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!












We don’t do Halloween.  However, our no-longer-quite-so-small friends and their friends have a tradition of dressing up and visiting a few familiar places in the village and of ending up by knocking on our door.




I have a few spooky-cute bits and pieces which usually make an appearance around 5pm and are put away again shortly after we’ve said goodnight and waved them goodbye down the drive.




I usually put a few bits together including something to do (this year, these fortune tellers) and since they’ve usually gone to some considerable trouble with the dressing up, we made a kind of photo booth under the stairs as well.




With a few apples bobbing in a bucket of water and a towel alongside, we were all set when the knock came on the door.  In they all tumbled, excited, shy and giggly at the same time whilst Mums and Dads stood back and enjoyed the fun.  Photos were taken and a few apples were bobbed when someone noticed,

“hang on, they’re not with us!”

Three small boys had tagged along in their ghostly get ups and helped themselves to a bit of rice krispy stuff, a gingerbread person or two and a bag of sweets before disappearing into the darkness.  We had no idea who they were or where they’d come from!

At least they said thank you Winking smile


Inspiring insights


My work takes me to some interesting and inspiring places on occasion and yesterday was one of the best.  The WI is collaborating with a group of fashion students from Kingston University and yesterday was the second get together.  Having met amongst the textile heritage of the WI at Denman College, now it was time to get an insight into the world of a university fashion department.




It had been an early start for most and after a few caffeine hits, we were ready for our look around.  First stops were made in the resistant materials workshops, where the beauty of the heavy machinery made me want to stop and take photographs at almost every step.




There was something about the colours and of course, a stark contrast from the soft textile areas I normally inhabit.




What visually inspired person couldn’t have been excited by the sight of the rows of toolboxes, set on bright yellow shelves and numbered with those almost random stencilled identifiers?




But whilst I was lingering, taking photos of toolboxes and things the group was moving on and someone passed me what looked like an orthotic for a shoe.




My eye passed over the student cutting painstaking windows in an architectural model towards a table, where other moulds were stored alongside what looked like body parts.  But the technician uttered a couple of magic words which captured my attention and I was immediately eager to know more.

3 D printing.

In this small corner of the room were three machines – one large, two small – and samples of what each can produce.  We passed them round, learning how each was created from a design and some cartridges of what looks like strimmer cable in different colours.  We were impressed …and yet, because every imperfection had been reproduced as well, a little disappointed.  I need to find out more!




On then, through corridors lined with mood boards and design projects, past the moss wall which had originally been created for a fashion show but which stayed.  It was so tactile, so soft and very much alive – a lovely feature in a concrete building!




Nest stop, the sample room – not only fabrics, but cupboards of costumes and historic references from which the students can work and develop ideas.




We passed the empty sewing room, where rows of industrial sewing machines stood quietly, awaiting the first year students who were working on samples including french seams, flat fell seams, darts and facings.   Hang on a minute, though, didn’t we learn that kind of thing at school?  Indeed we did, but these days, fashion students don’t necessarily arrive with the same kind of skills as we learned from our mothers.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons for the collaboration – the WI members who are working with the students bring with them a lifetime of experience and skills like these to share.




Kingston University has a reputation for knitwear design, however, and our next stop was the knitting room.  Solid, traditional machines were there, ready to be set up for the next project sampling.




Traditional machines, tried and tested with all those moving parts working beautifully in the hands of someone who understands them.  A couple of students were working on their projects, quietly cursing as a thread broke or patiently setting up the next sample.  All took time and creating a pattern manually on one of these machines is a very slow and painstaking process.




Which took us to the next room, technician Fiona’s pride and joy – the Shime machines.  These fast, modern machines are computer driven and can create the fine knitwear designs created by the students more easily – once the software has been programmed, of course.  It’s machines like these which will realise the student’s concepts and with which they will work once they graduate so it’s important that they are familiar with the potential – and their limitations, of course.




We were thrilled to see a familiar book in use by Fiona’s computer, as she translated one of the student’s designs ready to create a jacquard sample.




Before lunch, there was time for a quick look in the Stanley Picker Gallery where Laura Oldfield Ford was exhibiting her work.  A fascinating combination of observations, journalling and drawing, we’d have liked longer to browse around.




But sadly, there was time only to glimpse and to learn enough to want to know more about her and her work.  It was getting on for lunchtime and we still hadn’t caught up with what the students had been working on since our first meeting.




After a bite to eat, it was back into the studio then, to see the starting points of the twelve designs.  The students and the members were buzzing with excitement – age and background was forgotten as a shared love of fashion, textiles and colour inspired conversation and creativity.  Naomi and Shelagh chatted about different styles of headgear, taking Shelagh’s wealth of traditional Aran knitting skills into account whilst working on Naomi’s playful designs.  Other groups worked on exciting ways of incorporating traditional skills and of working with handspun yarn, Dorset buttons or hand embroidered embellishments.  I overheard discussions about knitting boots, of felting pattern pieces and crochet trousers…hmmm Winking smile




A table full of samples to inspire the students was keeping me rather happy, too!  Whilst I’m not taking part in the actual project, I’m a point of contact and support for the members – not that any of them looked in the slightest need of any support whatsoever right then.




So when Fiona asked if Jane and I would like to take a closer look at the Shime machine, you can imagine our response.

(I had to take a photo of the yarn store as we passed, by the way!)




Fiona inserted the USB stick on which she had put a file she had created for a glove.




She closed the lid, pressed the green button and the machine whirred into action.  Actually, it didn’t do so much as whirr, more cranked and wheezed!




We stood watching as the carriage buzzed to and fro, firstly knitting the fingers, one at a time.  It knitted them as tubes, starting at the tip, which it closed off before working towards the palm.  Four fingers done and it created the palm before going back to the thumb and then finally, the body of the glove and the welt around the wrist.




About fifteen minutes later, out plopped a glove (like a cash machine!)  Once steamed into shape, it was only in need of a few small hand made finishes to some loose ends and the welt and it would be ready to wear.








Before we left, Fiona showed us the samples she’d created from the design of the tea cosy.  WI friends will be familiar with the Parrot tea cosy in our archive which Queen Mary admired at a National Craft Exhibition in the 1920s.  A true textile treasure, Fiona had taken the design and created a knitted motif which was subsequently inserted into the front of a dress.  The dress was shown at the Knitting and Stitching show at Ally Pally and will be at the K & S in Harrogate too, next month – if you happen to see it and have a chance to take a photograph, I’d love one, please!

In the meantime, the students and members have gone their separate ways again, to progress to the next stage of the project whilst keeping in touch via email and our vle.  We’ll meet up again in London, in December, when hopefully, there will be some exciting progress to report!


Autumn days




The photograph I always want to take as I drive over the Severn Crossing, but for obvious reasons, seldom can.  But on this occasion, my Hero was in the driving seat as we crossed into Wales for a couple of days.  I was working in Carmarthen on Saturday and Bettine and Mark decided they’d take Edward to a few of their old haunts.




We had a great couple of days and I really enjoyed working with a fascinating group of people on Saturday.




Carmarthen is ahead of the game and gets the prize for the first decorations of the year – or are they the last ones from Christmas 2013 do you think?




The hotel won the prize for the highest number of notices reminding guests of the need to register their vehicle.  They were to be found on every door, on each table in the bar, in the restaurant and on several walls in the reception area too.  Heaven knows what might have happened had we not done this but with so many reminders there were surely no excuses for forgetting.




After a couple of days fun, some great food and of course, the sweet company of our nearest and dearest, we were back home.




There was work to be done!  My dear Bourton on the Water friends had collected two bags of sloes for me and I had put a bag of damsons in the freezer for this year’s winter warmers.  But before we could even begin, the 2011 vintage had to be bottled.




As the rich, ruby liquid was decanted, the quality control department made the required sampling and declared 2011 a grand vintage!




A quick run to the supermarket was needed for more gin, but soon the last drops were poured into two demijohns and the 2014 Sloe and Damson Gins were shaken and sealed.




Here’s hoping for another great year – thank you Marjorie and Connie, sloe collectors extraordinaire!


Made me smile


Normal life will return at some point, I’m sure, but quite how October’s diary became quite so full, I have no idea.  It’s probably because the things I’ve been invited to do are so lovely, I can’t say no! 

I mean, how could I refuse the chance to have a privileged look at exquisite things like this?




Just one corner of a whole bobbin lace tablecloth, it makes that bit of machine embroidery I did look a bit pathetic, doesn’t it?




As one parcel after another was opened, the treasures just kept coming.  Who knew what would be the next beauty we’d get to see?




As always, the judge’s task isn’t an easy one but with my two colleagues Jane and Linda, we considered each entry carefully before making a decision.  My recent experience with my new sewing machine gave me an insight into the skills which had gone into stitching this cloth and I was impressed.  Very impressed.




But small surprises like this little face were a delight, too.




And a tiny motif in the corner of another entry was the kind of feature I think of as a judge’s reward… so easily overlooked but a real joy to spot when looking very closely, as we do.

No, I’m not going to tell you who won and why…for that, you’ll have to wait Winking smile




I had more reasons to smile at home yesterday, when a pile of cards was waiting for me when I came downstairs.  They were especially cute this year, I thought!




Lucky girl that I am, there was a pile of presents too – new slippers, a pile of books, bath oil, chocolates and sewing machine accessories from sweet family and friends.




There was also that lovely treat of someone arriving at the door with an Interflora box – a huge bunch of lilies from Tra.  Each time I went to look at my computer, there were more “pings”; ecards from friends and Facebook greetings.  What nicer way to spend the day than being reminded of what sweet friends I have?




All of which was almost as effective a cure for my birthday cold as the Benylin and box of tissues. 

Thank you all – I am a very lucky girl indeed.


Whilst I’ve been gone


You might be forgiven for thinking I’d gone to sleep. 

I did.  A few times, in fact.  But in between I’ve simply been doing so many things, there was no time to blog.

Can you believe it?




The Cheltenham Literature Festival was fun as ever, especially when shared with friends.  It’s surprising how long after each hour-long talk we continued to discuss, evaluate, explain, compare what we’d listened to (you’d not think I worked in education, would you? Winking smile

Kind friends who invited us all to share their table for a late lunch kept the conversation going even longer, too.  Brave things.



But then, we all spent the evening at the opera, watching Macbeth live from the Met in Cheltenham with Anna Netrebko playing the leading lady.  Some of us were quite pleased about that – about half the party, I’d say Winking smile




Having said goodbye to weekend friends, I buzzed off for a few days to spend time with a few more.  Yes, it’s that time of the year again and I had another group of craft judges to play with.




My knitting gets such close inspection it’s a wonder I ever feel like doing any more.  I reassure them all that we don’t try to slip anything past them and all of those mistakes in the pattern result from sheer incompetence.  Mine.




But of course, there are always lovely things to share and to inspire and that set us all off googling again.  I wonder how many of us intend to start (or have already started!) a Hitchhiker scarf having seen Marion’s lovely example?

(there are 42 points on it, in case you are wondering)




Though the days are long, they fly by and in no time at all, it was time to have the group photograph taken and say ‘bye to the class of 2014.  As always, it’s a real delight to get to know these clever women better and hopefully, we’ll meet up at some show sooner rather than later.




I could always enter my pig. 




On Thursday, a dozen of us from Avening WI spent the day with Norah Kennedy, local willow worker and wonderful teacher.  The chatter flowed as the willow was woven and worked into hens and piglets and by the end of the day, a fine assembly was on parade in the car park.




My pig is the plump one on the end and is definitely not of the racing variety!




So when have I had time to sew?  Not at all, really.  Those are not my hands in control, but Marianne’s!  Spending time with the Gadebergs was exactly the best way to round off a busy, craft-filled week and opened up the next challenge in the sewing machine project.  The BSR.  Having not even got it out of the box, I am now fired up and ready to put it through its paces and get myself sewing again.

Not this week though.  I have three days of judging to look forward to when over a hundred and fifty treasures await the attention of myself and two colleagues as we try to find a winner amongst them.   At the end of the week, we’re off to Carmarthen, where I have work to do and the rest of the family will be rediscovering old haunts in Pembrokeshire, where my Hero spent some of his formative years.

But on Thursday, I might take the day off Winking smile