Entries in making (8)

Tuesday
Mar062012

fare forward

I'm in a bit of a bind. Part panic, part paralysis, with this new year hurtling by so fast it's taking my breath away and this song going round in my mind. I need to decide what I'm going to commit to over this next year, and beyond, to make myself happy. The kind of intrinsic happiness that comes from doing something that you love and that leaves you with the sense of a day well lived. Something beyond the daily contentment of family: something entirely personal. These last years have been so full of parenting that this kind of decision was, more or less, redundant. Now, before another birthday comes, I feel I need to make that choice and get going. But making the choice between different options is where I come unstuck.

There are many things I love and that fire me up and make my world a brighter place. Some of those things - art, making, photography - are more simple pleasures. They don't cause me too many problems. But the writing that I guess I know is what I really need to commit to is where the fear lives. It's words that have always held me and exercised me and filled my secret corners. The trouble is, I'm not at my happiest whilst lost in words. It's too deep a descent into the world of the hidden, and the excavation of words and meaning is hard. I'm distracted - preoccupied - often lost. It's like being back in the forest and choosing the path that looks the most impenetrable. It may be that I have to exchange the comfort of a gentle, immediate form of happiness for the sort that comes when something hard has been achieved. When fears are faced down and seen off.

There's a small circle of blue breaking through the dense clouds that have suddenly taken away the promise of spring. Enough to make a sailor a pair of trousers my grandmother would say with satisfaction; knowing it was likely that the day would turn out well after all. I have most of this day in front of me and I won't make it better by indulging in yet more circular thought. I think I know what I've got to do. 

 

Tuesday
Jan242012

of books and colours

After the darkness of yesterday, today has been surprisingly colourful - despite the rain that's falling relentlessly. With time to spare before my pottery class I lost myself in nostalgia in a second hand bookshop. As a child I spent far too much time reading and the books of Enid Blyton, Louisa May Alcott and Susan Coolidge were amongst the first I read independently. I haven't dared dip back into Little Women or What Katy Did because I'm sure I'd find much to disapprove of, but I'm currently ploughing through the Blyton back catalogue with Joel and remembering how vividly alive the characters of the Faraway Tree and the Famous Five were to me. Indeed how alive those other favourites were; Jo (boyish and brave), Anne of Green Gables (loveable and strong), and Pippi (so unlike me in her complete disregard for the regard of others). 

Suddenly aware of time I bolted for the pottery room and lost myself in the steady, cold press and smooth of clay as a bowl gradually took shape. Around me, slips were mixed and oxides applied and the colours and possibilities began to build. Meanwhile, I wedged and smoothed and enjoyed the gentle press and whirr of the wheel, as colour combinations passed in front of my eyes.

And seeing that the hyacinth bulbs discovered in the corner of the shed and hastily crammed into pots are doing just fine is a satisfaction that rounded off an afternoon. Now - sitting in front of the wood burner with a glass of cold white and Radio 4 and a peppery, oniony, potato frittata just ready for cooking - everything feels good.   

 

Tuesday
Jan102012

how to irritate people just by being you

Today I took my first pottery class and my hands have that slightly dessicated feel: a rather pleasing raspiness that makes them feel used, as they do after a day's gardening.

As the only beginner in the class I found myself asking question after question about different techniques and their possibilities. And as the tutor gazed at me over her glasses, admiring my enthusiasm perhaps but wishing to god that I'd just calm down, I realised, yet again, that my need to map out an area in advance - to see the whole and then focus down on the detail - isn't always appreciated. 

Needless to say, I didn't produce a masterpiece. An adequately stable little bowl and a pinchpot that has a degree of internal integrity is the sum of my hours (all those questions to ask, you see). I'm having to damp down my perfectionist streak and see these next weeks as simple experimentation. And perhaps I'll try to be a little less annoying. But it was meditative and absorbing and has made my appreciation of master potters even greater. 

Sitting here overlooking the garden, I've just watched three full-grown swans chase each other down the little stream that separates us from their lake; blurring the air with their wings and sending drifts of leaves skywards. Although I need to head out soon to collect Joel from school, I'll brew a quick coffee to drink outside. To watch the birds as they move serenely now on the lake, in slow elegant circles, and imagine it's my hands turning clay on the wheel - turning it into something magical. 

Tuesday
Dec132011

finite

Today I found myself sketching from memory a Frink head and was surprised to discover how melancholy and odd he turned out. Replete with fiercely herbed and garlicky mushroom soup and with a cluster of newly potted tiny, fuchsia cyclamen catching this winter light on the windowsill next to me, melancholy is something far away.

Though as I drew I was listening again to a fascinating tribute to Ted Hughes, recorded to celebrate his inclusion in Westminster Abbey's poet's corner. The epigraph on his headstone consists of the concluding three lines of his poem That Morning, celebrating the magical sensation of standing amongst a shoal of salmon with his son. And perhaps the static monumentality of stone and plaster seemed suddenly a sadder, duller thing in contrast with the living, vivid flash of light and fish and atoms. With being human. 

There, in a mauve light of drifted lupins,
They hung in the cupped hands of mountains

Made of tingling atoms. It had happened.
Then for a sign that we were where we were
Two gold bears came down and swam like men

Beside us. And dived like children.
And stood in deep water as on a throne
Eating pierced salmon off their talons.

So we found the end of our journey.

So we stood, alive in the river of light,
Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.

from That Morning - Ted Hughes


Saturday
Oct152011

make do and mend

Susan Collis 'Made by work' 2001 Royal College of Art, MA Sculpture show

Seeing Karen Barbé's glorious fantasy darning of a favourite dress unexpectedly ripped, I was reminded of this degree show piece, consisting of a pair of dungarees with repair work and bleach marks. I remember coming around the corner, in a bit of a hurry and full of the itchy irritation I sometimes get at the shows, and looking around to see where the exhibit was. Then I realised those old dungarees were it and I smiled. They reminded me of the tenderly mended clothing I've sometimes unearthed during my years of trawling flea markets and vintage shops: aprons, work shirts, nightwear, jackets. I love the old and frayed and patched. I like an object to be a little imperfect. And there is something about the utility of darning that moves me, perhaps because it reminds me of my grandmother. She wasn't a keen sewer but she could darn beautifully; a skill she learned during those years of necessity in the second world war when everything was in short supply.

As I rue the lack of wearable autumn clothes in my wardrobe (moths have holed both jersey and wool) I'm thinking of re-purposing instead of replacing. I love the descriptions in E F Benson's Mapp and Lucia books of competitive dress alterations: roses cut from a curtain and sewn onto an old dress to revamp and evoke jealousy or a judicious re-dye and re-collar. 

In that spirit, I'll try adding lace to the neck of a sweater that's starting to fray, and perhaps I can transform those moth holes into something more agreeable. I've discovered this cunning new moth-patching product and it looks fun as well as being practical. For those worn out elbows (I just can't shake the elbow on the table lean -I'm doing it now!) I like this lovely take on the patched elbow: a pretty solution and the chance to learn to crochet while I'm at it.  And, of course, there is Karen's superb tutorial on making lovely patches that adorn rather than simply disguise. Thriftiness can be fun!    

Thursday
Sep222011

a song of love and loss

Absent-mindedly stitching onto a little square of linen this afternoon, I found myself incanting one of my favourite poems, 'Donal Og'. A centuries old poem of Irish origin and uncertain date, I first heard it read by Seamus Heaney at a reading to celebrate the publication of The Rattle Bag. Sadly, it was shortly before Ted Hughes died, and he was too ill to attend. Heaney concluded the evening by reading this poem on behalf of Hughes, for whom it held a powerful, personal resonance. 

I've read the poem so many times I know most of it by heart. But it's never my voice that I hear. Often it's the voice of a young, Irish girl; sometimes Heaney's gentle murmur. But mostly, I hear the deep, doleful crack of Hughes' voice, making the lines ring.

Donal Og

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;

the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.

It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;

and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

 

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,

that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;

I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,

and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

 

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,

a ship of gold under a silver mast;

twelve towns with a market in all of them,

and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

 

You promised me a thing that is not possible,

that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;

that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;

and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

 

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,

I sit down and I go through my trouble;

when I see the world and do not see my boy,

he that has an amber shade in his hair.

 

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;

the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.

And myself on my knees reading the Passion;

and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

 

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,

or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;

it was a bad time she took for telling me that;

it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

 

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,

or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge;

or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;

it was you put that darkness over my life.

 

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from

    me;

you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;

you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;

and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

 

Anon. from the 8th century Irish (trans. Lady Augusta Gregory) from

The Rattle Bag ed. Heaney & Hughes, (Faber & Faber 1982)

Thursday
Jun022011

lines and grids

Do you find that if you're dwelling on something, you notice it everywhere? I find myself today seeing the world in terms of lines and grids. Flicking between notebooks and calendar, I'm trying to work out how to fit in all the projects I want to complete and which can be interleaved with half term, which is still a week away for us. 

To begin with, a grid-based activity. I found this on pinterest and was immediately taken back to the late '80s, when I spent more time than was probably good for me attacking my clothes with bleach. Impatient and rather slapdash, the results were somewhat variable and the bleach fumes and splashes didn't endear me to the family. But now perhaps I can achieve something slightly more sophisticated. It will also act as a little rehearsal for the shibori scarf dying that I plan to tackle during the summer holidays, using the instructions in the Winter 2011 edition of 3191 Quarterly

Now to root about in my wardrobe for something appropriately dark to tackle. Maybe even a little tie dye t-shirt for Joel. And, to show how much older and wiser I am, I'll even dig out the rubber gloves.

Friday
May202011

spiral

 

At the end of a long phone call I realised my notepad was spilling over with spirals. Disturbingly so. I wouldn't want it to be seen by anyone with an interest in psychology, for instance. But the reason behind the obsessive drawing is completely pedestrian: I'm trying to gain control over my sewing-machine. And that means sewing spirals. 

Recently I took my first ever sewing course with the lovely Alice and Ginny, aimed at those of us who own a machine but, for whatever reason, have failed to use it. Simply being able to ask embarassingly basic questions, in a room full of women with similar problems, put behind me the horrors of school sewing from which - to my utter relief - I was banned for continuously mangling the bobbins. Instead I was to spend the hour in the library, all by myself.  The nearest thing to the perfect punishment for me, especially on summer days when I took my haul of books outside and lay beneath trees or drew warmth from the brick steps.

But back to spirals. With each turn I feel my grip on the fabric loosen and my certainty that the turn will be made smoothly increases. And so I find myself beginning to relax, and to enjoy. And feel compelled to reward myself with yet another book full of projects to sew. But this time, I'm confident that some of those projects will actually get made.