Fun in Frome

gables

Did I mention that I really love my work? This week work took me to Frome — a beautiful small town in a part of Somerset which I have never visited. I was there to see Jen . . .

jen

. . . and also got to hang out with Jim (the inimitable Veuf Tricot) and Scooter. The latter is a very smart feline — far too smart to injure his dignity posing for photographs.

scooter

Jen and I worked (and plotted) really hard, and then then took an afternoon off to potter around town. I’m really glad we did, as Frome is a place that seems to demand pottering.

Everywhere you look, there are inviting windows to peer into. . .

window

tea

And things to look at . . .

dogsbestfriend

bouquets

seagullmask
(This needle-felted Seagull mask was one of an incredible collection in a shop called OWL. )

On Catherine Hill, there are several fabulous vintage stores, selling niche and carefully curated garments and objects. I love this selection of cloches . . .

cloches

. . . and am concerned that this dress and its very particular green is going to haunt me.

shirtwaister

Catherine Hill also boasts a lovely haberdashery shop called Millie Moon

milliemoon

I have a mild addiction to ribbons and trims . . .

trims

. . . which was certainly fed there.

spoils

And best of all, Catherine Hill has its own lovely yarn shop – Marmalade Yarns

marmaladesign

In this extremely pretty and well-situated shop, Catriona and Maxine sell a superb selection of British yarns from mainstream producers like Rowan to some of the best independents like Skein Queen, Fyberspates, and Shilasdair. Marmalade Yarns is also a stockist of (ahem) ME. I don’t think it will ever stop being exciting to visit a place that sells my book and patterns.

marmaladeyarns
(Jen and Catriona outside Marmalade Yarns. Yes, Catriona is wearing an o w l sweater!)

Thankyou, Jen, for a fun and productive couple of days, and for a great introduction to Frome!

Cabbages & Roses


(Peerie Flooers hat and mittens, Caller HerrinSheepheid, and Funchal Moebius, all styled with Cabbages and Roses garments from 2007 to 2011.

I receive a lot of queries about the clothes I am wearing in the photographs you see here, and I generally receive the most queries whenever I am wearing clothes from Cabbages and Roses. Anyone who reads this blog will know how much I love and appreciate good clothes. Apart from my precious vintage garments, and some things I have made myself, it is fair to say that I love Cabbages and Roses clothes most of all. The very name Cabbages and Roses – in its suggestive combination of beauty and utility – conveys what is so different about these clothes. They are classic British garments: sometimes luxurious, sometimes practical, but always aesthetically pleasing and designed and made to last. Here is an anecdote which will immediately suggest to you the depths of my fondness – nay, obsession – with these clothes: when I had my stroke, I was wearing a Cabbages and Roses coat which was (and still remains) one of my favourite things in my wardrobe. I collapsed while out walking, was manhandled into an ambulance, and taken to hospital, where all my clothes were swiftly and forcibly removed. I was terrified, half paralysed, and undergoing gruelling neurological examination, but there was still room in my brain to worry about the condition and whereabouts of my coat. The first thing I asked poor Tom when I emerged from the CT scan was to check that The Coat was ok. There was a small tear to the lining which I have now repaired, but it was otherwise happily unscathed.


Me and Bruce in October 2010. I am wearing Tantallon hat, Tortoise and Hare gauntlets, and The Coat.

This coat has all the hallmarks of what I love about Cabbages and Roses’ garments. It is beautiful, distinctive, carefully constructed and tailored. It looks and feels special (folk are always asking me where I got it) but is also comfortable and easy to wear. The design includes several thoughtful signature details, such as the pleated empire line, and the ribbon-tie at the reverse. And importantly, it is made from a lightweight wool (hurrah!) that is really of fabulous quality. The label inside the coat not only told me this, but gave me information about where that fabric had been sourced and woven. Like all of the clothes in Cabbages and Roses’ collections, this coat was made on a relatively small scale in their London factory. So not only is the design truly lovely, but the quality of the British craftmanship in this garment is absolutely top notch. I have already worn it over several winters, and it still looks glorious.


The Coat in 2009. Also wearing Fugue mittens.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, first because I would like to come clean to those of you who are always asking me about my styling: really, quite a lot of it is due to Cabbages and Roses. Second, at a moment when so much of British fashion design seems sadly plastic and ephemeral (I would really rather not wear a disposable blouse inspired by a 1980s pencil case), and when the UK high street is full of badly made synthetic garments that will end up as tomorrow’s landfill, it is really rather nice to be able to celebrate and warmly recommend a company whose design aesthetics, quality textiles, and admirable values are the happy antithesis of those you will find in the Wovember Hall of Shame. And finally, because today I have the very great pleasure to share with you an interview with Christina Strutt.

Christina’s background is in interior decor and styling. When, just over a decade ago, she found herself unable to source the quality vintage-feeling fabrics which she needed for her work, she established Cabbages and Roses and began to design her own. Following the popularity of their textile line, Cabbages and Roses brought out their first garment collection in 2006, and since then have gone from strength to strength. Christina is clearly an individual with tremendous creative flair, yet there is also a good-humour and lack of pretense about both her and her work that I find really refreshing and inspiring. So, here’s our virtual chat, interspersed with some of my favourite looks from the current Cabbages and Roses collection.

KD: Could you say a little about how what lead you to develop your clothing line after the establishment of the C&R fabric and interior design brand? What were the core ideas behind the line?

CS: When our first fabric rolled off the production line, we were so excited by its beauty, in the style of The Sound of Music we made dresses, skirts, shirts, cushions, curtains from our first creation ‘bees.’ It was so refreshing to have in our hands a beautiful faded rose print, something we had been searching for for so long that it was hard not to make anything and everything from it. Then when we joined forces with our current partner, Jigsaw, they wanted a Cabbages and Roses collection in their stores. At this point our clothing collection more than doubled in size.

KD: What would you like women to say about your clothes?

CS: That their daughters steal their Cabbages & Roses clothes from their wardrobe. That we have a cult following. That still, five years later, they are still wearing the same piece with as much pride as when it was new. That they have been chased up the street by a complete stranger asking where they bought that coat / dress / skirt from. That our clothes make them very happy. That at last there is something interesting for women of a certain age to buy that their children also covet.

KD: Would you describe the Cabbages and Roses style as British ? I certainly would, but I wondered what that meant to you?

CS: Yes, I think I would describe our style as British as it has a certain ecclectic-ness that says “I am my own person.” The influences that go to make a collection are, on the whole, inspired by a generosity of spirit, an extravagance of fabric, and the ‘Made in England’ labels that we are so proud to sew into our seams! Although born of Italian and South American parentage, I have lived in England for all of my life. I am privileged to travel extensively, but truly I am happiest at home in England and quite resent having to be abroad so much! I am very proud of this fine country, and to be involved in a very English label that sells all over the world is a source of great pleasure.

KD: Is there a particular era of fashion history that you find most inspirational?

CS: Yes indeed, everything from 1066 to 2011! Since childhood I have loved the history of fashion, from the gentle empire lines, to the exuberant Victorians, from the grand elite to the working-class garments. I also love Edwardian lines and sixties shifts — the only period that distresses me is the 1970s and 80s — a time of my life when I was able to take charge of my wardrobe, but when clothes took on a strange giant-shouldered boxy shape and hair spiraled outwards in a curly, shaggy mullet-shaped embarrassment!

KD: Whose style — either now, or in the past — do you most admire?

CS: When I was a young 20-something girl, working on Vogue Magazine, Kenzo Takada was de rigeur – his beautiful, colourful prints and lovely shapes were all I desired. I also love Helena Bonham Carter’s eccentric and interesting ensembles: she has an independent spirit, wears what she loves, and always looks splendid – especially when she wears Cabbages and Roses.

KD: Do you feel that your design aesthetic has evolved over the decade since you established C&R? If so, how would you describe this process of evolution?

CS: Yes, I do think we have evolved: it has been a hard road that we have travelled, but I think that with our sales growing so steadily year on year, confidence in my designs has grown too. In the early days our designs were simplified to correspond with our limited manufacturing facilities. Now with access to marvelous pattern cutters and a splendid London factory, the designs tend to be more complicated and fewer compromises are made.

KD: Fabric quality is clearly very important to C&R. Could you say a bit about the kinds of textiles you like best and why?

CS: For me, choosing fabric is a matter of aesthetics above all else. When buying fabrics I tend to go for look, texture, and colour, it is an instinctive process and without any sort of financial or manufacturing control! It is only when sampling is being ordered that I am reigned in by our production department — this is where compromises come, but only in the quantities that are to be made. Although I prefer to to use natural fabrics — cotton, wool, linen — I do not mind having to use a man-made fabric if its look is in line with the design.

KD: Are you able to successfully source these textiles within the UK? Is it important to you to that C&R supports the UK textile industry in this way?

CS: In Winter nearly all of our textiles are made in the UK, as the British tweeds and tartans are perfect for our requirements. However, Summer fabrics are necessarily sourced from abroad. I would like to be able to say that we only use organic cottons but sadly this is not true. In a perfect world all of our fabrics would be organic but at the moment we are just too small to be able to afford to make our clothes from organic cotton. However, all our furnishing linens are printed with Okatex approved water-based inks; all our own fabrics are printed in London; and all our woven collection is also made in London. Wherever possible, we support British industry, and wherever possible, we print, manufacture and source British goods and textiles. It is extremely important to us.

KD: One of the most impressive things about C&Rs clothes is that they are so evidently designed to last. How important to you is it that your clothes have longevity in women’s wardrobes? And do you ever feel that this this longevity is at odds with current trends toward the disposable in women’s fashion?

CS: It is absolutely the most important aspect of our clothing collection. Longevity is the antithesis of fashion, and we are so un-fashion-conscious that we consider that it if something is not in fashion, it is not possible to be out of fashion. I do have a horror of seeing someone walking down the street wearing an article of Cabbages and Roses clothing and looking ridiculous: if, say, we had produced a ‘one-sey’ in an extremely fashionable leopard print (I think that this is the name for the all-in-one boiler suit that was fashionable earlier this year) I would feel compelled to throw a blanket around her shoulders and lead her home to change. Happily, though, I don’t think we have ever produced an article of clothing that I wish we had not! I love seeing perfect strangers wearing a Cabbages and Roses piece from five years ago and still being proud of what we have produced, often I see clothing that I had quite forgotten about and think – ‘how clever’!

KD: I love old hand-knit sweaters, and think that good clothes, like those designed by C&R, can really last a lifetime if they are cared for properly. I wondered if you had a favourite item of clothing in your wardrobe that has lasted many years and whether you could tell us a bit about it?

CS: I am wearing, as I write, a Cabbages and Roses A-line sweater first introduced in 2006. We have reproduced this sweater every year since and it remains a best seller to this day. It is designed in our favourite A-line shape, as flattering a style as possible: fitted at the shoulders and bust and gently flaring out so as not to hug body parts that should remain hidden. I am also wearing a navy wool side-button skirt, again produced about four years ago and still featuring in our current clothing collection.

KD: I love your books about textiles, interior decor, and sewing (particularly Home Made Vintage), and wondered whether you had any plans in the future to produce a book about fashion and styling?

CS: Yes, my publisher has asked that we do another book — we are trying to think of a suitable subject. I would very much like to make a fashion book, but it would be difficult to make it not seem like a catalogue of Cabbages and Roses clothing. A retrospective, perhaps — but I am not sure that we are at that stage yet. Perhaps your readers would like to suggest a perfect topic for Cabbages and Roses next tome?

KD: And finally, just for fun: do you have a favourite variety of English rose, or, indeed, of cabbage? I don’t think you can beat a January King.

CS: I think cabbages are as beautiful as roses and often use lovely savoy cabbages as decoration. My favourite rose is Eglantyne – named after Eglantyne Jebb who founded the ‘Save the Children’ charity. It is multi-petaled in delicious pale pink, and has a lovely delicate rose scent.

Thankyou so much, Christina!

of dogs . . . and sheep

It has been an interesting week. On the downside, there have been a couple of days of evil, all-consuming fatigue to contend with. This meant that I was unable to go across to Glasgow, and hence unable to meet up with some folk I’ve been looking forward to seeing for ages, to chat about lace. Though I detest not being able to plan ahead, or having my plans scuppered when I do, I am pretty much resigned to the fatigue now, and I get by OK as long as I a) don’t get frustrated with myself and b) don’t try to do anything too taxing when it strikes. While I was feeling tired and rotten, I listened to an interesting interview with philosopher, Havi Carel about illness, which really chimed with my own recent experiences. Most of what she said was common sense, but it was very eloquently put common sense. I have ordered her book.

Fatigue notwithstanding, there have also been many good things over the past few days: the most exciting – nay, amazing – being that I FOUND BOBBY. To explain, when I had my stroke, I collapsed on the cycle path, where I was luckily found by a man and his dog who were out for an early-morning run. I remember the dog very vividly: it was a lovely black spaniel; it was wearing a flashing disco collar; and its name (perhaps predictably for an heroic, Edinburgh dog) was BOBBY. I remember the man much less clearly, but I am so very glad he was there. This man turned out to be a GP and he knew exactly what had happened to me (I was conscious, but had no clue what was going on). It is thanks to him that, within 20 minutes of having my stroke, I was being seen by the skilled neurologists at the Western General. He may well have saved my life. For the past year, I have wanted to find this man, to thank him. As I walk up and down those paths a lot, I thought I might be likely to run into him, but the problem is that I did not know his name, nor have any idea what he looked like. The dog, however, I did remember: since the advent of Bruce, I see and speak to a lot of dogs in our locale, and I have been on constant look-out for a black spaniel named Bobby. AND THE OTHER DAY, I FINALLY FOUND HIM! I ran into Liz, one of the dog walkers, down by the weir. She always has a jolly pack of hounds with her to whom I like to say hello, and as I approached, I heard her refer to one of them as Bobby. Sure enough, Bobby turned out to be a black spaniel! And when I asked Liz about Bobby’s owner, I discovered that he is a GP; indeed, the very man that helped me! Liz has put me in touch with Andy (for that is his name) and soon I shall finally be able to thank him in person.

I found it very moving meeting BOBBY, for, as you might imagine, he has taken on a near mythic status for me. While I was lying in hospital with my stroke-addled brain, I had many odd recurring dreams, in one of which I was walking with a black dog. It is fair to say, that in the months following my stroke, I developed an interest in, and affection for, dogs that I really did not have before. Hence, this fine fellow:

OK, that’s it for the dogs, then, but what about the sheep? Well, occasionally folk are kind enough to send me the odd woolly treat, and I wanted to say a quick thankyou. At the top of this post are Suzanne‘s sheep, who seemed very happy to play their part in this Christmas’s knitted nativity. I like them so much that I couldn’t bear to put them away after the festive season had passed, so they now live on top of my knitting cabinet. Really, how cute are they? (You can find their maker here — I love the photograph of all the different sheep sizes!) Thankyou, Suzanne!

A little further down the post you see some lengths of Hinnigan’s tweed, that Anne kindly sent me. My love affair with Hinningan’s tweed is long standing. Anne tells me that the shop has now sadly gone from the centre of Selkirk, but you can still buy their fabric through Locharron. Thankyou, Anne!

And last but not least is this beautiful Beiroa yarn from the wonderful Rosa Pomar. I really admire Rosa’s research into Portuguese textile traditions, and this yarn is the fruit of some of that work. The yarn is spun from the fleece of Bordaleira sheep, who live on the slopes of Portugal’s highest mountain range, the Serra da Estrela. These sheep are better known for their delicious cheese, but for many years, their wool has also been used to make woollen capes, which remind me very much of mauds, in the Scottish shepherding tradition. The wool of the Bordaleira sheep is as delicious as their cheese, and Rosa is now putting it to good use for hand-knitters. She soon hopes to produce more yarn from the coloured fleeces of this flock.

The Beiroa really is a lovely 1 ply yarn – just the kind I like – rustic and sheepy and real. I rewound the skein into a cake the other day, and since then have been swatching away. I thought it might knit up like Manx Loaghtan, or one of those similar ancient goat-y breeds, but it has much more spring and body to it. Indeed, it has great bounce and stitch definition (it is a yarn that seems to to demand cables) and I will be interested to see how it behaves when blocked. I sense a hat coming on. . .

. . . hold up a minute , the light is falling on the yarn-cake rather nicely, and now the sheep want to play too. . .

. . the thin sunlight is interesting, coming in through that window . . .

Now you’ve gone too far, Kate! Move away from the sheep!

just a couple of things

I’ve been meaning to mention:

victoriamos

After writing about station bars a few weeks ago, I felt compelled to visit the one at Manchester Victoria for old times sake. The view above eye level was just how I remembered it. Below, though, I encountered the evil Pumpkin. When I asked the barman if he had any ale on draught, he rolled his eyes and pointed to the bottles of Newky Brown in the fridge. Oh dear. The Centurion this was not. Thankyou, Lisa, for the link to this article, which sums up the sad situation in this beautiful space.

rationfabric

Also, following on from my chat with the marvelous Mrs Sew and Sew, I had to show you this fabric design I discovered in Drucilla Cole’s 1000 Patterns book. Look closely: those ’66’s refer to the annual ration allowance of clothing coupons, and the numbers beside each garment (ostensibly) refer to their respective coupon-cost. If the design is from the ’40s (as a reference in Cole’s book suggests) then this jolly fabric would itself have carried a cost in coupons . . . Cole doesn’t say much about it (her very good book is mostly an exposition of pattern design) and I am very intrigued by this fabric. If anyone knows anything at all about it, I’d be very interested to hear.

Thanks for all your entries in the bee-bag giveaway — I was particularly excited to see the comments of those who actually keep bees. How I wish they allowed hives on the allotment . . .

out with the old

You may remember that a year ago I decided to stop buying clothes for the duration of 2008. My decision to do this was sparked by a couple of things. I had been reading a bit about darning and mending and wanted to think about what repairing and caring for one’s clothes meant. Also, since I heard this very-well researched series of documentaries on the BBC world service, I had been increasingly bothered by textile waste — the sheer amounts of it, as well as the complicated politics of its disposal. I then had a moment of utter revulsion after seeing Florence and Fred’s Affordable Elegance advertisements, in which the disposability of the 20 quid dresses they had designed for Tesco’s was “cleverly” celebrated.

landfill
(textile waste now makes up 30% of rubbish destined for UK landfill sites)

The year is up, and here’s my summary of the project: During 2008 I have fashioned or refashioned for myself 7 tops, 5 skirts, 4 dresses, 3 sweaters, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shrugs, 2 cardigans, 2 hats, 1 shawl, 1 coat, 1 maud, 1 tank top, 1 jacket, 1 pair of gloves, and 1 scarf. Additionally, I have repaired and re-repaired the sleeves of sweaters, the seats of pants, the hems of coats, the heels of socks, the tops of mittens, and the feet of stockings. I made lots of things from patterns and kits and in doing so, have participated, in a vicarious sort of a way, in the design process of some really talented people. I also designed several items of clothing for myself from scratch, and have encountered my own limits and shortcomings along the way. This year of stitching and knitting and learning has been both enjoyable and thought provoking. It has certainly changed the way I think about the making, consumption and meaning of worn textiles.

clothingoneself
(clothing myself in 2008)

Despite the apparently prohibitive terms I set myself (“you will not buy clothes”) this project was never about denial. As you may have gathered, I am someone who loves clothes. I mean, I really love clothes. The things I wear are a source of tremendous pleasure for me, and I regard dressing up in them (however foolishly) as a sort of creative act. So I was not about to deny myself that pleasure or that creativity, but rather wanted to think about focusing it a little differently. One other thing that the project was not was generically anti-consumerist. For I am undeniably a consumer. I exchange money for stuff. I do not regard The Commodity as the root of all evil and in fact I think that commerce — of ideas and words as well as things — is generally a very necessary good. So I did not deny myself the pleasure of clothes, nor did I cease to be a consumer. I bought notions and fabric and quite a lot of yarn. I continued to cut pictures out of magazines, read about fashion history, and dream about the qualities of fabric, and the possibilities of different outfits, just as I had done before. Raw materials, ideas and images continued to be rich sources of inspiration and enjoyment to me. And I had many, many clothes already. To be frank, I had no need of any more. But if there was something that I wanted, as opposed to needed, I would have to think about how to make it, about where the stuff to make it was coming from, and then about how to sew or knit it up for myself. So, in fact, the only thing that I stopped doing this year was spending a lot of time in shops, and buying a lot of clothes in them. And I can honestly say that I’ve not missed this in the slightest.

romney
(handsome Romney. Diamonds Farm. Horam, East Sussex)

What I started rather than stopped doing over the course of the year is much more interesting (well, it is to me at least). Of course, I made things, and I thought about what I was doing when I was making them. But additionally, I also visited farms, crofts, mills and other businesses where fibre is spun, dyed, and woven into cloth. I have learnt how fabric is produced from animal or plant to finished garment, how and where it is sold, to whom, and why. My love of finished textiles has developed into an interest in the process of their production, and the history of those processes. I’ve started thinking in a new way about the importance of textiles to different local economies; about the provenance of materials; about how Britain’s regional fabric is a very literal thing; and about the ways in which different national, local and global histories are all woven up in, and told through, textiles. I’ve also met and learnt from lots of wonderful people who live and work with fibre and fabric. Through this, I have also started to regard the value of textiles very differently indeed.

sweatshop

Clothes are not cheap. Time and care and labour are all expended in the rearing of a British sheep, but the three pence the farmer receives for the fleece makes it hardly worth the shearing. At the other end of the production-consumption chain, 2 million tonnes of largely man-made textile waste is discarded in Britain every year. The quality of this stuff is so low that charity shops cannot re-sell it, and laudable schemes like Oxfam’s wastesaver find it difficult to re-use or recycle. Our cheaply bought and easily discarded textiles swell mountains of domestic landfill, or are exported in containers for other countries to deal with. In the Czech Republic, for example, the outbuildings of former collective farms are now filled, floor to ceiling, with Western Europe’s abandoned clothing. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, adults and children suffer the indignity and poverty brought by brutal employment practices that we should more accurately term indenture or slavery. And all to make a mountain of transitory crap that is daily bought and thrown away.

bicyclethief2
(Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) exchanges his bed linen for his bike in the Bicycle Thieves)

Now, I am not making any great claims for myself here. I know that my 2008 make-your-own project was an exploratory luxury. While I could go on about how I have learnt new things about production, process, and materiality, I also know that fundamentally, this is the politics of luxury: of someone who has enough disposable income to spend on yarn and fabric, and enough leisure time to make things and (crucially) to enjoy making them. People do not have the time or money for such luxuries, and they certainly still need cheap textiles. But we also need textiles of durable, lasting quality. We aren’t pawning our good bedlinen (as in the Bicycle Thieves), we are chucking it out and buying another flimsy ten-pound duvet cover whose seams were sewn up by an impoverished ten-year-old on the Indian subcontinent. A recent consumer survey for Asda has apparently shown that supermarket shoppers now value durability as much as price where clothing is concerned. Asda is now changing its “George” ranges to reflect this shift in priorities. Wouldn’t it be nice if they added a guarantee of fair, non-exploitative labour into this mix?

stoppax

I want to conclude with some inconclusive remarks about mending and representing mending. I’ve been doing a lot of darning this year, and have become very interested in the care and repair of clothes, as well as in the way that mended and re-made textiles are such rich repositories of personal and cultural memory. A lot of really good British artists are interested in this as well. I particularly admire, for example, Kirsty Hall, Celia Pym and Tabitha Moses, who all use the processes of mending or repair to explore the evocative and ritual nature of textiles. The work of these artists is rich with thought and meaning. But their practice is now one of the only ways, it seems to me, that contemporary audiences can look at made and mended things as public objects upon which to think and reflect. And sometimes, I am a little troubled by how the only way to approach the acts of women and men that were once quotidian and exceptionally ordinary is through extraordinary forms of representation, such as those that art affords. While the work of the three artists I mentioned is without exception, truly brilliant, there are certainly many other art practitioners whose work does little more than decontextualise familiar household textiles and the practices associated with them to very little end. I am naming no names, because this is something I am still thinking about . . . but I am wondering . . . could there be another way? Or if this is just a matter of there being Bad and Good textile art, as with any other form of art or practice. Anyway, there’s something to mull over further. (Any thoughts on this issue appreciated).

styles
Scrap of linen check (1759) used to identify foundling number 13169. (London Metropolitan Archives)

Making and mending my own clothes will continue in 2009, as will the thinking about the making. But I might just have to buy myself the odd pair of pants, and also hope to have a bit more time for some other truly luxuriant crafty things that I enjoy and have not done much of in 2008 — in particular, embroidery. I also have a new and exciting year-long project for 2009. More on this — and on my lovely trip to Islay — anon.

instructional

Thanks very much, everyone, for all your printing tips and suggestions! I’ve ordered the books Kirsty recommended, as a sort of modern supplement to my Dryad Handicrafts Leaflets, which I immersed myself in again last night. Any of you who have encountered the Dryad leaflets will know that there is a particular joy in reading them, which comes from the way their authors combine a seriousness of approach with a genuine pleasure in their craft. The prose is also just wonderful. Last night I particularly enjoyed the account of potato printing in leaflet no. 57 which begins: “Select a crisp and closely grained potato . . .” and concludes: “the slight irregularities which come from the softer nature of the potato are by no means unpleasant.” But my favourite read was leaflet no.146, “Wood Engraving,” written by the aptly-named Douglas P Bliss. Here is a man who quite simply adores wood engraving, and wants the beginner-engraver to adore it too. He waxes lyrical about the history and practice of engraving, and the “quite remarkable pleasure of working with well-ground tools and a fine box-wood block.” He is also keen to assure the reader of his craft’s ease and portability: “You can put all your tackle into a small box, clear off to the country, if you so desire, and get on with your engraving snugly there. This writer has engraved blocks in the public room of a hotel in the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides.” How can you argue with a man who takes his craft down the pub? Seriously, I HEART Douglas P. Bliss.

Another great thing about the Dryad leaflets, as Jeanette pointed out yesterday, is their suggestions for simple pattern repeats for the novice block cutter and printer. Their designs are all bold lines and primary colours and are very pleasing indeed. Heres another one

and . . .

oops, how did that ram get in there?

more printing experiments next weekend, I hope.

indigo

I have really enjoyed seeing the wonderful printed fabrics Jesse exchanged and received in her swatch swap (flickr group here), and I really wanted to participate. But I’ve never printed fabric before, let alone cut out a lino block (eek), so I thought I’d approach things from a rather basic level first, using a rubber stamp. I bought some fabric paint and plain, medium weight calico, and had a go yesterday with a stamp I acquired in a set of stationery.

It took me a while to discover the right proportion of paint to block, and a little longer to think through the block spacing, but soon I was printing away very happily. I found the look and colour of the final printed fabric very pleasing: I like blue on white generally, but indigo on calico is a winning combination. It recalls, for me, the very particular look of American nineteenth-century household linens. When I see an indigo printed fabric, in fact, I tend to think of Deborah Norris Logan (notable for many things, including her design of a wonderful indigo print that I had the pleasure of seeing here)

After drying and fixing the print overnight, I made a few kitchen things with the fabric this morning: above, a place mat; below, a tea towel.

I made a few napkins too.
Much as I like these indigo butterflies (and I do) I really want to try cutting and printing my own design. There are good instructions for this sort of thing in my trusty collection of Dryad Handicraft Leaflets, but, as I am such a novice, I wondered if you had any suggestions for me (particularly as regards materials). Should I just start with a homely potato and work my way up from there?

all change

Today I put away my summer clothes, and removed the winter ones from storage. I always find it a bit depressing having to encounter the berloody tights again . . . but it is nice to see warm winter dresses, sweaters, and coats. Anyway, before I pack the summer stuff away, I thought I’d show you various garments I sewed and knit myself over the past few months which, for one reason or another, I didn’t get a chance to blog about. You will note that there is something of a red theme going on — this wasn’t intentional! And apologies for what’s going to be a rather picture-heavy post.

1. Dotty Dress.

I was finishing the lining of this dress when I wrote this post back in June. I was reasonably pleased with how it turned out, so don’t know why I didn’t blog about the process more. It is a “very easy” Vogue pattern (V8319) and was reasonably straightforward — as I recall, it only took a few evenings to make. The only downside about the dress is that it came out slightly large. I was nervy about the rep Vogue patterns have of running small, so made myself the next size up. And then the dress was difficult to take in after I’d finished because of the precise way the body and cap sleeves taper together. But I am being pernickety – it is not too baggy, and I like the pattern very much. I may use it to make myself a winter dress –in the right size this time. I bought the pleasing dotty fabric from here — a site that I try not to look at too often as their stuff is just too damn tempting. Heres another picture. You can blame Tom for the hysterical gurning and throwing of shapes.

next up we have:
2. Boat skirt

I made this back in early June, using some Cath Kidston furnishing fabric I’d been given and some lovely red grossgrain ribbon I received in the badge swap (thankyou, Philippa!). I followed the basic instructions in this book, adding lining and facings to the formula. Its a good fit, quite sporty. I like this skirt very much and have worn it lots over the past couple of months.

And another skirt:
3. Summer swallows skirt.

I bought this Japanese fabric as a birthday treat to myself from the wonderful Rosa Pomar, whose stock is always so lovely — top quality and exceptionally well chosen. I like skirts like this with a lot of fabric — the width of the bottom is about three times that of the top. To make it, I just followed the instructions for a basic pleated skirt in this book, adding facings to the formula to make the skirt hang a bit better. I spent a long time matching up the waves and swallows on the pleats — this was well-worth the effort I think. Finally, I found some wide, black, broderie anglais edging on ebay, and added this to the bottom. Bingo! A skirt for wearing with a sticky-out petticoat underneath. And though its perhaps more of a summer garment, these swallows are going to hang around for winter too.

And finally:
4. Mary Traynor

I knitted this little top while hanging around in hospitals, waiting for surgeons and physiotherapists to finish doing what they were doing to Tom’s hand. The yarn is so lovely to work with — it was quite a comforting thing to have in one’s hands. Mary Traynor was my maternal grandmother — a champion knitter who spent every summer in lacy tops of her own making. She is to blame for my knitting, and lacy summer tops remind me very much of her.

The top is my own design: bottom-up, in-the-round raglan; spiral shell lace pattern; crocheted edging. It took just one skein of ornkney angora 4 ply. That’s right folks! Just 50g!

I love this yarn so much — so light and sugary, and it knits up a dream. The finished top turned out well, but it is wee — almost too wee. My thursday night knitting comrades laughed heartily at the size of it when they saw me making it — the combination of the lace pattern and a 40cm circular needle meant it looked contracted and near-dollsize, but it blocked out nicely, and does fit me — just. Here it is being blown around on the promenade near Funchal.

ye gods, was that really just last week? The weather is so crisp and autumnal here that Madeira seems a world away. So, anyway:

Design: Mary Traynor (my own pattern)
Yarn: Orkney Angora 4 ply. Red. One skein. Ysolda, and her lovely beret, are to blame for my yarn choice.
needles: 4mm addi turbos
ravelled here

Swapping round the warm- and cold-weather wardrobes has reminded me just how many berloody clothes I own, and that, aside from the occasional pair of tights (groan) that I really do not need to buy any more. I’ve found real pleasure in making and wearing all the things I’ve sewn and knitted so far this year, and am looking forward to revamping my wardrobe with handmade items this winter — tweed suits and knitted dresses, here we come.

And for those of you who were kindly asking after Tom: things are starting to improve. Madeira really did wonders for the healing process: he was told the other day by the woman we call “badphysio” that he was doing remarkably well “for his age”. (Note: we only call her badphysio because she’s rather dour and hardchrist, not because she’s at all bad at her job). The poor hand is still incredibly painful–now the tendons have healed, they have to be stretched and punished to prevent him having a claw. He has no feeling in the fingers, and the injuries are still rather fragile. But the evil splint can now be taken off during the day, and he is allowed to go running and hill walking again. This is very good news indeed.

tourist

“. . .as this place differs so vastly from anything thou hast ever seen, I make no doubt thou will be agreeably entertained with the many romantic prospects, whimsical houses, pleasant cool gardens, and amazing precipices. . .” (Deborah Hill to her son Richard, Funchal, Madeira, May 1st, 1743)

My only previous experience of Madeira was through the letters of Deborah Hill and her relatives — eighteenth-century Quakers who, like many other merchant families of their class, made their fortunes in the transatlantic wine trade. Though they are more than 250 years old, Deborah Hill’s letters still convey an accurate impression of Madeira — both in terms of the insistent presence of the British on the island, as well as it’s “romantic prospects and amazing precipices.”

Our idea was to enjoy these prospects through some serious mountain and levada walking (the levadas are an incredible architectural system of canals criss-crossing the island and carrying water from the cloud-capped mountaintops down to the vineyards and plantations) but Tom’s accident rather scuppered these plans. So instead we engaged in some less precipitous but no less restorative activities — involving lots of sunshine, tasty food, low-level walking, and (for me) lots of swimming too.

We really enjoyed Madeira’s colourful fauna . . .

. . . and flora

. . .and I have a fondness, bordering on an obsession, with Portuguese cuisine. There are many, many things I like about it (tisanes, for example — the Portuguese make a fine cup of tea) but my two favourite things are grilled sardines and custard tarts (pasteis de nata). I tend not to consume these items simultaneously, (though who knows what I might do in a moment of gastronomic over-excitement) but I did manage to eat both on a number of separate occasions while we were away.


(tasty grilled sardines at O Barqueiro. So very good — I bored Tom with sardine raptures for days)


(you see here several varieties of pasteis — coconut, walnut, apple, almond– but the custards, pictured to the top right in the first photo, are my confirmed favourite)

The range and quality of fresh Madeiran produce is really amazing. I shan’t go on about the four different varieties of passion fruit we tried or the wonderful straight bananas, but certainly our Scottish neeps and tatties were made to seem rather dull and prosaic in the face of such abundance.


(farmer’s market in Funchal)

Being sedentary sunshine tourists was a new experience for Tom and I — our holidays are usually a bit more, um, strenuous, and are spent in Britain or Ireland. I am not really very fond of being a Brit abroad, and I find it particularly weird and difficult somewhere like Madeira or the Caribbean, where there is evidence of the British exploitation of local resources and labour everywhere you look (I’m thinking of eighteenth/nineteenth-century commerce as well as contemporary tourism). It is perhaps possible to assuage such cultural-imperialist guilt through an appreciation of – and engagement with – a foreign landscape, such as that which one gets from walking. But it is hard to throw off one’s tourist-ness when one cannot get up into the mountains. And it is well-nigh impossible to stop feeling like a guilty British tourist when one is surrounded by large numbers of other tourists — dare I say it — of a certain age.

I do not often spend much time with large groups of British octogenarians, and I don’t wish to sound churlish or mean, but there are a few observations about their group behaviour that unavoidably and repeatedly strike one in such situations. The first is just how berloody grumpy they can be. This constitutional grumpiness seems to lead them to assume that, even in the peaceful, beautiful and near-idyllic settings Madeira affords, that everyone else is having a slightly better time than they are. In a restaurant full of elderly British tourists you can literally feel the pairs of beady eyes darting about suspiciously: did those people get served before me? Are they perhaps sat at a better table? Another impulse, closely associated with the assumption that everyone else is having a Slightly Better Time Than You is to ensure that you are Having the Best Time You Possibly Can Under the Circumstances. This impulse leads individuals whose usual pace is probably under half a mile an hour to move at incredible speed when it comes to being the first on a bus. Normally, this would have amused me, but it was actually rather stressful when accompanied by someone with a still painful, serious and rather fragile injury. I was strongly put in mind of comments toward the end of this post in which a heavily pregnant person is repeatedly bombarded by a marauding elderly mob eager to get to the quilting fabric.

Still, being a tourist has its benefits — one of which is being able to acquire a couple of metres of some superbly cheesy, but also pleasing, fabric that only a tourist would buy.

Do you think I can get away with wearing a skirt made from this stuff? I do hope so.

More about Madeiran embroidery tomorrow.

thanks

THANKS so much, everyone, for your good wishes. Seriously, it really does make a difference to know you are thinking of us. Tom felt a veritable wave of good karma when he sat down and read through your comments. We were both very cheered by them. Thanks!

I want to say thanks for something else too. I’ve been an admirer of Suzanne’s work for a while, particularly her wonderful creature series. She had some fabric made up recently of her designs via spoonflower. The fabric looks amazing! So when she proposed a swap — a creature-cushion for a bucketload of good British tea — I immediately jumped at the chance.

A parcel containing this arrived yesterday and made me very excited. Isn’t it fab? I’m really blown away by it. I feel I definitely got the better side of the deal. But then again, you really can’t argue with a good cup of tea.

Suzanne’s cushion now has pride of place on our sofa, and, perhaps appropriately, is doing a great job propping up the specimen that is Tom’s poor hand. I love Suzanne’s creatures even more now I can sit and stare at them. Never has an item of soft furnishings provoked so much thought for me! I’ve been sat there thinking about Suzanne’s design process, about the materials she uses and effects that she creates, as well as about the feel of her work, which says so much about natural processes, decay and preservation. It is spooky, it is poignant, and it is witty too. (Her new cross-section series also illustrate this perfectly). But some of the other cushion-thoughts have been personal, and rather banal, as illustrated by the following anecdote.

Tom has several supermarket rituals. These are generally designed to wind me up, and involve him behaving like Benny Hill in the fruit and veg section (eg, asking “could you do with one of these?” while holding a large butternut squash in a suggestive manner at crotch height). Another ritual focuses on the jars of seafood in the ‘speciality foods’ section. He well knows that the sight of pickled creatures can reduce me to foolish levels of sentimentality and exploits this by waggling the jars of little octopi in my face and shrieking “SAVE US!” in a plaintive squid-like voice.


(yes, I actually took my camera to the store today to photograph these poor beggars)

The ritual concludes with one of those stereotypical exchanges of couples in supermarkets: viz, woman rolls eyes and whapps man with handbag, or whatever else comes to hand. A few weeks ago, though, I noticed a different sort of exchange going on in front of the SAVE US! jars. A young lad had picked one up, and was staring at the pickled creatures with wide-eyed fascination.
“Look!” he said to his mum, “they’ve got their heads on and everything!

Suzanne’s creatures perhaps don’t provoke either of these reactions, but they do manage to be fascinating, while being rather melancholy too.

thanks Suzanne, I love the cushion!

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