Winter's End


A week before the season’s end, I’ve finished my winter project. What To Look For In Winter? ends on a slightly melancholy note, with the heroine, who is now ready for a new season and new love, wondering what to look for when the weather turns colder again.
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But what to
look for
in winter?
The yellow thread that I chose to embroider the phrase picks up the celandine and coltsfoot blossoms in the illustration, and contrasts with the blue moth print paper which lines the index.
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Moths will continue as a motif in my next project. Now that I’ve finished my modest winter undertaking, I feel ready for a  more ambitious make; I’m going to attempt my first quilt. The Constellation Quilt will focus on my character Polly Kettle,  and writing about  the stars and night.
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In the meantime, here’s the completed What To Look For In Winter, a winter’s worth of writing and sewing.

"When the gorse is out of bloom, then is kissing out of fashion"


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English Rose
Your lips
have thawed
And there’s a
Spring
in your step.
This penultimate page of What To Look For In Winter harks back to the very first page, which addresses the English Rose heroine of the tale/poem:
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The coming of spring has freed the English Rose from the cruel clutches of Winter, and now her heart and lips have thawed and she is ready for new life and new love. Only now will she truly “wilt no more“. There is a link between the original text and my own writing on this penultimate page; the mention of the folklore surrounding gorse and kissing and my mention of thawed lips, just as I wrote that the heroine’s lips were “too chapped and dry to kiss” on this page, which mentions and shows mistletoe:
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Only one more page to stitch, and then I will embark on possibly my most ambitious project yet; a narrative quilt on the subject of the stars.

Unfurling


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Ah, spring. The promise of new life, of green, of renewal. The promise of the seasons’, of life’s, cycles. I do a fair bit of recycling in my art and writing; my most recent page extended ideas of laddered hearts first explored in this cross stitch. These next two pages borrow from snippets of writing which have been revised over the years. It may not quite be spring, but I can feel myself growing more ambitious and optimistic for the months ahead… in a way I’m doing my own unfurling…
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My heart is thawing
Unfurling slow
as ferns under frost.
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Unfurling slow
as bowstring ferns
puckering up
their octopus
feelers.
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Fissures


What To Look For In Winter continues apace; the book is getting rather fat now (perhaps it’s fattening up for the winter?), and I’ve promised myself that it will be finished by, or on, February the 28th, ready for the onset of spring, by when, perhaps, I may have found precisely what to look for in winter.
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 Like roots split
the earth
Like fissures
in the ice
My heart
When held up
To the light
Was laddered.
I feel there is a hint of spring to this seemingly melancholy page; the heroine’s heart, may be laddered, broken, due to her treatment by her cruel husband Winter, or, like “fissures in the ice”, this laddering may be a sign that spring is on its way. You’ll have to wait to see the next few pages of What To Look For In Winter (and for me to stitch them!) to find out…
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Mothmetamorphosis


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As well as being a fairytale, What To Look For In Winter is taking on a fantastical element, with coats and people metamorphosing into moths…
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He pulled his coat
over me
his moth’s wings
And I was mothballed
moth-eaten
I blended into the
curtain
just like a moth.
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I like moths. They’re badass, melancholy winter butterflies, bewitched by the moon (so the Stitch Witch in me approves!)
I embroidered a moth for my series The Onion Cutters’ Club:
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Doubtless I’ll be using the lepidopterans as a motif in the future.
The text of this latest page of What To Look For In Winter is inspired in part by a grainy webcam self portrait I took in which I am blending into the curtain “just like a moth“.
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"A nice new winter coat"


I actually finished this latest page of What To Look For In Winter before I departed for Berlin, but had so much last minute packing etc. to do I didn’t find the time to post it here.
As with previous pages, I aimed for a marriage between the original text and the writing I laid over the accompanying image with needle and thread. The topic, too, is marriage; that of the narrator and “Winter”; a wintry fairytale.
As “The stoat in the foreground” of the illustration “has his semi-winter coat”, I thought I would clothe “Winter” in his best coat, keeping the cold out although he has “put the world on permafrost”.
He wore his best coat
(for it was Winter’s wedding)
And carried me over 
the ice.
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Winter carries the heroine over the threshold of the frozen lake and into his frozen fortress.
The next page of the original text, and my alteration of it, continue to mention coats… although they may not be all that they appear.
PS I borrowed the title of this blog post from one of my favourite Lily van Der Stokker wall paintings:

Ah, winters!


The hacking cough which I’ve had since before Christmas seems to finally be abating, and just in the nick of time; I’m off to far colder climes next week. The boyfriend and I are escaping to sub-zero Berlin, taking in cabaret, an abandoned Soviet amusement park, and German wine (gulp? Quite literally…) My excitement is mounting, particularly since I haven’t been out of the UK for four years, and is reaching a slightly worrying fever pitch (or maybe that’s just my cold). I will return on the 22nd with reams of photographs and stories to share here, I’m sure.
It may be a little late to be getting into the wintry spirit, but a recent visit to the Serpentine gallery has got me dreaming of a white Berlin even more; my friend Rohanne and I visited an exhibition of video artist Jonas Mekas there, which was filled with joyous imagery and poetry of the snowy season, including the typewritten proclamation “Ah, winters!”
Perhaps it’s all this dreamy imagery and dreamier day dreaming which has led to What To Look For In Winter turning into something of a frosty fairy tale.
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Winter has become personified as a man so cold he sets the world on permafrost when the heroine of the fairytale marries him.
I’m not sure if I can get away with blaming it on my cold, but I’ve made a couple of mistakes with these latest two pages; I got a bit too needle-happy with the “When I married Winter, the world was put on permafrost” page, and tore straight through the paper! However, a mistake can soon become a happy accident, and I patched up the hole with a teeny tiny pine cone embroidery which ties in with the narrative and illustration on the reverse of the stitched page.
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I accidentally omitted a comma after “kiss” on this page, and ran out of the right shade of blue thread just at the last minute of stitching! Here’s hoping my holiday will revivify me so I won’t make any more rookie mistakes!
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The wild blue yonder looms


I had a dream a month or so ago that I wrote a song about betrayal, cold hearts, and melancholy, the central metaphor of which was goose eggs.
This struck me as exactly the sort of song harpist and singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom would write, and I only wish I could.
Why do I mention this? Because whilst stitching the next altered page of What To Look For In Winter, a few lines from one of my favourite Joanna Newsom songs kept popping into my head:
And yonder, wild and blue,
The wild blue yonder looms
‘Til we are wracked with rheum
By roads, by songs entombed
~ from Swansea by Joanna Newsom


As the winter months roll on, and the nights draw in, I grow less and less inclined to venture out into the “wild blue yonder”. The world outside can seem very dark and lonely at this time of year; much better to curl up with your family (and Border Terrier!) in front of a fire or boxset.
As I mentioned in my previous post on What To Look For In Winter, the colder months can bring with them common-or-garden blues. However, as I am all too aware, for anyone with an underlying mental illness, it can be a much more trying time of year, bringing very real fears of the outside world. Thankfully so far this year my blues have been of that common-or-garden variety, although it can be something of a battle to keep anxieties on an even keel (aided by listening to lots of empowering Destiny’s Child, and, I’m even more ashamed to say, Cher’s “Believe“!) at times. I am incredibly grateful to be in such a good place, with such a good support network around me, this winter.
What To Look For In Winter will take the reader on a journey through the emotional highs and lows of winter, set in context with the changing winter landscape, and culminate in a spring unfurling, both literal and metaphorical.
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In the most recently completed pages of What To Look For In Winter, there is a juxtaposition between the loneliness felt by the speaker when confronted with the wide open “wild blue yonder”, and the waterbirds who “gather together in flocks”. It was somewhat serendipitous that this page happened to be so very blue!
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The prose of the original Ladybird text is almost magical, and charms me, as an (ever-so-slightly) whimsical adult, as much as I imagine it charmed its original readership of children in the early ’60s. Surely only the most hardened cynic could fail to be beguiled by a description of the half-decayed veins of leaves “remaining like delicate fairy skeletons“? Or perhaps I’m just a little too romantic for my own good? (It’s been suggested.

No-vember


No sun – no moon! No morn – no noon - No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel in any member - No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! - November!
This (abridged) poem by Thomas Hood seems to encapsulate the way many people feel about the penultimate month of the year. I’ve been having some conversations with friends and customers recently which would certainly seem to suggest so! Some friends have suggested that everything always goes wrong in November, and one customer in the café where I work wondered if it was in human’s mammalian nature to want to hibernate through the winter months; if perhaps the human race collectively has a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In (dis)honour of this miserable time of year, I am currently working on an altered book. What To Look For InWinter, written by E.L. Grant-Watson and illustrated by C.F. Tunnicliffe, was first published in 1959 by Ladybird Books. It invites young people into the wintry natural world and reveals for them the surprising activity and vivacity of the winter months, beginning with the end of autumn and ending with the very onset of spring.
By today’s standards the book is rather quaint, but nevertheless utterly enchanting. It’s made me stop and consider the wonders of winter as well as the hardships.
Therefore, I am embroidering my own texts on winter on to some of the illustrative pages, taking care that these have an interplay with the images, and with the words which go alongside them. I see this as a collaborative effort between the original writer and illustrator and myself, to create a work which is almostpsychogeographical.
The book itself has been weathered (and indeed, looks wintered) over the years; one side of the front cover has been chewed up (whether by mould or an animal I’m not sure).
I feel as if there is a real dialogue opened up for me, and hopefully for readers and viewers, by this book; is “what to look for in winter” what to look out for in winter – sickness, depression, and doldrums, or is it what to look hard for in winter, in spite of this – the strange beauty in all its sparse desolation, and the promise of spring?