Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Recovery Days

Have been living very quietly and sleepily since my two outings at the end of last week, recovering my energy and knitting my sock - the first is now nearly complete. Harout was away in London until Saturday, so I couldn't recoup by sleeping in until Sunday. Unfortunately, he and I seem to have acquired yet another virus, with sore throats and generally feeling grotty. He has not gone to work today so must be feeling bad. Still, the weather is such that I'm happy to semi-hibernate with some good books and crafty things to do when I feel like it... Sleet showers at present, not my favourite weather.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Felting with Liz Clay

I was lucky to be able to attend a felting workshop run by Liz Clay, featured in the latest issue of Embroidery and a lecturer in Bath). This was held at Westbury sub Mendip, a village between Cheddar and Wells, so about half an hour from here. It was really good to do something like this as I've not made any felt for a while, and also I have been hungry for some input. Unfortunately, I didn't take photos during the workshop.
We started off by handcarding wool tops, to blend the colours. It is amazing how much richer the colours/fibres look when two colours are blended together, rather than just worked with one shade. We also looked at working with fibre from different breeds of sheep: Liz was wearing a delicate scarf made from Shetland, which seemed to have more texture than an equivalent in merino, so I purchased some to play with at home. We also made two prefelts in contrasting colours, then cut them and felted them back together. Some people backed them with a third colour and then got a lovely "charcoal" line at the join where the backing fibre came through. I was not so efficient at achieving this effect. As always, half the pleasure of the workshop was seeing how others combined colours and textures - in fact, in this case, I'd say more than half!
I wasn't that thrilled by what I'd produced, but one of the other women commented that the piece below looked like pink roses, so I've called it Ring of Roses and will probably do more to develop it.

South of the Mendip hills, there is some beautiful countryside to be seen: the Somerset Levels are low-lying, often flooded wide areas of land reclaimed by drainage ditches known locally as "rhynes" - pronounced reens - and punctuated by little hills or isles often clothed by trees. Glastonbury Tor is sited on one of these. On the way home, I stopped to buy veg from a roadside stall near Cheddar, and decided to capture the scenes below.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Journey to another country

My pal Zanny has been visiting her brother's home in Abergavenny and, this being considerably closer than Yorkshire, I took the opportunity to visit her there, dropping Ben off at school and then continuing on my way. It is always exciting to drive across the Severn Crossings, even though the weather was rather murky on this occasion. Driving up past Raglan towards Abergavenny there were snowcaps on the hills/mountains, whilst sheep and lambs huddled together in the fields below.
Zanny's "holiday home" is idyllic, the old gardener's cottage set in an extensive walled former kitchen garden in a valley, rolling down to the estate lake at the bottom, with trees and the "Big House" on the other side. Chickens free-range in the garden, fruit and veg are grown there, and it is very peaceful. Zanny's sister in law is a potter of repute, Mel Brown, and the house is full of beautiful artworks and ceramics. Zanny loves housesitting for her brother and I love visiting her there. We've known each other for thirty years now, her Morgan and my Sarah were born within a fortnight of each other and, whatever happens in our lives, we can pick up where we left off last time we got together.

Despite snowfall on and off through the morning (which luckily did not settle) we were able to take a short walk in the garden and, fortunately, I'd brought along my camera. The drifts of snowdrops and reflections in the lake were beautiful, the asparagus plants looked aptly frosted and the rusty garden gate was just lovely. After a delicious lunch of butternut squash, corianser and coconut soup from Mel's freezer (thanks, Mel) and fresh green salad with cheese for lunch, it was time to hare back home to collect Ben from school. I'm glad I had the opportunity to make this trip, and to see Zanny again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Bad ME Day

Well, sometimes they happen.... You live a little, you crash a little. Yesterday I did too much, and today I'm paying for it. Some overdue domestic duties to prepare for visitors, and an early morning today to wave them on their way, was all it took. Well, it was worth it, but I hope I can get an early night and a good rest so tomorrow is better.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Dyeing for more...

I thought I'd use some of the leftover dye solutions from my sock wool to make over a silk scarf I have, which I have not been wearing very much. It was dyed in teal and turquoise, but never seemed to quite go with most of my clothes. Thus I sloshed on the purples and blues and steamed my little cling-wrap parcel, and this was the result:-

I'm very pleased with it and feel it will certainly now be worn much more. However, in this picture the scarf is cunningly arranged to show off the best bits, and there are a couple of areas which I'm less delighted with as there is less variegation.

I'm considering stamping or painting with gold on top, to knock back these denser areas. Will have to study "Complex Cloth" today. Any comments or suggestions would be most welcome.

Monday, February 20, 2006

So why the Blog Title?

Because one of the greatest challenges in my life is living with the frustrations and limitations imposed by chronic ill health when I want to be out and doing. Since November 1988 I have ridden the rocky road of M.E./CFS/whatever you like to call it. In my case, this has involved extreme fatigue, painful muscles, catching all the viruses going and taking a long time to recover from them, sore throats, headaches and limited mobility. The latter is the remnant of an unpleasant episode when I lost the use of my right leg post-virally, and had to learn to walk again. The is still abnormal sensation and periodic twitching in this leg and foot. I drive a car adapted with hand controls and walk with two sticks. I get especially wobbly in crowded places. I had to retire from my social work career on health grounds: not easy for someone with a strong work ethic.

Creativity has been one of the ways I've kept myself occupied and stimulated over the years: starting with knitting and needlepoint (just a few stitches could count as the day's achievement) I got restless, learned bobbin lacemaking and then embarked on the City and Guilds Course in Embroidery (Parts 1 and 2) and then took the first part of the Post 16 Teaching Certificate. It took me a long time, but it got done. I found a wider palette of techniques to use in creating and have since added some bookbinding, feltmaking and rugmaking, patchwork and dollmaking.

A lot of my life is spent in the armchair or on the sofa in my living room, which has a large window overlooking our garden. I enjoy watching the birds going about their business and watching the seasons progress. My most recent excitement was the annual finding of frog spawn in the pond - on 16th February, a week or two later than in recent years. The TV and books are my frequent companions and, as I can't easily explore the world in person, my travels often take place vicariously, in the armchair (or on the sofa). (That's not to say I never get out, because I clearly do, just not as often or as far as I'd sometimes like!) I think there is something magical about being able to do so much from the depths of one's armchair (or sofa): I can get together with friends, research my latest project and go shopping without crossing the threshold of the house, thanks to the internet.

These plants are on the windowsill and their flowers are glorious with the low sunlight shining through them. (Can you tell that someone in this house has been studying Georgia O'Keefe recently?!)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Another visit to Gloucestershire

On Friday we visited Painswick Rococo Gardens: the day was beautiful, the gardens are renowned for their displays of snowdrops and they have a maze, so it seemed like the perfect occasion to go.

The gardens are situated in a steep-sided valley so I left the others to explore the terrain while I found a bench to park myself upon, to sketch and to absorb the views and fresh air. Here's the result:

Unfortunately, the battery in my camera failed so I couldn't photograph there, but it was very enjoyable to really study how a snowdrop is put together. There were also some vivid pink cyclamen holding up their little heads above their silver-marbled dark green leaves. I love being able to see the shape of trees without their leaves, and there were plenty for me to enjoy silhouetted against the blue and white-wisped sky.

A Brief Diversion

I decided to return home from Cirencester by a different route, via Tetbury, for the variety. I stopped to explore Artique, a shop I've heard of but never before visited. It sells a lot of Indian artefacts, textiles and jewellery. I was very taken with this door, but it couldn't come home with me. The remnants of paint coverings had left a subtle wash of pinks and greens on it's surface, almost nacreous in effect, and not well represented in my photos:-

I would love to visit India one day: will this dream come true? I hope so.

A visit to Cirencester

On 15th February I had the pleasure of meeting up with two good friends, Gill and Maggie, at the Brewery Arts Centre in Cirencester. Although we meant to meet at 10.30, I ran true to form and eas late leaving home thanks to mislaying my keys. It was a beautiful day for a drive through the Glos. countryside once I'd left the M5, and I only had to circle Cirencester town centre once before finding my way into the correct car park.

Unfortunately, the arts centre was between exhibitions, but we enjoyed cappuchino and chat in the café, seated under a long row of felted pictures of cakes, cups and tea and so forth...

Recording this occasion was difficult but we managed to use a rather lovely mirror decorated with an owl and pussycat....

A foray into the town took us to a lovely gallery shop with a wealth of art materials, covetable photo albums, comprehensive range of sketchbooks and inspirational publications, as well as delightful pots of pure pigment.

Another gallery had some fascinating pictures for sale, of x-rayed flowers :a very different floral form. Across the road, a third gallery had some stunning stained glass panels.

We returned to the Arts Centre for lunch because we knew they could cater for my gluten-free needs, and I enjoyed some spicy lentil soup and a slice of GF Almond Cake, a real treat. However, the best treat of all was the fun and friendly companionship with my pals.

A lovely day out - thanks!


So I'm finally getting my Blog on the road. I hope it gets easier as it's just taken me two hours to get my photo into my profile!

Dyeing my fingers

I spent an afternoon this week, dyeing wool. I've done this before, using acid dyes and boiling on the stove, but this time I wanted to space dye in order to get a variegated effect. I'd bought some undyed sock wool for this purpose, during a shopping trip to Get Knitted in Bristol, and soaked it in vinegar solution while I researched technique. My son was very disappointed as he thought he was having spaghetti for dinner!

I mixed up an assortment of dye powders with water in jam jars, covered a tray with clingfilm and lay out the skeins of wool. Then I poured over the dye in blocks of colour, made an enclosing parcel with the clingfilm, and steamed over a pan of boiling water in a steaming basket balanced on a jam jar. I also dyed some pre-dyed sock wool that was not variegated enough for my taste. I was really thrilled with the results.

I've started knitting Grumperina's Jaywalker socks from MagKnits (sorry, can't do links yet) You might guess that I like blues, turquoise, purple....

The colour is pretty fast - my fingertips and nails are still somewhat turquoise some five days later!