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.

 

 

a very finished chess board

Yeah, yeah.  You’re sick of hearing about the chessboard.  And I didn’t live up to my promises last week.  I know.  The week kind of wobbled off course.  These things happen.

But today!  New week.  New to do list.  Board FINISHED.  Family playing. Good stuff!

raw edges

It only took an hour to move the board on from here …

looking at blue

to here …

corner with pieces orange

and then as soon as the girlie was home and tea was brewed …

abbys lineup abby little blue pawn knight king my hostages

Personally, I think chess is made so much more fun by having such darling little pieces :-) I bought them from a lovely local woman on ebay.  What a find!

Playing, I always imagine I’m Empress Matilda – wife to the German Emperor, heir to the English throne, and dogged combatant of her usurper cousin King Stephen.  Not that this brings me any luck or skill – bit useless at chess I am.

I first met Matilda in Ellis Peter’s marvellous Brother Cadfael books – have you read them? They are so enjoyable.  Fortunately, I was studying history at the time and was able to enrol in subjects that allowed me to dip further into this awesome woman’s life and struggles.  I wanted to name Abigail after her.  My family pooh-poohed the idea – a girl born in Australia and named Matilda will always be asked if she’s named after that blasted song with the thieving swagman!

her next move

After whipping me soundly, Abby prepared the board and waited for a more serious opponent …

julian and abby cosy evening… and from the sounds drifting down the hallway, I’m guessing the moves that swiftly defeated her mother just don’t stack up against her father :-)

fu

lucy

Meanwhile, the rain pours, the temperature drops further still, soup bubbles gently on the stove, lazy doggles snore …

Such is the perfect winter’s eve.

the consequences of finding oneself stapleless

ready to go

I know.  I promised there would be a quilted/upholstered chess board to share this evening.  And truly – it was going to happen.  Except that when I settled all my tools and fabrics on the kitchen table, I discovered there was nary a staple to be had for my staple gun – it being the essential upholstering tool and all.

Thus, a trip to the hardware store was in order.  And you know, with just a few gentle detours, I was able to include the Sacred Heart, Brotherhood of St. Laurence and Salvation Army Oppies on the staple gathering journey.  And that took a little longer than anticipated.  Who would know gentle detours could do that?

placemats

Oh but such treats were found!  Placemats with matching coasters.  Never used and such gorgeous colours and patterns!  They’d only just been popped on the shelf – I arrived at the perfect time.  It was kismet.

wool box wool

Two sweet boxes of L’Amour by Patons.  The box lids have a floppy sheet of clear plastic in them.  The yarn is so soft – a mix of lambswool and angora with a tiny fleck of nylon for strength.  They look so very pretty, part of me wants to leave them in their boxes for ever and simply admire them.  Only a small part :-)

DSC_8825

A belated wedding anniversary gift for my Jules.  A vintage leather briefcase.  The clasps and handle are in perfect nick.  The leather needs some conditioning and polishing.  It will still look well loved.  Good.  I can just picture my fellow strolling up to the train in his argyle vest (just waiting for the yarn to arrive from Shetland for that – small detail), thrifted tweed jacket, felt hat from a quirky hat maker in Ireland, swinging his briefcase.  Extra good stuff!

scarves

Two dear squares of printed fabric – I immediately thought bandana/head kerchief thing. The previous owner thought cushion and stitched them together and added a zipper.  I still think they will be much more useful as scarves so will be unpicking them asap.  Such pretty colours and the lovely pattern reminds me of glorious French tablecloths.

grey sweater cream cardie

Woollen jumpers – a shop bought one from Germany – a beautiful dark grey and white fair isle.  It’s currently a jumper but I’m dreaming of steeking the front, adding almost black bands with red icord trim and frogging, and unpicking the ribbed hems – more red icord.  Hmmmmm …. still pondering.  The creamy-grey cardie is certainly hand knitted.  And beautifully too!  The only thing that needs a bit of a lift – the buttons.  They are terribly cheap and dull for such a lovely cardie.  I’m thinking a trip to the Glenferrie Button Shop is in order – and maybe those lovely woven leather buttons – yes?

baby patterns

Vintage knitting patterns – who can say no!  Not I, that’s for sure.  I tell myself that even if I never knit the precise items in them, they are still a wonderful resource for stitch patterns and ideas :-)  Mind you – there’s that baby wool that needs knitting up and there are some dear little bonnets and cardies in the Baby Encore booklet.  Oh yes!

staples

Oh! Finally!  Staples.  Extra short ones.  The wooden chess board is a fairly flimsy affair.

first step done

And voila!  We are one step closer to a quilted/upholstered finish.  The quilted top has now been stretched and stapled into place.  This afternoon, after that slow trip to the hardware store, the rain poured down, the wind whipped round, and darkness fell extra early. Meanwhile, the little girl sat at the kitchen table writing spelling sentences and completing word building exercises whilst telling me endless Star Wars stories and crawling around under the table with the over-excited puppers.  And I listened and helped, coaxed and suggested, laughed and scolded (the puppers that is), whilst pulling and straightening and stapling and ripping out said staples and doing it all again until it looked good.

So, because there were no staples, there are now yet more thrifted treats tucked into the corners of Bootville.  Each with its own story forever unknown to us.  But that’s okay – I’m good at creating their histories, imagining who bought them – the placemats, a 21st present don’t you think, kept for good but then never used – the balls of L’Amour, a treat to herself with a special pattern picked out and yet, knitting for the children and grandchildren filled her knitting time until it was too late – the briefcase, it’s already been to the train station thousands of times maybe with the daily newspaper, a sandwich, perhaps essays to mark, or a colleague’s proposal to peruse.

Now we shall add to their stories whilst they make ours a little more beautiful.  And tomorrow – I know there will be very good progress on the chess board.  Truly I do!

 

because it was there …

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on gratitude last week.  Such moving and thoughtful words – I feel not only encouraged to count my blessings, but to remember that we all approach the world with such unique eyes and hearts.

Well … not really :-)  Just *being* on the footpath is not enough to make me stop.  But this gorgeous piece … oh my!  There I was, on the way to collect Abby from school, already running a wee bit late, on the phone to my Mum, venting about the really crappy enrolment issues I’m having with my university, when I spied it.  Perched on the very edge of the footpath, about to topple into the gutter.

I couldn’t stop – I was in mid-rant and would be dreadfully late for Abby if I tried wrangling it into the car by myself.  So, I crossed my fingers that it would still be there on our homeward bound journey.  If it was still there, I was meant to have it.  If not … well so be it.

It was still there.  We were still chatting to Mum, but as soon as I chucked a u-turn and pulled up in front of it, Abby knew what to do.  Out she jumped, cleared the boot, and surveyed the territory.  What a girl!

She looks for defects, my girl, and yes this has a few obvious ones, but nothing that can’t be easily fixed.

“It has graffiti Mum!”  Pah!  Bit of metho and that will come off in a twinkle.

“Ahem … the springs are poking out!”  Yes but look what perfect condition they are in – no rust and not distorted – all it needs is new webbing and those springs will stitch right back into place.

“Its kind of missing part of its top here.”  Hmmm … that will be the hardest thing to fix – I’ll try to find something at the traditional timber products store up the road or maybe I’ll find me a woodturner who can make me a new one.  Small price.

And as for the damaged rattan – that’s where my Mum comes in :-)  She’s an expert at that, having restored several of those lovely antique American dining chairs that always have seats made out of it.  I don’t think she’s ever found one with the seat still intact, but after a quick lesson from the lady selling the supplies, Mum is now a whizz at cutting the rattan, wetting it to press it perfectly into place, then wetting the cane “piping”, and shaping it into its snug groove, followed up with some subtle tacking.  There you go Mum – you’ll need to pay a visit soon :-)

I think this armchair must be quite old – definitely pre-war.  The techniques used were very traditional and there was nary a staple to be seen – all lovely sturdy old blued tacks, with a beautiful hand stitched hessian roll at the front.  Unlike modern tacks, these ones even came out whole (the heads break off the modern ones as soon as you whisper to them, very annoying).  The fabric is kind of cute – but completely had it.  And we didn’t rescue the cushions – they were atrocious – definitely peed on … definitely!

So after three very satisfying hours work – in which I channelled all my university angst into ripping those tacks out – the old upholstery is all off.  Apart from those tacks you can see at the front, all the rest are out.  And I’ve scrubbed down the closest arm.

It’s lovely English oak – see Abby!  All the graffiti came off!  I must say, those rounded melon things at the front are a bit tedious to scrub.  But they’ll be worth it :-)  And I’m definitely taking the funny little castor wheels off – they detract, most ridiculously, from the lovely heaviness of the clawed feet.

It really is the prettiest chair!  I’ve yet to decide on new fabric – I think something simple. Maybe a stripe?  Or a check?  I’ll have a bit of an explore and see what I can see.

Tomorrow – why a bit more scrubbing!  Nothing like a good dirty project to focus and occupy the mind.  And when it’s nestled into a corner of Bootville, with one of us all comfy and snug in it, we will giggle and reminisce about how we go it home.  Hee! hee! hee!

the thrifted birthday armchair

We never did give you a good look at the finished birthday armchair.  So, on this dreadfully hot day (40 degrees celsius – ugh!), since we were going that way, we decided to take the armchair back to its site of adoption for a wee photo shoot.

Yep, here we are – on the nature strip of Dandenong Road / Princes Highway.  Miles from the city.  Where the trucks roar past and the view is bleak.  (No girl children or crazy mamas were endangered at any time during this photo shoot – we were parked in the parallel, one-way, dead-end service street.)

This is one of my favourite hard rubbish finds (I always say that, don’t I!).  Despite it’s rather hideous dark olive green vinyl cover, it was in beautiful condition when I picked it up.  It had clearly been very well made.  Once the original vinyl was off, the materials and workmanship underneath were impeccable and thus, very easy to work with.   I saved the original metal label and reattached it when I was finished – Van Treight – furniture of distinction – gorgeous!  I think they were based in Sydney – the label on the bottom declares this to be a Visitor’s Chair.

I did an upholstery course when Abby was a toddler.  Every Saturday morning, for a whole year, I traipsed along to a local trade college where I rebuilt a genoa armchair (one of those armchairs from the 1930s with hugely fat, rounded arms).  With the help of a marvellous tutor – Ian, a retired master upholsterer – I learnt how to sew in springs, put in webbing, build an arm, seat and back with the traditional layers of material, make my own piping and attach it, button backs, to upholster first a “petticoat” of calico, then the special fabric on top.

I learnt that you can NEVER pull the fabric too tightly.  That I always left too much fabric behind when I attached a piece – Ian would hack it back without mercy.  That if you can’t see it, use scraps of whatever happens to be laying around – thrift is the name of the game.  That if you start with a sow’s ear, you will end up with a sow’s ear no matter how much effort and money you put in. And tack, tack, tack, tack, tack … and then tack some more.  We had air pressured staple guns – woot! Were they empowering or what!  I really loved the course, and whilst I know I don’t have the skills, expertise or experience to pull off something like a genoa by myself, the more I have practiced over the years, and the more I push myself, the better I get.  Every piece of fabric I cut or staple, I can see Ian standing beside me, exhorting me to do better, try harder.  He was awesome.

It is such a comfy chair – it sits in Abby’s room, under her window.  She spends hours sitting in it, reading or drawing.  Often, at night,  it becomes Julian’s or my chair, we sit beside her before she falls asleep and she tells as all about her day, or the latest book she’s read, or anime she’s found, or drawing she’s finished.  Or we read – sometimes aloud, sometimes parent and child just reading their own thing in companionable silence.

As for cost – the fabric was reduced to $5 a metre at Spotlight and I only used two – what a find!  The tacks were less than $5.  A new cushion for the seat (the old had DEFINITELY been peed on) was about $40 – I bought a really good quality upholstery/memory foam from Clarke Rubber which the young man meticulously cut in the required wedge shape. The rest of the supplies were things we had around the house – thrifted blanket for the petticoat – gives it such a smooth finish – staples, covered buttons, red flannel, strong crochet yarn, and a random piece of cardboard to give the top edge at the back a lovely sharp line.

An absolute gem – and a much loved birthday present.  One that I hope Abby will enjoy for years and years and years to come.

Oh, I do so love hard rubbish!  Such a shame there were none of our birthday chair’s relations there today! (Julian’s wiping his brow with relief :-)