Putting one stitch in front of another

Hello all. Where oh where have I been for the past month and a half? Well, I've been feeling under the weather, in many ways quite literally; the storm that huffed and puffed and blew our neighbour opposite's fence down didn't help. This time of year hits me hard, but at long last I seem to be emerging from the big black maelstrom that was gathering above my head.

In the winter months I find solace in posting loved ones little treats, in an effort to raise our collective spirits as the nights draw in and the days grow shorter.


I have also been spring cleaning (so appropriate for November, I know), and my bedroom is finally an approximation of what I've been wishing it to be for years (though there's still bunting to be put up; one can never have too much bunting...). More importantly, however, my room is clean and tidy, which I must say is something of a revelation to me. Who knew this would lead to me actually knowing where things are?! The plan now is to apply my (somewhat idiosyncratic) organisational methods (business cards go in a box with embroidered patches, obviously) to the makeshift "studio" in the loft, which is currently crammed to bursting with fabric, thread and other gubbins.

Noelle the narwhal "helping" me get organised
And yet more gubbins are pouring in; I seem to be becoming a receptacle for all the unloved fabric and needlecraft equipment that has been languishing in the attics of loved ones and acquaintances; not that I'm complaining in the slightest! I've had a surfeit of gorgeous '60s and '70s quilting cottons of late, and other bits and bobs which aren't quite to my taste are taking a little trip to Significant Seams to be turned into all manner of exciting textile-y goodness.

A little peg lady who sat atop a swag bag of fabrics donated to me; I think she looks like a little mini-me, don't you?

Besides gathering a snowball of beautiful fabrics, there is so much else to look forward to right now; mine and Pip's two year (really??) anniversary is coming up on December 1st; Christmas holed up in the Highlands with my family and an almost obscene amount of delicious food; returning to Hampton Court in January invigorated and ready to give my training in the ancient art of hand embroidery my all. Until then, I shall be taking time to look after myself and enjoy the season, and above all simply putting one stitch in front of another.

A rainbow on my window one recent morning reminded me to be grateful for the little things in life



"Working towards normality": the story of my life

Tea, comforting films, Pip, and the spirit of the Suffragettes are helping me power through


Colours of the deep blue (and green and purple and pink and orange and grey) sea

The beginnings of a coral garden


                                   
Tarnished jewel-toned seawater cottons and metallics



Jacquard Stitch (Please try to ignore the surrounding spaghetti junction; Canvas Work is like sausages; it's delicious, but you don't want to see how it was made)


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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Mothball Moments


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Mothball moments
Tumbleweed moments
Rolling on through the hours,
the years,
rolling on through 
the centuries.
This page is about the inertia of depression, when it can feel like the whole world is wintry and pressing down on you, yet passing you by. This is how the heroine of What To Look For In Winter feels, wedded to the cold-hearted Winter.
I wasn’t quite sure how to incorporate the imagery of the farmer into the last couple of pages of What To Look For In Winter; he didn’t quite fit in with my intended narrative. A tenuous link I can make is that the earth is rolled by the plough, just as the moments roll past the heroine of the fairytale.
As with the earlier “When I married Winter, the world was put on permafrost” page, I tore through the paper slightly with needle and thread, and patched up the reverse of my embroidered page with another embroidery, a fallen oak leaf which I imagine may be one of the fallen leaves of the illustration opposite the leaf, which features my very favourite animal (the fox, not the hounds!)
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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:

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.