things I have liked today

I am one of those people who absolutely love lists. Shopping lists, whats-for-dinner lists, things-to-do lists, guest lists... lists of ideas, lists of places to go, lists of music, lists of books. I find it very freeing to liberate all this stuff from my head, it's a bit like pushing back the furniture to make room for dancing. So when I discovered this site I was thrilled beyond imagining... it allows you to make as many lists as you like on whatever subject you like, archive them and post them on your own little listy homepage!

This discovery came at a very good time for me, because I wanted to start making a short daily list of things I've enjoyed. Mostly very simple things... as a reminder, as an inspiration, as a thank you. Just five things each day. Sometimes it's hard to pick out only five, and sometimes, if I'm honest, it's hard to find even one... it's a lovely exercise to do for lots of different reasons... I was surprised to find that as I look back over the entries it reads almost like a diary, I can tell if I was at work or at home and there are so many reminders of what I did, ate, saw, heard.

You can have a look at my page here, and if you do, you will see if you haven't already guessed, that today I have been planting bulbs.

One of my favourite lists is this one by Keri Smith, who is an inspirational list-maker.

1. Life and people are impermanent
2. Slow down
3. Look people in the eye
4. Drink tea
5. Be kind
6. Simple things hold the secret

She also has a wonderful list of a hundred creative ideas for when you can't think of anything to do...

circles blanket

Huzzah! It's finished, fifteen months and ninety-nine squares after it was begun, although it did take just a wee bit more yarn than I originally expected...

It was actually finished last week, but the light's been so poor that photography has been impossible - so we've had the chance to road-test it over the weekend and its woolly warmth proved just the thing for a dose of flu.

I have absolutely loved working on this blanket... the yarn is mostly wool or wool mix in aran weight... delightfully warm and thick, soft but not too soft. The pattern was dreamt up while finishing off my first dotty blanket a couple of summers ago... this time I wanted something with a more complex design and the opportunity to play around with the juxtaposition of colour. I was after a vintage, homespun feel with a heavy, workaday quality - the sort of rug or blanket that might be seen spilling out of an old Morris Traveller in a feature on autumn picnics in Country Living...

Circles have always fascinated me... I love the work of Sonia Delaunay and Patrick Heron... the simple repetition of shape and colour in different arrangements, creating different emotional reactions. I wanted this blanket to speak of all this, to be both the sort of blanket you might find in a little slate-roofed cottage in the country and yet to have associations with art and design... the sort of blanket that Barbara Hepworth's baby triplets would play on in her Cornish studio...

I know I am probably mad... how can one blanket be invested with all this meaning and significance?! Maybe crochet alters the mind... am I the only one who does this? I can invent a whole world around a cushion cover, a teapot, a jar of flowers... simple domestic items so easily transport me to a place, a time, a way of life...

It's endlessly absorbing producing the growing pile of squares, each one with a different feel, different combinations of the six colours. Only about four have doubles, although I didn't make any special effort to avoid duplication, it just worked out that way. I enjoy the gentle maths of a project like this, ensuring each colour is used enough times, assembling the final pattern with no matching neighbours, and then there is the thrill of seeing how the background colour draws it all together. There are never more than glimpses, visions or imaginings of the whole during the making process - it doesn't become itself until it is sewn together and is a whole soft cloth, heavy and warm.

The portability of crochet squares means that a blanket like this holds many memories... of home and holidays... New York City in the snow and ice... East Sussex in hot, hot sun... the Wye Valley in autumn... underneath the elm tree in the garden... in front of a roaring fire... 40,000 ft up in the air. All hooked in and captured so that it becomes part of life and living.
  • If you'd like to make a similar blanket I can do no better than direct you once again to the nimble-fingered Teresa who will show you on YouTube in five minutes what a book would take days to teach.
  • My blanket is made in a mixture of pure wool and wool blends, with some cashmere, merino, microfibre and acrylic, and in different weights, but mainly aran, a very little chunky and quite a bit of DK worked using two strands together... all using a 7mm hook.

dreaming of spring...

There are more than a few signs round our way that spring is just around the corner. Not that I am wishing away winter, because unlike lots of people I do really enjoy this time after Christmas when winter becomes just itself, and not the run-up to the festive season... it has a simple, pared-down quality, when yes, the days are short, but they are also precious and the light can be magically luminous and clear. Evenings are for books and games and crochet by the fire, good things on tv and radio, and meals are warm and nourishing.

Despite this it is both energising and reassuring to know that spring is on its way, the earth is turning and the seasons are following one after the other as they should. And there are signs of this everywhere... the lengthening days which no longer pack up for the night at quarter to four but are still light and bright at half past... the blackbird and the song thrush singing again in the late afternoon... little green shoots emerging from the cold soil... and these lovely delicate primroses nestling underneath the honeysuckle. Foxes are barking in the depth of night, squirrels are chasing one another and birds are looking around for places to nest.

All this makes me happy.

mark making

Today and yesterday I have been experimenting with pencils, paints and ink... it has seemed difficult to find the time to do this recently and it has been a delight. However I haven't found it easy to slip back into this way of working... it requires a lot of concentration and the ability to ignore distractions in a way that sewing or embroidery, a slower, ploddier process, does not. To keep the rhythm of ideas going is something I'm no longer used to, it doesn't come easily, but I'm determined to persist and break through whatever barrier it is that prevents the flow.

I've set myself a project of experimental mark-making... just seeing what I can do with a limited range of media and a restrained palette of colour. I'm using only pencil, rubber, ink and gouache in white, black and blue-grey and whatever paper comes to hand. I'm deliberately restricting myself to dealing with line and shape only - circles and simple forms - and seeing what happens, with no particular goal other than the eventual production of a sort of toolkit with which to be more productive and directional in the future. Each 'drawing' is quite brief and direct and this approach has allowed me to amass a big pile of ideas about the quality of line, form and texture.

One thing I had to start training myself to overcome almost immediately was a real, physical panic that welled up as I began to pencil in areas I had drawn... it was a sort of fear of time passing by, of the need to rush, to produce, to achieve quickly... everything seemed to be so slow... it has been really good to keep reminding myself that quality work takes time, that it's ok, just breathe, just keep going...

I feel very positive about this change of direction... I am excited about the possibility of at last producing some paper work that I am pleased with, and with developing my skills both technical and psychological to enable me to move on with this. I hope to be able to post more of my experiments and doodles over the next weeks... come back and see.


Little pieces of trimmings from my ninety-nine crochet squares which I am currently sewing up into a big lovely blanket, more than a year since I started it... hopefully I will be able to show a photograph of it finished and edged very soon.

The 'bittyness' of this picture reflects how my mind feels at the moment too. Unrelated thoughts, ideas, things unfinished, other things needing attention. Hopefully by the end of the week things might start ravelling together for me in this sense too.

I am feeling that the next few weeks will be about finishing projects that have been sitting around for far too long, waiting to be completed and liberated into daily use. Apart from the blanket I have a scarf in lovely Noro yarn to be knitted up, my giant patchwork to be quilted and a new bag to be sewn up and embroidered.

A big thank you for all your contributions to my last post about the spiritual side of creativity. It is so interesting and illuminating to hear other's thoughts on this subject and of course we are all different with different ways of looking at things. I will be re-reading the comments this week and thinking more about this subject.

Wishing you a creative week and if you are in the northern hemisphere, a warm one too.

a spiritual necessity

I was stopped in my tracks yesterday by these words from this article on the Canadian artist Francoise Sullivan:

"Animals don't do art like we do. They do something else. A spider web or a nest is not a work of art in the human sense. It is a physical necessity. This is more of a spiritual necessity."

I have been thinking about this a lot... it seemed to speak directly to my questions about the different kinds of art that I make, and perhaps the differences between art and craft...

Making life beautiful seems to me to be a physical necessity, a bit like the nest of a bird: creating a garden... making our home attractive... choosing colours... piecing things together... decorations... domestic textiles... the weaving of a life which is visually rich, calm and stimulating... the common grace of creativity being lived and breathed.

I think a lot of the things I make are also borne of this physical need, and this is good, it will always be, and I am happy with that...

But what I long for deep down, what makes me thirsty inside, is the expression of spiritual necessity... art which isn't for anything but just needs to come out. It's about working on a different plane, maybe a different dimension. I'm beginning to recognise that just like any spirituality it will require a careful discipline, diligent practice and an open dialogue with its source.

It's an exciting thought.

earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone...

The first walk of the new year, to Pennington Flash in Lancashire. Everywhere icebound, frosted, still. The sound of the ice creaking and our boots crunching. Hundreds of birds gathered to feed on the open water, waiting for the thaw which will not come tonight. As we drove home the light began to fade and the cold ground seemed to tighten even more.

Thinking about 2010... not knowing what it will bring... having no expectations anymore... deciding to take each moment as it is given, to go slowly and keep things simple, to be good to myself, to be patient, to be thankful.

A more tangible resolution is to read from our collection of countryside books every night, to think about lives lived elsewhere and to learn more about the beauty that surrounds us.