When it rains

We’ve had the most beautiful weather this past week, perfect for pottering round the patio with a watering can,

visiting the pergola in the evening light,

and even enjoying a rest under its blooms at the weekend.

At no point have I had the time to get stuck into any really big jobs – it’s all just watering and weeding at the moment – but little seedlings are popping up left, right and centre, and sometimes it’s enough just to have a look while I give them all a good long drink.

Before last week, though, we had some truly miserable weather – for May, that is – with low temperatures and seemingly interminable rain. In truth, I didn’t get into the garden at all. Instead, I caught up with a little stitching.

You might remember my starting a new embroidered holiday diary while we were in the Lakes this Easter. From sketchy beginnings on a sun-drenched shore,

that first motif is now complete.

It won’t be framed until the year is out, and of course I haven’t pressed it as there will be more sections to add. In fact, you can still see the purple disappearing pen in places, but it will fade.

In the end I decided to add to my meagre selection of colours and now have this pile of beauties to choose from:

which made the pebbled shore,

woodpiles,

bluebell woods,

and hilltop stream so much more fun to do.

In fact, it was so much fun that I started retrospectively stitching a view of Pale Hall, where I spent my 40th birthday in January, before the sun reappeared. It’s good to know that I have something on the go, given our unpredictable British weather. Garden on good days, craft on bad. At least, that’s usually the summer plan around here.

I do have plans to launch another dress pattern later this year – it’s all ready to go, apart from the tutorial – but for now I’m just enjoying doing smaller bits of stitching in the smaller pockets of time available. I’m a great admirer of those who can whip out a sketch book and capture a moment on a page – and perhaps one day I’ll learn to draw – but for now I’ll keep doing something similar in linen and thread. And it’s the simplest thing in the world to throw a little inexpensive embroidery kit in my bag when I go away, and enjoy revisiting the scenes of our holidays as I stitch away at them when it rains.

Madeleine

Do you keep a holiday diary of any sort?

The magic of kits

Last Thursday, as soon as I’d published my post about our Easter holidays, I wrote another post about my dismay at discovering that I have a stash. Yes, I know that this is a problem that I am privileged to face and yes, I know that many creative people love nothing more than a great big stash full of possibility. But the thing is that this is my life and my time, and I don’t want to spend it making things I neither enjoy creating nor really want in the end. Life is short, and our planet’s resources are limited. I like to make things that I need, want and will treasure, one at a time, using up scraps as I go. That’s what brings me creative pleasure.

Part of the reason I was so fed up about it was that I’ve spent a lot of time using up yarn scraps this winter. I’ve knit two lace baby bonnets and crocheted two snoods, as well and knitting colourwork wrist warmers and a long fairisle snood for my mother, amongst other things. The final snood was finished in the lake district, and in my mind, that was the end of the materials in stock. As I found, that wasn’t the case at all.

We’ve had the pleasure of a long weekend this week, with a Bank Holiday Monday, and with the luxury of time I took myself off to my little studio to finish off another nearly-there project – hand binding my new sewing machine cover.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I’d grabbed the hoover and a duster and was giving the whole room a spring clean. I emptied out all three desk drawers, moved all the books and generally had a really good sort out before putting things back differently to before. Rather than having a drawer for all things woolly (spinning, knitting, crochet) and another for all things sewing-related (garments, embroidery, patchwork and quilting), I consolidated all the tools into one drawer and all the materials into another. (Various papers, including patterns and writing materials make up the third.) This time, though, I was a bit more ruthless about what constituted a material. Food dyes? Yes, actually. Brown luggage labels? Yes. Essential oils and seeds for the veg patch and bits of beeswax? Yes again.

I also did something very uncharacteristic and donated a length of viscose to the charity shop. It’s not that I’m against donating – in fact I’m all in favour of it. I just think that donation has become a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card for many of us when it comes to thoughtless consumption. Normally, we really do use things up and wear them out to the extent that they are only fit for recycling by the time we’re done with them. But that fabric was making my heart sink every time I looked at it. I didn’t want to sew with it, and I didn’t want to see it on Ilse for a year or two.

Out also (to recycling) went a couple of other well-intentioned projects, one of which was the beginnings of my handspun blanket. It is made from my handspun yarn, crocheted out of leftovers from various projects. But I have been making it for three or four years now, and it is just over a foot long. Again, I only have one lifetime, and there are other things I’d rather spend it on.

Thinking about long term projects led to me cast a critical eye over my scrap quilt squares. I’d already used up the postage stamp blocks I’d made for the other side of the sewing machine cover, and honestly felt like I’d had enough of that. Instead, I put together a kit for an EPP sewing roll. Everything is planned and labelled and a beautiful lining fabric has been assigned. All of a sudden, what was a languishing long term use-up-the-scraps project is a new and exciting portable craft, ready to come out and about with me this summer. I can’t wait.

There’s a lot to be said for trying your hand at something before committing to a major project, and the drunkard’s path blocks were something that I had my fill of very quickly indeed. It wasn’t the curves – I quite like sewing curves after all my dressmaking – but rather all the pinning of the aforementioned curves that was just tedious. So the fact that the first sixteen blocks were trimmed too small (don’t sew when you’re sleep deprived) turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I turned them into a lovely new pair of much-needed potholders:

and went on the hunt for a new quilt pattern. In the end, I chose to make something very similar to this, only with a grey background instead of the white. I cut up my 10″ blocks and a bit of Liberty and all of a sudden my I’ll-make-it-as-I-create-scraps quilt is now a kit complete with everything I need to construct the top, bar a border. It is going to be my autumn project, with a view to getting it onto our bed by Christmas, and once again, I can’t wait.

What with a washed and dried fleece paired with some food colouring (Ilse and I have a date set for this) as well as all those frozen elderberries and avocado skins, I’m ready to see how much I can get spun during the Tour de Fleece this July.

The jar of tiny scraps is ready to transform my old handspun yarn tags into reusable Christmas tags (the magic of pencils and rubbers) and some cards.

A favourite pattern and the right sized needles have been selected for some September sock knitting:

and a couple of other quick and easy projects have been finished off and cleared out of the way, such as some visible mending of a much loved (and very much on its last legs) jumper.

When all was said and done, I had a total of eight projects lined up for the next few months, all of which I am delighted about. I genuinely can’t believe just how much impact a simple shift – just collating materials into kits – has had on my attitude towards these materials. They have gone from being millstones to a series of treats that I am looking forward to getting stuck into, one by one. In fact, I was so keen to get started that I finally made some more progress on my holiday embroidery yesterday, and am planning another pleasant afternoon’s stitching very soon.

It has also inspired a flurry of other creative endeavours, with old projects being pulled out and dusted off all over the house; especially gratifying was finding some more scraps being added to a strip quilt last night.

It’s been such turnaround, from dismay to pure pleasure, over the past few days and I’m relieved that only the latter seems to be catching. I don’t know what the psychology of all this is, but I do know that there is something truly transformative about the magic of kits.

Madeleine

What are your tricks to make yourself excited about your materials again? Do you make up kits for yourself? Or do prep/ cutting sessions? Or is there another method that we should know about?

Away and back again

I often choose Easter as the time when one set of projects will end and another begins. Gardening, of course, begins in earnest around this time, as does the washing and spinning of a fleece. Because of this, I like to have my cold-weather knitting and sewing wrapped up, leaving me free to focus on the plants and some outdoor carding and spinning (raw fleeces are just too dirty for me to want to work indoors).

Of course, Easter is a moveable feast, which makes it an odd date to start the gardening year. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my madness: folk wisdom dictates that potatoes should always be planted on the equally moveable Good Friday. For me, though, Easter has two constants that makes it the perfect time for this changing of the guard. First, I always have a two week holiday in which to finish off lingering tasks and really get the garden started. Second, we always go away, if only for a couple of nights. I suspect that it’s this change of scene that has the greater influence on me, because we almost always go somewhere dominated by nature, which makes me almost ache to be in the garden when we get home.

This year we went back to the Lake District bothy that we hired three Easters ago. I think that it might be one of my very favourite places for an off-grid, switch-off and reconnect-with-one-another holiday. I love it there. I love that fact that there is no electricity, let alone wi-fi. I love the fact that there’s nothing to do on the candlelit evenings but play a game together, or snuggle into your sleeping bag with a torch and a good book.

Most of all, though, I love that fact that there’s nowhere else to stay on that side of Loweswater and in the mornings you have all this to yourself.

As everyone in the UK knows, the weather over the Easter weekend was sublime. It was perfect for early morning walks in the woods around Loweswater, admiring the gnarled trees and patches of bluebells.

I liked to finish my walks by approaching ‘our’ bothy via this green lane. Can you see it, nestled in the trees?

If you timed it right, there might be some breakfast or a cup of tea to enjoy on a log bench whilst watching the children play endlessly on the rope swing. We were very relieved to find it still there, three years later.

Despite the fact that I have done a reasonable amount of walking the in Lakes, and John has done a vast amount more, neither of us had ever been to Ennerdale, so we made that the object of our Easter Sunday walk. If you don’t know, Ennerdale is the dale which is being rewilded, which means that there are no cars beyond the car parks, no boats or bouys on the lake, and far, far fewer people than in other parts of the Lakes. We climbed the fell on one side before dropping down to walk through the most wonderful woodland, full of twisted roots and natural stepping stones, before stopping to have our lunch on a little pebbled beach. On the far side of the water was an Easter egg hunt which felt madly busy after the peace and tranquility of the first half of our walk, but we quickly left that behind and followed the curve of the shore full circle.

I completed what was to be my final yarn project of the season while we were there – far quicker than I would have done at home, as Ilse and I spent the first afternoon of our stay crocheting, reading and dozing on a hillside in the sun while the others did a Via Ferratta climb. Luckily I’d brought some materials with me to start an embroidered 2019 holidays diary, and set about sketching my idea whilst admiring Loweswater one evening.

I didn’t get terribly far with it before we came home, but I’ve been enjoying working on it since and it is coming along at its own pace. The plan is to add a stitched sketch of our lovely stay at Pale Hall in January, and then take it on holiday with me all year.

As you’ll probably have guessed, this was entirely inspired by Gillian’s holiday embroideries. I made one a couple of years ago, when we went to Greece with family for a couple of weeks, and never shared it on the blog. It hangs in our guest room and I love it in all its imperfection. There are many happy memories stitched into that bit of linen. (I do intend to share it here, but it is fiendishly difficult to photograph. One day I’ll surprise you with it.)

On the way home, we had to stop in on of my favourite spots to let some sheep meander across the road, and I took a final couple of photos to remind me of quite how big the world really is when I’m sitting at home in York.

There’s nothing quite like a mountain to put you in your place.

Home again, the children helped me in the garden for a couple of days. The vegetable patch was less than manicured. I like to tell myself that I was letting all those weed seeds germinate so that we could get them all in one go…

Whatever the justification, a couple of overcast days later all four beds were weeded and compost spread on the parts that had missed out in the autumn. Two more days saw them all the seeds that could be sown, sown, and the potatoes planted too. I can look at the next two photos much more happily.

I think the Easter holidays might be my favourite of all, coming as they do just as the world is waking up around us. With a short stay away, somewhere simple, to refocus my mind on the world around me and force me to look up from whatever might be in my hands. I love the forcefulness of spring: the way in which is bursts upon you, ready or not. And I’d like to think that I am, usually, ready, although this year I fear that I am not. But more on that next time.

Madeleine

Did you have a lovely Easter? Go anywhere or do anything special? Does Easter inspire you to make seasonal changes in the way you spend your time?