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Contentment – Making Each Day Count
Suddenly, winter seems to be upon us and harsh winds and pouring rain make it difficult to get outside. But the coming of winter of brings with it a wonderful opportunity for reflection and healing, a chance to slow life down and make sense of the long days of summer.
This year has been such a rollercoaster ride for me – elation, at having finally bought our new home; fear, of not be up to the challenges ahead of me and then full circle, back to joy that we have found this place and are living this funny little life together.
Life has its challenges for sure. So how do we sail through them and bring a sense of calm to our daily lives?
I used to feel that I wanted to make every day magical for my children, but of course, every day can’t be magical. What I am realising, what our life here and the changes we have made are helping me to realise, is that what is far more important is a feeling of contentment. Contentment with what we have now, not just finding positivity in our plans for the future, but in the life we are living right now – today.
Blue sky days or moody winter skies? I find beauty in them both.
Life, I am finding, is just the same. I have noticed this change in our children too and remember that, that is a part of why we chose to live in this old house, that needs time and care and sits surrounded by farmland and sea. We wanted to find a different way of living, we wanted them to see it and be able to make an informed choice for themselves, when they go out into the world to live their own lives.
There is a richness and sense of grounding that comes with a life without all the conveniences. Remembering that you don’t need all of the trappings of modern life to find happiness in the everyday.
Our oldest children are adults now, still at home for the moment, but I know it won’t be for long. Already I see them brushing off life’s challenges and starting to carve out a life for themselves. That in itself brings me joy.
And our younger children? Ah well, children are a gift. If ever there was a lesson in how to find joy in the every day, it is by looking through the eyes of a child.
Breathless with the excitement of chasing waves; giddy with the pleasure of cleaning out a mixing bowl, on baking days; so excited to show everyone a sparkly stone or beautiful feather, found on their walk.
Simple pleasures. I have been home educating my children for 16 years, but I think they have been the real teachers. We have so much to learn from our children.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the need to be pushing forward, to improve things, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of appreciating what we have now. It isn’t easy to stay in the moment, there are after all, lots of jobs that need doing, but I want to take the slight pause that winter brings and use it to reset; to remember to make each day count, because this life that I’m living is a good one and I am grateful for it.
Making Baskets with New Zealand Flax
I’ve had the chance to work with lots of different plants, at this point in my basket making journey, but my favourite above all others, has to be New Zealand Flax (Phormium Tenax).
I was missing working with these glorious fibres. My own plants are just babies and can’t be harvested yet, so I have relied on old leaves collected from around the base of plants that grow by our nearby beach and gifts, from those that know I use them.
This wasn’t a regular enough source for a plant that I wanted to work with more, so I put up a post in a local Facebook gardening group, to ask if anyone was tidying up their plants.
To my delight, two people got back to me, both in need of someone to help them, with their very large plants.
New Zealand Flax thrives in the Orkney Islands and like any plant that does well here, it has been planted everywhere! People often find themselves with plants that were planted as a windbreak, but are now blocking paths, making it difficult to cut the grass or are making it difficult for other plants to survive.
Properly cared for of course, none of these problems need to be an issue and I was very glad to help out in return for taking home new and old unwanted growth.
I visited the garden of a couple who had obviously put in an enormous amount of work, over the years. It was full of established and healthy plants of all kinds, but failing health was making it difficult to keep up with the work needed, to maintain such a garden.
It was really nice to be able to lend a hand and get one of the vast Phormium Tenax plants there, under control.
Carefully harvesting leaves from the outer sections of the fans, to reduce bulk; removing the old growth that was tangled in the base of the plant, to allow air to circulate and prevent disease. It looked a fine plant indeed, when I had finished and I felt very well paid to be taking home a big pile of leaves.
That was only the beginning of the work of course!
I stored the old growth in one of our outbuildings, to use when I run out of fresh. The fibres from the old brown leaves are just as good, but take a bit more work to process.
So I made a start on the fresh leaves, removing the top parts that are often used for weaving and adding those to my compost. The plants here have quite a short top section (where the leaf isn’t folded over on itself), but that doesn’t worry me, as I use the lower section for stripping fibres.
I begin by splitting the fused section apart and then using a wire brush to reveal the fibres. I am looking out for a better tool for this, as the juicy, pithy parts of the leaf mess up a wire brush quite quickly and then it is harder to use. I’ll let you know when I track down the perfect tool, but for now a wire brush will do.
Because of the time involved in fully processing the fibres, I stored most of the separated fibres for later use and did a second strip on a smaller batch, so that I could get started on some basketry.
I wet down the fibres briefly for the second strip, which involves running each individual fibre between my finger and thumbnail. This cleans away any of the remaining pith and after a quick rinse the fibres are left beautifully clean and ready for use.
It still amazes me how something so fine can be so strong and this is what makes these fibres so versatile. The colour is also part of what I love about it, ranging from a deep honey to pale auburn, it makes an eye-catching basket.
The individual fibres can be used for very fine coil work, because of their strength and are equally good for making cordage, twining and looping.
I think looping definitely deserves some more investigation, as I have only started playing around with it over the past couple of weeks and would like to find a way to give it more structure.
The loops appeal to me, perhaps because my eye is always drawn to lines from nature – the curve of the waves, the tendrils of vines. Not only that, but although it is not the same technique , I find looping reminiscent of coastal life, with the ever present nets and piles of creels, dotted around the shoreline.
For now though, I am busy working on a piece which is inspired by the humble limpet. But that’s another post!
So, I will be seizing every opportunity to gather more of this wonderful plant. There is so much that I want to try out with it, so much satisfaction to be found in the slow process of uncovering those fibres and using them to create something which is beautiful in its simplicity.
I will continue to work with a variety of plant fibres and yarns, but I think that I will always return to New Zealand Flax. It has become a trusted friend.
The changing of seasons is always a special time. Each season brings with it memories from childhood, traditions, celebrations, things that you look forward to and sometimes things that you don’t. Whatever the seasons mean to you, they are such an important part of life’s rhythm.
Here, autumn has arrived. The days are quickly shortening, and once again we are treated to a wonderful display of the stars and sometimes the aurora borealis, before we go to bed.
Daytime routines have to change, to fit important jobs into the hours of daylight. It seems like a bit of a juggling act at first, until you manage to find your autumn/winter pace.
I usually find pleasure in all of the seasons, but this year, I have spent most of spring and summer dreading the approach of colder weather. The feeling of urgency, to get as much done to the house and cabin as possible, before autumn, has clouded my mind.
But this much dreaded season, has actually brought me gift. It’s the gift of resetting my mind, of letting go of all of those negative thoughts and seeing the world and its possibilities afresh.
“A change is as good as a rest”, is one of my favourite sayings. After all, a mum with a big home educated family, in a busy modern world, has little chance for rest! But four times a year, we are given the chance to turn the page, put tensions behind us and move forward with a lighter heart.
All of a sudden I find myself realising that I have settled into our new home. All the more so, for diving into a spot of autumn cleaning. There’s nothing like the first chilly days of September, to get me in the mood for a good clear out. Re-organising and deep cleaning, ready for the days when you just want to be cosy indoors, while the storms rage outside.
Although we still have many jobs that need to be done in preparation for winter (which in Orkney starts in mid-autumn and carries on until mid-spring), my thoughts have shifted to making the most of good weather days with my children. So my routines are getting a good autumn clean too – take everything out, reorganise and then put it all back!
Sure, there are outdoor jobs that will be difficult to get done in the high winds of winter, but even winter has calm days, so work on the house and cabin will still carry on, just at a slower pace until spring.
And what of those first weeks of living here? It was a steep learning curve!
Well, although it sometimes feels like we haven’t achieved much this year, in reality, there are huge differences to those early days. We now laugh about the unusual living arrangements, split between the house and cabin, the lack of a working sink anywhere, the lack of running hot water, a toilet that flushes and strip washing with a bucket.
All of these things, that seemed so extreme back in February, coming from our temporary holiday accommodation, with life’s creature comforts and all mod cons, are now just a normal part of everyday life to us. They can still be challenging at times and I will still look forward to progressing with the renovations and having a little more convenience, but as summer changes to autumn, I realise that the dread is gone.
So I can enjoy baking comfort foods for chilly days and I can take pleasure in the last of this years flowers, before they fade. I can allow myself an extra hour in bed occasionally or a quiet hour doing some crochet. I can remember to take pleasure in all of the little moments, that make life special – stopping to watch a snail with my children, snuggling under covers to look through recipe books together, leaving an ‘oh so important job” until tomorrow, so that we can finish a book that we’re enjoying reading together!
I find that I am looking forward to all of winters celebrations. Seeing the house and cabin all decorated for Christmas and the winter birthdays. It will be the first time in over two decades that this house has enjoyed a decorated tree and a wreath on the door. That’s going to feel good!
So, “Hello Autumn, you’re very welcome!” and thank you for the gift that you have given me.
Are you finding joy in the change of seasons? I hope that you are, and remember to find the sunshine in everyday.
How To Make a T-Shirt Jersey Basket
Today, I thought that I would show you how to make a coil basket from old t-shirts.
The cost of living crisis is going to have a huge impact on families like mine, who struggle to get by at the best of times. I think many other families will find themselves struggling for the first time too, as businesses struggle to keep up with the ever rising costs.
Some of my fondest memories, are of lean times – foraging for food together, making beautiful and thoughtful gifts to surprise each other, long walks, evening games and a home full of handmade decorations.
Crafts have helped our family through some tough times and my children are experts at making use of all kinds of things, in their arts and crafts.
Making something with your hands has a huge power to lift your spirits and make you feel more positively about yourself and your situation.
So, let’s get started!
Coil basketry is a wonderful introduction to making baskets. The only tools that you will need to make a coil basket like this one, are a pair of sharp scissors to cut the jersey fabric into strips and a chunky needle, such as a tapestry needle.
I always have a stack of t-shirts-leggings etc, waiting to be turned into something else. Clothes in our family get handed down, for as long as possible, but once they get too stained or damaged for me to fix, they go to the craft pile.
If you don’t have any unwanted jersey, you can still use this tutorial to make a basket. I am a firm believer, that there is always something around that you can use, to make a basket! So I tried a few experiments with waste from our recycling bins and craft stash.
Below you can see (from left to right) honeycomb paper, wrapped with strips of popcorn bag, used kitchen foil, wrapped with strips of fruit nets, supermarket veg bags, wrapped with yarn scraps and strips of newspaper, wrapped with strips of a pair of kids cotton trousers. I’m sure that you could find all kinds of other combinations in your house, and of course, there are always plants!
For this tutorial, I will be using old baler twine for a core material and a pair of kids leggings and an infant t-shirt to wrap.
We have a mountain of this baler twine in the derelict barns here, which won’t be used for its original purpose. It’s great to put it to good use.
That’s the other good thing about lean times, it makes you so much more aware of waste and of the resources around you, that often get taken for granted.
Begin by cutting your chosen wrapping material into strips. I cut my jersey into roughly 2cm wide strips, but it doesn’t have to be precise and it also depends on how big you want your basket to be. Choose a size that seems to fit nicely to the scale that you’re working to.
Place one end of your wrapping material about 1 1/2 inches from the end of your strips of core (as in the 2nd photo below).
Now wrap around the core, working towards the near end, for about an inch (2.5cm).
Bend the wrapped section around, so that the core ends are now held with the rest of the core material (as in the 2nd photo below).
Continue to wrap around the core material for 1-1 1/2cm.
Now, thread the wrapping fabric, through the centre of the loop that you have made.
Continue to wrap and then pass through the loop every few stitches, until you have gone all the way around the loop.
There is no right or wrong amount of times to wrap between stitches. As a guide, the closer together the stitches are, the firmer (tighter) your basket will be. I often vary the amount of stitches as I work, to keep it pleasing to the eye and you can create some interesting patterns this way, if you choose.
When working with plant fibres, I have only ever needed to use a tapestry needle as I work. I have found that fabrics (such as the t-shirt jersey) work so tightly, that it is easier to create a hole, before passing the needle through.
This is easily done with the unhooked end, of a small gauge crochet hook or paint brush handle (or something similar that you have to hand).
Push it through, where you want the stitch to go, wiggle it around in a circular motion and then take it out, ready for your needle and wrapping fabric to pass through.
I found that this quickly became a part of my working rhythm and didn’t slow me down.
On the second round, your stitches should go through the previous round of coiling and not through the central loop.
Adding in more core material is simple. Stagger the ends of the lengths, so that the core doesn’t all run out at the same time. When one length of core runs out, simply add a new one with the others and wrap around it, to hold it in place.
Adding new wrapping material can be seen in the three photos below.
First place the end of the new piece with the core fibres.
Then, use the strip of jersey that is running out, to wrap around the new piece of jersey. Just once or twice will do.
Lay the end of the old piece with the core fibres and then wrap over the top of the join with the new strip of jersey.
In this way, all of the ends are wrapped inside as you work and you won’t have anything to weave in at the end.
Continue to work in this way, until your base has reached the size that you require.
You will want to start building up the sides, level with the point where you first started coiling around the central loop (as shown in the first photo below).
Push up the area that you are wrapping firmly, with a finger underneath and increase the tension in your stitches, to pull the sides up.
I like a gradual rise, so to achieve a bowl shaped basket like this, only raise each round of coiling by about a 45 degree angle to the previous round.
It’s up to you how high you want the sides to go and might also be dependant on how much scrap material you have.
When you feel that you are ready to finish, you will need to start preparing half a round before your finish point.
The finish point should be level with where you first started to raise the sides, so that your basket is an equal height all the way around.
Prepare by cutting away some of the core material, to stagger your finish. I think this is the trickiest part of a coil basket, so take your time and don’t be afraid to unpick and either remove or add more core, to get a smooth gradual finish.
When you get to the end of the core, stitch three or four times, with no wrap in between.
Use your crochet hook (or similar, if you have needed one while coiling), to open a pathway through the last few stitches.
Pass through with your needle and wrapping fabric and pull nice and tight.
Now you just need to cut the wrapping strip close to the stitches, so that the end cannot be seen.
You have completed your t-shirt yarn basket!
There is so much that you can do using this technique. A different shape at the centre can create oval and rectangular baskets, handles can be added, the rim can be shaped in to create a more rounded basket. You just need to use your creativity and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
As I always tell my children, we wouldn’t learn anything without making mistakes! ou it was simple. I hope that you enjoy making them. I think they make a nice introduction to coil basketry.
There is so much that you can do using this technique. A different shape at the centre can create oval and rectangular baskets, handles can be added, the rim can be shaped in, to create a more rounded basket. You just need to use your creativity and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
As I always tell my children, we wouldn’t learn anything without making mistakes!