I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










A rich textile heritage


This area of Switzerland has a long history of textile design and manufacture and the story is wonderfully recorded in the Textile Museum in St Gallen.  I’d noted what promised to be an interesting exhibition on the website and opening the curtains on a rainy Saturday morning we lost no time in making our way there.




Of course, the tickets are made of fabric.

We headed straight to the top of the building, with the intention of working our way down through the exhibits.  The first exhibition was Fast Fashion.




The term “fast fashion” denotes a corporate strategy which aims to bring new fashion into the shops at ever shorter intervals. Classic fashion segments such as haute couture, ready-to-wear and medium-priced off-the-peg clothes limit themselves to two collections a year, whereas cheap labels launch up to twelve collections within the same period of time. These companies aim to draw the media’s attention to themselves, to lure primarily young customers into the shops and to animate them to make purchases.
If consumers and commerce profit from the masses of fashion articles put on the market at bargain prices, many of those involved in the production process have to pay a high price: long working days with minimum wages determine the lives of the textile workers who produce cheap fashion under sometimes disastrous conditions. They have no social security and educational opportunities. Health problems and environmental pollution are the consequences of a corporate policy that is ruthlessly geared to profit maximisation.

It was indeed a thought provoking and rather troubling exhibition and the true cost of cheap clothing was set out clearly in no uncertain terms.  I made notes on some aspects to follow up later, in particular the role of young people using social media to post their “haul videos”.  I’d not come across such things before, but foresee an interesting if rather shocking evening’s viewing.




The contrast with my parents’ generation of thrift and make do could not have been better explained than the case of ideas for making a new dress from two old ones.  It also highlighted the high level of technical skills which have been lost in the meantime: I’m not sure I would have the confidence to create some of those alterations!




The exhibit was indeed interesting and presented some good points, but possibly overstated the general issue: we soon got the message and were ready to move on.  But as ever in such places, I was as interested in the mechanics and design of the exhibition itself, in this instance, how the information and examples were shown in two languages (English on this side, German on the other) and hung in a kind of production line setting.  Very clever.




Down one floor, there was a more general exhibit entitled “dreams and realisation”.  Here was more than half a millennium of textile heritage.




Pieces from the Middle Ages were so well preserved and began the story which continued on a kind of timeline, through the introduction of turkey red dye




to printed patterns and detailed designs.




The motifs were accurate and precise and right from these early stages, it was clear that the strengths of the Swiss textile industry were precision and quality.




The samples were so well documented and archived, creating a marvellous resource for contemporary designers.




Displayed in large glass cabinets, one could spend days here, just looking, marvelling and imagining the technical skills and tenacity that went into creating these masterpieces of hand work.




One cabinet was devoted to a single piece of exquisite whitework, approximately one metre square.




I’m not sure that I could have listed all the specific embroidery techniques which were evident in that one piece of work alone




and clearly I was not the first to marvel at and appreciate the skills involved, for the gold medals awarded to the maker were also on display in the cabinet, including three gold medals from Parisian Exhibitions of the 1870s and a mere bronze from London.




Such high quality workmanship was valued worldwide, as evidenced by account books showing exports to the USA




and bills of sale, including one for 32 embroidery designs, 32 sketches and 32 card copies of such, totalling 169.60 SFr. 




The exhibition continued to the present day, with fascinating and very typical samples from the 1960s and 70s.




Shown alongside were pattern cards and pictures of modern industrial embroidery machines creating the high tech fabrics the area specialises in today.




Metal fabrics and laser cut designs, specialist and technically precise, for whilst the industry here has capitalised on the heritage it has also moved with the times and remains a world class centre for high quality, innovative textiles.




Now, I’d already thought I could spend a whole day here, possibly just in that one exhibition alone.  To explore the next part fully, I’d need at least a week, for on the ground floor is the library.  I mentioned it in passing in my previous post when we were last here, but today I had a little more time to look around.




The open pattern books on the counter are just a clue to what lies behind those glass doors in the cabinets which line the walls of the room.




Each sample, carefully referenced and labelled, each drawing or sketch a small masterpiece in itself.




Flicking through the books, each page invites us to linger and marvel at the beauty.  Could this one really be better than the last?  Or the next?  My Hero and I were both captivated by each page in the book and couldn’t decide whether to spend longer looking at this amazing catalogue or move on to the next…




Because there were more.  Hundreds more.




Contemporary magazines too.  Every one concerning fashion and textiles you could think of, from all over the world, in every language.




Plenty to demonstrate that I’m not as au fait with British textile magazines as I thought I was, too.  PomPom was a new one for me.




I was now going to investigate around the corner, but as I passed by, I couldn’t resist another look at that catalogue of edgings.




and my Hero wanted to know the difference between this lace and this lace – a subject about which I know not very much at all!




Though I’m sure the answer isn’t far away…




Much as I’d have loved to have taken the time to research the answer to his question more fully than I could explain from my own knowledge and experience, I don’t think he was really *that* interested and anyway, there were further distractions.




Shelves and shelves of books I recognise from my own collection alongside many I don’t.




Some, I’d like to read more closely and yes, possibly chat as well,




but then I discovered the accessories section, with details of gloves, shoes and buttons.




I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to explore upstairs as well.




The library was so beautifully organised with everything in place and on each shelf was a small plan of the sections together with the advice “please don’t replace the books yourself, you can leave them here”  (ie don’t mess up our system by putting a book back somewhere that we’ll never find it again!)




We couldn’t leave the museum without a peek in the other ground floor room, but sadly, the embroidery machine wasn’t in operation today, unlike on our last visit.  Never mind, there were a few more things of interest around,




like samples of couture fabrics for the Autumn Winter 2017 collections,




one of which was rather interesting.




Further couture samples and a video of a catwalk show from AKRIS which we sat and watched, recognising that were we to sit there any longer, we might not feel much like getting up and moving again!




So we gathered up our bags and belongings from the cloakroom, leaving the cute tailcoat with the St Gallen tailor’s label hanging there.

At the end of April, the museum will stage an exhibition as part of a wider, regional textile project which looks remarkably interesting.  The fun continues here and though we will probably be back in Switzerland in the Autumn, whether we will have a chance to see it remains to be seen.  For now, I am thankful for a marvellous morning here!




No accident that my Hero found this in his Christmas stocking this year, because actually, we take pleasure from our small woodstack.  Or, possibly more accurately, I take the pleasure and enjoy the warmth of his labour in stacking it all.




Only last week, we took delivery of a load of fresh logs, ready to be stacked and seasoned over the year.  There’s a similar quantity of seasoned logs stacked and drying in the garage ready for use, every one lifted and placed carefully, for there is a satisfaction in such things, don’t you agree?

But we are not in the same league as some, as witnessed over the weekend.




Of course, if one has to heat the whole house for the winter, then a larger stack is needed.  But my hero’s critical eye was cast over this one, lacking somewhat in the rotation, we thought.




This being a farm, then perhaps heating would be needed in the barns and cowsheds too? 




Plenty of room for new supplies here, though.  What a fine woodstore,with a clean, tiled back to it.  Having said that, the open design of ours allows the wind and rain to blow through from front to back, seasoning the wood nicely.




At least when the wood is stacked around the house, there’s the benefit of insulation too.  As you can tell, driving around we take note of such things and from time to time, one of us will “ooooo!” and spot a particularly fine example and admire the skill and sheer hard work involved in creating it.




On Sunday, though, we spotted the best woodstack ever.  Really.




It stretched three sides around the boundary of the Karthause Ittingen and contained more wood than we’ve ever seen, all neatly stacked in evenly sized and well built stores.  We’d met our Swiss friends for Sunday lunch in Frauenfeld at the marvellous Goldenes Kreuz (Goethe war da!) and on a lovely, Spring afternoon, their suggestion of a walk in the country was spot on.




The woodstacks were remarkable in the way they were sorted: some stacks contained smaller, kindling sized pieces and these variations in texture and pattern were very attractive.  I was also rather taken with the small drifts of what I assumed to be a variety of willow.




My favourite, perhaps, was the stack of dry vines, each one covered in lichen and in spite of being oddly twisted and contorted, was just as neatly stacked as all the others.




A grand sight to lift the spirits.




Formerly a Carthusian monastery, Karthause Ittingen is now a venue for concerts, weddings and suchlike.  There’s an hotel here, a good restaurant, a gallery and a spa.  We enjoyed looking around the reconstructed residence of the monks and soon realised why so much wood was needed.




A kachelofen in every room would have required regular feeding throughout the winter months.




And oh my, what beautiful kachelöfen they are too!




This one dated back to 1677, though it had been restored in the 1990s.




A silent order, the Carthusians must have savoured such a wealth of visual treasures.




I mean, the refectory is rather pretty too, isn’t it?




As for the chapel.  Well.




Altogether breathtaking.




After a spot of tea and a short stop in the lovely monastery shop we made our way back to our cars.




What a lovely day we’d had.  What great company our friends are!




And for sure, those Carthusians chose a great site for their monastery, even if they did need a fair quantity of fuel to get them through the chilly times.  Whether the concept is attributed to Thoreau or Ford, wood does indeed warm at least twice; once when cutting and once whilst burning.  When stacking is included, then my Hero definitely gets an extra boost.


In die Schweiz




We are just home from a few days in Switzerland.  We flew to Zurich on Friday lunchtime, arriving in the late afternoon and feeling very happy to be there again.




It’s always been a favourite, ever since our first visit as a couple in the summer following our wedding in 1980.  Driving past a road sign to Effretikon just a few miles from the airport brought back happy memories of that first trip, when the generosity of lovely Swiss friends of my family enabled us to discover the character of a country which enchants us both.




Even though the weather forecast didn’t sound too promising, the late afternoon sunshine highlighted the Alpstein nicely to greet us and the clouds revealed Säntis there on the horizon.




We left the laptop at home this time, so there are still a few stories to tell and a lot of details to share.




We stayed in St Gallen, where the peach and grey building holds a treasure trove of riches to interest me.  What better place to spend a rainy Saturday morning?




For sadly, the sun doesn’t shine continually and those green fields need a drop or two of rain to keep them looking lovely.  Saturday was especially wet and driving to a concert in Winterthur in the afternoon we made sure we had umbrellas and raincoats with us.




My Hero will surely be reporting on this grand occasion, when the highlights of the programme were works by Joachim Raff, bringing Swiss, German and British Rafficionados together to share enthusiasm, research and friendship throughout the weekend.




We might have enjoyed a few “white angels” lovingly created in the brewery next door to our hotel, the oldest brewery in Switzerland, no less.




At this time of the year, there are not so many visitors around, so we enjoyed peaceful times by the lake.




We were the only visitors – the only people – in the museum where the cloakroom is imaginative and utterly charming.  That was a fantastic place to visit!




When the weather brightened, we drove out and up into the mountains to new places and old favourites.




Sadly, the aroma of a Swiss cheese shop simply cannot be effectively communicated.  You simply have to be there.




The Gold Bunny on top of the car park was a reminder of something else on the shopping list.




Finally, with a couple of hours to spare before returning to the airport, we never have a problem simply sitting in a favourite place and watching the world go by.




So, the next few posts will surely be about our glorious weekend.  I’ll try not to forget to share the story of the Zuger Kirschtorte too. Textiles, transport, music, landscape, Weissbier, chocolate, cheese, rösti, friends, mountains, lakes and fun.  We love it all.

Oh, and there’s this, too.




Wood.  (I’ll explain later)


A little sunshine


The hospital-related activities of last week together with a funeral left me feeling in need of some light relief by the time Thursday came around.  Thankfully, it was a WI week, so a fun evening promised to lift the spirits and a lunch date with an old friend on Friday followed through nicely.




Such things are a reminder of the important things in life, for as I listened to the eulogy at the funeral I wished I could chat to Margaret once again, about some of the things I didn’t know about her life and to get to know her a little better.  It’s not the first time I’ve left a funeral and felt sad that it was too late to learn more: a useful reminder to spend more time with friends whose company I cherish.




More fun on Saturday too, with a fish and chip date before going to the opera at the cinema in Cheltenham to see La Traviata live from the Met in New York.





We loved it – and were not alone.  A fantastic set design and marvellous performances from the whole cast.  Even if we thought Alfredo was a bit wet, at least he had a great voice!  Of course, it’s not a story with the happiest of endings (!) but at least in this production Violetta held her own until the very last gasp and left the audience similarly breathless.  Only on the way home did we realise that Ellis and Mary were at the cinema in Thousand Oaks watching the same live production and feeling equally positive, even without the benefit of haddock and chips to sustain them Winking smile




Oh and another little ray of sunshine dropped through my letterbox yesterday.  I have plans to install the update this afternoon and am trusting for no unexpected changes in the weather.

Fingers crossed.


New vocabulary


It wasn’t quite how I’d planned to spend the morning, but wee-small-hour worries unsettled me and I simply had to resolve them.




Back in time then, to New Years Eve, more than two months ago, when I stupidly stepped on the hem of my skirt whilst hurrying back up this flight of (very hard) stairs and fell heavily on my right knee. The two bottles of wine I was carrying were unharmed, but since that night, I have hobbled about from time to time because whatever I did to my knee was (still) incredibly painful from time to time.  Regular readers might recall how I had further knee troubles when in Miami compounding the issue somewhat.

Since then I have been “getting better”.  Well, that’s what I told myself.  Except that it still wasn’t right and I was wondering if I should seek professional help.

(Yes, I know, it’s more than two months ago…about time, I hear you say)

Fast forward to around 2.43am this morning, when I awoke with a horrible pain in my right calf.  My mind was working overdrive and, in exactly the same way as it’s impossible to go on holiday until you’ve checked that yes, you really did turn off the gas, I just had to get my suspicions checked out.  You see I’ve been reading about causes of lower leg pain and since this one was a new development and seemingly nothing to do with my knee – I wasn’t moving about, after all – three letters sprang to mind.  D V and T.




Which is how I came to be admiring the blossom in the garden of our local Minor Injuries and Illness unit this morning.  Three hours of expert care, detailed questioning and careful diagnosis.  First things first: measurements and and an examination of my leg indicated that it was unlikely to be the deep vein thrombosis I feared and as I grabbed my coat and bag to leave, I realised that Sister Pauline was not going to let me off quite so lightly.  After all, she had identified considerable crepitus in the joint and wanted to investigate what was happening.  (new word #1)




An X ray revealed nothing sinister and thankfully, no damage to my tibial tuberosity (what? new words #2 and #3!)   Armed with a recommendation to consult a physiotherapist for further treatment, my apologies for being a nuisance were met with a wave of Pauline’s hand. 

The National Health Service.  What would we do without it?