Category Archives: family

forty

That’s right… I’m forty today- how did that happen?!

hydrangea

Hydrangea

I have to say, I’ve been feeling a fair bit of trepidation about this one. My usual, yearly birthday musings about where I am at and what I’m spending my time doing have been amplified by the magnitude of that number and the struggle which my sister is going through in her life… in some ways, that’s made me much more connected with the need to make the best of my life right now and yet, at the same time, I feel acutely aware of time passing. Surely both good motivators, no? Well, yes… but being moved by a sense of urgency alone can be exhausting- I also need to learn how and when to relax and go easy on life and myself! Some of my mates who’ve already stepped over the threshold into 40 say that it’s the time of not caring so much about other peoples expectations, of letting go of some of your own, of knowing when to push and when to surrender. I’m up for that.

hydragea 3

So, my birthday wishes for the year ahead? Peace for Sarah, however that takes shape, and some family time. Tenacity. A shower (or even a bath!) in my very own, new bathroom and lots of friends in our house. The beginnings of a back garden. Some time to get to know my new, soon-to-arrive macro lens, a very generous present from my family- be prepared for lots of plant photos! A glimpse of a different horizon- NYC? Scotland? Some good creating. Is that too many wishes?! It is 40, after all- I figure I get a few extra this year!

Hydrangea

Hydrangea

sarah’s quilt

My sister and I started making a small quilt quite a few years ago, when she returned to Melbourne after many years in East Timor. At the time, she was testing the waters to see whether she wanted to settle here and was finding city life tough, especially the dark and cold of the Melbourne winter… I suggested picking up a craft, something she could do at night or when she was feeling at a loss. So we started a quilt, using some of the many tais that she’d been given during her time in Timor. She had collected some big, beautiful pieces of weaving but she didn’t know what to do with all those thin strips of brightly coloured fabric…

Colours

We cut them into triangles- and then she moved back to Timor! Too hot up there for quilting, she reckoned, so they went into my cupboard. I thought about piecing them together for her wedding but didn’t get around to it… now, in a few weeks, she’s starting chemotherapy to see if there is anything that can be done about a tumour and so I thought it was a good time for those brightly coloured fabrics to come out of the cupboard.

Tablecloth

Some lovely friends helped to bring cohesion to such a riot of colours. It is my first pieced quilt: quite imperfect and a bit crazy, perfect for my sister and I ; )

Reds, oranges and blues

Blues, pinks and yellows

May it bring her strength and light when times are dark.

East Timorese fabrics

gloves and mitts

I recently went through my box of woollens in search of a particular hat but instead rediscovered quite a few pairs of gloves and mittens hailing from distant places, all beautiful in their own way. Given the chilly winter weather in this part of the world, I thought you might be interested in seeing them…

This pair of mittens was left in my care by my sister, who, living in Darwin, has no need for any kind of glove or woolly garments! They are very precious to her, as she bought them many years ago while living and working in remote Siberia. They were made by an elderly woman living in the nearby village who knitted to supplement whatever income she received from state or family. No doubt, they helped my sister get through the winter with hands frostbite-free, so I have only gratitude for the knitter! They are large, which makes me think that they are designed to be worn over a smaller pair (to have to wear two pairs of mittens is so foreign to me!), and are made of six shades of commercially-spun yarn.

I really love the simple flower motif, as well as the use of single rows of garter stitch to divide the sections of colour and texture and the cuff that expands to cover the sleeves of a coat or jumper.

These are the smaller mittens that my sister wore underneath. Knitted by the same villager, these are made of her handspun yarn- which, according to my sis, was sheepy, rather than the goaty mohair that it looks like. Look at that halo!

Although knitted in a relatively hard, smooth, worsted-style yarn, the mittens feel surprisingly soft (and warm) when I put them on. The beauty of these is definitely in their plainness and creamy lustrousness.

Just for the knitting geeks, it looks like she used a longtail cast-on ; ) I’ve also been wondering what breed of sheep she may have got her fibre from… despite the plethora of info in the fleece and fibre sourcebook, it doesn’t mention any breeds from this part of the world that fit the fibres we see here. Anyone have any idea what it might have come from?

These fingerless gloves I bought in Shetland two years ago. There was simply no way I was going to get out of Shetland without taking  some of their beautiful colourwork with me… and I just fell in love with the vintage colours in these.

Interestingly, the ribbed bands (cast on with a tubular cast-on ) were knitted flat- can you see the seam in the above photo? Initially, I thought they might have been done that way to save time… but, given the Shetland knitters renowned skills in working in the round, that doesn’t make sense to me. I’m wondering if perhaps the bands were knitted on a hand-operated knitting machine and then put on double-pointed needles for the colourwork? Anyone know? When visiting the textile collection at the Bod of Gremista, I heard a bit of tut-tutting from other tourists when the curator began to speak about the use of hand-worked machines by local knitters but I can certainly understand why production knitters all over the world use whatever tools they have, allowing them to spend the bulk of their energy and time on the more intricate parts of a piece. It would be lovely to have everything done in the old way but it is not always possible- and certainly not always viable for the maker. Anyway, as I said, I’m not sure if that is what’s been done here but it is an interesting thought!

And some gloves also made in Shetland but bought in Stromness, Orkney. I bought them for a friend but… in the end, I couldn’t give them away, despite the fact they are a bit big for me. They are surely knit for the tourist market (as I guess most things are) but those colours are insanely rich and beautiful. More than the individual shades, what really gets me with these is the combination of colours; I would never have thought of pairing the hot orange and red with this rich but muted palette but that is what makes them come alive! Fabulous!

And here is a peek of the fingerless mitts that I designed for a class introducing participants to Shetland lace construction methods.

I wanted to show them the amazing ways Shetland knitters started and finished their work to minimize casting on and off and to lend elasticity and stretch to the piece. I’ve written up the pattern to put on Ravelry so won’t go into much detail here but they are knitted in one piece in three distinct sections using Shetland methods. Made using quite a few new techniques if you are new to this tradition (as I am!), these are also very comfortable to wear as there are no tight edges at the wrist or around the fingers.

And, lastly, in my projects-soon-to-be-started knitting basket is a kit for my first pair of traditional colourwork mittens; both pattern and plant-dyed yarn are from a craftswoman whose work I’ve loved pretty much since I started knitting and joined Rav. This ended up in my hands accidentally but I was super happy to hang onto it when it did! I can’t wait to start them…

harris tweed upcycling

My dad and I share a passion for Harris tweed… for him, that passion is rooted in  childhood memories of Geelong and western Victoria, where he, like many boys and men, wore jackets made from it, tailored either here or in the UK. For me, it was the incredible textures and colours of this handwoven fabric that took my breath away…

Colours

A brief visit to the Outer Hebrides last year gave us the chance to explore the fabled woven cloth a little bit more, which only fueled our respect for the culture and tradition of HT and those who have made it for over a century.

Weavers sample book

The industry has waxen and waned over that time; recently, Yorkshire businessman Brian Haggis bought Kenneth Mackenzie Ltd in Stornoway, which at the time accounted for about 95 per cent of HT production. Haggas then reduced all 8000 HT patterns down to four, refused to sell to any one else and started producing exclusively for his own garment production in China. His efforts led to the closure of several mills producing the yarns used in HT production and the redundancy of many millworkers and and did not bode well for the future for the industry. However, a combination of the efforts of another local company, Harris Tweed Hebrides, and a renewed interest from local and international clothing and interior designers seems to gently suggest the possibility of a more diverse and robust future… for a far more informed view on the subject, Mike Donald’s blog, the croft, is well worth reading. Having spent many years on the mainland, most recently as a publican in Glasgow, this native Hebridean has returned to Lewis to undertake a weavers training and posts regularly on HT as seen locally and around the globe and other aspects of island life. Also interviewed here. This interesting BBC article on HT is also worth a view if you’re keen.

So Dad and I inadvertently started collecting HT jackets, really because, despite being reclaimed by the odd Fitzroy dandy and worn at events like the Glasgow and Melbourne Tweed Rides (still can’t believe I missed ours!), mostly these jackets (often with outdated cuts or the odd moth-hole) languish in wardrobes or on opshop racks. Which seems too much of a shame.

After rapidly accumulating half a dozen, we realized we were going to have to face the philosophical dilemma of what to do with them. Some we found were old– whether obviously well-worn or made of patterns that I’d not seen in the new models for sale in Scotland.

Textures

Others showed no sign of wear but were incredibly beautiful in their patterns. And the majority were lovely (aren’t all HT lovely?!) but much more standard herringbones and barley twists.

Perhaps I am too pragmatic sometimes but my feeling is that things should be used, especially clothes and textiles. I’d much prefer that, when I’m dead and gone, someone will unravel one of my handknit jumpers to reuse the lovely yarn than leave it sitting in a jumper drawer gathering dust and moth poo. So we decided that those jackets that were either old and interesting, lovely and/or a good cut should be left untouched so that they could be used by my dad or someone else and that all others were fair game for upcycling into something else.

After lots of careful unpicking and lots of thought, last week I finally took the plunge and used some of dads share to cover some old cushions of his. Very simple, nothing fancy- but they are lovely together.

Harris Tweed cushions

Harris Tweed cushions

Tweed and velvet

Cosy

I have bigger plans for mine but, having only recently renewed my friendship with my sewing machine, it’s been good to start on something simple to discover how the fabric works! Now I need to explore interfacings and wadding to achieve the right amount of stiffness for the purpose… I’ll keep you posted on progress. I’m also planning to photograph those older and more unusual jackets so will post images here soon. And I should say that I am always on the lookout for more so would be thrilled if anyone wants to act as scout for me at their local opshops ; )


family time

I’ve been spending some time with my sister up in Darwin. It is the big build-up to the wet season at the moment, the time of year tourists normally stay away and locals go a bit crazy with the ever-increasing heat and humidity that will only break when the big rains arrive… not very good timing for this girl, who is happiest in the cold, rainy winters of the south but it was important to go up now as she has a couple of big things going on in her life and so I wanted to be close by for a little while…

The first (and very exciting) thing is the recent arrival of her partners four-year-old boy from Liberia- he is going to be a permanent part of the family, such a blessing for her after always wanting to be a mum!

So… meet George!

Cheeky ; )

Here he is after his first visit to the cinema- 3D no less!- which, like all the other new things he has faced since the move from remote village life, he took in his stride, the little star. After a lot of fending for himself within a large extended family, it has been a big transition to being at the core of a nuclear family.

The little family

In some ways older than his years, he is also just a little boy soaking up everything with (mostly) so much excitement and joy… and for the new parents, instant parenthood is proving amazingly rewarding, happy and startling, if somewhat relentless! I wish them so much joy together.

Learning what a loveheart is and how to draw one

Sarah especially needs her little family with her right now because she has a fight on her hands. There is a massive tumour growing in her belly and we are all very worried for her… treatment is gruelling and she is unwell a lot of the time but the daily routine that a small child demands is giving her a structure for her own self-care and, more importantly, a focus while things are really hard. Her world is small at the moment and that is as it should be- her energy is focused on the three of them and their life together. It was wonderful to see her and to spend time with her and her family but, more than that, I just wish I could be there more to help with the menial stuff like doing the dishes, emptying the compost and giving her breaks to sleep- but hopefully things will go well with her and she’ll be on the up soon… Big sis, I’m with you.