I’m at a bit of a loose end. Writing a blog post seems indulgent but when I think how little I’ve actually sat down these last few weeks I guess it isn’t. M has been really unwell. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. With him in hospital I’ve gone into house sorting overdrive, tackling jobs that have been too easy to put off whilst he’s around and not really keen on the disruption that decorating brings. The dining room had become a bit of a black hole since he made my dream table from a rescued cable drum. Not every woman’s dream I know. We now eat in the sunlounge in front of the French doors and with a much better view than the windowless dining room, but the dining room needed to be reinvented.
Since M will be out of action for a while and with Mum’s help we smashed up a huge manky cupboard with a sledgehammer and dragged it up to the bonfire. A leaky roof now fixed and a leaky shower yet to be fixed damaged the cupboard and whiffed a bit too. It was hugely satisfying to see it all piled up ready to burn. These are the jobs that M never wants me to start because he really doesn’t like helping with this kind of DIY.
Years of art and craft materials going back to when the kids were small were bagged up and donated. Lots of little notes and drawings were rescued including this lovely note from ella to jake in a jam jar with a gift of precious skeleton leaves ‘To Jake, Love you with all my heart. Love Ella.’ Proof that things were harmonious at least some of the time. A spare bookcase was reassembled, an old library table moved in to act as a desk and my new home office/library is almost ready. There are far too many books on one side so that still needs to be tackled but it’s been physically demanding work on top of hospital visits, laundry, dog walking, food shopping, cooking…
For the first ten days without our resident chef I decided it would be great to have a break from his exotic concoctions usually involving way too many ingredients for the fridge capacity. Keep it simple is my motto. Quiche and salad went down very well with the kids the first night so we ended up having it five times over ten days. You can always rely on your offspring to tell the truth when you least want them to, like the moment M asked what we had on the other five nights and E piped up ‘quiche and chips’. Not quite true because I’m sure I cooked a luxury pizza at some stage too. Cooking brings me no joy whatsoever. Left to my own devices I would have cheese on toast, scrambled eggs on toast, beans on toast, vegemite on toast and just toast. Maybe a bit of quiche and salad too. It’s ironic that I now spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen cooking up non food items and enjoying it immensely.
I had planned to enjoy the process of natural dyeing for a couple of years at least before even thinking about selling any plant dyed yarn but with M unwell it seemed like a good time to go for it. I’ve been so careful with testing the wool as I go that I was quite well prepared. Seeing how things stand up to light, wash and rub tests has been as interesting as creating the dye baths. I do occasionally forget to record something but I’ve now installed Ella’s old whiteboard in the kitchen to jot things down as I go. Sometimes it almost needs a mind map to record all the aspects that have gone into making a skein. There’s the wool type and weight, the weight of dyestuff, mordanting details, how long I’ve dyed it for, or let the dyestuff stew for and many other variables too. Once that is all scribbled down on the whiteboard I transfer it to my notebook with what colour it achieved and attach a strand or two to the book and a strand to a postcard for the window.
I can highly recommend re-connecting with nature in a new way when the going gets tough. If I thought that just walking the dogs through acres of farmland trails was enjoyable I wasn’t aware I could make it even more so. I’ve added to my book collection of old observers, nature tomes, pocket guides to wildflowers and reminded myself of some of the forgotten names of things and learnt many new ones. My most useful new addition has been a book of trees with really clear photographs, reminiscent of a Dorling Kindersely style but in fact a fusty old seventies volume. I could already name most trees and frequently used to try and pass that on to the kids but there are variations that I wanted to be precise about. Goat Willow for instance, it’s never really been on my radar purely because a lot of willows have a long thin leaf and this one doesn’t. I brewed up some bark shavings recently and was peering into my large pan with a wooden spoon when Jake came into the kitchen holding his nose, as he always does when he sees me in my old apron. I said, ‘come and have a look at this goat willow’ and he quite emphatically said, ‘jeez no thank you!’. So I was looking a bit dejected when he said, ‘what on earth are you cooking a goat’s willy for?’. He must think my recipes call for even stranger stuff than just bits of tree and weeds!
The trickier part has been embracing the technology that is inevitable for online selling. I’ve barely used a proper Mac since my design days and we certainly don’t have Quark Xpress or anything sophisticated for layout software. I only used Word for documents, so I’ve had to get to grips with that for page layout. It all come flooding back and I discovered that the keyboard short cuts I must have executed millions of in my typical working week were all the same and also stored in the deepest recesses of my memory. Sitting in front of a computer is one of the things I miss least about that line of work so I really want to keep it to a minimum for this one. I think that’s why I enjoyed furniture restoration for so long once I had left the design business, there was little computer time required. Having said that I’m going to be very reluctant to share the mac with M when he is fighting fit again. There are some things that iPads just don’t cooperate with, printing online pre paid postal labels is one of them!
Well July was perfect solar dyeing and paper making weather. August has been less so. A while back M had some training to deliver in Manchester and I went along to help set up equipment and keep him company on the journey. I had a nice day wandering round a big city feeling like an out of place country mouse as I tend to do these days. There’s a large art and craft store there called Fred Aldous. I’ve been a customer since their mail order days when I was a student. I filled a small basket with bits I’d been waiting patiently for a trip to Manchester or Leeds for and then asked if they sold paper making deckles by any chance. They did. It was a bit of an extravagant buy since my last mould and deckles were made from canvas stretching frames and net curtain when I was about 19 and may well be buried in some box in the attic somewhere.
I must have last used them when the kids were small and they were soon bored with the whole thing. Even now when Jake saw the first batch he said it would be quicker and easier to buy paper. Ella was slightly more impressed, clearly not expecting the pulp to actually turn into proper paper at all. Every now and then I find a sheet from previous ‘sessions’ but I rarely did anything with the sheets, apart from used them for the odd backing sheet in a frame. It was obviously just the process I enjoyed and still enjoy. Along with the used and dried out plant matter at some stage I will use my dye bath exhausts as part of the process but for now I seem to have run out of sunny days. It takes up quite a bit of space and drying would be a bit of a nuisance indoors.
Just when I have reconnected with gardening we will be losing two local garden centres. I’ve bought seeds, a watering can, plants, pots and compost from both this year and the garden centres we are left with are not as good. I was able to buy some of the old wooden crates that one of the garden centres used for displays and lined with brown paper they seem to be ideal for drying out marigolds and coreopsis. Time will tell of course, I’ve no idea whether they’ll be any good. I followed instructions to dry out some Weld early in the season and that went mouldy quite quickly. I’ve since gathered more and will leave it to dry out for a lot longer this time. With large wooden trays of flowers drying out in the living room, bunches of weld hanging upside down in the kitchen, jars of wee coloured liquid and old vases of willow twigs in the dining room I can begin to understand Jake thinking that there could indeed be anything in my dye pots next!
I’ve never done so much on so little sleep as these last few weeks. There was a period of three or four days when I worked out I’d had four hours sleep. I was a bit of a zombie and was ready to start burning lavender oil just to be able to nod off! Thankfully I’m getting a few more hours now, I’m no use to M or anyone if I don’t. I’m going to need a new crochet project to wind down with and also take to hospitals. I was thinking hats but maybe I’ll start something more substantial. My hankering for a summer kimono cardigan took a couple of years to get round to making and I’ve had one for a large wrap for even longer. Given that the design variables are so huge I need to narrow down my brief and try and get that one underway too. I have visions of a versatile long rectangle that is half blanket half big scarf, something that lives on the back of the chair I drag from sunlounge to deck when I light the chiminea and keeps the back of my neck and shoulders warm when the front is nice and toasty. If it hadn’t been for so much rain I’d be doing that a bit more often instead of processing household paperwork going back twelve years and wondering what happened to the ultra organised person I used to be and plan to be once more. Thank you Marie Kondo and yes my sock drawer is still shipshape and in Kondo fashion.