mostly doug

the madeline cardie

cast off

After two weeks of knitting with this glorious dark blue wool – I think of it as black watch tartan wool – I finally found a decent background for it last night as I sat casting off my Madeline Cardigan (original name “Practically” by the very talented Kelly Herdrich) – named after Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmanns of course – can’t you just see all those little girls in two straight lines wearing this very cardigan as they march the streets of Paris! –  wrapped in this lovely vintage Laconia blanket.  Oooooh but our little cottage is sooooo cold at night – being metal and all – and when Julian’s not here to light the fire, I must confess, we are very lazy and pile on the woollens instead.  As for this cardie – I adore it!  And so pleased with the additions I made :-)

starting early

Alas, I am easily distracted, and so this morning, instead of sewing on Madeline’s buttons – or doing the dishes or hanging out the washing – truth be told, I even made the animals wait a bit longer – I grabbed my lovely new fabrics, my gorgeous Dottie Angel patterns, and began chopping instead!

prep

And how did I get these here buttons sewn on?  Why I paid Noah of course ;-)

my button sewist

He is a very talented and accomplished sewist – with amazingly fine motor skills and a superb eye for detail.  So off he set, carefully measuring and stitching …

embroidered sheep

whilst I worked on my sheep applique and regularly queried “Are you almost done? Have you put that one in the right spot? How much longer will you be?”  Yes it would often seem that Noah is more like the parent, and I the impatient, impulsive teenager.  Sigh!
selfie lesson

Then, when all was finished – in an effort NOT to have to take photographs as well as sew on buttons for his mad mother – Noah attempted to teach me how to take selfies in the mirror.  Hopeless waste of time.  I can never work our where to hold the camera or where to look or how to compose the background.  So he had to take them anyway :-)

wearing it

And did a sterling job at that too!
mostly doug

Doug made an excellent and obliging prop – adding his black dachshund hair to the thousands of strands of cream puggle hair that have been knitted into this dear cardie.  As well as my long treacle and grey coloured hairs – I always have to spend the first couple of weeks of a new knit carefully pulling out the long hairs that have been tightly knitted in!

pretty buttons

fu and noah

Fu decided she wanted in on the action as well.  She really is the most delightful dog – best farm dog here at Wombat Hill to be sure!  She can round up chickens, cheerfully hang out with ponies, lay snoozing in the sun with sheep.  All our animals are completely relaxed around Fu – they can tell she’s a good one.  Not like the other two horrors.  All flee from their frantic, yapping paths!

flowers and fabric

Because I misread the pattern and didn’t buy enough fabric yesterday, then it was off to our local fabric legend – Freddie’s Fabrics in Cobargo – where not only did I find the perfect fabrics for more Dottie Angel goodness, but had a lovely leisurely tour of Freddie’s beautiful garden (her shop is in her garden studio) and she packed up several cuttings and a lovely bunch of heavenly scented Daphne for me.  Now that’s my kind of fabric shopping.
afternoon tea

Home again, home again, jiggety jig – toasted cheese and coffee on the porch with a splendid new catalogue.  I shall have to forego buying any more fabric for the next few months so I can dedicate that money to spring flowers from Tesselaar!  Oh you should see the Clematis!  The Aquilegia!  The Dahlias!  The BEGONIAs!  I didn’t know Begonias could look like that.  Methinks Julian will have to plough up half the front house yard to fit in everything I love! (He’ll love that suggestion ;-)

newly cast on

Then there was some casting on.  Well of course there was.  I cast off last night!  I know I could have finished other knitty projects instead – four instantly spring to mind – but since I’m in my Dottie Angel mood, and it’s been on my Ravelry list since I joined Ravelry – and the wool arrived last week – I just HAD to.  So here’s the beginning of my February Lady’s Sweater.  Mmmmmmm ….

in threes

And a couple more photos of the Madeline cardie.  I do find it is easier to photograph in the shade – that way the incredibly intense darkness of the black watch doesn’t make the light blow out. So here you can see the lovely “in threes” of Kelly’s pattern.  As well as the scalloped crocheted collar I added.  I added four stitches to each side when I cast on so that my cardie would not only meet but button up.

side panel detail

 

I also added a simple side panel of ever increasing garter stitch – it’s made a pretty stepped pyramid going from the underarm to the deep garter band around the hem – I added a few extra inches to the hem so that it would sit a little longer.  My round tummy is not a fan of the cropped look!

beautiful colour

And of course, I added full length knitted sleeves with deep garter stitch cuffs – I started with the stitches on waste wool for Kelly’s capped sleeves, picked the stitches cast on for the side, and added two extra stitches on either side of them.  Then I decreased by 2 every seventh round until the sleeve measured 40 cm, then knitted eleven ridges (as Elizabeth Zimmerman calls them – so very sensible and instantly identifiable) for the garter cuffs.  Our winters are moderately cold – mornings are often frosty and hovering around the zero mark, and the afternoons are cool – I’ve discovered that 3/4 length sleeves may be great for not getting your cuffs wet when you’re filling up the pigs’ water trough but they are freezing cold when you are standing outside the bakery at Nimmitabel in the snow!  In fact, I think I may soon be undoing the cuffs on my green cardigan and knitting them all the way down too!  Knitting is so generous and flexible like that, isn’t it.

wooden buttons

Oh see the button – so pretty!  I bought them on Noah’s and my recent little holiday in Melbourne at the truly gorgeous shop Epoche in Callista – incredibly well worth a visit – we were there for almost two hours, so delightful was every nook and shelf.

And finally – the selfie.  In the kitchen garden, with my purple podded peas.  Looking very proper and all – after taking umpteen photos, it became obvious that the absurd was far more entertaining than the normal ;-)
my selfie effort

So now, here I sit, cosy cosy in my lovely Madeline Cardigan.  I could finish cutting out my Dottie Angel tabard.  I could start piecing my sheep cushion cover.  I could even sneak into the television room and curl up with that lovely Laconia blanket, my snoozing dachshund, and my new knitting and watch Restoration Man (OMG – we got tellie finally!  Only two years after settlement!  Our friend Pete sent the television man over on Monday and he just whipped up onto the roof, shoved up an antenna, ran a cord, drilled a hole, popped it into the television, tuned the television and within an hour of Nick’s arrival, we had tellie!  Who’d have thunk!!!)

Instead, I should be the grown up and put on supper – roast chook and veg – and wash some of those bloody dishes.  After I’ve boiled the water of course because we are revelling in week 6 of no hotwater system.  But it’s okay, the plumber is coming tomorrow … then we will be super sophisticated.  Hot water and tellie all in the one week.  And my Madeline Cardigan.  I am one blessed woman.

 

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.