In Eden

Sometimes you can search so hard for inspiration that it squeezes creativity to the point of running dry. I find more often than I used to that I’ve exhausted “the muse” and slowly I’m learning that I should take that as an early warning signal to pause and reflect.

I suppose for me creativity doesn’t feel like an inexhaustible supply. More like dipping into a well that replenishes from its surroundings but one you can overtax by demanding too much of it. I try to view these “dry spells” as something to work with rather than panic over.

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Over the years we’ve carved out pieces of garden from the land around our home. Nature fights back, far more successfully than we can advance on her. Maybe that’s a good thing – to show that Nature can still overcome humankind’s attempts to dominate. When you’re trying to clear a space for growing vegetables or creating an artificial feature such as a path or lawn though it can feel very depressing! Realising that working with the plants rather than trying to impose formality means I feel that herbaceous plants just won’t work in amongst our thuggish couch grass, ground elder, nettles and chickweed. Whilst I feel confident growing vegetables, I am no ornamental gardener; planting and garden design is something that doesn’t come naturally to me – a skill I envy in others. I’d like to plant medium sized shrubs and smallish trees that can help suppress the more dominant weeds and make it easy to mulch under them rather than be locked into a doomed-to-fail never-ending round of weeding and hacking back. I simply don’t have the time or the skills for the kind of garden that requires meticulous care to keep it organised.

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So a few days ago I decided to take a couple of hours out to pop over to the Dingle Nurseries not far from where I live and gain some inspiration. This beautiful garden plunging down to a lake below was planted up almost 50 years ago by the Joseph family who started the nursery. The daughter of original creators of the garden, once told me how they’d come back from school with friends on summer days and swim in the lake. Sadly she too passed away some years ago but her son and his wife now run it. Although it is “their garden”, it is open to the public for a small entrance fee and knowing that it was planted specifically with autumn in mind (my favourite season) I thought I’d head back to remind myself of some of the planting. It’s quite a few years since I last went round but it did influence me back when I first started being interested in gardens.

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Curiously I found it less of a gardening inspiration and more as a balm for the soul. The hazy late summer sunshine and beautiful trees, shrubs and lake create a soothing atmosphere, heavy with the sleepy sounds of nature at peace and the hum of insects. Partway round I recognised it as a chance to recharge and so I stopped trying to focus on the plants as though by simply noting names and species I could crib from a master plantswoman; her genius lies in the harmony all around.

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Sitting under the arbour, walking through the vast Gunnera manicata jungle that so intrigued me 10 years ago that I went and bought my own (now an established but altogether more modest clump!) and pausing by the bridge to listen to the fish plopping to break the surface tension of the lake and suck unwary insects down for tea, I felt like the garden was breathing out and inviting me to do the same. I sat for a while and drank in the peace through my skin, the dragonflies skimming, zooming and flitting around me. Making the most of their short lives in the air, living in the moment and glorying in their freedom.

I tried over and over to capture one on my camera and in the end gave up and took a lesson from them; live in the moment and try not to hold onto it forever.

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I turns out however that I did catch the blurriest whisker of one zipping past. A wink of the eye and then gone over the wall and yonder.

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I’m not sure how or when I will plant up my little patch of weedy ground. I have a few ideas. But more importantly I took the memory of the moment and the peace hanging over everything. If I could only plant that…

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Fresh Starts

I’ve had a little time to catch up with myself in the couple of weeks the shop has been shut. A little time to spend with family and the rest of the time to dye up some things for the next shop update which will be tomorrow – Monday 15th August – in the evening UK time … because I still have an awful lot of things still to do to get it ready!!

Just a hint of what will be coming; I’ve now washed and dyed all the 2016 clip fleeces from my purebred Gotland sheep. Tomorrow will see me editing the product photos I took yesterday – there are 36 colour batches to choose from, there’s a lot of shiny colourful fleece in my house just now!!

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I don’t know what other people grow in their polytunnels – for me it’s a really useful place to dry batches of wool when the weather outside is either to windy or too rainy for it to dry there!! This summer has been patchy, some gloriously sunny days interspersed with a few damp drizzly ones. I’ve changed my dyeing studio set-up slightly this summer so that I can dye whenever I want or need too now which is fabulous and the polytunnel extends that “all weather” dyeing capability. Makes life a lot easier!!

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I’ve also got Haunui New Zealand Halfbred back in stock – I love this wool so much, it’s hard to describe all the things I like about it. Anyway, this time around I have not only got my regular mid micron Haunui tops that I dye and use for blending into my batts but something really special.

I’ve got some of the finest micron Haunui (that’s 23micons) that has been gilled with Grade A mulberry silk – the resulting tops, well it’s like sticking your hands into warm soft clouds! As you can imagine it’s a dream to spin and the dyed tops shimmer with the colours on the silk. It really represents the immense care that goes into producing Haunui wool from the breeding and care of the sheep right through to the processing of the finished fibre – I think this is the nicest fibre I’ve ever dyed.

I really hope you’ll have fun trying out these new luxury spinning fibres! The first batch is going into the shop update tomorrow. It’s impossible to truly capture the shimmering beauty of the silk and wool in photographs but here is a tiny taste.

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I’ve also got a small batch of regular mid micron Haunui that I’ve dyed in mirror gradients. The narrower length of Haunui tops and its versatility as a finished yarn just lends itself to the ever popular gradient fashion – you have the choice of spinning it as a gradient or mixing it up for barber-pole yarns or random 2-ply or fractal spinning with a little extra processing. I love dyeing these and they never quite turn out exactly like another I’ve done previously!

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I really enjoy listening to podcasts when I’m working and there are some excellent knitting and woolly ones out there to choose from. So I was very grateful that Louise Scollay of the KnitBritish podcast agreed to road test my new yarns and the first part of her knit sampling (on the Hafren yarn base) is included on the latest episode 64. I just need to add the info that the Hafren yarn isn’t actually from my own sheep flock, it’s spun from Welsh Mule sheep farmed in Mid Wales which is where I’m also based of course so it’s a yarn local to me. One of the other yarns Louise is hopefully going to review in due course is the one that’s from my own flock.

If you’re new to podcasts generally then maybe you could try them out and KnitBritish is a great place to start, Louise has her knitterly finger right on the pulse of the yarny world and along with some of my other favourite podcasters has a beautiful speaking voice that’s wonderful to listen to. Lots of people listen whilst they knit or spin but podcasts are also a brilliant way of learning about new things and interesting goings on in the fibre/yarny world whilst you get on with (quiet!) household chores or routine work or even whilst you’re out and about if you listen on a mobile device.

Not in shop news but a commission I was given lately was to dye some beautiful handspun for a friend of mine. I wouldn’t normally accept a challenge for business like this because there’s too much room for mishap. Yarn dyeing and fibre dyeing both have their different challenges and with dyeing yarn as semi-solids in repeatable small batches you have to be meticulous about weights, measurements and note-taking to reduce the variables. (all that beautiful hard work someone else has put in combined with bulk dyeing and permanent dyes – yikes, it’s scary!). However this is a good friend and we’d discussed it carefully and with a bit of lateral thinking I was able to work around my limitations and it’s good to push yourself every now and then.

I love the colour she chose from some new shades I’m hoping to introduce to the range soon – a soft sky blue I’ve called Halcyon. I thought you might like to see it drying on the line. In this photo it looks similar to Squill but it’s a slightly more smokey shade. We’re both very pleased how it turned out and I can’t wait to see her finished sweater.

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Over in my Ravelry group I’ve done a little tweaking of threads. We’ve a brand new chat thread – the old one was very long! It’s always interesting to hear what people are getting up to in their spare time and see photos of their crafting or travels or pets. With members from all around the globe it gives a window into another person’s world which is one of the nicest things about online communities I think.

Sadly I had to say goodbye to my most loved sheep last week. She was the very first Gotland I bought in 2006 and gave so much love and fun over her life as well as a few stressful times to keep me on my toes! I’m going to miss her so much. But in the vein of fresh starts and being positive, having said goodbye to a few older faces in my funny mixed fibre flock this year it’s giving me ideas about who we could invite to join us and increase the variety of fleeces… Who knows!

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Knit 1, Love 1

Sometimes life catches you up … or out. I do a lot of other things I don’t mention online that aren’t to do with my textile “life” and as with anything, you go through times outside of your control that feel like you’re slogging against the odds with no end in sight, that every throw of the dice turns out unlucky. I often remind myself that life is not about the hand of cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them that matters. But rightly or wrongly, lately it felt like I’ve staked everything on chimeras and false hopes and disheartened was beginning to lose sight of things that matter.

Social media has opened many doors for me, both in terms of work as well as leisure and friendships with wonderful people I wouldn’t otherwise have had the good fortune to know. I’ve generally kept things low key in the years I’ve interacted online and escaped the more toxic aspects of it for which I’m grateful. However even in the happy world of textiles I generally inhabit, the political events of this summer meant that an edginess has seeped even into that. I’m not built for conflict and don’t generally engage in things that involve it and yet still was unable to escape the bile rolling up my social media feeds. The pervading air of petulance and anger on all sides indicated just how childish adults can be at times and left me confused, hurt and sick at heart because it doesn’t reflect how the people I know deal with things in the real world.

Social media not only opens doors, sometimes it opens a pandora’s box. Realising this, almost too late, caused much distress in recent weeks – for all its good aspects it’s important to hold onto the fact that neutral things can be used for ill as well as good. After a deal of thinking and with the prospect of family visiting I made the decision to close my online shop for a couple of weeks to give myself a space in which to spend time with loved ones as well as take a look at the creative and admin aspects of the business ready for some new stock and ideas.

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Being able to walk away from some online activity and focussing on the humanity of face to face conversations and eye contact with people who’ve known me since I was a child, simple things like laughter, hugs, board games, writing postcards instead of texts, drawing, reading from paper instead of screens … restored some balance. For me I am happiest outside in nature and several days spent in, on or under saltwater washed away some of the tears.

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As a childless person I sometimes feel inadequate and clumsy around small people. However I am blessed with a large collection of nephews and nieces as well as my goddaughter and these youngsters I love with as fierce a love as though they were my own. I love watching them grow and develop, learning new things, experiencing life and becoming the next generation to take responsibility. Family is central; nowhere is the sacrificial nature of love demonstrated more strongly than in a family. Genetics do not make you all the same and yet you are bound together by love. Love is sometimes an act of will, choosing to be excellent to those you are responsible towards even when you don’t feel like it. And knowing in return your family will always have your back even when they don’t really understand gives security that you can thrive within that nothing else can.

Patience is a virtue they say. It’s not really one of my virtues and having to slow down to accommodate tiny people, whether the footsteps, understanding or physical skills is also good for my soul. Going out for a morning’s kayaking I was ready long before my family, underestimating the time it takes to get children ready to go out. Sweating in my wetsuit and feeling every so slightly impatient, I picked up my knitting and headed off to sit outdoors and wait productively whilst my lively nephew and niece were wrangled and processed into teeny tiny wetsuits by their parents. I must have looked very odd knitting attired thus but then I’m used to being the oddball. Shortly a shadow appeared at my side and peered curiously at my hands.

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Aunty, why are you knitting?

Because I like knitting, darling.

But you like animals!

Yes. I like lots of things, not just animals and knitting.

What things do you like Aunty?

Well, I like reading and cooking and being outside and music and making things. Lots of things.

Do you like people?

Yes I like people.

Do you like friends?

Yes. I love my friends and family.

….

A short pause whilst my niece processed this as I finished my round and put my knitting away. And then…

Aunty, you like everything!!!

I hid my smile at the simplicity of her four year old’s perspective on life. Kissed her bonny wee head and we went off down to the beach hand in hand to play, kayak, swim and build a series of sandcastles decorated with shells and sea glass along the shore, one for each member of our family.

But maybe she’s right. If you like people and love friends and family maybe you really do “like everything”. Not in the individual micro sense of course, nobody likes every single thing. But in the overall macro sense. Love really does make the world go round; a choice, an act of will, sometimes through gritted teeth and over misunderstanding, pain and differences. With love, those differences then become the things that bind us together, not the things that divide us.

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