Sunday, 6 September 2020

Knitting myself in Knots

An update on the hand since I was last here...
I turned up for my scheduled surgery having had nil by mouth for 12 hours to find I wasn't on the list for the day. During the long wait to find out what was happening, a young lad with an identical injury to mine asked me if I had broken my hand fighting. Being rather alarmed that I looked the sort of person who might sustain an injury due to fisticuffs I explained 'my fall' but wish I had told a little white lie. It probably would have made his day to have met a boxing granny! Eventually I got to see the surgeon for him to tell me he didn't think I needed surgery after all, which was actually a relief, although probably quite convenient given I'd been missed off the schedule. I didn't really want anyone cutting my hand open so I didn't mind. Apparently there is a slightly higher risk of me breaking it again without a pin so it means my fighting days are over but I reckon I can live with that.

The cumbersome cast was removed and replaced by a splint with some pretty snazzy purple strapping, allowing some freedom of movement in my forefinger and thumb. The world was my oyster with such a nimble pincer movement, although I soon discovered picking up anything heavier than a jigsaw piece was pretty much impossible.

Much as I appreciated being lent the jigsaws, after finishing the second one I really had scaled the heights of boredom. I couldn't cope with this for another four weeks. Spying some knitting that had been languishing on the needles for the past six months I had a mad idea. This was the first of a pair of Latvian mittens that I offered to knit for a friend who didn't understand the pattern. I didn't like to tell her that I didn't understand the pattern either, so this was about the third reincarnation of mitten no. one which was why it had been abandoned. There were just about six rows left on the thumb and it would be finished. What if I could adapt my pincer movement to knitting? I found by supporting the knitting with my left hand I could grab the yarn and wrap it around the needle with my thumb and finger of the broken hand. It was slow, it was cumbersome, but I could do it and after about three nights I finished the first mitt whilst watching endless episodes of the Fruity Knitting podcast.  In fact I have learned so much about knitting during those few rounds of the mitten thumb I think I now sort of understand the pattern and the second mitt will be a doddle. Well it might be once I can use my hand properly again. At least I have cast on and I'm ready to go.

Inspired my my mitten success I thought I would practise on something a little less fiddly and found a kit I bought last year from my lovely friend Lucy Locket for a hot water bottle cover. Except it wasn't less fiddly and in fact was cast on over two circular needles creating a seamless bag, something I had never done before. But my technique has improved and I can now even support the right hand needle in my right hand... and all that thumb twiddling is proving to be excellent physio.

So now I have a lovely new hot water bottle cover which I don't really need but that's beside the point!

Something else I have discovered I can do with just a finger and thumb is press those buttons that say 'buy now' and I seem to have purchased several more balls of yarn for the literally hundreds more knitting projects that I'm planning. I don't like to do things by half... I'm all or nothing me.

In between all the knitting planning, knitting watching and knitting doing I've also found time to record the final videos for my next online class "Free machine fun - drawing with the needle". Some of my stitching is a bit wonky but I can draw better with the sewing machine than I can with a pencil so it has all worked out quite well and is a lovely introduction to free machine embroidery for the beginner or anyone wanting to brush up their skills. You can find out more about it here if you are interested:

So that's my news for the past couple of weeks. I've still got another week or so of wearing this splint so plenty of time to discover more skills... which funnily enough don't include cooking, washing up, vacuuming, ironing etc. But I think I can cope with that.


Sunday, 23 August 2020

Just when you least expect it

You guessed I would be back didn’t you, although I’m here for reasons I would never have guessed! Since I was last here it has been quite a month one way or another. 


It all began with my daughter in law being taken into hospital in labour three weeks early. After four very stressful days for them (and considerable worry for us), the labour wasn’t progressing and so Rosie was delivered by emergency caesarean. Fortunately, all was well eventually and we have another beautiful and very tiny granddaughter

Meanwhile, Stewart had received a call that his father was very poorly. He drove straight up to Scotland not knowing if he would get to see him. As it happens his lovely Dad hung for another week before passing away peacefully, so Stewart, his Mum and sister were all able to be with him. Not entirely unexpected but sad, nevertheless. Meanwhile the dog and I carried on at home, with one more weekend of Open Windows and then the launch of my online course. Amid all the stress and sadness, it was an incredibly successful launch and the class was full within a week. So far so good and there have already been some beautiful results, so I have started to plan and film for some more shorter classes to be launched in the autumn, although I’ve had to put a temporary stop to that for now. Read on and you’ll understand why.

Couple of the finished landscapes from my course.

Of course, we have since both returned to Scotland for the funeral, which was a beautiful send off for a much loved man, despite only being allowed twenty people, all masked. Given what a tough few weeks we’d had, I suggested we stop off for a couple of days break on our journey home. Despite what seemed like the entire country choosing to vacation in the UK we eventually found a fabulous B & B in Ambleside in the Lake District.

The town was too crowded for my liking and there was an awful amount of litter everywhere, but it was still beautiful and the weather was kind to us.  There was a lot of rain overnight, however it was dry during the day and we managed two wonderful days of walking. Until…

I slipped on some wet mossy rocks on a steep descent falling heavily on my lower back, putting my right hand out to stop my fall. After lying in the wet for what seemed like an age, I got up, brushed myself off and walked gingerly back to our B & B. After a hot shower I decided I was a bit shaken up and bruised but okay and we even managed to go out for pizza. Fortunately, I can still hold a wine glass in my left hand.

We drove home the following day and despite not having much pain in my hand it was very bruised and swollen and I couldn’t grip anything or apply any pressure so called 111 for advice. After endless questions and answers, which I then had to repeat an hour later to the clinical practitioner who called back, I was told I should not go to A & E but rest, ice, compress and elevate my hand for 72 hours. 72 hours later, with virtually no improvement, I called 111 again as advised. Despite them having all my notes cue all the same questions all over again… four hours later when I got the call back I went through them yet again for a fourth time… questions designed to ascertain if I had internal bleeding, was about to have a heart attack or had contracted an infection. All I needed to know was could I get myself an x ray! And the diagnosis… ‘I can’t tell from your answers whether it is bone or soft tissue damage’ No shit Sherlock! As a result, I was advised to call my GP who could book me in for an x ray… hooray! Except after going through it all again, I discovered he could indeed book me in for an x ray (although he was reluctant as he didn’t think my hand looked swollen enough from the photo) but because of Covid there would be a six week wait. So finally, the next morning we drove 25 miles to a walk in critical care centre, where the staff were wonderful.  I was seen within an hour, received x rays of my hand… and received the diagnosis. A spiral fracture of my fourth metacarpal on my right hand, plastered to my fingertips there and then and referred to plastic surgery to have a pin inserted, which will happen tomorrow!

I’m not complaining… when it works our NHS is wonderful and when I finally received it, my care was excellent but it does feel like the right hand hasn’t a clue what the left is doing… bit like me at the moment really. The nurse who did my plaster agreed 111 needs to get its act together!


So here  I am trying hard not to focus on all the things  I can’t do which are many, like write, draw, paint, knit, crochet, sew, tie my shoelaces, cut up my own food etc and instead think of all the things I can do, which are few!


I can type very slowly with one finger of my left hand, which is why I’ve written a blog post, although it has taken all morning so I can’t really see it becoming a regular activity.


I can read and fortunately have a pile of books to get through. I have just finished ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ which I really enjoyed despite finding bits of it hard to believe. I also felt the last couple of chapters were superfluous and it could have done without all the explaining… hard to say much without giving away spoilers but I prefer an author who leaves something to the imagination. I have also read ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Maggie O’Farrell who always writes a good story and I’m currently loving ‘Moon Tiger’ by Penelope Lively.


Of course, I can watch TV and we’re working through the entire ‘Line of Duty’ boxset.  I’m not sure how we missed this up until now but it is edge of your seat amazing. So cleverly scripted and well-acted, I love it.


Well meaning friends in the art community have suggested it is an opportunity for exploring work with my non dominant hand but I’m not really feeling the urge for that right now. Maybe in a week or so when I’m really bored.


So that’s my news. I’m now going to stop as I have cramp in my left hand from all this unexpected activity. I’m going to see what I can rustle up for lunch as Stewart is at work and I’m on my own today… could be interesting. And then I’m going for a walk (without the dog, who I can’t manage on my own) to borrow a jigsaw from a friend, although it now looks like it's going to rain and I'm not sure I can get my coat on. Can’t remember when I last did a jigsaw!


Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Venturing into the Unknown

I realised the other day I have been writing this blog for thirteen years this month, which coincided with me thinking again that perhaps it is time I stopped. I'm no longer very sure who my target reader is or whether they are still reading and I am no longer very sure why I am writing. As I write less and less frequently it is feeling as though the blog is gradually fading away and maybe that's the way it should end rather than with a big announcement from me. So I'm not here to to say that this is my last post (although it could be) but I'm not sure when I'll be back again.

Last time I was here I spoke of feeling a bit 'flat' and I know a few of you identified with that feeling. We're all getting a bit fed up with the current situation yet know it's far from over. But I'm not one to stay feeling that way for long and the last couple of weeks have been quite exciting. The Open Windows project was hugely successful and far exceeded my expectations. I ended up creating over fifty drawing in the end, of 71 people (five of them twice), 11 dogs (2 of them twice!), 2 cats, 2 goats, an owl, a budgie, a sock puppet and Iggle Piggle! I sat outside and spent my weekends drawing, stopping to chat to visitors who came to see the portraits as well as those just passing. We have got to know our neighbours better and made new friends in the village. It became quite the talking point.

We were lucky with the weather too and of the eight days it was only last Saturday that was wet. I started out sitting outside but as the rain started I retreated to just inside my front door.

I sat for a while working (more about that in a minute) but as the rain became heavier it was obvious that no-one was going to be hanging around looking at pictures in my window, so I called it a day. But Sunday I was back outside for a great last day. If it hadn't been for the virus, Open Studios would have taken place as usual and I would never have come up with the crazy idea of filling the forty panes in my living room window with portraits of friends and neighbours. Sometimes it takes a change of circumstance to make us think outside the box and venture into the unknown.

And so to my next venture into the unknown which is online teaching. I had occasionally thought it was something I might try one day, but there was never any real incentive until of course, all of my face to face teaching stopped. And so for the past three weeks every spare minute has been spent recording and editing videos and adapting one of my most popular courses into an online course which goes live this Saturday.
It is rather exciting but slightly nerve wracking too... I haven't quite finished editing and uploading the videos (that's what I was doing while the rain kept me inside my doorway at the weekend). Enrolment for my Machine Textured Landscapes course has already opened and I'm discovering how much time it takes to answer all the questions that keep coming in and keeping an eye on everything. A bit like walking around a classroom checking on everyone I suppose. So although it has been keeping me awake at night it is mostly VERY exciting!

So if you fancy learning how to stitch your own landscape like the one below you can find out more by clicking on this link

So here I am venturing into unknown territory, not sure what the future is going to hold... and already thinking about the next big new idea. So maybe I shouldn't stop blogging just yet or you will never find out what that is. And it's a good one!

Monday, 13 July 2020

Out of Sorts

How are you all? Well, busy, staying sane I hope.
I feel I'm managing two out of three most of the time but life does feel strange and I feel a little adrift and out of sorts. We are fortunate that we are healthy and our family are all well and we live in a beautiful area where it's easy to get out and walk or meet up with friends and family at a distance so I'm not really complaining. We are a lot better off than most but life is feeling a little flat.

Time to focus on the good things I think...

The first couple of weekends of our alternative to open studios have gone well and although the first weekend was a little breezy I managed to sit outside and chat to loads of people who came to see my portraits... all at a safe distance of course!
You can see all the portraits here.

And in between visitors there was time to catch up with my art journal.

There was a trip out to Aldeburgh for my birthday. A friend had been the week before and said it was relatively quiet so we decided to risk it. It was another breezy day but we managed a lovely long walk along the coast.

I always like to see the magnificent sculpture The Scallop by Maggi Hambling and just breath the sea air and listen to the sounds of the shore... waves breaking and gulls calling.

We ate fish and chips from the bag, sitting on the prom, which always makes them taste better. And although there were people were around it was easy to keep our distance and feel safe.

And when we got home there was the most amazing birthday cake that Stewart had ordered for me. Fortunately we had people to share it with and slices were delivered, although we still managed several slices each. My dear husband doesn't believe in buying small when large is on offer!

I'm enjoying a lot more reading and I'm currently enjoying Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo although I don't think I will finish it in time for our reading group Zoom meeting on Wednesday.

Today I actually picked some blackberries and although they will be enjoyed for breakfast tomorrow it is way too early in the year for blackberry picking! The world is definitely out of sorts... it's not only me!

And great excitement because tomorrow I have a hair appointment, which feels shallow and trivial but I can't wait. I might even manage a bit of lippy and something other than comfy trousers, although as I will be wearing my face mask, lipstick might be surplus to requirements!

So not much to complain about really... trying to live for the moment and not worry too much about the uncertainty of our future.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Forty Portraits

Hello! How are you all?

I really thought when we went into lockdown that I would return to regular blogging, maybe a couple of times a week but it would seem that the opposite has been true. Maybe there's just not much to say as the days take on a repetitive quality. A bit like my daily phone call to my Mum where the conversations follow the same pattern... "Hi, how are you?", "I'm fine, how are you?", Good, thank you. Nothing new happening here", " No, nothing much happening here either but at least the sun is shining." etc. etc. 

My last post was on the last day in May and here I am just about sneaking in on the last day of June. To be fair though, I have been rather busy. One of the events to be cancelled this year was Cambridge Open Studios. It was disappointing but obviously it is not a good idea to open up homes and studios to the general public amidst a global pandemic. Instead one of the members has organised an alternative event, Cambridge Open Windows. About 150 members are taking part by display art in their windows during the weekends of July, for people to see whilst out walking, creating an art trail. It's a great idea but a slight problem for me is that my only street facing windows are comprised of several small panes, not creating a great frame for artwork. My living room window has 40 separate window panes. So I came up with the bright idea of creating 40 new artworks to fit within each pane... and then the even brighter idea of making portraits of local residents so that it wasn't just an art trail but more of a game of "Guess Who".

Well long time readers won't be surprised will they.... I'm full of bright ideas, me! And so using our villages facebook groups and word of mouth I asked people to send me a photo of themselves so that I could create small portraits. I've used pencil, pen, paint and collage to create unique portraits of people of all ages. I've discovered that drawing children is SO hard... the last thing I want to do is give people ugly children! Older faces with a bit of character (i.e wrinkles) are much easier. It has taken almost every spare minute over the past month and tonight I finished the final picture. There are 40 pictures of 58 people, eight dogs (all different breeds), two cats, an owl, a budgie and a sock monster (best not to ask). The final one was of a face I see every day. Luckily he likes it but everyone else has to wait until the weekend before they see their picture.

In other news, I helped youngest son move out of his flat, even though he had been living with us for two months during lockdown, and into a new flat share with his girlfriend. The old flat took us all day to clean. After Jacob had moved in with us, his old flatmate didn't bother to clean, wash dishes, pick anything up etc so you can imagine the mess. There have been trips to the dump (oh the queues), lots of packing and lifting and endless journeys to and fro to a deserted Cambridge. On the bright side, at least parking wasn't a problem and being in town meant we had a couple of picnics in the park with son no. two and his wife. 

My next project is online teaching and I'm developing some courses based on some of my established classes. Getting my head around the technology has been quite a learning curve but this old dog is learning some new tricks and I'm hoping to launch my first course in August. If you are remotely interested be sure to sign up to my newsletter (link in the sidebar) for the latest updates. I've been practising my video editing skills by making more free YouTube tutorials that you can find here. Please do subscribe to my channel as once I get 100 subscribers I get more flexibility in what I can do. Thank you!

So that's what I've been up to... maybe I'll be back before the end of July, but I'm not making promises!

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Lockdown Cooking

How are you all? Still staying safe I hope. Despite the endless confusing information and bending of rules here in the UK (which makes me very angry but I'm not going there) we are pretty much living our lives much the same as the past ten weeks. We're staying at home, going out for walks but keeping our distance and supermarket shopping when necessary but that's about it. We have had one or two meetings with family members over the past couple of weeks which has been wonderful seeing them after so long, but still outside and at a distance. I needed some sandpaper during the week so actually ventured out to the DIY store but on seeing the queue outside I decided I didn't need it that urgently so turned around and came back home. I have no desire to rush back to pubs and restaurants or anywhere that people are gathering. It all feels so unnecessary. The jury is still out about getting my hair cut... Stewart did seem rather alarmed when I suggested I could shave my head!

So now that the demand for scrubs has pretty much stopped and I have used up my supply of mask making elastic I'm looking at other ways to stay busy besides painting all day. I've had a couple of moderately successful sough dough loaves from my starter, which I named Vincent Van Dough, which isn't looking very lively in this photo... but it has only just been fed and returned to the fridge. But then in the heat of last week I decided I couldn't endure another summer living with the Aga turned on. I was literally wilting in the heat and seemed to have a constant headache. So we bought a portable two ring hob and the Aga went off. The kitchen is so much more comfortable and our electricity bill has dropped by 75%. I think this could be the decider for it going for good!

So what to do with poor old Vincent with no oven in which to bake bread? I do have a bread maker so decided it was worth experimenting . I mixed the dough, kneaded it and let it prove before adding it to the bread maker for the longest cycle. I cooked a brick! I was all for throwing it out but the men of the house who will eat anything decided it was worth investigating. And surprisingly it was actually okay with a good sourdough flavour and suitably chewy texture, so probably worth doing again.

But I did also discover sough dough starter makes incredible pancakes so it would appear that Vincent will live on!

I then received a wonderful surprise gift in the post from our friends in the Netherlands, who know I like cooking as much as I appreciate art... Modern Art Desserts. On seeing the wonderful Mondrian cake on the cover my heart sank a little as I thought I wouldn't be able to make any of the desserts without an oven. But on reading there were several that do not require baking.

So On Friday I made these elegant little Panne Cotta based on an artwork by Spanish artist Rosana Castrillo Diaz. A layer of coffee flavoured panne cotta set at an angle, with a layer of liqueur jelly separating it from a layer of maple syrup flavoured panne cotta. An awful lot of work and several dirty saucepans over a period of about six hours but so worth it! Only in lockdown would I spend the time making such a special occasion dessert destined for our Saturday lunch but the Mondrian cake will have to wait until the autumn when the Aga goes back on.

I even managed to find some edible lustre dust to make the jelly layers sparkle.

As well as cooking there has been a fair bit of reading and I have just finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which I loved. I was so engrossed in the characters that I didn't want it to end so I have immediately picked up a God in Ruins, despite having read it only a few years ago with our reading group. Not a sequel exactly but the continuing story of one of the central characters from Life After Life. It's not often I read a contemporary novel more than once but I'm enjoying it just as much second time around and it's made me think of other books I might want to reread.

Our reading group has continued to meet via zoom calls although it's not quite so easy to have a discussion. As it happens our book for June is another Kate Atkinson - Big Sky, the latest in the Jackson Brodie series. Have you read anything good lately? Or cooked anything exciting either for that matter?

I've not been great at keeping up with blogs or replying to comments etc lately so do forgive me and pop by and say hello! I miss you!

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Lockdown Life

Well hello! Despite my absence on this blog I'm still here, still keeping virus free, and ridiculous though sounds for someone who is suddenly left with no work, I'm really busy. The days seem to fly by. Most days you will find me at my sewing machine where I have moved on to making scrubs and gowns for a local group that is supplying hospitals, hospices and the like. If you had told me three months ago I would have become an expert at fashioning garments from duvet covers I would have thought it a ridiculous idea... but that is what I am doing. I reckon I'd give the contestants on the Sewing Bee a run for their money! I've lost count of how many sets I have now made but enough to have given myself a whole new wardrobe should I wish to dress in old sheeting. I have the fabric waiting to be cut out for two new dresses for myself but they will have to wait. After all I'm not going anywhere so don't need anything new to wear.

I have been enjoying customising the pockets and making my own labels. Totally silly, as this probably takes as much time as the rest of the garment but it keeps me amused and hopefully brings a smile to someone else's face too.

My favourite set of scrubs so far have been this Winnie the Pooh set. Some of the hospitals only want plain garments but others are quite happy to take the patterned ones.

It seems wrong to me that our key workers should be relying on volunteers to make protective garments from cast off bedding... but they do and so I am happy to help.

When I'm not making gowns or scrubs I have been making lots more masks... over 50 at the last count. These have gone to family and friends and whoever happens to ask for them. Some people have asked to buy them but despite my lack of income at the moment, it feels wrong to profit from the current situation.... not a sentiment shared by everyone as apparently masks have been selling for extortionate prices on the internet. But I have had some interesting gifts and exchanges (as well as donations to charity) for some of the masks I have made... wine, flowers, freshly laid eggs, a chilli plant, home grown garlic... and wellies! I rather like the idea of this barter system! If you want to make your own I have a tutorial here... just make the elastic a little bit longer... about 6"

When I'm not sewing you can find me pottering in the garden or painting in my studio... I'm now starting to put some of my paintings for sale so be sure to follow me on Instagram if you are interested. I'm taking part in something called the artist support pledge. Artists who have found their income suddenly depleted are offering work for sale for less than £200 and once they reach £1000 in sales they pledge to spend £200 on the work of another artist. Some artists are obviously more successful than others... I've still a way to go! 

There has also been a bit of baking. I have finally learned how to make sourdough bread and there is a jar of starter languishing in my fridge ready for the next loaf. And in the evenings I'm usually knitting or crocheting whilst watching something on Netflix or the like.

My latest make was this little cardigan for our newest arrival. Our granddaughter, Reagan, was born a week ago. It's hard not to have baby cuddles with her or her little cousin who is now two and half months already... but better to know they are staying safe at home. We are hoping by the time the third grandchild arrives this year (in August) we might be able to see them all.

So that's pretty much my life in Lockdown at the moment. We might have been asked to 'Stay Alert" but but we're continuing to 'Stay at Home' unless we have to go out. How are you doing?