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31 Soon ...

Bracken fronds just beginning to unfurl.Hanks of yarn ready to be dyed.

Soon the bracken will be waist high again. Walking less travelled paths I'll find myself wading through it, trying not to trample it, inhaling its earthy, sour green scent when I do.

Soon more yarn will be mordanted and made ready for the dye pot. Small sample skeins of limited yardage, just enough to showcase whatever colours I can squeeze from locally gathered wild plants.

Soon normal service will be resumed here, honest. We've been all at sea this week chez nous, more 'life' as before, mostly short term stuff that's now behind us, small storms that we've weathered.

When it comes to making art, life has a habit of getting in the way ... How the hell with the emotional and physical demands, the financial responsibilities and the sheer domestic chaos that are part of having a family - do you keep creativity anywhere near the top of your 'to do' list?
Rachel Power

I wish I had the answer, not least because I'm trying to become again the artist and maker* I once was, before 'life' derailed me some years ago. It could all end in tears but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Are you struggling to sustain your creative self while also sustaining your family - your children if you have any, your partner, perhaps your elderly parents?

I realised the world, everyone in it practically, will give more and more responsibility to any woman who will continue to accept it. And when the other responsibilites are too great, her responsibility to herself must go. Or she has to take a thoroughly selfish position and refuse the world, and then acccept whatever guilt there is.
Kate Wilhelm

I wonder, does that sound familiar? Except I'm refusing to feel guilty or consider myself selfish. How about you?

(I'm thinking this is a topic I will return to in more depth.)

* I'm trained in textiles, print, and photography.


93 Other Ways

Sedum, yarn, and Robert MacFarlane.

Oops! I didn't intend to take a ten day break there but 'life' got in the way for a wee while. Not least among a number of encumbrances was an intermittent problem with our internet connection. It's sorted now but I made good use of my offline time while it lasted. I caught up with some reading, potted on my sedum cuttings, and harvested more nettle tops for the dye pot. Yes, dear reader, I've dyed yet more yarn beige, nettle beige; a pretty beige, a wearable beige (if not by me, wrong skin tones), but beige all the same*. Luckily beige is a colour I'm rather fond of, particularly when teamed with white.

According to the July 1874 edition of Godey's magazine, "Beige is the name given to sheep's wool in its natural state, that is, of a brownish-grey colour, and, by analogy, it is applied to materials of the shade, whether their colour be a natural one or acquired by dyeing."

Rebecca has written (here and here) about the ubiquity of beige among the natural dyes, her initial hope for more showy colours, and her subsequent appreciation of the subtler palette her neighbourhood plants (mostly) yield. I find myself choosing to reduce those same subtle hues to softer whispers. I am determined to tread lightly, to gather the bare minimum of each dye stuff, a handful, perhaps two, three at most, and to dye (local whenever possible) pure wool yarns*. Six weeks in to our Waysides collaboration this minimalist approach is what's working for me. I've yet to properly articulate why but I'd hazard that it has something to do with the ephemerality of the traces an 'eco aware' walker leaves on the land.

My reading is all of walking. The MacFarlane (a reread, although my original copy was borrowed and not returned, necessitating the purchase of another), Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: A History of Walking (another reread), and Philip Marsden's Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place (a first time read). I won't say more about these books just now because I'm planning a proper review post, but I will highly recommend all three.

Are you a walker? A Robert MacFarlane fan? A fellow appreciator of beige? Do tell.

* There will probably be silk scarves too, but not quite yet. And the yarn may well become lace of some variety, if I don't weave something with it.


121 Pockets

Image of a sprig of wild cherry blossom placed on an open book.

I purpose, when the summer is come, to walk with a book in my pocket ... what I read under a hedge, or at the side of a pond, that pond and that hedge will always bring to my remembrance ...
William Cowper, 1789

Except it was such a glorious day that I began in spring. And my 1911 World's Classics pocket-sized edition of William Cowper's Letters proved to be the perfect walking companion. Not a text that's to everyone's taste I imagine, but eighteenth century letters were central to my (sadly now abandoned) PhD and I have never lost my delight in them. And to feel the just-so weight of a small hardback book balanced in a hand not much bigger than it, that's a joy no Kindle can equal.

Just one snag, I need bigger coat pockets. And substitute pockets for when I'm not wearing a coat. I pick up so many bits and bobs when out walking, and then there's all the dog related paraphernalia, and my iPhone as well. Eighteenth century women, of all social classes, used "capacious and practical" tie-on pockets ... perhaps I should too. That, or I need a Tall Yarns Knitting Smock, or something similar.

Clearly I drafted this post a few days ago, before winter snuck in its last hurrah ... it's blowing a hooley out there now and jeez it's cold. This morning my pockets contained not a book and a scrumped sprig of wild cherry blossom but more alder cones (casualties of the strong winds), a couple of handfuls of nettle tops (for dye extraction this time, not soup making), and my oldest hand knitted woolly gloves (the ones I wore to pick the nettles, the ones with the previously unnoticed holes ... ouch!).

Eighteen Maxims of Neatness and Order, written by Theresa Tidy in 1819, lists a few pocket essentials:
It is also expedient to carry about you a purse, a thimble, a pincushion, a pencil, a knife and a pair of scissors, which will not only be an inexpressible source of comfort and independence, by removing the necessity of borrowing, but will secure the privilege of not lending these indispensable articles.
She also mentions needle, thread, and a pocket handkerchief, the latter "an unladylike article of litter" that should not be "exposed to view" for want of a pocket to put it in. I wonder what she'd have made of dog poop bags!

If you're as fascinated by old hand-sewn tie-on pockets as I am - some are exquisitely embroidered, some pieced from scraps, some plain, workaday and clearly well used, and a few are knitted - you might like my Pockets Pinterest board, or VADS Pockets of History.

What are you most likely to have in your pockets, do tell.

(As always, this is not a sponsored post. I'm rather enamoured of all things Tall Yarns, but no one has paid me to say that.)
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