Embracing the months of January and February.

No-one seems to write about or celebrate the months of January and February. These are quiet months, months to be hurried and got out of the way, months with few celebrations other than family birthdays or St Valentine’s for those in the first season of love.

After the Christmas decorations are cleared away for another year the house is dark and drear. Some days it never seems to become properly light. There is little happening in the garden, river, wood or field. All is asleep and waiting for the spring.

So what is a home body to do to cheer up these cold dark winter days. The dark mornings and early evenings can hold their own warmth and comfort with the curtains drawn, candles lit and a snuggling on the sofa swathed in a quilt or throw. This is the time to read or hand stitch, to knit or crochet. To listen to the radio or watch some gentle television. Midsomer Murders, Miss Marple, Poirot and the like. Nothing challenging.

This is the time for good wholesome warming food that needn’t be heavy on calories. Roasted root vegetables, soup made from left over veg or bought in ingredients like butternut squash. A time to experiment making your own bread. Cottage pie, chilli, currys, lasagne, pasta bakes. All should be served with extra steamed winter veg to increase vitamin and fibre intake.

Find little ways to brighten up your home. Decorate a twig cut from the garden with yellow felt witch hazel flowers, pick up a pot of early flowering snowdrops from the garden centre, pick some winter flowering pansies and put into small jars of vases and dot around the house.

Make the most of Valentine’s day by making fabric hanging hearts or a heart shaped cushion. Bake some heart shaped biscuits or make some fabric roses. If you have no human to celebrate with thank the Lord for your friends, your pets and for Jesus Christ.

Don’t allow these two months to just slip away or rush past. Embrace the peace and quiet after the rush and noise of Christmas and New year. Use this time to recharge your batteries, dream and plan for the future. For me January is the month of lists – plans for the garden, plants to buy, presents to make, quilts to sew, trips to research. Take on a new project. My January project for 2019 has been to bake a different cake each week. So far orange drizzle cake and iced ginger tray bake.

And above all praise the Lord for a new year full of endless opportunities and possibilities given to you by His grace.

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The Iceland Quilt

Not every quilt I make has a story. Some are made to try out a new technique or design, others because I just like the fabric or pattern. However, some do have a story. The Iceland Quilt is one of these.

The Viking people were great explorers and a maritime nation and it was these people that populated Iceland and that today’s Icelandic people are descended from. Their descendents are also to be found in the British Isles and Ireland including the Isle of Man.

I’ve made this quilt for my son and daughter in law. My son lived for many years on the Isle of Man and my daughter in law is Icelandic. They now live in Windsor.

The quilt design is by Janet Clare and I’ve used her fabric throughout. The additional corner blocks are part of the story added by myself.

When my hands were young …..

I was 15 when my grandmother died and after the funeral I was given her embroidery silks. My lasting memory of her was as a silvered haired, soft cheeked, old lady in her sitting room sat in front of the fire embroidering. My generation and social background did not encourage intimacy with adults and conversations in the way that they do now and I remember little of her apart from the embroidery and the spurning of washing up liquid in favour of washing soda for doing the dishes.

I doubt that she left a will and I expect my Aunt Ivy decided I should have the silks as I showed an interest in sewing. I can remember being ‘strangely’ pleased with this gift. Strangely as I had never really undertaken any embroidery projects as through necessity I made my own clothes and that was where my interest lay.

I started my first proper job at 16 working in a village in Surrey called St John’s Lye where there was an old fashioned haberdashers. Think Mrs Gee’s shop in Call the Midwife. And yes, I remember buying sanitary towels from this shop and they was placed in a brown paper bag. Having periods in those days still carried some sort of a stigma. Quite bizarre. Anyway, I digress. It was in this shop I bought the green linen tablecloth to embroider with my grandmother’s silks. The fabric was cotton linen and it was transfer printed with the design.

I worked on this tablecloth until I fell for my first child when all creative production went into knitting baby clothes only picking it back up about ten years later. After I had finished it it saw good service for family meals and therefore became stained and not treated with much love. When I divorced I took very little from the house and so it stayed with my ex-husband and moved to the Isle of Man with him. It was when I was staying with him and helping to clear up one day that I spotted it in a drawer and, I’m ashamed to say, just took it. So it came back to me eventually ending up in a drawer in my house.

Fast forward a few years and I’d moved with my new husband to Ashford. We had a circle of friends that would meet at our local and come back to our house for a takeaway curry. This is when the tablecloth gets its second lease of life. It came to be know as the ‘curry cloth’ and became even more stained and unloved.

Now fifty years on from when I first bought the tablecloth I came across it scrunched up at the bottom of the linen box. Unloved and not even looked at for years I took it out and examined it. It was so screwed up that I laundered it to have a proper look.

I have recently started embroidering again after many years and although my hands are now arthritic I still manage to hold a needle. What I saw when I looked at the stitching on the cloth amazed me. My grandmother must have taught me to embroider at some point in my childhood because the variety of stitches is amazing and the execution beautiful. I can’t believe it is my work. I suppose it is the work of young hands and good eyesight combining to produce a thing of beauty.

This story will be printed off and stored with the tablecloth in tissue paper and placed in the family archive. It will serve as a memory of when my hands were young.

The Crinoline Ladies

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I have been reading Jane Brocket’s book The Gentle Art of Domesticity and she has written a chapter on vintage embroidery and the ubiquitous crinoline lady of the 1930s. I remember my grandmother Minnie still using this pattern in the 1950s and when I recently cleared my mother’s home I came across some pieces of my grandmother’s work that she had saved. These are now conserved in the family archive.

The pieces in the photograph were given to me by a friend and they are a charity shop find. I would say they probably date from the 1950s and how sad they are no longer with their family. I don’t want to cut them up but I’m frightened to use them in case they get stained. But what to do with them?! I feel they were made to be used and although the stitcher is probably no longer with us perhaps the greatest complement to them would be to use them so their work will be admired.

Community Spirit

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I’ve just spent a delightful morning helping out at a local Christmas Fair.  The event, organised by Sarah Baxter at St Hughes Church, Baildon, was organised to raise funds to support disadvantaged people in the local community.  This building is used as a community centre and offers space for services and groups that meet the needs of families living close by as well as supporting the local primary school and organising a food bank.  What would we do without this kind of local support.

Though I must admit it was rather like stepping back in time to my childhood when events like this were commonplace and looked forward to.  I can remember being given a small amount of money and let loose to spend it on whatever I wanted.  This meant I was very choosy and took ages before I parted with my money.  One of my favourite games was a sand tray filled with eggs.  Now the vast majority of the eggs had been ‘blown’ and were therefore empty but if you picked up one that was hard boiled you won a prize.  I also loved the ‘bran tub’ because this meant you won a prize every time.  The prizes were only ever little trinkets but the thrill of delving around in the sawdust to find a wrapped gift, squishing and squeezing it to try and work out what it was before pulling it from the tub because once in the open air this was the gift you were committed to.  I don’t ever remember being disappointed.

So today was a lovely day and I manned the book stall that from the off was incredibly busy with both adults and children buying books.  I just love the sense of community with volunteers from the church and craft group and the local residents coming along to support their efforts.  This is community spirit at its best.

And Father Christmas – even if it is only mid November!

 

 

The End of an Era

The woman in the centre of this photograph is my mother pictured here with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This image, taken nearly ten years ago, shows a woman in the autumn of her life. She was in her early eighties, independent, still enjoying life, content in widowhood, a model of growing old gracefully.

Last week she left hospital to become a resident in a nursing home. No longer deemed to have capacity to make her own decisions the state took over. Before a minor heart attack and fall at the beginning of July she was frail but with the support of an exceptional care team she had been able to continue living in her own home.

My mum’s house was her palace. It was a simple two bedroom semi on a local authority housing estate but when we moved in in December 1961 it was brand new with an indoor toilet, bathroom and running hot water and, from my mum’s point of view the best thing, we were not sharing it with any other family. My mother loved her home, spent hours cleaning and looking after it, caring for her family was her work.

And now, in the space of three months, it is gone. The place that had been a constant, my parent’s home, the place of celebrations and refuge, no longer available to any of us. Filled with guilt my sister and I have cleared the house, emptied it completely and handed the keys back to the housing association. 

And the worse thing is my mother does not know. How can we tell her that her home has gone forever, that her stay in the nursing home is not a temporary measure until she is well, that behind her back we have taken away the place that holds all her memories of my father, her children, her grandchildren. I always assumed that we would do this when she died, the last task we would perform for her. Somehow this feels worse. 

The nursing home is lovely, she isn’t left on her own anymore, the staff are caring and she seems to be settling in well. So her immediate well being has been addressed. She is safe, warm, well fed, and yet…… 

I suppose for all people part of our maturing is to go through stages in our lives and this is just another stage on our journey. The cared for becomes caregiver, a reversal of roles.

My mother appears to be happy and content again and not once has she asked about her home. Nature has been kind perhaps but it’s sad she doesn’t seem to have any memories of the house and it’s her family that mourn its loss and more importantly the woman she once was.

Autumn Comes Early

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Autumn comes early in the Aire Valley. Just as spring and summer start a month later the autumn arrives in mid August.

You can smell the start of decay in the gardens not helped by the ubiquitous overnight rain and heavy morning dew.

As you look across the valley from the park into Trench Wood the tops of the trees are beginning to turn colour.

This morning is humid and warm but the valley is shrouded in mist and the tops of the hills aren’t visible.

Welcome to the autumn – the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness.

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Observations on Retirement

I had dreamt of what retirement would be. Would I be a powerhouse of volunteering, would I become a lady who lunched, would I rise at daybreak and spend my days in the garden, would I start new hobbies, rekindle old interests, read! Well, I can honestly say that it is all those things and much much more. I have worked since I was fifteen years old and did my forty-seven years so please don’t tell me my state pension is a ‘benefit’. I’m now enjoying all those years of hard work. May they continue for many years to come.

The photo is of a quilt top I’m working on for a secret present shhh. The pattern is Miss Butterfly by Janet Clare.