What I have been up to

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Healing love sent out into the world

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The other side

Oh, there is just not enough time in my days! Yet I believe I have never put my days to better use than I do now… 

Rare is the day on which there is not a dye pot simmering on my stove, on which I do not take thread and needle to fabric, on which I do not put pen or brush to paper or find another way to express my soul-expanding joy at having unlocked the gate to my creativity and artistic expression. I had no idea how narrow my life had become until it opened up again.

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Boro stitching on denim, using Japanese sashiko thread and a piece of eucalyptus-printed silk

I seem to have stepped into a fractal labyrinth, where every step opens up an infinite number of new paths. Trouble is, I want to follow every one of them and preferably all at the same time – but there is just one of me. Which leads to another lesson: learning to pace myself, something at which I have never been very good. I keep telling myself: You don’t have to do all this now – there is a whole life ahead of you yet, you can do this next year or the year after. After having looked backwards and inwards for so long, I see the future opening up and presenting a joyful array of opportunities once again. I may be growing older (just a little) but inside I seem to have found the fountain of youth. 

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What can I say? I love feathers.

One thing I have decided for this blog is that I will post more often but spend less time on the individual posts. I tend to brush and polish and check and double-check and I post less often because I know how much time it takes me. So: more posts, less time.

I’ll leave you with these images of an old cotton T-shirt ecoprinted with eucalyptus, which I simmered in an iron bath for a while… 

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How it came out of the dye pot. The string has since been used to make iron marks on a piece of wool.

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Unwrapping the magic…

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Glowing…

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I love how the string resist shows up in flowing white lines on the heavily iron-marked fabric. This part of the tee was in direct contact with the iron bath, unfiltered by layers of fabric. It makes me think of seaweed floating in water.

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One of the things I most love about eco printing is the huge array of colours it produces. While you can influence the outcome, you have no absolute control over the results.

It may be raining cats and dogs outside but in here the sun is still shining…

Silver and Golden

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Last year this time, I was home alone. For me, New Year’s Eve has not been a night of celebration for a long time and I’m not sure it will ever be that again. Somehow it is associated with too much melancholy, endings, saying goodbye and farewell. And yet something is different. Last year on my own, not feeling forced to be artificially happy or pleasant, it felt like a new beginning for the first time in a long time.

And so it is this year. Somehow I have come into my own and that, my dear and faithful friends, is reason to celebrate. It is an ongoing process of course and I still battle my daemons, but there seem to be fewer of them and more of me.

I think there has not been a single day this year in which I did not realise and appreciate how beautiful this world – this life – really is. Naturally there is sorrow and sadness and pain and anger, but there is always beauty. And I have learned the true meaning of gratitude.

Gratitude when riding my bicycle in sunshine or rain, one little girl in front of me and one in back, singing, humming, chattering, warm bodies pressing against me, saying ‘Mummy you are the sweetest and the best’. My beautiful fifteen year old regaining his joy and wonderful smile in an off-system new school, hugging me and rubbing his cheek against mine, hoping for the day I will tell him his skin is prickly and he needs to shave. 

Gratitude when sticking my hands in the earth, picking flowers and herbs in my beautiful little garden, smelling the lovely, lovely scents of nature. Walking on the beach, head bent towards the sand as in my youth, collecting shells and storm-tossed wood… Strolling through the forest, smelling the earth, sitting beneath an oak tree and hearing the leaves whisper in the wind… My house has been filling up with plants, leaves, sticks, stones, shells and feathers and something loosens inside me every time I see them, smell them, touch them. Truly there is healing in allmother nature.

Gratitude when getting up at five in the morning, shivering and tired, to start work because that is the most quiet and peaceful time of day for me and those few precious early hours are when I do most and best. Oh, so grateful for having work and making money I can call my own (sort of) and at the same time being home for my boy and girls, even though I complain because I am running around all day from school to work to grocery shopping and laundry and cleaning and finally, blissedly, bed. 

Gratitude for the rediscovery of my great well of creativity, sadly neglected these many years but still waiting and willing to pour forth in such wealth. And the discovery of so many others whose creativity has inspired mine and made me better. So many beautiful people willing to share and reach out and encourage.

I have discovered people on the Web who have become precious to me, places that I love to dwell in, new dreams and creations to explore each day. People with great courage and love and wisdom who have made my life richer in the encountering and sharing. 

Gratitude, also, for having so much and so much therefore to give. Gratitude and generosity, I have come to understand, are two sides of the same coin. I hope I have given freely of myself and returned some of the gifts I have received.

It has been a silver and golden year. Not without its shadows, of course, some cast by others and some my own, but definitely filled with silver and golden light and much, much love.

So I am strangely amused to find myself looking forward to this ending and beginning all in one, even if just symbolic, and curious to see what another year will bring. I have been falling into the gravity well of my self and now, cautiously finding an orbit around that stable centre within, am striding forward once more.

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Photos: Eucalyptus and iron eco dye on ecological silk jersey, December 2013

Roses & Steam part I

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After visiting India Flint’s wonderful blog Prophet of Bloom (I love the subtitle ‘Not all those who wander are lost’)  for the umpteenth time and gazing in admiration at the wonderful stuff she makes, I decided it was time to throw some roses & steam together for myself and see what would happen:

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That was try number one. Oh, the folly of thinking I could keep up with India Flint! I obviously used too few petals but it did give me a good idea of what to expect. The red roses came from my garden. The rambler has been there for 14 years, I think, and offers up red splashes of huge blooms all through summer. The last ones were in bloom just now and I’m worrying my favourite rose will not last through winter (don’t ask me why – I hope I didn’t just jinx it to death) so I figured, at least I will have a tangible reminder.

The little bag is something I found lying around while I was looking for white natural fabric. The kerchief, however, I inherited from my grandmother and is much loved (although I never use it – does that ever happen to you? I just like to look at it every once in a while). So anyway, take two:

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So… what happens is you suspend the bundle over a pot of steaming water for an hour or two. The steam leaches the colour from the petals and leaves, which then imprints upon the fabric. India gets the most beautiful prints of entire leaves and branches and colours, a glorious representation of summer and fall. Obviously she has turned it into an art. If you live in America or Australia, you should definitely try to attend one of her workshops if you get a chance. Look here for more: India Flint’s Workroom.

Wrapping the bundles is wonderful because it makes me feel like a bit of a witch, quite frankly. But unwrapping is the best of the whole process because the outcome is such a wonderful surprise!

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I love how the bright red of the roses turned into this vibrant purple! It’s as if I gathered summer grapes or berries in a kerchief and accidentally crushed them and the juices stained the fabric. Definitely something I’ll do again and recommended for all ages and abilities if you are not too demanding. I’m sure the children would love doing this, too!

A description I found online says to iron the fabric to set the colour and it should be (hand-)washable after that.

Disaster strikes

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I have been knitting and knitting and knitting this really big linen shawl. A design of my own in wonderful earthy tones, which I can’t wait to wash and wear. With my beautiful Knitpro needles, which make such a lovely sound when I knit, are perfectly smooth and yet have ideal grip on the yarn. I love these needles with all my heart.

Until today, when disaster struck. My knitting bag was on the backrest of the couch. My daughters and ten year old stepson had a couch battle. And jumped on my knitting bag.

You can imagine my fury when I discovered the damage. I am pretty sure I had steam coming from my ears. Now I have to pick up all these stitches, which is not my favourite occupation. Darn.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

Boijmans van Beuningen Museum: Hand Made exhibition and competition

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Have you missed me? I know I have not posted much lately. I wonder if many people neglect their blogs when they have many things clamouring for their attention, or is it just me?

Things in my life suddenly seem to move in a different direction, or rather an additional direction. And since my days were already overflowing with work, children, housekeeping and knitting, this additional activity is nibbling away at the time I spend on other things. This once, however, it is a good thing that I am not getting enough sleep. Or rather, there is a really good and positive reason.

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When I took up knitting I soon started experimenting with knitted hair ornaments and ornamental knitting. I like small projects with quick results. Admittedly, I get easily bored with long projects, one of the reasons why I hesitate to start on a big cardigan or shawl. On top of that, knitting bracelets and hair bands is an excellent way to explore and practise new techniques. Then came crochet and I was off.

I used to think that crochet was rather… well… old-fashioned and stuffy but have definitely changed my mind. Yes, some of it is really old-fashioned and stuffy, although I have also come to realise how much work there is in even the most grandmotherly blanket or table runner.

There are many talented artists and crochet lovers out there who create the most wonderful things, from the nearly microscopic crochet stitches in an embroidery thread crochet necklace to huge actual playgrounds in Japan. People crochet with metal wire, plastic bags and hair – pretty much anything that can be used as yarn. I have taken up crochet jewellery.

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This is my Sun and Snake necklace made from bourette silk, cotton and a futuristic metallic yarn. It is based on the Chinese year of the Snake and the yellow sun, with yellow representing good luck in China and the sun my astrological sign Leo.

Image This Turquoise Protection necklace is based on the protective power of turquoise stone and my fascination with the legendary though contested crystal skulls.

Coincidentally (or is it one of those instances of synchronicity?) the prestigious and wonderful Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam organised Hand Made, an exhibition on traditional crafts, this spring. Craft workshops are held at the museum in collaboration with Etsy each weekend.

I attended a symposium on the future of the crafts there and although there was little time left, enjoyed an hour or so at the beautiful exhibition that features work from around the world, representing the crafts through the ages. Definitely a must-see if you are in Rotterdam!

The Etsy Boijmans van Beuningen partnership also resulted in a competition called Onverwacht Ambacht or ‘Unexpected Crafts’, which called for entries applying old crafts in new and unexpected ways. I originally conceived of a quite ambitious entry that I unfortunately did not have time to complete (or, to my chagrin, even get started on). While that work will get done somewhere this year, I somewhat impulsively decided to submit some of my necklaces the night before the competition closed.

In addition to the prize awarded by Etsy and the museum, a public prize will be awarded to the entry that receives the greatest number of votes from the public visiting the museum. Voting is also open on Facebook so do have a look at the other entries and vote by liking your favourite work here: Facebook voting page. I wouldn’t mind if you happened to like mine, of course! Please feel free to share the page because I think it shows a number of amazing modern crafts from very talented people.

There are many amazing entries so while I clearly don’t expect to win, I am rather proud that I actually entered the competition. In the past, I would have dithered and doubted until the end. Then I would have been angry with myself for not doing something I longed for again, simply because I was insecure or afraid. The fact that I don’t care what anyone says or thinks but just do what I believe in, what is right for me, shows me how much I have changed. And it is good to be reminded of that fact, which tends to get lost and forgotten all too quickly in the rush of daily life.

I’ve done and gone hooking

The Buddha and hyperbolic space

The Buddha and hyperbolic space

Now that does sound rather awful, doesn’t it? Rest assured, it isn’t as weird as it sounds. I have not been around my blog much lately because I have been busy with work, my children (14-year-old requiring serious homework drilling, girls ill on and off), knitting, and so on and so forth.

I went to a symposium associated with the new Hand Made exhibition in collaboration with Etsy at Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam last Friday. It was interesting to be reminded how the crafts are seen by people generally involved in ‘high art’ (whatever that may be – not as much as it is made out to be by the ‘experts’ in my not-so-humble opinion). I’ll tell you more about the symposium and exhibition in another post.

And yes, I took up crochet. Initially for a project that has now been sidelined because I could not bring myself to get started on it (but I will!) and then… well… I got hooked. Seriously. Fortunately my daughters are crazy about the crochet flowers I am churning out because I’m not sure I would wear them myself. Just a tad too granny for my taste, but who knows, that might change because I am discovering that things look quite differently when you make them yourself! As in, less ‘For God’s sake, I would never ever be caught dead in that!’ and more ‘Hmmm… if I changed this, and added that, and picked a really chic yarn… I might actually get to like it!’

I am also fascinated by the fact that there are many scientist knitters and crocheters (is that a word?). Just Google ‘knitted geometric shapes’ or ‘crochet hyperbolic space’ and see what turns up. So the other day I started on a crochet pattern for a dahlia, which at one point somehow seemed to turn into something looking a lot like hyperbolic space. See here, for instance. And here, where I found out that crochet actually intersects with my sister’s work as a marine biologist. She’ll just love that, ahem.DSC08195

It does seem curious that a tangible representation of hyperbolic forms seemed impossible until crochet stepped in, doesn’t it? I would expect to be more aware by now of how everything is connected. I am not as easily surprised as I used to be in that respect but this one threw me!

The most wonderful thing about crafts, however professional or amateur your creations, is that one idea engenders another, and another, and another. And every individual person will come up with something different. I think this is amply illustrated by the Friday Fictioneers, each of whom comes up with something entirely different when looking at the images proposed by Rochelle. Of course there are parallels between stories sometimes but they are never the same. And in the same way, I believe that crafts are a celebration of individual expression. In a world increasingly obsessed with mass production and consumption and utter ‘sameness’, more and more people feel the need to remind themselves that they are not the same, that they are unique creatures capable of unique achievements.

This last little fluffy bit is no mathematical mystery, of course. Just a little present for one of the lovely people I will be meeting at the Breidag in Nieuwegein tomorrow. And yes, that’s my face reflected in the background. I did done and seen it but didn’t feel like taking a new picture. I’ll just be the lady in the mirror, isn’t that lovely and mysterious?DSC08188DSC08222

Now it’s a bloody Möbius

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I swear, if I didn’t know better I’d think this thing does NOT want to be knitted by me. Under any circumstance. Ever.

Remember I showed you the Honey Cowl when I had just cast on? Well… about midway through I realised I had ‘misread’ the pattern and it looked all wrong. (You know how that happens. You are so eager to get started, you just don’t pay any real attention. We have this saying in Holland: ‘An ass never hits the same stone twice’. I bet you can guess what that makes me.)

So I frogged the whole thing and started over. That time I made a mistake in casting on: too few stitches and I wanted the long version of the cowl, not the medium one. Frogged, again. Cast on 220 stitches (which is a lot of casting on for a single cowl if you realise I had already done 220 at least twice (I always miscount once) and then another 160) and knitted happily along, hoping I could still get some wear out of this lovely yarn before winter really ends (we are set for one last cold bout, apparently).

And now it’s a bloody Möbius. Grrrrr.

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See this twist, where the fabric wraps around the needle? It is NOT supposed to do that! I am going to have to frog the whole thing once again. And I’m seriously wondering if I should just let it be for now and try again next fall. Except the yarn and pattern combination is just so damned pretty. And I want this cowl. NOW! My vintage ochre Balenciaga bag is languishing in my cabinet waiting for this cowl. So what is a girl to do?

I am going to cast on, again, with a lot of moaning and grumbling.

Am I an ass if I ask what else could possibly go wrong with this thing?

FO: Saroyan shawl

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Just a quick note to show you my Saroyan shawl, which I cast off last week. Although I do know that wool garments need to be dried flat, I never really thought about it until I learned about blocking. Saroyan was my first official ‘finished object blocked’ (FOB, not a bad acronym actually) and I am utterly pleased at how the blocked shape remains… well… in shape as I wear it. Wool is truly the most amazing thing.

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I did not block aggressively (partly because I only had a small box of needles inherited from my grandmother) so I concentrated on the leaf pattern. That turned out really nicely although I wish Saroyan had been a bit wider. I loved knitting this pattern and I might cast on again, but I would increase more intensively and use more repeats to create a wider shawl.

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I am very pleased with how it turned out nevertheless and in love with the Madeline Tosh… um… I’m afraid I have to admit I do not remember which MadTosh yarn and colourway I used. The photos are fairly true to colour and there is a lovely glaze to the yarn that makes it look truly luxurious. Definitely a yarn I will use again!

I find that I am drawn to patterns that reflect the natural world. You are doing a beautiful thing when you create such luscious, useful, intricately worked objects with yarn from nature, inspired by nature.

Art(isan): Eat your vegetables, darling!

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I will never look at my veggies the same way again. Aren’t they beautiful?

Now look closer. No, even closer!

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Are you starting to see?

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These exquisite vegetables were knitted and crocheted by the Japanese textile artist Itoamika Jung Jung. She creates jewellery with them. The level of detail is astonishing and I cannot imagine the amount of miniature fussing that must be involved.

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The more I explore the world of textile crafts, the more I am in awe of the artists that create so many extraordinary works. And this, to me, is what makes crafting so attractive. Whether you are a novice or an expert, there is always something new to discover and try, a new skill to master.

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Itoami published a book on crocheted plants that I am going to try and get my hands on: Ito Ami Plants. Although I am closer to a novice than to an expert at knitting and a total, absolute initiate (‘Is “idiot” the word you were looking for, darling?’ ‘Yes I think it might be. Thank you, dear’) in crocheting, this is something I want to try…

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Find the artist’s site here.

Woolly thoughts

Manos Sagittarius

Just now I was thinking. I think I have mentioned that I think a lot and some people think I think too much. Okay. With that out of the way, I can move on to what I was thinking about. [Yes, this is a hanging preposition and you are not supposed to use them but… Let me try to move on here, for God’s sake!].

So I was thinking about a number of knitting projects I have started, and plan to start, and wish I could start… and might start at any time in the near or distant future. So many beautiful things to knit. So much wonderful yarn to knit them with. [Yes, I know. Let’s leave it be this time. Please.]

There is a little leaved decorative scarf for D’s grandmother I want to finish and block before the weekend, when we are going up North to celebrate what might be her last birthday. [D being the (more or less) adult guy around the house, the father of my two youngest children and my love interest of nearly 7 years.]

There is Madeline Tosh’s Honey Cowl that I just cast on in a lovely Manos del Uruguay silk blend. Don’t you just love that name: the Hands of Uruguay? These hands create some of the lushest yarns around. Some hand-spun, all hand-dyed in extraordinarily beautiful colours. I posted some pictures of other knits in Manos yarn here and here.

I have been eyeing that cowl for a while now. I just did not know what yarn I would use but suddenly I remembered this wonderful Manos yarn in the colourway Sagittarius (D and my biological father’s birth sign, coincidentally) that has been languishing in my stash. It will go beautifully with an ochre vintage Balenciaga bag of mine (I’ll post photos later, promise). I just cast on and I already know that making this cowl is going to be knitting heaven.

The little Koigu KPPM bias scarf I cast on a couple of weeks ago is back to a little ball of yarn. See what it was going to look like here. I had one of the yarnovers all wrong and I knew that if I let it be, those stitches would ruin the whole thing for me. I can be a bit neurotic like that but I suspect many crafters will agree with me here. Some imperfections you can live with, some you cannot. I am not sure that I will cast it on again, at least not in the same yarn. To be honest it has already been supplanted by a myriad of other projects.

I have a couple of other projects in the pipeline but as I have to work now, you will probably hear more about those in the future (unless they are supplanted in the mean time, as well). I became a little (or a lot) distracted from what I was going to write about, which is the associative mind, but that will have to wait, too.

I leave you with another photo from planet Manos… Have a lovely day!

Manos Sagittarius