Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Convict Bonnet

 January 26 2013 - Australia Day
This is the day that so many Australians celebrate as the date that marks the birth of our nation. Once upon a time I would not have thought twice about marking this is a day for patriotic pride. But it no longer feels like such a "celebration" for me. Instead, I find that it makes me reflective. The date certainly marks the beginning, the first chapter in a historical narrative of the establishment of a penal colony, and the founding of what was later to become a federated nation under Commonwealth dominion. But it is also the day that Britain imposed itself on a country that was already free. That was already occupied by indigenous peoples, who already had designated territories and boundaries between different tribes. Who already had Nations within this nation. I can't help but mourn the terrible happenings, the destructive and unthinkable consequences of the imposition of one set of peoples upon another.

But that first "Australia Day" in 1788 is certainly a part of my history and my family's history. I have descended directly from three convicts transported from England for various petty crimes, and my husband has a similar heritage. I am a sixth generation Australian. My fifth great grandmother was transported in 1801 at sixteen years of age for stealing a handkerchief. She came from a tiny farming hamlet in Somerset, and I cannot quite conceive of the fear and uncertainty and the physical privations that she must have endured. It would be unimaginable to be torn from your family, and transported, friendless and alone, to a land so different to the green and abundant fields of the homeland you had known. 

My grandmother's story is a common one. A young woman who would have been forced to grow up quickly. To learn life's lessons in a rough and embittered environment. She is listed in the Reverend Samuel Marsden's female convict muster of 1805 as a "Concubine". She was living in the household of a trader at Parramatta, the township that had been established as the seat of government by that time. She was in fact, probably working as a housemaid or servant, but the views held by the powers of the day was that all of these women were "fallen". They were most often considered to be whores. Even women who had come from reasonable backgrounds, who could read and write, and had many other desirable skills were treated in this way.

Some years ago, Christina Henri, a conceptual artist from Hobart in Tasmania, began a project that would commemorate the hardships and deprivations endured by convict women.  She provided a simple bonnet pattern and invited anyone with a convict woman in their family line, or anyone who empathised with these women to sew a bonnet as a tribute and to send it to her. She has now received over 25,000 bonnets from all over the place. She has done much to raise awareness of what these women went through. Some of these bonnets were taken all the way from Australia and back to England for a special "Blessing of the Bonnets" ceremony in 2010. Her work is ongoing and forms an incredible tribute to these women of great fortitude.
I did make a little white bonnet for my convict grandmother. I embroidered it with a stalk of wheat to symbolise the life that she made with her convict husband. She married in 1810 and by 1818 her husband received a grant of land at Prospect Hill, only about 30 minutes drive from where I now live. For so many years I have passed by the very place where my roots began. I still marvel at it.

So much has been written about the early years of the colony, the development of Australia as a nation. There is much in our history to be proud of. We come from tough stock. Our environment can be harsh at times. Dorothea Mackellar's famous poem, "My Country" describes it all so well:
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!

So while we celebrate Australia Day, colloquially known as "the lucky country", I find it is also a day tinged with sadness and regret. I need to acknowledge the countless atrocities experienced by our indigenous peoples since Captain Arthur Phillip first dropped anchor in Botany Bay. Not only the bloodshed, the importation of disease, the imposition of one race upon another, but also the ongoing indignities, the loss of nationhood and of liberty suffered at the hands of white man. I am sorry for all of these things.

But still I love my country. I love living in Australia and knowing that I am an Australian - born and bred.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Quilt Restrospective - Blocks for Hamish

It's been terribly quiet here on the Stitchity front and with not much opportunity for creative stuff, I thought perhaps I could trawl through some old photographs and share another retrospective project. This happy little quilt was whipped up for baby Hamish in the midst of a feverish, baking summer about six years ago (circa January 2007). I remember how very hot the air felt in my sewing space at the top of the house. How terribly mad it was to be stitching away at a top and quilting a quilt through those days of radiant heat and light.
Perhaps my decision to use these bright fabrics, all pulled from my stash and from the voluminous basket of scrappy  prints left over from the quilty projects of years gone by was somehow influenced by this crazy tropical atmosphere. My quilts are rarely planned. I find I mostly prefer to just make things up as I go. There is a certain kind of enjoyment in the experience of letting the creative process unfold, and allowing the materials at hand to have their say.

With no particular starting point in mind, I began the experiment with just one block, a 4" finished star block (the one in the top left hand corner). A border with cornerstones was added, and there was a beginning. Block after block followed. Some just cut and machine pieced, others foundation pieced, like the sailing ship, the fish in the corner and the Australian rosella parrot. I really love the puppy dog, foundation pieced with hand-appliqued eyes and nose, and I couldn't resist throwing in an English pieced Grandmother's Flower Garden block (my one weakness).
Each block was sashed with plain black homespun, followed by a deep border of black and white checked fabric. Then I continued to rummage through scraps of fabric, finding pieces that could be cut into lengths, some longer, some shorter, but enough to strip piece a border of bejeweled squares to finish it off. The elements are simple, the end result pleasing. Not necessarily a work of genius, but an eminently harmonious blending of colour and form, and a gift perfectly suited for a newborn baby's foundational years.

I can't believe that Mr H. has grown up so quickly, that hot summer fortnight of feverish piecing and quilting doesn't seem that long ago. I expect that this quilt will look somewhat worn now. It has probably endured endless days as a playmat, a bright and happy playtime friend on the floor, and a warm and familiar comfort for night-time snuggles on the sofa. It will not last a lifetime, these things rarely do. They become used, soiled, are washed, re-used, scrunched, ruffled and sometimes even chewed! They may be patched from time to time, and eventually become relegated to the back of the cupboard, or may find an even sadder end.

But the memory of fabrics, of the images and colours and shapes will remain. Those things that are very dear to us as small children are generally imprinted on our psyche, deep within the very fibres of our being. There may be times throughout our lives when snippets of happy play days return to us, gentle as the whisperings of the wind, or like waves crashing on the shore. Who knows, what legacy this quilt may leave to a small child. My simple hope is that some pleasant relic of a childhood memory will remain.

Happy birthday Hamish


Evie xxx

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cranberry Socks

I remember the first time I ever saw Zauberball yarn at The Wool Inn - a gorgeous humming little yarn shop at the end of an arcade in Penrith, the thriving regional citytropolis at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The Wool Inn never seems to have a quiet moment. Perhaps it does, but I've never personally witnessed it. Anyone who thinks knitting is a dying art is, well, um, wrong. I picked up balls in several colourways, fondled them lovlingly, weighed them up; will I go crazy rainbow, or rainforest floor, or ... Cranberry! Yes! It is a 4-ply sock yarn and the perfect choice for the reddest girl in my life (apart from me).
 I love these yarns where the colour changes slowly from one grade to another. It's like going on a holiday, or a long car journey to the seaside, but the scenery outside the passenger window is interesting and constantly changing. This yarn blended from blood red to pillarbox red to a sort of watermelon colour and then into this deep, deep cranberry and then suddenly back again. I didn't bother trying to make the two socks matchy-matchy, just wasn't in the mood to make them seem in any way conventional. I love the disjunct. The fact that they go together, but they're not quite the same.
Sock number one was an absolute breeze, much of it actually knitted whilst sitting as a passenger in the car. It makes me a good listener. The driver can talk to me, we can carry on a conversation, spend much coveted "quality time" together, and yet my fingers can still work their magic, and stitch by stitch churn out a woolly piece of work. Except for the turning of heels and the decreasing of toes. I need peace and quiet for those bits. Keeping track of numbers is really not part of my skill set and sadly I have what I consider to be a one megabite memory. Sock number one was a complete success.

And sock number two was going swimmingly well, until I was interrupted half way through the crucial decrease of toe. Oh my goodness, absolute disaster. I lost the plot, tried "reverse knitting" or "tinking" as a friend recently called it (knit backwards). But I just couldn't work it out. Was I on a knit row, was I on a decrease row, had I decreased one too many, or missed one altogether? Brain on overload. All too hard. So drastic measure required, "tink" right back to the start of the decrease and just start that bit all over again. It really didn't take that long, but quite interestingly, I was interrupted once again at the very point at which I had originally lost the plot. What are the chances of that happening, really?! But I had been extra careful this time, and there was no confusion with my record-keeping through the decrease-round-/knit-round/decrease-round process, and so I got to the end without mishap. Phew!
And then grafting that final toe. This is always my favourite bit. I love that seamless fabric that results from the magical Kitchener stitch. Then just the tying in of ends and tidying up and pulling into shape. Happiness time.
And here they are, hanging with the Christmas baubles. And that is because they are a birthday present (late) for one of my darlings whose birthday happens to also fall on Christmas Day. But they are a birthday present. I sometimes think it must be hard to have a birthday on Christmas Day. It's so easy for people to make it a melange present, Christmas-Birthday-Christmas present all rolled into one. One present. One celebration. This present is late, just because I had toe issues, and everything became so busy pre-Christmas that I couldn't get it all done in time. So am planning to meet up shortly with  my Lucy-girl for tea and scandal and the ceremonial handing over of a gift; each and every stitch infused with loving thoughts of the person who has loved me for a lifetime. Happy Birthday my darling girl.

Love love,

Evie xxx

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Dressing Coat

Meet "Jane"
 Oh, ain't this from a bygone time? Today I have started slowly working my way through a jumble of old knitting pattern books. I do believe that many of them are from an era so bygone that there will be no redemption available for them - ever. You know the kind I mean. It's the 1970s stuff. Knitted His-and-Hers matching cardigan sets with cables and bobble designs down the front, teamed with  tartan trousers and what was at that time considered a seductive come-hither arch of the eyebrow. They are being stacked in the "Interesting yet strangely compelling" pile. But this one, "The Dressing Coat", now ain't that grand! It is quite simply called "Jane", and requires 8 ozs of either "Nursery Viyella", "Yiyella", or "Ramada" Super Fingering Wool, 3-ply in yellow; 2ozs, (ditto) in orange; 1 1/2 yds. of ribbon; 1 pair of No. 9 and 1 pair of No. 12 "Yiyella" pins. Hmm, that sounds attractive, doesn't it?
 But think of it knitted up in this beautiful Madelinetosh Tosh hand-dyed merino lace in "Sugarplum", or some other of her scrummy woodland inspired colourings, or perhaps something pearl-like and seductive.

or how about this gorgeous Debbie Bliss extra fine merino Rialto Lace in "Citrus". Just how wonderful would it look then? Fresh and up to the minute. Class and Style both with Capital Letters. I don't know much about "Viyella", but it doesn't give me a very good feeling somehow. But a wickedly soft and natural merino yarn, drapey and softly, softly, now that is starting to make me all touchy-feely ...
 My other vintage find of the day is this darling confection, aptly named the "Lady's Bed-Jacket with Marabout Trimming"
I have not yet looked into "Marabout Trimming", but it does look attractively fur-like, sensual and just the thing to entice your man out of his smoking jacket and into his boxers. But seriously girls, have any of us ever attempted such a contrived composition prior to the bed-time nuptials? Well, maybe if you were a *working girl*, but even then, you'd have to be *working* at the big end of town, and at least have expected oysters a-la-natural and a suite at the Hilton for afters?

But I digress, and you really want to know all about the pattern I guess ...Once again it is based on the lovely "Nursery Viyella", "Yiyella", or "Ramada" Super Fingering Wool, 3-ply, in white (how virginal). You would also need 1 pair of No. 6 Viyella needles, 1 crochet hook No. 9, 7 pearl buttons (now I'll admit that's classy), 1/4-yard of 3-1/2" wide marabout trimming for sleeves, 1/2-yard of narrow width for neck.

I have the rest of these patterns here, safely stored in a sleeve and about to be filed in a lever-arch dedicated to the storage of vintage treasures. If you would like a PDF copy I would be happy to scan and email. Just leave me a comment and I'll be sure to get back to you in a prompt and courteous manner.

But for now, I am spent, my day is at it's end. My household has retired and all is quiet. Nothing remains but for me to don my Lady's Bed Jacket with Marabout Trim, bouffe up my fake blonde wig and pout a little.

Sweet dreams,

Evie xxx

Sunday, January 6, 2013

An old Nana's Knitting

At a time when there's really not much stitchety stuff happening around here it was a strike of serendipity to be gifted the remnants of a friend's 92 year old mother's wool and yarn stash.
This is one bag of two, that my darlingest second daughter and I spent the afternoon disemboweling and sorting into colours and weights and ranges and usable bits and not so usable bits. I have stacked much of it into a large cane trunk, and I think it may well become the basis for the execution of my beautiful yarn garden.
There was much that in those bags that was the stuff of the ladies' knitting circle, the CWA annual craft stall, the everyday, the pedestrian. Bags and bags of "Craftlon", bits of it knitted into the startings of coat hanger covers and much of it just a tangle of colour.
But there was treasure to be found in these shopping sacks. There was the neat and ordered handiwork of a skilled needlewoman. There were precious things within this jumble of thread and yarn. Preparation done, pieces knitted in readiness for completion. Knitted lace edgings for towels in softest duck-egg blue and white
Samples of pearle cotton crochet, probably destined as covers for small packets of tissues, or for cakes of soft-smelling soap
There was also a sweet little tea cosy, prettiest green and embroidered with yellow flowers. It happened to fit our little teapot and will make such a welcome covering to warm the morning brew.

Oh, and just look at these beautiful balls of vintage pink. It is called "Cocktail", shot with silver thread, original label intact. 5-ply, a "sport'weight" I think they call it in America. Sweet little 20gram balls. So very pretty. I am thinking this would make the most beautiful baby socks and a pixie hat for a newborn grand-person due in the wintertime (but only if bump turns out to be of the girly kind)
.Oh, and look at this amazing piece of work. We really weren't sure just what it was destined to become, but it is lovely and dimensional, in my favourite red and limey-limey green on a black base.
And there was a random pile of granny squares, not all completely coordinated, but the startings of a warming knee rug for some lucky soul.
But the best bit of all was the joy of trawling the button bag. I ran my fingers through it at first, just feeling the shapes and then looking at each handful as I drew it out of the bag. Then I emptied it all out and sorted through this wonderfully diverse cache.
A darning mushroom, a thimble, various tools that are not yet familiar to me, some very very old buttons, still attached to their cardings, buttons from the 1920s, the 30s and the 40s were easily identifiable.

I'm not an expert, but the large green buttons with metal inserts look as though they have come straight from a 1920s woollen coat, there are bakelite buttons and buckles, in those 1930s reds and greens, fabric covered buttons from the 1950s, suspender belt fittings and all sorts of odds and sods.
 But goodness, look at this lot!! The tape measure was folded as though it had never been unravelled - made in England it says. Two tiny spools of french blue thread, probably part of an old chatelaine. a little bone crochet hook, and a bone marking tool, and when I laid it in the palm of my hand I could almost feel the hands of generations past holding it in just the same way. There is a needle guage, marked "The Archer Bell Guage" made by H Walker, London, probably circa 1920-1930.

And then there are knitting needles, bakelite again, some genuine tortoise shell, some plastic and others metal. There are long double pointed metal needles, crochet hooks, circular needles. Probably everything a serious knitter would ever need.
But crazy as it might seem, my favourite find of the afternoon were two skeins of 4-ply navy yarn. I have been searching for just such a thing for quite some time as I have a desire to knit school socks for my all of a sudden man-son. Even he will admit that there is nothing more comfortable than hand-knitted socks.

But last word for the evening comes from my son who is ready for chapter two of The Life of Pi. I love to read aloud and for some unknown reason he is still happy to listen to my voice. There is more depth still to Nana's Knitting bags, but I have given you the best of the best. It was a wonderful way to spend an evening and I feel blessed by the generosity of a friend and the creativity of her mother.

With love as always

Evie xxx

Saturday, January 5, 2013

An Anniversary

My parents sent me flowers today. A beautiful pink bouquet; gerberas and snapdragons and roses and lillies and lovely greenery leaves and stems all tied up with a ribbon and bow. What a lovely surprise and a beautiful gesture on this, our wedding anniversary.
Chappie and I did have plans, talked about for weeks beforehand, dreamed about, anticipated, though not yet put in place. But in a most unfortunate way I have found myself unfit for travel, for walking the corridors of the National Art Gallery, for coping with the pain that has been all-consuming and barely managable over the last nine days. So instead we found ourselves drinking pink champagne with strawberries and listening to Eric Clapton and watching the silhouette of tall gum tress through the fading light of a summer evening. And what simple pleasures they were. But oh my goodness, on the spur of the moment we decided to go out driving in the moonlight, from the mountains down to the coast, across to the city of Sydney, through the harbour tunnel and back through the tapestry of motorways to the foothills of the mountains. Four hours of driving, and a fleeting visit for a cuddle and a coffee with the eldest of my darlings and her T-Rex (and their recently popped baby-bump). A priceless celebration of the day my Chappie and I walked that aisle hand in hand, and of the amazing train of events that have unfolded since that day. I love him still, ( even with his shirt all buttoned up ).

Happy Anniversary my darling, and love as always,

Evie xxx

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Oh Goodness!! It's Tuesday January 1 2013, I'm afraid I really did fail to notice!! In case you haven't realised I'm a bit useless at the moment. My body is not my own to command and so I just have to follow where it takes me and do a fair bit of reclining, with pills. White round ones, and oval shaped ones and little blue ones that are so pretty it seems a shame to swallow them down. However, they are making life much more bearable, for me and also for those around me. In fact, my husband thinks it's a terrific idea (He says I'm ever so much happier now). But there's not been much stitchity stuff happening, just a constant source of verbal-ness on facebook and and newly discovered foray into Pinterest. Still getting the hang of that thing though (tell me, is it really that good?).

But my great disappointment is that I had planned on spending this quiet holiday time finishing off the long overdue wedding quilt, started for the eldest of my darlingest girls and her dear T-Rex almost two years ago. It is pieced, and tacked and very nearly mostly quilted, but I just need to push through those last hours of quilting ... and (ahem) those last hours of unpicking ... some of that quilting that is in no way up to scratch.
This pic just shows the finished quilt top, but I have actually quilted right out to the final stripey border. It took me a whole day just to do that outer stripey border bit before I discovered that the tension on my machine had gone awry and the back of it looks like some new fangled form of lace lovingly worked by cloistered Italian nuns circa 13th century. Lovely on the fine hem of a ladies gown I'm sure, but certainly not suitable for the back of a wedding quilt. Hence the unpicking. Metres of it. I'm just not up to it today. Oh, and while we are here and looking at the wedding quilt I guess you might like a wee peek at the beautiful bride at her final fitting. She wore a vintage 1950's gown, fitted like it was made just for her, and she looked like a princess ...
She still does. Ah, drinkies ... Gosh! Look at the time ...

 So bottoms up, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. It's definitely time for my blue heaven - The quilting will just have to wait ...

Much love, as always, oh and Happy New Year!!
Evie xxx