everything tastes extra yummy with sultanas

cabbage mushing the cabbage

:: my first pickling efforts – using Andrea Chesman’s “Pickled Pantry” - my cabbage has been soaking for a few hours after mashing the salt in with my fingers – it’s almost time to add the next ingredients …

new pot

:: a new cast iron pot – bigger than the last!  perfect for slowing cooking a lovely joint – pork, beef, turkey – as long as it’s hot and flavoursome I don’t mind.  But first – this new pot needs a nice slow curing.

jasmine

:: this season’s first posy of jasmine – slowly, slowly spring is tiptoeing in

snape

:: savouring a thick and frothy hot cocoa after school – and still, after all these years, spending our afternoon tea debating Snape’s virtue.  He is hands down my favourite Harry Potter character – alas, Abby will never see it my way :-)

untidy kitchen table

:: things are moving slowly on the kitchen table – it’s looked like this since Friday – but the work has been nonstop!

little pieces

:: there’s only one way all these little seams come together and that’s slowly …

house

… but oh so pleasing.

an iced bun sort of day

lamp

:: lamps were lit very very early

threads delia teddy

:: corners were tidied and reorganised

blanket

:: the perfect vintage blanket was unearthed from the sewing shed

books flowers red and blue

:: mail from Japan was rescued from the leaky mail box, delighted over, and ideas were hatched

machine cotton reel seam spots

:: borders were chopped and stitched and pressed – the material so very pretty it made me wonder what else I could do with it

supper

:: the girlie was collected and supper was shopped for

iced bun:: slices of iced bun were munched and tea sipped as outside yet more and more rain melted into the ground

It was that sort of day :-)

 

now i shall have to sew

needlepoint cross stitch scarf ostheimer mandarines jasmine chickenThere’s a sort of stillness to the house at the moment.  A sense of waiting.  The much longed for change of seasons is almost here.  Yes, there’s still plenty of shivery cold, but every morning the sun rises that bit earlier and I throw open the windows, declaring it fresh.  Just this morning, I noticed the jasmine dressed in her spiky pink buds, mere days away from bursting forth with her beautiful perfume.  The old hibiscus is popping out bright green leaves (the first in years) and the gnarly magnolia’s furry buds are slowly opening.  I want to ride my bike to the shops.  Bake fruitcake.  I always want to bake fruitcake in spring.  Set up camp in the back garden.  Plan for Christmas. Ditch the stockings! Wear sandals!

But not yet.  It is only the first week in August.  There’s weeks and weeks to go of winter yet. So, I shall keep savouring the days just as they are presented to us.  Wrap my hands ’round another cup of steamy tea.  Tuck a quilt ’round my lap, heavy and warm.  Admire the bare elegance of the tall planes and elms that line our streets.  Enjoy the sharp slap of the air on my cheeks when I step outside.  Layer up with wool and shawls and sheepskin slippers when I’m at home.  Make the most of that lovely, safe feeling of cosiness that comes when the sky is dark, the rain is constant, the air is frigid, and the family is all at home, curtains drawn, candles lit, warm and busy.

mandarin holly hobby tea boxes inside

And today, with all the DMC7928 stitched up, I turned back to a quilt top I started way back in summer when the days were long and hot.  One filled with bees swirling their way round and round the garden, little puffy golden chicks and an unexpected red cross in the centre.  I had all the chicks and bees stitched up and I don’t know, it just looked a little too simple.  So I chopped out the middle – literally – and added a little red (no matter how hard I try, I always end up adding a little red).  Then I loved it.  Now, just a few weeks away from graduation it’s kind of funny – I’ve made the perfect nurses’ quilt :-)

ribbon pieces sewing machine stitching rumpled

After snapping it on the line, I laid it on our bed and do you know what – I think it may need one more border – a nice wide one – maybe 5 inches deep.  In red?  Then it will be extra cosy for our bed.   And even more suited to being tossed over a teepee of sticks and opened as a first aid centre :-)

finished corner pegs chickens with the chickenTomorrow – with the forecast filled with grey and rain – I shall find this quilt a blanket, turn the kitchen radio to Classic FM, eat more mandarines, and get squiggling.  It will be a lovely winter’s day.

a cushion to catch the sun

the full

Not last weekend but the one before – with one week left for me on placement in the ICU – Julian left for yet another overseas work trip.  Ugh!  It was a very dreary weekend.  Cold.  Grey.  Abby had a Sunday full of friends and an outing.  I was home alone.  Too frazzled to settle down to nursing papers, grad applications, or lovely stitching projects.  Too petulant to do housework.  Too tired to read – I’d have just fallen asleep.  So I did a little shopping – which was when I discovered the Great/Dreadful Spotlight Sell-out of DMC Embroidery Wool – then came home and rearranged the house!

Nothing like a good rearrange to soothe the spirits, busy the body and give me that immense feeling of satisfaction of a job well done :-)  It was all for a good cause.  With Abby now in the midst of her last two years of high school, she really needed a dedicated and low stimulus (i.e. not her bedroom which is full of posters and books and comics and dolls and laptops and all other manner of distraction) environment to settle quietly into each evening for a solid stretch of homework and study.  And so was born The Library.

I moved the big desk with its big computer out of my room (I only have two papers left to write for my degree so no longer need a dedicated study spot) and into the front room (which we didn’t use much anyway), filled the corners with bookcases, three armchairs with a back-up in the hall for comfy quiet times, and moved the three seater sofa into our bedroom.  This also required a complete bedroom rearrange – shuffling the bed, dressing tables, and Julian’s wee gentleman’s wardrobe.  Blimey – by the time I finished around 8pm that night, I was buggered.

the right the photos the curtains

Now – not only does Abby have a great spot for her work, but I have a lovely, sun filled window seat for reading, knitting, stitching, or stretching out for a quick nap! And soaking up this morning’s delicious (but oh so chilly) sunshine – a cheerful, wooly, quilted cushion – I give you The Suncatcher!

the cushion

It was a completely spur of the moment creation just before placement started.  On a cold, late afternoon, Mum was at the kitchen table stitching Abby’s Debutante’s dress – her idea of bliss.  Julian was at the stove cooking – his idea of bliss.  Abby was on the floor of the living room, drawing and skyping with Sacha- her idea of bliss.  And I was flipping through an email from Pinterest – with no bliss – when I spied a picture of all these little coloured circles paired up and stitched into rows.  They looked like beautiful macaroons and their pretty colours instantly brought a smile to my face.  I cannot remember how they were presented – as a cushion? wall hanging? tote bag?  I don’t know what sort of fabric they used for their circles or for the backing.  And even worse – I can’t remember who the original artist was and nor can I find the photo again.  It would seem I was so excited, I didn’t even pin it to one of my boards.  Hmph!

I did, however, get snipping, and by the time supper was on the table, I had 50 little circles of felt cut and paired (all from the exquisite selection at Winterwood Toys).  Now, I’m sure they could have been cut more evenly – specially with one of those nifty circle cutter press thingies.  But you know me – I’m not a stickler for perfection.  I love colour and texture and the whole doing thing.  Having it put together in a pretty and sturdy way and then put to good use is all I need for my dose of bliss.

cutting circles bottom rows rosy pinks green glowing quilted in checks

After pairing my circles up, I pinned them out – combination of eyeballing with the occasional use of a tape measure – onto a lovely lovely lovely piece of wool fabric that looks like hessian – oh it is so beautiful with the prettiest halo – which I found at Darn Cheap Fabrics up the road.  Of course, it was bought for another purpose, but I never let that stop me ;-)  I then pinned this – using safety pins – onto a piece of vintage blanketing for extra sturdiness – those little macaroons of felt carry a bit of heft which the woollen hessian just doesn’t have.

little beaks purples and yellows

Then – using my walking foot, I stitched straight down the middle of each column of macaroons.  Quilted it into checks.  Add a border of tumblers in pretty Konas. Whacked on an envelope backing of cocoa and white checks and bound the edges with a nice neutral.  Abby picked it out for me – I tend to get carried away – you know, more is always more.  Abby has a lot more discipline then I when it comes to fabric choices!

on its back

Oh I do love this cushion so much!  It doesn’t matter where we put it – its beautiful, rich, cheery, furry colours catch every last drop of sun and bring a wonderful light to this often dark and wintery home.

with tea and pattern

For now – it’s sitting on my window seat with me and I’m about to sit here in the sun with my cup of tea and have just a little fiddle with this new needlepoint pattern before I write my pharmacology log that’s due in tomorrow!  Truly – just a little fiddle ;-)  You believe me – yes?

 

 

kitchen day

My it’s so cold at the moment.  Our breath is frosted even in the kitchen (no! don’t give in! don’t give in! leave the heating off!).

But oh it’s so lovely to be home, home, home!  This being day three of my return to a time of quiet and domesticity – and I’m loving it.

Today – it’s been all about the kitchen ….

lentils and cup

:: cooking supper early so that it will be rich, warming and ready for the family when I return home late from babysitting.

pumpkin pleasures

:: trying not to eat all of Julian’s pumpkin pie (sans pastry) one slice at a time.

chair shuffling

:: shuffling chairs – and plotting their repainting for the umpteenth time – so as to tackle some …

quilting

:: kitchen table quilting – the recently thrifted kitchen stools are perfect for quilting – they wind up and down so can be made just the right height – no more stiff neck!

new to us china

:: I shall serve dinner in this little sweetie tonight – also recently thrifted – Mesterkokken “Flamingo” from Norway – from the fabulous Jewish thrift store up the road – they have the best European crockery

needlepoint pattern fiddling

:: fiddling with a new needlepoint pattern – something to soak up the thousands (yes, literally) of skeins of DMC embroidery wool I’ve recently “accumulated” – and baffled as to why it’s skewif – huh!

repurposing chelves

:: gloating over the repurposing of a hard rubbish bookcase – has been sitting on the front porch with sneakers on it for the last 2 years – perfect fit for the end of the kitchen table – and perfect for all the pretty and useful things (clutter, says Julian) I like to keep handy :-)

erzgebirge

:: smiling each time I catch a glimpse of these dear little napkin rings – can’t decide whether to use them straightaway – save them for special occasions – or just wait until we have 3 so we can ALL delight in their sweetness (will Julian really care if he has a plain silver one? probably not)

alison lester

:: so pleased to have found these placemats I made – oh, 16 years ago – from an old Alison Lester calendar.  I think they need a couple more coats of sealer before we use them.  Add to the to do list.

she likes

:: my little furry companion.  She longs for toast and crepes and pumpkin seeds and pumpkin pie and onions and carrots and mushrooms and speck and sausages and left over roast potatoes and … and … and … pretty much any food that touches my hands.

The perfect kitchen – in the gorgeous Bega Valley of course –  is something I regularly dream of – and collect pictures of and plot and plan with Julian and Abby and Mum.  It will have huge windows, and a wooden burning stove, and a set of window shelves facing the sun for herbs, and comfy chairs for cosying and cook book browsing and radio listening, and a walk in pantry, and a pretty white sink with a fabulous tap, and glass fronted cabinets for our glassware and china, and a cork floor (I LOVE cork), and loads of bench space, and the perfect spot for each appliance …

But right now, when there’s a lovely long stretch of days (weeks! months!) before me with not much to do but care for my family, this little kitchen here in Melbourne will do me just fine :-)