Saturday, 31 December 2011

happy new year

As the last day of 2011 draws to a close, some pictures from a moist Sussex garden to greet the New Year
rainfall captured on fallen leaves, decay amidst the green 
tiny cyclamen, bright spots of colour in the dark, damp soil

walnut tree, ghostly at the end of the garden, its silvery branches netting the sparse winter light

lingering remnants of autumn colour, the hazel leaves, touched by the fire of the sun, waiting to feed life in the coming year.
and a tiny little slug, not my favourite of garden guests, but with a part to play in the rich web of decay that brings new things in to being

Winter Solstice, Christmas, New Year, times of darkness, reflection and review, long chill nights for reminiscence, short days to scurry through, wrapped against the rain and wind. They bring to us an awareness of our own mortality, the bright lights of our decorations a ward against the darkness, our hope that the wheel of the year will turn and summer's brightness will be ours again.

Monday, 19 December 2011

while I was sleeping

the frost came and transformed the view from my window that I love so much. This doesn't really do justice to the soft yet rich palette of morning colours. Most of the leaves have been carried off by recent winds; those that are left are wonderful shades of maroon and gold, a symphony of harmonious singing shades, softened by early mist.

Sadly, while I was sleeping the previous night, my back seems to have fallen out! I was woken in the dark early hours by what I can only describe as a sense that something inside was gradually opening, like a dark night flower, and spilling pain in a radiant glow from the centre of my spine. Planetary rings, hot and flowing around my core. It took my breath away, I had to brace myself while it ebbed and seeped through me. I managed to turn onto my back as that is usually the best way to help the pain subside. It was dark outside, and cold inside, so I lay until dawn came, holding myself against the discomfort, longing to move yet dreading it. I was staying with my very dear, but memory deprived Aunt, and didn't want to wake her. Eventually it was late enough to crawl out of bed and be made a cup of tea amidst many protestations and offers of help, repeated many, many times!

I managed the two hour drive home, not always within the speed limit I have to confess, but longing to lie down before the pain killers wore out. So now I am putting life on hold until things improve - not sure how long it will take!

If anyone happens to be passing Kidmore End and finds a stray bit of back lying around, could they send it to me poste haste please? Meanwhile I'll practice my mindfulness.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

and some stitching

I'm still stitching away on the City and Guild projects, each a little exercise in a group of stitches.  The latest piece is taking it's time, and mine, in between visits to York and the Quilt Museum, which was delightful as always.

This was the source - from one of our splash and splosh days at Barbara's

And this the work in progress. The colours aren't quite as disparate, but one was taken by lamplight and one by daylight. Fabric, a zingy recycled shirt found in the Lakes in a charity shop.

The idea in this one is to use composite stitches like raised chain band, guilloche, pekinese, amongst others and interpret the splishes and sploshes in the collage. It is slow but fun, and should be followed by three exercises in counted thread work, - canvas, cross and blackwork.

However I need to get the inspiration and the preparatory stitchings together for my final piece, which is based on this lovely pot that you can find here
She's a goddess of creatures, mistress of the animals, and dates from about 680 BC, called Potnia Theron. From this I got to this, with apologies for the poor reproduction of the drawn image
Again, a bit of splish and splosh as we were encouraged to explore our image, hence the collage, which could translate in to an interesting applique at some stage. The gold of the fabric, which will be quieter in the final piece, is one of the hankies I dyed here.  It seems fitting that a  little goddess cloth should have one of Mum's myriad of hankies as its base - with a  muslin backing to give it some substance. In the hemmed edge of the hankie there is a little row of three birds who will be her animal representatives. I want to use toning, quiet colours that fit with the original image, which is black on terracotta. I have to get this "idea" in by next weekend, which means this week as I have to go up country to visit my Aunt Cecil next weekend and get her settled down for Christmas.

garden as meditation

The garden, just here, just now

Posted by Picasa

Monday, 21 November 2011

A Whole Year

Today we have been in our home for a whole year. This time last year, we were all packed up and ready to go - or at least I assume that was the case. To be honest we were both so exhausted that I can't really remember much. I had been away on retreat a couple of weeks before, leaving my dear soul to cope with all sorts. I still had stitches in my heel from having sliced it open on our front gate and he was still reeling from the sudden realisation that he was retired - or on eternity leave as he puts it!

I do remember the anxiety, sleeplessness, endless calls to estate agents as we were trying to sell two flats, and a sense that I was almost emigrating - having lived in the same town since the age of eight, moving 6 miles down the road seemed a very BIG step.

From this end of the telescope I am simply stunned by how much we've achieved in a relatively short space of time. We have

transformed a very scruffy overgrown, dank sort of track, which was almost invisible when we moved in, to this rather nice path. The most recent improvement being the fence, which was put up last week by our trusty friend Ray from Rotherview. It has offset uprights, which allow for a view through to the garden next door at certain angles, and which catch the light in a variety of ways, cast lovely shadows across the path and will, I hope, let more light and air into the bed that runs beside the path.

smartened up the shed a bit and had this part of the scruffy old patio replaced with some rather nice paving stones, again courtesy of Ray.
removed this very curious turreted affair, which formed a porch between the back door and the door to the shower room. When taken down, it proved to have been constructed of trellis and cardboard! We had noticed the gale blowing in under the sides and a worrying view of the outside from inside, where there shouldn't be, if you know what I mean
and replaced this shambles
with a rather nice conservatory, in which my good man sits in the evening with his glass of wine and, usually, at least one cat.
It looks over the garden and is just the right size for two people to sit and contemplate the stars on a chill winter's evening or watch the sun move round to the west while the birds sing their evening songs.
Three days after we moved in, this arrived
I hope we don't get a repeat this year - I'm planning a trip to York to be with my daughter for her birthday. Last year I was stranded on my way back, and had to be rescued from Tonbridge!

Sunday, 20 November 2011


My next effort in the C&G. This one in fly stitch, straight stitch and detached chain. Each of these little pieces is intended to teach about the use of different stitches, but also has a colour element. This was based around analogous colours; that is the range of colours that move from a primary colour to a secondary in one or other direction around the colour wheel. The previous one was about complimentary colours, green and red, but with a push towards orange that I justified by keeping the greens primarily in the blue/green range - red/green:blue/orange. Probably cheating, but I'll find out next Saturday at our next workshop.

In this case I chose red through to purple. I think I've pushed the boundaries a bit again though, by adding in that delicate pinky white. I'm hoping I can get away with it, it simply demanded inclusion; having started with overlapping fly stitch in the centre I knew dandelion clock was the way to go. It continues the Autumn theme, hopefully with a little sense of the soft seeds, blowing in the breeze that swirls around it.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

What Impending Catastrophe? Retrospective

Driving home from work recently I was passed by an ambulance, lights flashing, careful driving, carrying some poor soul to the hospital I guess. I was tired, it had been a long day, but I was quite startled to find tears flooding down my face as I drove on. For many years, this quite commonplace sight, along with the sound of sirens, heard but not seen, brought me a sense of dread. It is the inevitable side effect, I suspect, of being responsible for the care of a fragile soul. Mum started breaking bits if herself when my daughter was about four. She had been extremely fragile in childhood, then began to be once more, post menopause. It started with an elbow, which wasn't too bad but made opening Christmas presents that year rather a task. The breakages increased over the next 20'ish years to include leg, pelvis, sternum, fractured spine, neck, skull, and finally hip, which was the one that she simply couldn't recover from. Each of these breaks involved endless hours in casualty, hospitalisation, and quite a bit of my support once she got home again. During this time I brought my daughter up and looked after my mother in law with Alzheimer's for four years, a dependency that also involved several trips to casualty and, once,  her return by some very understanding policemen, in the middle of the night, in nothing but her nightie. Oh, and a first class honours degree from the OU and the transformation of my life.

My daughter is is nearly 25 and living her own life, Mum and my mother in law are gone; the need for me to care has stopped - for now. Yet this flood of tears made me realise that, inside, the constant anxiety, the anticipation of disaster, has become so ingrained that, unwittingly, I am still there in that emotional space, suspended between the last hospital visit and the next, waiting to be needed again. It was a sobering thought and made me wonder how one gets beyond such deeply ingrained responses, grown over a period of many years. Yet isn't that how life is for all of us? We live in a world that requires things from us, and in which things happen to us and, for the most part, we react instinctively. Things good and bad draw responses from us, responses we often don't think about or question. It is as though our souls learn to generalise, cease to be in that childhood state of newness where each thing in a wonder and each event fresh and untried. These instinctive, unregulated reactions to life are often a source of compassionate action, of laughter, of pure delight. They can also be the source of bigotry, hate and misery. If we have a bad day at work, or someone is unpleasant to us, our response to that can lead to more misery. We may snap at a shop assistant because we're feeling grumpy, fail to see a loved one's need because we're still  rehearsing the nasty thing that man said this morning.

For me, Mindfulness is a way of trying to mediate these reactions. If we take the time to watch ourselves, not in a self centred me, me, me way, but in a spirit of investigation and of letting go, hopefully we find ourselves questioning that stab of irritation, realising that perhaps the person who has just been unkind may be having a really bad day themselves. They are simply people, not the enemy, and letting go of the negative response allows us to move forward in clarity, dropping the inevitable reaction at "them" and leaving it where it belongs, in the past. Now is always now, the past will always have happened, but we can encourage ourselves to leave the bad things there.
How this helps with my impending sense of catastrophe, I'm not entirely sure. It is so ingrained I am mostly unaware of it, other than as a constant disquiet whispering in the back of my mind. However, I shall try. I know when I am old, it will be my dearest wish that my daughter is not burdened with my care. I also recognise what a deep and welcome gift caring for Mum proved to be. She would not want me to still be anxious, just as I would not want Jen to feel this way.
With awareness may come release.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

more autumn

This little piece of stitchery has reached a satisfactory state now,
 an autumn sun shining over the land, 
the colours I'm seeing as I go about this autumnal  bit of the globe
Just a little sampler, about three inches high, it is stitched on a piece of cloth that once was a skirt of Mum's I liked the neutral sage'y background and it has a pleasant even weave to stitch, but feels, and is, a synthetic fibre, which just doesn't feel quite right under the needle.

Friday, 11 November 2011


Because it's not just about a vague sense of gratitude that we are free to live in this benign, tolerant, civilised society. It's about real people who went through, and who are going through worse things than we can imagine, or would really like to think about, so that "home" can remain just that.

So here you can read about one of my dear one's family whose heroism was recognised when he was killed in 1918. Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, whose ancestors pictures hang in our house and whose postcard home, where he talks about the impossibility of imagining its peacefulness, surrounded as he was by the awful reality of war, sits in a drawer here somewhere,
And here is my grandfather, who was twice badly injured, in 1915 at Gallipoli and then again in 1917. I never knew this until long after he'd died. To me he was a gruff old man who tweaked my ear, called me Fidget and had an unaccountable taste for opera.

Bravery isn't necessarily something that some breed of special people have, people marked by some kind of otherness that renders them impervious to fear and allows them to be heroes in some effortless Hollywood way. It's how everyday people who are faced with something fearful, dangerous, desperate, far beyond their "normal" experience, respond to that challenge. That, to my mind, makes them more than special.

The generation who went through the two big wars of the last century are gradually leaving us, many are gone already . Yet how many old, tired, shabby men or women might we have passed in the street, utterly unaware that once, they too may have been called to act beyond the normal range of life, in defence of all they, and we hold dear. A new generation are still losing limbs, lives and,  in some cases, all possibility of peace of mind in the face of war. They too may pass you, unnoticed, in the street.

Thursday, 10 November 2011


Autumn is being lovely in the garden, colours and shapes so rich yet delicate

hydrangea, mum's favourites, here in a variety of guises

the walnut tree, ghost at the bottom of the dell

pansies out front glowing in the low sun

and light
garden spirits

glowing colour

and stitching!
which somehow seems to reflect the autumn mood

Sunday, 6 November 2011

C&G update

One of the things that has been adding to my stress has been the City and Guilds work. Not work actually, because it is all so interesting, but I do have to turn all this
into something coherent and presentable. I am woefully behind in comparison to my more experienced fellow stitchers. But I have been having fun. One of the bits I've been working on stems from one of the colour exercises.
I wanted to see if I could stitch in a way that echoed the marks on paper.
I'm really rather pleased with the way it's come out, though not strictly to the given remit, it does exploit fly stitch, detached chain, cross, straight and french knots. It's only 3 inches square, references the old fashioned nine patch and is worked using the smallest of my between needles and a single strand of embroidery floss.  A certain amount of squinting went on. Now, do I work a boundary between the squares or leave them to blend into each other the way the pen drawing does?
And here are my efforts to date, all put together waiting to go in my folder of works. I now have to learn about bullion, raised chain band, whipped stem, guilloche, seeding and something else I've forgotten. Then I have to learn about blackwork, canvas work and cross stitch.

All watched over by my trusty needle case; a Primary school project I made for Mum more years ago than I can remember, though I do remember being worried that the satin stitch was too long and that it would pull crooked when used. It seems to have been treated gently by time. The snail shell gave me some trouble as well and the R for Rosemary doesn't quite pull off that casual lean into the bottom corner!

Meanwhile the garden is dipping towards winter. The silver silhouette of the walnut is starting to shine up from the bottom of the garden, a few yellow leaves still clinging to its branches.
the maple I planted in the spring is showing great promise
the honeysuckle and jasmine twining round their framework of leafless conifer branches is also giving a sketchy hint of how it may look once fully clothed with a dressing of leaf and stem.
and certain inhabitants are sure that it's now nicer inside than out
A closer look will reveal another cat in the basket .......

Thursday, 3 November 2011

my canine friend

A little muse on the black dog, who visits from time to time, wraps me lovingly in his great hairy paws and tries to tell me that his is the only view of the world.

The problem with this is that sometimes it's hard to see beyond all that fur, it obscures, makes one feel that really, this is the only true view, and so the soul shrinks and the heart feels afraid. However much the bossy rational mind says "oh for goodness sake, stop being such a wuss, get a grip, get over yourself", that old dog feels so warm, so oddly reassuring, so comfortably uncomfortable, that it's hard to resist. He's been my occasional companion for many years now, and his presence has a tendency to stifle to the point that, when he starts to move away for a while, it can feel as frightening as when he's close and cuddly. Constant pain (which is just another way of being) doesn't help, as the weariness makes it hard to find a true perspective at times.

We had very welcome visitors last week. But we normally lead a pretty quiet life and have still not got ourselves "straight" after decanting three large flats into one middle sized house just under a year ago. However welcome, the preparation, the clearing to make space, the being "on show" - this was their first visit, and the pleasurable effort of a long day in London, where we spent some time in the presence of Gerhard Richter's extraordinary canvases, took their toll. I am still, a week later, in more pain than usual, as my body recovers from the extra exertions. One can't expect young, fit visitors to amend their usually busy way of being, or understand the invisible effects of a somewhat compromised physique. The change in pace left me drained. Suffice to say, "let it come, let it be, let it go" is a good mantra to take one through - pat the dog on the head, look the other way and just wait quietly, doing as much of life as possible, until he gets bored with the lack of attention and turns his mind to other things.

And remember - he will go away, he always does, he's only there when you look at him .....

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


I've not been here for a bit. Feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed, that there isn't enough time for anything, nor enough of me to do. I expect it'll pass as these things do.

Time to stitch I think, and be, very gently

"Let it come, let it be, let it go"

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

More fun on a Saturday!

On Saturday we gathered at Barbara’s again, and did more fun stuff, but Mindful fun. Looking with as much care as possible at what we are doing, during the session, but also taking that careful looking out into life; seeing in terms of the balance of shape, colour, form; aware that we live in a designed world.

We spent the morning learning about shape, balance, pattern, looking at work by artists like Klee, Matisse, Klimt, amongst others. Barbara talked with us about form, colour, symmetry, positive and negative space, and how they all play a part in shaping our response to visual things. Also about how we can use these ways of representing as part of the design process.

Then we spent some time cutting, tearing, looking, balancing, arranging and sticking bits of this and that. We took shapes, three things, square, triangle and circle, and arranged them in the boxes we’d drawn - the colours here are rather more vivid than they are in reality

We also drew lines  horizontal, vertical, repeating pattern, crossing in different directions. The words express what was in my mind when I was drawing them

We tore paper into bits and arranged them on a painted background, using the papers we'd sploshed paint on since the previous session. I missed this, being in the Lakes, so sploshed my bits of paper unsupervised. Here are what remains after the tearing of bits to arrange! 

Now I have to translate a bit of this final arrangement into stitch, to be worked with compund stitches that have exotic names like raised chain band, guilloche, whipped stem. Hmmmm … this needs thought!
the final collage

Then somehow, all of this activity, must be described, transcribed, presented as a body of work in which we present what we’ve learned and the skills and materials we’ve explored. There are some talented women in this group, and we are being taught well. I have lots to learn. Most brought much more to the session, beautiful stitching, beautifully presented, and fledgeling portfolios of analysis an demonstration; I was inspired!  I have an almost empty book and a few ideas bubbling very gently, I have to be careful not to scare them away, I’m not used to his concept of “Me” time.