it work

planting our letterbox

my favourite

all in a row

julians favourite

the microwave

interesting use of star pickets

the old one

digging the hole

tamping her down

 

with the neighbours
closeup

it work

Letterboxes in country Australia are quirky things.

They are constructed from all manner of things – and most often homemade.  Old milking cans, perched on their side – and often with the bottoms almost completely rusted out – are a long held favourite.  A more modern take on this is the old gas bottle – one would think they would be a bit sturdier than the milking can – alas, they too seem prone to rust. Even more peculiar is the recent popularity of old microwaves.  I must say, this does not do it for me at all.  I don’t like microwaves at the best of times.  But I guess it’s probably reasonably waterproof – something most country letter boxes are not.

Then there is a never ending parade of handmade skill, ingenuity or imagination – my favourite round here is that white peaked-roof little house number at the top with the sweetly painted door – very traditional and so big – there’d be no parcel too big for the postman to leave in that one!  I could practically sit in it and wait :-)  Julian likes the next one down – a combination of little Swiss Chalet with a heap of mechanical cogs and wheels attached for extra bling.  He plans to make one similar to this.

As for that very old oven, precariously woven onto a quartet of star pickets, well, it sure is quirky, but I’m surprised the postman dares to open it!

I looked up rural letterboxes on google – just to see what they looked like in other parts of the world – and found that there are letterboxes especially made for rugged conditions.  Huh!  Well, I can tell you now, no one around here bothers with that kind of fancy-jiggery.  They go through the scrap pile and make do!

Another feature of country Australia letterboxes is that they usually hold more than your letters!  Frogs, toads and spiders (both harmless and deadly) are common fare.  We had a frog and toad sharing our letterbox all summer – which made me smile every time I peered in – it was like our own little Arnold Lobel tableau come to life – I would not have been surprised to see Frog tidying our mail, and even more delighted if Toad had baked me a cake :-)

Snakes are also common – ugh!  We have plenty of snakes round here – and not your sweet little harmless ones – but red belly black snakes (shy but very poisonous) and browns (quite aggressive and deadly).  Yep, in Australia we don’t like to do things by halves.  Folklore says that if you have red belly blacks, you won’t have browns because the blacks eat the browns’ babies.  I won’t be counting on that. Imagine how big the snake could be that could fit in that huge white letter box!  I’m shuddering just thinking about it!  Sometimes I think it would be wise to check the mail with gloves and a stick.

But the quaintest thing about country letterboxes is that they are not often outside your house/farm.  Instead, they are all perched on the side of the road at the beginning of your road – with road being a euphemism for winding, pot-holed dirt track that may well go for miles, getting more track like and more prone to flooding the further it goes.  I love it :-)  It’s like the pinboard you find in a university department when you hop out of the lift – you know, the kind that has a photo of everybody who works there with their name underneath.  You peer at them – usually an eclectic assortment of easy smiles, sullen stares, and grim frowns – as you’re wondering which tutorial to sign up for, wondering which ones are nice, which ones are funny, which ones are reliable, and which ones will make you wish you never came to university.

The letterboxes are just like this!  They are the street’s version of the photo pinboard with their individual peculiarities inviting you to ponder who lives where and what they are like!  I bet the person who built the Swiss Chalet with mechanical cogs and wheels has a wonderful attention for detail and keeps all his Owner Builder magazines chronologically with a cross reference for different building methods.  And the person who perched the old oven on its stilts loves a laugh and hunting through the darkest and dingiest farm sheds, and probably watches Howl’s Moving Castle once a month.  As for my favourite – well that’s clearly a farm that has been lovingly handed down through the family and great grandad built that letterbox for great grandmother as a consolation present when she gave birth to their fifth son!

As such, Mum decided that our inherited letterbox – the dull little rusted thing with the name Neal – did not say anything useful about us!  So, with the expectation that building a beautiful letterbox will be long way down Julian’s list of things to do, she found a perfectly serviceable little letterbox at the dumpshop (why throw money away on new when the dumpshop almost always has what we need!), sanded it back, gave it a coat of rustkill and proofing, then painted it a divine glossy red – as a tribute to dear old Grandad’s decades of service to Australia Post and because red is always fabulous.  Mum did such a lovely job!

And I, of course, added my own bit of letterbox bling.  A “boot” for the front – with flowers growing out of it – our name, and across the top I painted the number as big as possible – don’t want the postman getting mixed up – and more flowers.  Mum was delighted!  Julian just smiled and shook his head – and maybe moved “build letterbox” further up the list ;-)

So the other Saturday morning, as we sat on the porch contemplating the day’s list or gardening and animal chores, we bumped “plant letterbox” up to the top.  We chucked all the tools we’d need into the back of the car and drove on up to our road’s letterboxes – where we met up with some neighbours and had a good old chinwag and planned a street party! Julian yanked out the old disaster – it was so precarious it was a miracle it had not toppled over – and dug the hole much deeper.  He planted a lovely sturdy fence post (also bought at the dumpshop – yes!) nice and deep and filled around it with fine little pebbles, bashed them down with the crowbar, then packed in more dirt on top.  Next he screwed on our cheerful little letterbox – then realised I had painted it “back to front”. That was a moment.  Well of course I did because it’s not really back to front!  I want to be able to pull up in the car right beside that letter box, flip back the lid and peer in.  Perfect!  He thinks I’m mad – but loveable.

Yep, our little letterbox might not score high on the country Australia quirky letterbox scale but it definitely says “The Boots live here!”, don’t you think :-)  And now we are that bit more firmly planted here in our beautiful valley.  Sigh!

pinning it on

whilst the cake baked

original label

batter

fabric choices

cutting

hemming

ironing the pockets

pinning it on

skirt

from corner

closeup

pansy

1 slice left

chickens pottering

moon rising

on the way home

sun setting

 

I love skirts.  Long, full, gathered, brightly coloured and richly patterned skirts have been my favourite thing to wear for many years.  I love the traditional skirts of many parts of Europe with their richly embroidered details and cheerful sprigged florals.  I love the full skirts of 19th century dresses.  I love the batik wrap around skirts of the 1970s. I love tiered skirts with their crazy mixing of colour and pattern.

Since I realised all I had to do was buy twice the length I wanted, chop it in half, whip up two side seams (if you leave the selvedge attached you don’t even need to zigzag anything) add an elasticised waist and hem and voila!  I was ready to step out, I have filled my wardrobe with skirts in whatever fabric took my fancy.

Then, of course, there’s the amazing potential for extra detail – contrasting hems, rickrack edges, chicken scratch embroidery, rows and rows of ribbon, mix and match panels – so good!  The more time on my hands, the more loveliness I can add (remember, I’ve never embraced the less is more philosophy!)

For the last 18 years I have teamed my skirts with reasonably fitted tshirts that neatly covered my quick to sew elasticised waist – I confess, I have been victim to the notion that I couldn’t add a full blouse that needed tucking in to an elasticised waistband because I would look like a trussed up bag of potatoes.  But now, with the wonderful liberation that comes with age and ever growing confidence, as well as lovely inspiration from around the webby world (the styles of the gorgeous and creative Phoebe Wahl and Ms. Partshade-Fullsun have been very encouraging!) I now know I can add whatever I like to my gathered skirts!  And this winter I have been doing so with gusto.

I’ve added big colourful patch pockets – absolutely awesome for gathering eggs and seashells and carrying whatever tools around the place I might need – and wide fabric belts to my repertoire and many mornings lately, my routine includes, let out and feed the poultry, gather the eggs, feed and chat with the sheep, then plunder my fabric boxes in the shed and come back with armfuls of potential.  Then, I sit here in my jammies and whip up a new skirt and possibly belt, and by 10am I’m newly dressed – shirts tucked in! – and ready for another good day.

Of course, I do like to squish in as many things as possible, so I often put on supper, or mix up a cake to bake, or put on the washing whilst I’m sewing and this here skirt and cake are the products of just that.  There were Plymouth Rock chickens to collect from Wyndham and quilting for mum on the agenda so I was up early, my fabrics already picked out, sewing and baking – a Jamie Oliver recipe – Sweet Potato and Apricot loaf – and on the road by 10:30.  And it was indeed a good day.  There was great company along each step of the way, quilting was finished, cake enjoyed, four beautiful chickens brought home, a gorgeous sunset to stop and admire … and a beautiful skirt stitched up from vintage opshop fabric teamed with an opshop shirt and velvet belt that fulfils the Kate Bush in me!    Pretty much everything one could hope for in a day :-)

And this practice of skirt making connects with so many of the ideas I hold as not only important but essential to a life well lived. I refuse to be told by merciless, environment and community exploitative, greedy big businesses what the current “must-haves” are.  I refuse to conform to what our mainstream society declares is attractive or beautiful at this one point in time.  I refuse to treat my clothes as disposable items that are only good for a year or two before being discarded.  I refuse to play that game where an item of clothing that was adored one year is expected to be laughed at and scorned a couple of years later.  And I utterly refuse to walk around looking clone-like.

Every day when I wake up I want to be a creative participant in life – not a passive consumer. I want to make what I can, using what I have or what I find.  I want my clothes – let alone my home and activities – to be symbols of who I am and what I love.  I want to tread gently on this earth but also embrace and celebrate the joy and satisfaction humans have gained for thousands of years from adorning themselves with loveliness.

I read in a recent memoir, by a woman who survived the Holocaust, that being able to dress herself in proper clothes and put on lipstick made her and her fellow survivors feel like real people again. Being stripped of her clothes, having her head shaved and being forced to dress in filthy rags by the Nazis stripped her of any sense of being a human and part of this world.  Being able to choose how to dress herself again helped her feel like a valuable human being with inherent dignity once more.

Now I’m not comparing my incredibly privileged skirt making to this woman’s experience.  But reading her words strengthened my belief that to dress up – to gather what we love, hold is pretty, and adorn ourselves with it is such a natural and positive thing to do.  And as such, I know it’s time to reclaim our clothes and the pleasure we receive from dressing ourselves from the ugly, exploitative, disposable industry that has become the world of fashion.

Make and wear what you love!  Make and wear what makes you feel good and comfortable!  Make and wear what says “This is me!!!!!”  Step away from the dreary blacks and greys that the clone producing businesses tell us we should wear – let me tell you how many birds flaunt their stuff with black and grey – NONE! – and embrace the energising and cheerful beauty of colour and pattern! And look after it and wear it for as many years or decades as you like and when you no longer want to wear it, add it back into your fabric pile and smile when it pops up in a quilt, or a curtain trimming, or a sweet pair of shorts or dress for little ones.  Or wash it, neatly fold it, and send it off to the oppie where someone like me – or the fabulously stylish and creative folk of Freetown – will pounce upon it with delight and give it another whole new life.

You’ll love it … and our earth will thank you!

 

on the sofa

grey with a splash of colour

fabric choices

first stripe on

pins

all in a row

off we qui;t

like ocean washed sand

chair

binding

with pug

one corner

one fold

the pocket

with sun

one valley

on the porch

in the garden

with wind

still blowing

the whole quilt

on the sofa

If you’d told me last year – or any of the last six – that I would love making quilts with swathes of grey I would have hooted out loud.  Why on earth would I do that when I was so often drenched in the grey of Melbourne’s mercurial weather and inner city living.  Honestly, when there would finally be a splash of sun after a week of heavy grey, especially in winter, I would almost cry with relief.

But here, on the glorious south coast of NSW – glittering sea to our east, smudgy purple mountains to our west, and rolling green hills and huge old gums round every bend – why, I’ve come to really like the soft smooshiness of grey.  So much so that first I started making an exploding star quilt with 5 different pieces of grey and was so excited by that, I bought I few more pieces and started making a very simple quilt to hang behind the newly restored antique organ.  In my head, four simple squares of four simple grey stripes, each turned a different way, with a riotous ribbon of all the favourite fabrics that were going into the exploding star and had already been stitched into the little houses quilt (still to quilt and share that one), finished with more simple grey then a turquoise binding.  Hung behind the organ (hiding a redundant door).  Looking just tickety-boo!

Within a handful of days the quilt was pieced, pinned out onto a lovely cream blanket (didn’t want any checks or stripes showing through those soft smooshy greys), quilted with the best squiggly wiggly I’ve ever managed, bound, a hanging pocket sewn on and boom!  Ready to hang.  With Noah at the dining table drawing – patiently jumping to help everytime I shrieked – and the fabulous Juliet Stevenson reading Elizabeth Goudge’s sweet tale of the Little White Horse in the background, I armed myself with ladder, hand drill, screwdriver and ruler to hang my first quilt at Wombat hill.  Such bliss!

Except it looked ridiculously awful!  I think it’s a beautiful quilt – I love it!  And would cheerfully make it again and again and again with different colour combinations etc.  It was a very satisfying make and looks serene and fresh at the same time – but with this lovely splash of colour that draws your eye, begging you to say “Oh look!  There’s birds and unicorns and little girls playing hopscotch and foxes hiding amongst the foliage, and dachshunds that make me think of Toph, and pheasants strutting across the fields, and Kaffe (there’s always Kaffe) and wow! look at that glorious , favourite ever Anna Maria Horner mustard floral!”

Even better, it is related to the little houses quilt and the exploding star quilt.  I adore when I gather together a melee of prints – fat quarters, half metres, specially bought, dug out of boxes, trimmed off skirts – that I so love putting together and using over and over.  They bloom into my “cousin quilts” and make me smile when I look at them.

Nevertheless – despite almost an hour’s awkward effort with that ladder, hand drill, screw driver and ruler – my grey with a splash of colour looked stupid behind the organ.  Wrong dimensions, wrong colour (the greys blended too much into the off white wall) – and just way too crisp for an extravagantly turned and carved Victorian bellows organ with mirrors and candle holders.  Sigh. One of those moments.

Thankfully, after I’d climbed back up the ladder, and Noah and I slid the quilt off its hanging rod and dropped it onto the sofa in a huff … we realised that was exactly where grey with a splash of colour was meant to be.  On the plain white sofa, against the glowing yolky yellow walls of the living room.  Reflecting the wonderful, riotous colours of fields and trees, animals and flowers, sky and sunshine just outside the glass doors.  With the richly coloured Persian rug at it’s feet, and the needlepoint cushions resting in its corners.

And two dogs.  Of course.

on the chair

the little farmer’s quilt

thread and scissors

joined by the gulls

trio

on the table

little boa

noah and the moon

walking along the grass

on the chair

catching the sun

over the rock

dusty with sun

bronzed

the blanket

squiggly crosses

quilted rock

blanket warming in the sun

the whole quilt

corner on the sand

around the sun

close up of centre

sitting on the quilt

corner folded back

shaking it out

quilt and waves

heading back

maddie the dog

blowing off the chair

Really, every post I write about quilts could start like this “Oh my goodness, it’s finally finished!”  I’m so predictable ;-)

This Little Farmer’s Quilt was one of those spur of the moment quilts I pieced last year.  On a rare Saturday morning off work, I drove out to Gail B’s Patchwork with Noah because I really wanted some of their old Heather Ross fabrics – hopefully the little farmer with her horses.  And yes, they had it!  So I then spent a lovely hour or so gathering soft sunset colours to put with it.  I pictured a sort of round the world quilt but in rectangles not squares, with the Heather Ross fabric as the centrepiece.

It was the last quilt in progress that I shared with my dear old Grandad before he died.  Mum was by his side almost every day during his last few months, and every day family from all over the world would send him photos, little videos, and skype messages that Mum would help him look at at.  Oh he so loved it, and would look at his favourites over and over again.  Especially videos of his greatgrandchildren saying “Love you grandad!  Love you grandad!” He would wave back to them, kiss them on the iPad and say “Love you too sweetie!”

Truly, I cannot agree with anyone who says the internet and all its accompanying technology is destroying our families and societies.  Despite so many of us being so far away, we were all able to be there with Grandad during his last days, sharing funny stories of old, describing what we’d been up to, reminding him of how much he was loved.  It was an incredible blessing.

And he and Nanny always wanted to know what I was making so I would send Mum photos and she would share them.  One of Grandad’s gifts was that he never offered shallow praise.  If I played the piano for him, gave him an essay to read, showed him my patchwork or embroidery, I knew I could rely on him to tell me what he loved but also what needed improving.  “Well, you need to work on that passage, don’t you!” he would say when I finished playing a wonky piece “But I loved listening to the opening – you played that well.” And “Well, that’s a nice looking lighthouse, but let’s face it sweetheart, that’s not what our lighthouses look like.  I think you should make it authentic to us.” And “The colours look lovely Doogie, but I think you’ve rushed those points a bit.  I know you could do better.”

I always valued Grandad’s opinion and his encouragement always made me want to go further, stretch myself, work harder.

I’ll always remember the Christmas I was accepted into the University of Queensland to study for my Bachelor of Arts when I was 17.  Father Christmas had given me the University Handbook – a huge telephone directory sized volume that included every discipline within the university and a description of every subject they taught.  The depth of offerings was amazing – I could even study Icelandic Language and Myth!  After our big family Christmas dinner was eaten and washed up, Grandad and I sat at the dining table with the handbook, paper and pencil and pored over almost every chapter.  We discussed what would be interesting, what would be useful, what would be difficult, the value of education and how fabulous it was that Gough Whitlam had introduced free tertiary for everyone – Grandad and I loved talking politics!  He looked through disciplines that he would love to have studied as a young man and we talked about them too – he was especially interested in Australian history and politics.  It was the beginning of my university life shared with one of the people I love more dearly than anything else. The perfect Christmas.

This here quilt … Grandad loved the colours – he thought they were the best choice I’d ever made – I’d created a beautiful sunset.  And he liked how they radiated out from the centre.  Me too Grandad.  That’s exactly what I was hoping for.

So, the other afternoon, when Noah had an appointment at the hairdresser at Bermagui, it was the perfect opportunity to take along the almost finished quilt, sit on the cliff by the glittering sea and sew down the last of the binding, then take it down to one of our magic beaches with Noah and photograph it.

The late autumn afternoon sun was low in the sky, setting all the honeycomb rocks and quilt ablaze with rich light, and casting a magical dusty glow across the wetlands behind us.  The wind whipped about us, sprinkling us and the quilt with a fine dusting of cool sand.  The sea was choppy with white galloping horses out in the bay and thickly tumbling waves close to shore.  There were a couple of fishermen further up the beach, a young woman running through the water and diving under the waves her long dreadlocked hair trailing behind her like a mermaid’s tail, and a sweet friendly dog called Maddie.  That was definitely a sign – one of Grandad’s dearest grandchildren is named Maddie – oh how they adored each other :-)

Whenever we do something like this, I feel so close to Grandad because I know it’s exactly the kind of thing he would want to do too.  He would have played with Maddie the dog, chatted with the fishermen about their catches, and asked the young woman about her exercise regime.  He would have insisted on carrying the deck chair, and taken part in just how to best lay the quilt out and where to stand to catch the best light – Grandad loved his camera.

He would have loved every moment.

And then, as we were driving back along the beautiful winding road home – up the little hills and back down into the little valleys, all filled with picturesque dairy farms – there on the side of a small glade of trees was a little black wallaby.

It was dear old Grandad!  Letting us know he’d had a lovely afternoon too and that he would always be here.