beanie for wool week

58 days to go! 58 days until I climb aboard the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick and head to my first ever Shetland Wool Week.

Let me take you back to the beginning.  Some time in 2018 I saw a link for the Loch Ness Knit Fest.  Since we used to have a house near Ardgay in Sutherland and been going to the Highlands since the heady days of the race to the last Ballachulish ferry (or the Glencoe Death Race as my mother called it) it didn’t take long to persuade Stuart that this would be the perfect birthday present.  And it was, we took a cottage just outside Dingwall, Bea and Eloise joined us for a couple of days up from Glasgow as did a friend heading home to Thurso from the south.  We revisited some old haunts and I had a whole day at the Loch Ness Knit Fest.

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A little purchase from Tine and Floyd at LNKF that became a fishing hat for Stuart.

Loch Ness Knit Fest is, imho, a standout amongst the many wool events sprouting up.  It’s not vast, but every stall is an interesting, independent supplier.  No big companies offloading unsold stock, or row after row of identical mass produced rubbish (Knitting and Stitching Fairs I am looking at you).  But real people with a passion to share, to talk and spread the wooly word.

The little things make the difference, plenty of places to sit, from tables to to big squishy sofas and chairs, homemade soup and cakes and a floor show from highland dancers and musicians to talks on sheep farming to spinning silk.

And it was here I discovered three new potential wooly destinations.  Shetland Wool Week, Prjónagleði – Iceland Knit Fest and Fanø Knit Festival in Denmark.  We had already had a holiday booked in Iceland in January, which provided for some serious wool research but did mean that punting for Prjónagleði was unlikely to be a goer.  A quick email to my Danish godmother and I had all the information I needed about Fanø together with the contact details of one of her friends who would be delighted to accompany me.

It helps to have a partner who is as obsessed with fishing as you are with wool if you want to tour some of the best yarn festivals.  So it was that we booked ourselves into a beautiful cottage in Sandwick,  and waited for the ferry timetable and festival tickets to be released.  Meanwhile Stuart researched fishing and made friends with the husband of a fellow knitter from Texas and sorted out several days of loch and seafish bothering.

Now the ferry is booked (hurry up LNER and release the October train tickets!), the workshops are booked, the birthday dinner is booked (The String) So it was time to get on and finish the Roadside Beanie, designed by Oliver Henry, this year’s wool week patron.

And I have,

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With a golden sun in the middle.

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And guess what … only 58 days to go!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

making room

I love the period between Christmas and New Year.  I am fortunate enough to be able to spend that week gently chilling at home.  After the hustle and bustle of the preparations for the festive season I enjoy the sameness about each day and forgetting which day of the week it is.  Many years ago when the girls were still at home we had a huge blackboard (about 3 x 2 ft) in the kitchen upon which we wrote shopping lists, messages etc.  After I we had eaten Christmas lunch I would ceremoniously wipe the board clean and write in capital letters “MUMMY’S DAY OFF – FOOD IN THE FRIDGE!”

I don’t need to put the message out quite so clearly now, but the message is the same.  For the next day or so meals are assemblies of existing preparations, Mummy is going to knit/read/walk/watch old movies.  Because I am more still, there is less running around, I have time to have a closer look at my surroundings and notice how they have changed over the year.  What has gone, but more often, what has crept in.  Time for a whizz round.  Not a deep declutter of the kind that takes a couple of weeks at least, but a focus on one or two areas where accumulation has taken on epic proportions.

A few years ago whilst I was visiting my father in the States the girls and the Boss arranged for some beautiful waxed pitch pine shelves and bookcases to be built in the the sitting room as a Mothering Sunday present.  Because of the weird shape and history of our house (the original dates back to the 13th Century and bits have been added on all over the place over the years) we have a lot of doors and a lack of window sills and wall space for shelves.  For the first time ever I was able to display some of my precious carvings, silverware and photographs.  Books could come out of the dark and DVDs and CDs no longer made tall skyscraper skylines behind sofas and chairs.

However, as we all know, stuff expands to fill an empty space and as I was curled up with my knitting last night I knew that the DVDs and books in one corner of the sitting room just had to be cleared.

Two bin bags later it looks like this.  Not exactly minimalist (there was some discussion over some of the DVDs – they are now on a secret watch list and may yet have only a short time left in the house!), but there is now order and some space.

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Why not give a small corner a quick makeover, you won’t believe how much better it makes you feel.

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If you are struggling to decide what should stay and what should go, then turn to William Morris, he always has the answer;

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Love Gillie x

remembrance

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Brancepeth Village War Memorial 11 November 2018

 

At 10.59 on the 11th November 1918 Henry Nicholas John Gunther an American serviceman died when attacking a German machine gun post in an attempt to regain his rank of Sergeant after being demoted to Private after writing home about the conditions in the trenches.  He died, one minute before the Armistice was declared, some 5 hours after it was agreed in a train carriage in Picardy.

However his was not the last death as a result of the First World War, many civilians and combatants continued to die as a result of their wounds both physical and mental for many years.  And the seeds of the next World War were sown in that carriage.

Whilst we remember, and continue to remember those who died in conflict perhaps we can find in our own hearts some tiny thing, some tiny action or intention that helps pave the way, however small and apparently insignificant to a world of peace.

I learned this song from an album my father often use to play,  More Folk at the Phil by The Spinners.  It was written by Pete Seeger and I have never forgotten it.

 

Last night I had the strangest dream
I’d ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war

I dreamed I saw a mighty room
Filled with women and men
And the paper they were signing said
They’d never fight again

And when the paper was all signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed

And the people in the streets below
Were dancing ’round and ’round
While swords and guns and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I’d never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.

You can hear that same recording from the Liverpool Phil here.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

goddesses

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In between getting my head down and concentrating on a lacework shawl and trying very hard not to drop any stitches because they are a right pain to try and pick up again in lacework, I have been playing with goddesses.

The Boss and I go to a pottery group every Wednesday and deciding that we now had enough platters and bowls I started to play around with sculptures.  We then had plenty of animals and vases.  So after our trip to Malta this summer where we saw some of the most amazing early goddess statues I decided to have a go at making my own.

The one at the top is based on an actual sculpture in Malta and was my first attempt.  When I was making the hips and feet a fellow potter looked over my shoulder and asked if I was making an armadillo!  I would have preferred to have given her bigger hips but it didn’t work out right.  Better luck next time maybe.  However, she is a nice size that fits comfortably in my hand and often travels around with me.

Next up was more of a wall hanging goddess.

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She is about 10″ tall and I am very fond of her.

I love walking the labyrinth and am still working on the Boss as I want to create one in the meadow.  Meanwhile I thought I would have a go at making a finger labyrinth for my table.  I love the goddess but am no so keen on the glaze.

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Finally I made a meditation yoni.  I have a friend who makes the most beautiful yonis out of parian porcelain.  She made one for me which I carved and glazed.  I decided to have a go at making my own.  I am very pleased with this one, it’s the perfect size to fit in my hands as a meditation tool.

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Whilst the clays were going in and out of the kiln I thought I would have a go at goddess interpretation with textiles.  I loved the colours in this one,  my sea goddess.

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This lady is still a work in progress, dark evenings are perfect for playing with embellishments in front of the fire!

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Now I think I need to get on with that lacework!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur and Marilyn a tale of two ferments

Meet Arthur (Miller)

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He is a kombucha scoby.

This is his wife Marilynn (Monroe)

 

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My sourdough starter.  Sadly they are separated as Marylin has to live in the fridge whereas Arthur would die in there.  However that has not prevented Arthur from producing vast amounts of offspring who were starting to clog up the family home.  So drastic measures were taken and the kids were given a makeover and converted into scoby  fruit leather.

For those of you perplexed by the term scoby it stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts.  For anyone who has ever had a vinegar mother – it is much the same thing.  Place it in alcohol and it will convert it to vinegar, place it in cold tea with sugar and it will produce a delicious probiotic filled drink called kombucha.  However that is another post, this is about what to do with all those pesky children who keep turning up.

Ingredients are very simple:

  • Scoby
  • fruit
  • sugar to taste (I don’t use sugar but it’s all about your taste)

There, that wasn’t too hard was it.  Whizz your scoby up in a blender.

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Turn your mind to the fruit.  I had a selection of elderly and pretty unidentifiable soft fruit in the freezer.  If you don’t have a black hole of a freezer like me you will want to produce a softly cooked puree.  Shove the fruit in a pan with a little sugar to taste and heat gently until you have a lovely mush.  Add to the scoby puree.

 

Spread your goo over a baking tray (I use a silicone sheet to prevent sticking) and put in a very low oven.  No more than 40C otherwise you will kill off all those probiotic goodies.  If you have an Aga the bottom oven is perfect.

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Leave until completely dried out.

Peel off and eat 🙂

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Love Gillie x

 

plastic free july

I’ve covered this before, funnily enough in July!  I was very good, I avoided all sorts of plastic I otherwise took for granted but then as the year wore on I fell off the bandwagon.  So I thought I would assess how much I had managed to stick to.  I was pleasantly surprised.

 

  • Stainless steel straws.  I have struggled to get the girls on board with this but small steps.  If I go out I take my own straw.

 

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  • Glass coffee cup.  I don’t have takeaway cups anymore.

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  • Stainless steel lunch box

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  • Bamboo cutlery, none of that nasty and easily snapped plastic rubbish thank you 🙂

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  • Enameled mugs, plates and bowls for picnics.

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  • Portable BBQ, we have a lot of BBQs on holidays and now we don’t need to buy disposable ones.  We even have our own flint but that is a bit hardcore!

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  • Beeswax food wrap.  I made my own, but you can easily buy it now.
  • Leftovers always go in a bowl not in foil or cling film
  • Stainless steel wineglasses.  We still have glass ones, but these are the every day ones.  Less broken glass.  Also much nicer for picnics.

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  • Onya vegetable bags rather than plastic bags at the greengrocer/supermarket.  This has caused a bit of a stir at some tills, but so far nobody other than a chap in Romania has actually refused to let me use them.
  • Who gives a crap bamboo loo roll and kitchen paper.  It comes wrapped in paper not plastic  (which makes excellent wrapping paper for people who don’t mind the words!)  Also they donate 50% of profits towards building loos in the Developing World.  So win win.  I also have reusable kitchen roll which is fab.  It is sadly in a plastic box because all the metal ones were HUGELY overpriced.  I’m still looking.

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  • I keep all my paper bags.  Very useful for ripening fruit and vegetables and storing mushrooms.
  • I think it goes without saying that I never travel without my parachute Onya shopping bag.  No plastic bags thank you.
  • We rarely drink fizzy drinks but we do drink a lot of fizzy water.  I have a Sodastream now.
  • I mainly drink loose leaf tea and make my own herbal teas.  Most (not all) teabags contain plastic.
  • I bulk buy and refill wherever possible.  Sadly much that I bulk buy still comes in plastic (washing liquids, oils in particular)  I’m working on that.
  • Compost, compost, compost.  We had to build a new compost bin so I am starting from scratch and it will be a year or so before I have my own compost supply, but when I do I will not need big plastic bags of compost.

 

Where I have not done so well.

  • Animal feed.  All bar the chicken pellets come in big plastic sacks.
  • Even bulk buying liquids means I have to buy in plastic even if I am buying less plastic than if I bought individually.
  • I tried a bamboo toothbrush and still use it for travelling but I couldn’t give up my non-compostable electric one.
  • All toothpaste comes in plastic whether it is paste or powder.
  • We can’t get milk in glass or waxed card containers.
  • I have fallen up on buying pre-packed food (meat, vegetables, cheese, deli produce) I need to get back on the wagon again.
  • I stopped making my own bread, yoghurt, kefir on a regular basis.
  • I haven’t been very good at keeping cardboard boxes and so have often used plastic postage envelopes for parcels.

Still not bad, plenty of room for improvement but now I can see where I have to work.

Why don’t you give it a go too  Plastic Free July.

messy and the magic of building 20

According to a study by the University of Minnesota messy people are more creative and more intelligent and more creative than tidy ones.  As I like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent and quite creative I was slightly put out as I cannot bear an untidy desk or an untidy kitchen or studio.  Where I work (and even where I sleep) I need order.  I have watched my husband put a chopping board on top of the Sunday papers and start preparing dinner.  Now whilst I am delighted that he helps I want to scream at the disorder.  Instead I remove the newspapers whilst his back is turned.

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How I like to work

I can understand the theory behind messy spaces and creativity.  I just can’t put it into practice, it pains me too much.  So it was with some trepidation and some excitement that I started to read Tim Harford’s book “Messy”. Subtitled “How to be creative and resilient in a tidy minded world”, I wondered what I could learn about how to bring messiness into my life.

Beginning with Keith Jarrett’s famous concert in Cologne which almost never happened because the piano was frankly rubbish but became an iconic and best-selling jazz album, he takes us through a wide range of stories about people, music, books and even buildings that became something amazing because in one way or another they were messy.

My favourite example was Building 20 at MIT.  Built during the Second World War as a temporary structure and only given planning permission on the grounds it was knocked down as soon as the war was over it went on to survive 55 years and became a magical incubator of ideas, research and innovation.  Why?  Because it was in theory a dreadful design.

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Building 20 MIT  (copyright MIT Computer Graphics Group

Huge long corridors with more corridors coming off at right angles, the corridors were named by letter and the rooms by number, unlike most American buildings and all of the rest of the MIT buildings  where the ground floor is 1, the first floor 2 etc. building 20  began with 0 for Ground and 1 for the floor above etc.The main corridor was corridor C  and those that came off it were  A, B, D, E and F.  So a room on the first floor on corridor B could be 20B-133.  Even the permanent residents were always getting lost.

Second, it was a dumping ground for projects that had nowhere else to go.  Amar Bose was struggling to finish his dissertation and decided to buy a hi-fi.  He was appalled by the quality and noticed that he was next to the acoustics lab.  The dissertation was abandoned and he practically moved in to play in the lab.  Three years later he produced a contraption with 22 speakers inside.  Thus was the Bose Corporation born.  There was a homeless botanist who squatted where he could find space, apparently he turned down a job at the Field Museum in Chicago to remain in Building 20, MIT later tried to evict him but lost the case!  Noam Chomsky the anti-establishment linguist was next to the Reserve Officer Training Corps and the ice research lab.  Solar car researchers (who used the corridors as roads) were next to the anthropologists.  There was even a piano repair shop with the proud sign “computer free zone”.

The geography of the building and the chaotic allocation of rooms forced people who would never normally have crossed paths to become friends.  People were always getting lost and found new labs and projects.  The long corridors gave people time to talk as they looked for the room they wanted.  Ideas and  projects grew out of chance meetings and lost souls.

Finally, nobody worried about the building.  It was supposed to have lasted only a few years after all.  The infrastructure was run along exposed walls.  If you wanted a phone line, an electric socket you just hacked straight in.   If you wanted to run a wire from one room to another you didn’t have to put in a request and wait six months.  You got out your drill and made a hole.  The team building the atomic clock removed a whole floor in order to make room for it!

This is the messy I can understand.  It is why places like Hubud in Bali work so well.  I have a friend who spent 3 months building her online personal styling business there.  She speaks glowingly of the mish-mash of people and skills in a small place which encourages and supports cross-fertilisation not possible in a trendy co-working space in Shoreditch where everyone goes home at the end of the day.

I have an idea for a small start-up.  It is nothing like anything I have ever done or even thought about before.  The idea came to me during a conversation with a dentist, and it has nothing to do with dentistry or teeth, but her need lit up a little bulb in  my head.  She has no idea of the seed she planted.

Messy is not, for me at least, being untidy it is about getting out of boxes, it is about building your own Building 20.

Love Gillie x