Coloured inks for my cartridge pen

This week I have been playing and experimenting with a few painting techniques. It’s a good way to develop and move your work on in new directions, like capturing transient things with the camera, such as snow and ice changing as the temperature fluctuated a few degrees during the day, then completely disappearing almost overnight.

I only spotted the icicles on this corrugated roof as it was almost dark on my way home last Friday after a walk in the woods. I didn’t manage to get back on Saturday morning when the light was good.

Friday

By Sunday morning all that was left was ice on each of the corrugations. The interesting parts were the ends, each one very different, making fantastic organic shapes, ideal for doodling shapes and practising shading. Yet to do!

Sunday

I’d zoomed in close to get the details and patterns in the ice. The one on the left looks like the exploding fireworks we saw on New Years Eve, but in grey-scale. By Monday morning everything looked grey-scale, a dull, damp, grey morning. The snow and ice had brought blue skies and sunny days, which gave us longer feeling days with the daylight lasting longer.

I have written my “morning pages”* in coloured ink with a cartridge pen for several years, until this recent book that was such horrible scratchy paper that I resorted to Biro. I have finally finished it, so now I’ve gone back to proper ink.

*3 pages of longhand advocated by Julia Cameron in “The artist’s way”.

I could go back to my cartridge pen. It was almost empty, but loads of colour came out as I ran it under the tap, so I used the lovely orange ink for the first three pages of my new book. It felt so good to write with my ink pen again, smooth and flowing. I had intended to use the bottle of teal ink to tone with the turquoise of the cover, but the orange is complementary and was a bit of sunshine. I dipped it in water a couple of times to keep it going until I’d finished writing, gradually getting thinner and paler, giving an ombré effect.

When I put it in a tub of water for a couple of hours, to wash out the orange before refilling it with teal, I came back to find this sunny image.

Washing out my cartridge pen

I have a selection of different coloured inks, which I change to suit my mood, the season, the cover of the book. The tiny bottles themselves are beautiful. But my favourite Leaf Green I could only find in a big bottle, so I’m saving that until spring really is springing, not just the little glimmer that we’ve had for a few hours here and there this week, between the wind and the heavy rain.

Mags Bradley’s “Pleasurable painting” watercolour class (that I have been doing for a long time), started up on Zoom in November. There were three sessions when we went in person, limited to a maximum of 10 because of space in the room for the Tuesday sessions at the Caistor Art and Heritage Centre. The Thursday session was in Cleethorpes. Now there are two sessions a week which are an amalgamation of the three classes, and you can do either or both. Most weeks I have done both. It’s good to have a bit of interaction with people, but also it motivates me to paint more. Classes used to be in six-week blocks, more or less following the academic year. Week 6 used to be a “wild or experimental” session, playing with new media or different techniques, anything goes, so these were often my favourite sessions.

We had a week 6 session this week, so two play days: cellophane, muslin, ink, granulation fluid, salt, and a hairdryer, as well as the usual watercolours. Fun, fun, fun. Mags gave a demonstration at the start of each session and a bit of guidance, then we were set free.

I had a couple of pieces of watercolour paper masked off, but also some torn edged pieces to play with. It can be a bit messy so I set up one end of the kitchen table with a plastic tablecloth and some of my toys.

I did loads in Tuesday’s session, some possible backgrounds for stitching into later, some possibly pieces in their own right with a bit more work added.

Tuesday’s session
Nearly dry
I can see a little house on the left in the bottom and middle ones.

On Thursday’s session I had a bit more idea of how things would turn out, so worked with more intention, but still playful and responding to what was happening. The first one almost has the appearance of a collagraph, and I was really pleased with the textural effects.

The second one was a bit wishy-washy after it had dried; I liked the texture though.

I went back into it with more paint and it started looking like peacock feathers, so I fetched some out for reference. I love the vibrant, iridescent colours. I wasn’t trying to reproduce it, just capture some of its beauty and the feel of it.

Peacock feather eye
Love the colours, work in progress
Iridescence

It’s almost finished, left to dry fully before I assess what it still needs, maybe a touch of gold.

Almost finished

Lots of ideas have been generated over the week, some for projects that I hadn’t been sure where to go with. Buttonhole stitch suddenly leapt into my mind in the middle of the night, so off for more experimentation. /

Carpet middle from the scrap store in Scunthorpe.

There must be a way of drawing a large accurate circle, but I’ve yet to find it. Maybe you can buy a large pair of compasses like the ones teachers used in maths on blackboards in the “olden days”! I suddenly remembered a large carpet middle I acquired from the scrap store years ago with the intention of making a stool / sewing box on casters…… one day! It was the perfect size, and I could even see to centre the knitted lace, before cutting the fabric. I drew round the outside with tailor’s chalk, which gave me a seam allowance too.

Fairly round!
Cut to size

I couldn’t find a zip the right colour and size in my stash; either the right colour, but too big or too small, or the right size and bright pink or turquoise. Although the zip should not be seen I opted to do an envelope fold (correct term?). Looking how I’d done the heart stitched one below, I found I’d used a pre-programmed heart machine stitch on the fold. Was there a suitable stitch to echo the knitting? Yes!

Pre-programmed machine stitch

I hardly ever use these, but they always remind me of my nanna and her early domestic fancy machine in the mid 60’s. My petticoats (made from old sheets, cotton in the summer and flannelette in the winter) always had this type of fancy stitch around the neck, armholes and hem in subtle colours.

The edges of the fold were stitched to enclose the raw edges. I then laid the top and bottom of the back together, with the overlap positioned before drawing round and cutting it out.

Back of cushion with envelope fold done

Also from the scrap store had come a huge reel of burgundy piping cord, which I had been going to use on my stained-glass window quilt, but didn’t in the end. I think, if memory serves me well, I paid £2 for it. I’ve no idea how much is on it, yards and yards (OK, metres and metres). It was time to challenge myself again, a first for me, I’ve never put piping or cording on a cushion. A quick look at YouTube for instructions seemed a good idea.

Does that say 74 metres on the top?

Quite useful, but it needed a little test piece since it was on the bias. The YouTube omitted to say that what you could see was the piping cord placed on the R.S (right side) of one piece and stitched on, before adding the other piece and re-stitching the whole lot together. So I carefully put the bias cording on top of the two pieces R.S together, zipper foot on, needle in the right position, ready to roll.

Colin could then hear cries of “fool, fool”. Of course, the piping was on the inside when you turn the R.S out! Fortunately, this was only the test piece.

Another tip from YouTube was that on bought basis cording you can sometimes see the stitching, so it recommended making your own. Yes, you could. So it needed another test piece, having unpicked the stitching on the bias cord, which was definitely worth doing. So I unpicked the stitching on a long enough length to go all the way round the cushion.

I then carefully stitched round and the bobbin thread ran out just before I completed the circle. So annoying, why does the thread run out just before the end? It happens when you hand stitch too.

I realised that I’d got the piping in between the wrong layers of the envelope fold on the side where the thread had run out, so it turned out a happy accident, less to unpick. Also I needed to join / butt / splice the ends of the cord together. My patience had run out, and so had the daylight, such as it had been all day. So leave it until tomorrow, in spite of literally a few inches to stitch.

Piping cord in, not quite close enough at the top
Wrong layer at the bottom

It was good that I’d left it the day before! It was a fiddly bit, and I decided to splice rather than butt, as it can move in use. Once I’d spliced the cord, I carefully pinned through all the layers, stitched through, went to cut the threads at the end only to realise I’d not re-threaded the bobbin. More cries of “fool, fool”. Once it was stitched I could see in places it was stitched too far away from the cord in places, so it needed another row of stitches closer to the cord. Much better.

Sorting out were the join goes

Although once it was turned through and the cushion pad in, I realised it was a bit wavy, the seam needed clipping.

Wavy edge

It certainly made a big difference, but still not sitting quite right. It may improve with use and a bit of bashing, if not I’ll need to go back and unpick the first row of stitching.

Improved!

It’s now in my little reading corner, which I never get to use, always being too busy doing other things. I should make the most of it while lockdown lasts. It’s like my dream of lying in the hammock under the wisteria, I rarely make time for that, not that it’s very appealing on snowy February days.

In situ
Detail of knitted lace

I bought a circular piece of knitted lace about 18 months ago in a local charity shop for the princely sum of 50p. It had been in a basket of old linens, with no price on it. The assistant obviously had no idea of the time, work and skill it had taken to knit, and said I could have it for 50p. I felt it was an insult to the knitter and that it deserved better than being left screwed up in the bottom of the basket. I did feel as if I was ripping them off, but we had bought a load of other things that were much more realistically priced.

I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but much later found tucked away a calico circular feather cushion pad that was slightly bigger than the lace. I wanted a colour behind it to show off the detail, and came across the perfect solution when I found some burgundy cotton left over from the stained glass window quilt that I’d made for our bed.

I gave the knitting a gentle wash and blocked it on a board over an old towel. I worked from top to bottom, side to side, measuring from the middle, gradually dissecting the sections in half until I had a pin in every scallop. It was then left to dry out fully. Procrastinating, I only removed it when I wanted the board to block something else.

The burgundy cotton fabric I washed in the washing machine. I had previously washed the fabrics for the whole quilt but, with there being so much contrast between the cotton and the knitting, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to bleed at a later date when it was washed.

I was considering how best to put it on a frame and get a big enough even circle to use as a guide. I couldn’t find anything big enough, much too big for a pair of compasses, bigger than any plates we’ve got. I came across the big circular quilt frame that was my mum’s (not that she’d ever used it). No more excuses. I used the wok lid on top once I’d stitched the middle in place, just slightly smaller than the inner ring of reverse stocking stitch. I used a tiny stitch to anchor a single thread every centimetre or so in a silk thread that matches the knitting.

There was one tiny pull on the stocking stitch, but fortunately it had just made a long loop on the back about 2” long and had not broken the thread. I managed to ease about half of it back into the knitting which removed the tight line of stitches.The last bit of thread I managed to hide as I stitched it down.

Knitted lace

I stitched round the other reverse stocking stitch ring, then into every scallop, trying to make it look as even as possible. It’s not a perfect circle and the scallops vary in size, but that shows that it is made by hand, giving it character.

Finished stitching down
Detail of knitting

It’s now ready for me to make up the cushion. I just need something big enough to make a circular pattern.

The lace is reminiscent of fungi that I return to repeatedly as inspiration.

Fungi in the woods in October 2020
Close up of fungi in the woods November 2017
Fungi in the woods
Catching the light
My Jolomo image, instructions and canvas

A blast of colour was the starting point for this month’s challenge. Lorna sent us all a postcard-size picture from an old Jolomo (John Lowrie Morris) calendar. He is a Scottish artist painting expressionistic images of Scotland in oil, beautiful bright images that were the perfect antidote to the grey, wet days we have had here for chunks of January.

Google search result

Included in the pack was a postcard-size piece of canvas, on which I put watered PVA around the edges to stop it pulling away as I stitched. I wanted to use some snippets of fabric amongst the canvas work stitches, and had the perfect colours cut from a quilt I made for one of our German friends several years ago, lovely bright bits that I’d put in a jar on the bookshelf.

Perfect colours.

I started pulling the right coloured pieces out of the jar and sorting them into scraps and bigger pieces.

Bigger pieces

I liked the jumbled mass of colours of the scraps and started to wonder how I could join them together.

Jumbled mass of colour.

I started moving them around so the balance of colours was more like the starting image.

Re-arranging the balance of colours

Somewhere I have some water soluble products for stitching through to hold things together as you work, several different types, samples of hot and cold water types and different weights. Off for a rummage, but as I went into my work in progress of re-arranging my sewing space I spotted some rolled-up pink plastic-y stuff, some I had been given years ago, but never tried. It was just the right size to make a sandwich with the fabric inside.

It was curled up and still not wanting to lie flat with the fabrics inside, but I managed to do one line of stitching to hold it more or less flat. I’d decided on a fairly neutral lemon yellow, having tried a selection of colours in the fabric mix, but they blended in places and stood out too much in others.

First row of stitching on the sewing machine.

I stitched an outline first, then vertical lines followed by horizontal ones to form a grid over the whole piece. Initially it was spaced out, then going back with more lines.

Although the lines are straight, I didn’t want them too uniform. The whole feel of the original paint is loose, and I didn’t want to lose that.

Finished grid

I wasn’t sure if it was hot or cold film, so snipped off the excess and tried both. The cold water just softened it slightly, but the warm started to break it down, so I used almost boiling water poured directly over it and it all magically disappeared.

I then left it to dry flat on an old towel. I liked both sides, so couldn’t decide which to use, nor where to go from here.

Wet after the film was dissolved.

Then when it was drying, I spotted the little house from Wyn Ingham that I finished a few weeks ago. It was just the right scale, so I made one in a blue batik fabric scrap from the wedding quilt I made for another of the German friends years ago. I made the roof in white felt, and made it so it overhangs slightly.

Baltic fabric over iron-on vilene.
Under construction

I added windows and a red door during the construction, better to gauge the positioning of them with the roof on. The cotton reels show the scale of the tiny house – the white is an extra large reel.

Windows added
Door added, cotton reels show the scale.

I forgot to take a photo of the finished house before it was attached to the background.

I cut a house-size piece out of the grid and attached the house at an angle through the hole, anchoring it at the front on one side, the back on the other, and the centre of the roof. Finally I added a piece of blue plastic-covered wire to hang it from, difficult to photograph as it doesn’t sit flat on the wall or door. Ultimately I’ll probably hang it from a hook so you can view both sides as it moves in the breeze.

Front of house
Back of house

As always, the rest of the group’s work can be seen on the Grasby Embroiderers Facebook page. I haven’t worked out who did what yet, a couple of wild cards, me thinks!

This is one of the first embroideries I ever did

Today’s prompt for the Tara Leaver “#21daysinmyartworld” on Instagram was #day19 from the archive. There were various suggestions including one of “how far back could you go?”. My first thought was I’ve already shared some old work, the mural I did on my bedroom wall when I was 17.

Then I thought of the fish I embroidered in the first year of the Juniors when I was 7. It was very much of its time, 1967, felt on hessian.

Then, older still, I remembered the drawing at the back of my first book in Infant school. This was among stuff I found when we were clearing my late dad’s house, along with my “angel” dress, that my nanna made from an old flannelette sheet for my first Nativity play when I was four.

I cried when I saw it hanging on the line. I’d bundled a load of old cotton sheets in the washing-machine before I started working, not knowing that it was with them. When I finished working and came out and saw it hanging on the line, I cried. Miles had hung it all out when it had finished washing. I’d worn it as a nightie for many, many years; it started off very long and I could curl up and wrap it round my toes, but it was about down to my knees when I stopped wearing it. Mum must have kept it for dusters or something.

Drawing in my first school book at infant school.

Our new topic at that time for Grasby Embroiderers was “Revisited”, taking something from an old sketchbook and developing it further or taking it in a new direction. As I was relatively new to the group (along with Jessica), we were told we could use one of the previous topics, including “Portrait”, “Vegetables”, or “Our favourite things” to build a body of work around.

I decided that I would do (self)-“Portrait” using some of my old drawings, old black and white photos of me when I was little, and my beloved “angel” dress. I spent many hours sorting and scanning possible photos, re-sizing and printing them on paper to do a mock-up on the “angel” dress. Several layouts of different photos were pinned on and tried out, gradually narrowing down which images to use.

Selection of photos on a “angel” dress
Different selection
On “angel” dress

The final selection got printed on fabric. But in the end it was decided that the angel dress was too fragile and the photos too heavy, and got lost to see them properly on the dress when it was hung on a tailor’s dummy. And at a group “crit”, when looking at the photos on fabric laid on the dress still with the backing paper on, it was suggested that the photos looked good on the gingham of the tablecloth (you can just see a sliver of it at the top of the photo below).

The way the photos were laid out suggested hanging on a washing line. Two of the original photos had Mum hanging out the washing cut in half, (the way the camera wound on sometimes giving “ghosting”), and my sister and I washing our dolls’ clothes on one and hanging them out on the other. I had “stitched” the original two photos together making mum whole, but Gail and I on the same photo twice (middle image).

Photos printed on fabric, still on backing paper.

So the piece went in a new direction, the photos cut out, and pegged with tiny pegs to the washing line. Mum drawn (with many tweaks to make the arms look “right”) and cut out, coloured and applied to the gingham background, with a 3D washing-basket at her feet with the last of the photos ready to hang.

Finished piece

I’ve only just made the connection of the “angel” dress hanging on the washing line when I first saw it after about forty years! Also black and white photos were hung with pegs on washing lines in the dark room to dry, when I did AS level photography in 2009/10.

The whole body of work was titled “I am little”. The original drawing was stitched in red, the colour of the buttons of my favourite dress at the time. The aperture for the stitched area is 3 1/2 cm by 4 1/2 cm.

I am little

Two more photos were stitched together, the first one of both of us and the dog on twice, the second with just me on twice. Again the stitching on was in red on my duffle coat and the dog’s (Flann) collar referencing the red of the buttons on my favourite dress.

Stitched snow day
Close up

The Christmas tree also had red baubles on it, in my little bit of garden in front of the door “house” that Dad built for us.

Close up

The other prompts and challenges can be seen on Instagram #debbidipity and others taking part at #21daysinmyartworld

The Tara Leaver artist challenge

Since the first lockdown I have had various challenges, the first my broken arm, still doing physio, but definitely paying off. I’ve very nearly got full range of movement back, and as each lot of exercises become easy, either the physio has changed / added to them, or I have extended the time or tweaked them to make my arm and shoulder work a bit harder.

The Grasby challenges, all of which I have blogged about earlier, have another due in a couple of weeks’ time which I’m currently working on. It will be revealed then. There are on-going projects, working on PHD’s (projects half done) and UFO’s (unfinished objects). In November both my painting classes and my piano lessons started up on-line, so I do my daily piano practice for my weekly lesson on-line. I’ve done various Zoom classes over the months, and then just into the New Year I signed up for Tara Leaver’s “21 days in my art world”.

“WHY?”, I’ve asked myself several times over the last 11 days. When the email about it first came, I decide not to do it….. but remembered the date it was due to start (4th January)….. and late the night before I signed up!

I’d put it off partly because it was using Instagram, a platform I have been resisting in spite of my daughter-in-law Lera showing me how easy it is to use way back last April, when they were locked down here. Since then, I had only posted twice more. You can find the posts under #debbidipity as well as #21daysinmyartworld in Instagram.

I have found using it a challenge, these “tech-y” things don’t come easily to me, but it is slowly improving. The first few days I couldn’t even start a new paragraph – the usual space button was only a back-space. But by chance I found it on a different key-pad when using numbers or symbols. Like everything else it gets easier with practice, and it often doesn’t take long to wonder why it seemed so difficult. (I haven’t got to that stage with the piano, but I keep showing up – even if Colin shuts the door on me and / or turns up the radio!)

But it is also a challenge deciding what to share and how much information to give about yourself and your process. It can make you feel very vulnerable, some things I’m quite happy to share, my colour palette or my pile of books (apparently known as a “shelfie”) but a “selfie” working was much harder. I’m far happier behind a camera than posing for one. I didn’t even know how to set the camera to do a time delay and didn’t manage to angle it to get the work in!

One of the reasons my Facebook image is so old is that I don’t do photos of me. Also I was being brave – up the Eiffel Tower on a college trip to Paris when I was doing my art degree. I’m scared of heights, but my natural curiosity (nosiness) wouldn’t let me wait at the bottom for the others, as I was also frightened of missing anything. All the same I was very relieved to find the lift was only going up to the second level, not to the top due to the weather, although we walked up the steps to the second level. Poor students, also it gave me chance to adjust gradually to the height.

I’m pleased to say that my “Day 6 Current challenge” worked, trying to get papers to make book pages for my Hirtomezashi stitching that we did with Gilli Theokritoss at Scunthorpe Embroiders Guild (see blog post “Procrastination”).

Brusho on wet paper

I have had a couple of attempts of finding the “right” colour pages without any success. I loved the Quink pages and think I have a workable idea for them too, at last. I used lemon, yellow, orange and leaf-green Brusho on wet lining-paper, ready folded into four little concertina books. It all looked a bit murky while it was wet, and you have to be brave (not fiddle) and patient until it dries naturally.

Messy, wet stage.

A couple of days later, it looked just the perfect tones for the stitching. I need now to decide whether to leave it as zigzag or to cut them into separate pages, and whether to make one book with stitched covers or two books with just the front stitched.

Perfect tones.

Another 10 days of prompts, some more challenging and revealing than others. Now to go and find “Day 12 Current motifs”.

Finished little house (front)

Ironically, I finished the miniature house on Monday morning, when at 8pm Boris put us into another lockdown. In reality it hasn’t made much difference to us personally, as we have been at home most of the time since the first lockdown. I’ve had a few socially distanced walks with friends, and we ate outside with a few friends in the summer, and a couple of meals at opposite ends of the table with friends who were also having minimal socialising with others. And, what now seems a very long time ago, sewing with two or three friends round the kitchen table once it got too cold to stitch outside under the wisteria. That hadn’t lasted long, but it was so good while it did, just to see and catch up with friends.

The Miniature Houses were a workshop we had with Wyn Ingham at Scunthorpe Embroiders Guild in April 2019. We had a choice of packs, each with a selection of fabrics in toning colours, mainly small designs and repeating patterns. I chose a soft yellow and pale turquoise pack, slightly out of my comfort zone.

Fabric with small designs and soft colours.

We each had a master pattern with six different style houses. We could either cut them out directly or trace them off, depending on if we were going to use the card inside or pelmet vilene. The fabric was then cut leaving 1/4” seam allowance all round.

Windows and doors were added in felt, stitched down and any details added (my ‘roses’ up the gable end) before starting construction of the building. The pictures below are where I had got to on the workshop day.

Front of house
Back of house

It’s crazy that it’s taken me so long to get back to finish it off, when all it needed was a few more seams stitching in tiny stitches, and stuffing before the base was closed up. The photos show up every tiny imperfection as they’re so much bigger than the ‘real’ house. It actually looks quite neat.

Yellow ‘roses’ up the gable end
Back of the house

I spotted a lone fieldfare in the wisteria this morning, although he was well camouflaged. They are usually seen in flocks but he seems to be on his own. I first saw him a couple days ago in the holly tree, but he was very wary, watching me closely with his little beady eye. I didn’t have chance to get the camera before he flew off. He seems to have had a good feast, there had been loads at the beginning of the week, but there’s barely any left now. He’s still very wary but at least I managed to zoom in and get a few close-ups..

Fieldfare in the wisteria

Firstly, thanks to Alex for saying in her class newsletter that I hadn’t posted last week. Strange. I had deliberately done a post on Christmas morning as I have posted every Friday since the start of lockdown. On looking, for some strange reason it was still in drafts! I was sure I had checked, but it was written on the Friday, and sorry it was actually posted three days late.

We had a candlelit / moonlit dinner for two last night on New Year’s Eve. We had a choice of restaurants to go to: “Notre maison”, “Chez nous” or “En casa”. But in the end we decided not the Spanish, for a change, nor “Notre maison” as it’s just wrong (apparently!). Not quite up to normal standards, the staff kept getting distracted and the service was slow; not enough candles, so you could barely see what you were eating. We put a few comments in the suggestions box!

Our New Year’s Eve table decoration

This was another first, being on our own on New Year’s Eve. Certainly since Miles was little we have always had a variety of friends to eat on New Year’s Eve. Most of the friends’ children were older, so it was easier to eat here so that Miles could go to bed when he was ready, although he was often still going when the rest of us were flagging. Initially a buffet, then for the last 15 years or so a sit-down meal round the dining table, usually with us only doing a main course, and others bringing a course with them. There have been up to about 15 some years, and occasionally only 6 or 8, so just the two of us was very odd. We missed you all. Next year?

We’d finished our main course before everyone would normally have arrived. But we sat watching the moon come up and talking and reminiscing about times gone by, with the just the Christmas lights and the table decoration lit.

We then went down the frosty street to take photos of the moon and the lit-up church, and the front of our house with the Christmas lights. Only one other person was out and about, he must have thought we were mad, standing in the cold taking photos in the dark. The cloud moved just after we came in, but we were too cold to go back out, so we took a few from the kitchen window. A blue moon?

A full moon over St. Mary’s Church, Broughton, at 20.20 on 31 December 2020
Front of our house, same time and date
A blue moon? 20:20 on 31 December 2020

Back in front of the fire, I picked up my knitting. I had unpicked a few rows earlier in the week that I realised I’d done too many weeks ago, and it had been sitting there taunting me. I thought I could just finish it off before the year ended.

But, no. It got to the last little bit, and 3 / 4 needles and 8 stitches and not enough hands, needles slipping everywhere so I lost some stitches. It was so near midnight, I realised I would not get it finished, it would be better to sort it out in daylight.

Twisted dropped stitches

At midnight we watched a twenty minute fantastic firework display from our bedroom window. The camera was downstairs, and we thought that the show would finish sooner than it did and didn’t want to miss any, so sorry, no photos.

The same problem with the knitting as with the other sock, but once I’d sorted out the dropped stitches, I realised that it would be easier to work with 2 / 3 needles. It kept it firmer, and stopped the unused needle falling out. I just had to make sure I knew whether I was working on needle two or needle one and three put together so I knew where to do the decreases.

Three needles
Two needles

Also I’d learnt from the other sock that it would work better to put the last four stitches from each needle on to their own safety pin, to turn it through to the “wrong” side, then put them back on the needles to knit together, one from each needle to cast off.

Last 4 stitches from each needle on a safety pin
Inside of sock
Ready to cast off
Inside (left) and outside (right)

So, my first finish of the year!

Finished socks
Cozitoze

A happy and healthy New Year 2021 to you all. Please.

Table decoration

Merry Christmas 2020.

A very different Christmas for many of us! I certainly wouldn’t have time to be writing this ordinarily – it would normally be chaos in the kitchen by now with up to a dozen for lunch, some family and friends having been here since at least Christmas Eve. it’s the first time since the year we met 36 years ago that we have been on our own on Christmas Eve.

At the moment all is calm, all is bright, clear blue sky, hardly any traffic going by. I’m just having a few minutes sitting at the kitchen table watching the flickering candle on the centre piece from friends some years ago. Normally, it goes in the centre of the dining table, but kitchen table this year, as it’s just four of us.

It seems wrong to say our son and his wife can’t stay overnight in what has always been his home, but that’s how it is. We just consider ourselves lucky that we can see them at all, and that we can share a few brief hours together.

I was trying to focus on the positives, the friends and family I have spoken to over the last few weeks, making contact with some that I normally only send a Christmas card to, but this time have phoned too.

But after speaking to some of our German friends last night who were saying “stay negative” (i.e. Covid), it puts a different slant on things!

I have written this blog every Friday since the beginning of lockdown, and just because it’s Christmas, I didn’t want to miss one. So I just want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy (and unlocked) 2021. And now it’s on with the veg before Miles and Lera arrive. The kitchen slave has already peeled the potatoes.

Garland up the banister

This week I have continued with putting up the Christmas trees. This little silk tree is one I made years ago in a class, even now I don’t think it is really finished, most of the rest of the class added far more stitching and I think stuffed them and put them in a pot. But it just stands on a surface and I like it as it is, although it seems to have lost it’s star from the top. It may yet turn up.

Silk fabric and stitching – it’s about 20cm high.

I even managing to persuade Colin to clear the desk in ‘his’ room / study / library / tip to put up the wooden tree we made in 2017. You can see it from outside, and since we are on one of the main roads through the village hopefully it will be a bit of cheer for folk passing by. The flat “branches” make ideal little shelves for the decorations that have been acquired over the years and that don’t hang on the tree.

It was an idea triggered by seeing one in a shop window on Steep Hill in Lincoln. It looked so beautiful all lit up. Unfortunately, they weren’t selling them, but the lady did give me vague instructions of how to make one. So we had a go. I could soon see why they weren’t selling them, with our limited woodworking tools and skills it took a long time to do. The end result was a bit wonky too. We’ve more or less sorted that out this year, with a few modifications on levelling up. The old pub-table and a beer-mat principle, but both of us thinking it needed the card underneath in a different place. We eventually got there and put the tiny lights more or less evenly spaced around it; 10 strands of lights and 12 spaces don’t quite work, but it looks right from the front and outside.

We realised when we put it up the first time that there are various options for arranging the branches, but too late without starting from scratch and taking everything off to alter it. So this time we played around with branch arrangements first. The spaces get closer together at the top, so it needs a bit of planning of how best to arrange things. Also in places the branches around can be used to stabilise or wedge things to make them safer. This is helpful for some of the things that are either old and fragile, or a bit wonky from little fingers making them in the first place.

One of the oldest pieces to go on has had major surgery this year. A little soldier that was my mum’s when she was a little girl. One arm has been loose for a very long time, but the other one fell out of his sleeve this year. His jacket is so fixed that it would damage it to take it off. Colin asked if I wanted him to glue them back on. No. The arms were jointed at the shoulder and doing that would make them fixed. I suggested a little elastic band, but he thought it wouldn’t work. And how would you get it on? Tweezers?

Well, yes and no. I managed to find a small elastic band, push both sleeves up, hook the band round the tiny plastic hook making the joint, thread the elastic band and arm up the sleeve, and grab it through the other armhole and body with tweezers. But the band kept sliding off the tweezers. Difficult when you’re working blind, but after several attempts and failing, I thought a crochet hook might work. Couple of goes and success. One arm through the sleeve and the elastic band through the body. Colin was right the elastic band wouldn’t hold it, it was too long. But with a bit of fiddling I tied a knot in the stretched elastic band hooked it through the other arm shoulder joint hook and eased the sleeve over the arm. A bit of manipulation and the shoulder joints slipped into the sockets. Success. I don’t think this elastic band will last as long as the original, but there are more years left in the Old Soldier yet.

Old Soldier, more than 70 years old, I believe. Recovering from major surgery.

I’ve tucked this snowman where Miles won’t spot him, along with the Santa and candle he made in infant school. They are all a bit wonky but they were proudly brought home from school when he made them. They were made and received with love, and that’s the important bit. It also reminds us of the lovely little boy he was then, now a lovely and successful big boy of 28, and how lucky we were for him to have survived and recovered from surgery (twice) to remove a brain tumour before he was five years old. A slight shake in his right hand when he’s very tired is all that remains from the ordeal.

Made by Miles in infant school.

Lincoln Embroiderers’ Guild had a couple of Zoom meetings this week, and it was lovely to catch up with folk and see what the others have been doing. Very busy, in the main, but as was pointed out by a member, it’s the sort of people we are: we may not be able to be doing the things we were doing last year, but we’ve filled our lives with a different sort of busy-ness. Too true, but I certainly feel it has helped me make the most of the situation we have found ourselves in this year. This little rabbit was one of a pair given as our Christmas gift last year at our Christmas meeting, a very sociable occasion with a lovely shared lunch. The rabbit was finished by Easter and I’ve just wrapped a tinsel scarf round his neck, before sitting him on the tree.

Last Christmas gift from Lincoln Embroiderers’ Guild

So again, lots of good memories decorating this tree. And, as I walk past the doorway (I’m rarely allowed in) I can ignore the mess, especially when it’s dark and the tree lights are the only light. I can enjoy the memories the trinkets evoke. And Colin was pleased to find one or two “lost” things as he cleared the desk!

More or less finished tree.

This is the fairy that I made years ago, on top of the lounge tree. She was armless and topless for years, but finally got finished. She was never very stable and often fell off, but I have finally found a solution this year, a piece of ribbon round her middle and a bow at the back round the tree. Why has it taken so long to solve? Possibly too many other things to think of. More time, that’s a positive of this pandemic, a slowing down of the frantic, crazy speed that many of us live our lives. Time to access our priorities and enjoy the simple things in life. It may need to be a quieter, smaller, shorter Christmas, but we are still here.