One Month on at Our New Home

One Month on at Our New Home

It’s been a whole month since we took ownership of our new home and what a month it has been!

We’ve been so busy, that January has just flown by, but we have still reached the end of the month wishing that we had done more. The winter weather has slowed us down, as we knew it would, with very strong winds making a lot of jobs unfeasible. And yet, we have been there every day and progress has been made, even if not at the speed that our impatient souls would like.

The first really big event to happen at our new home, was the homecoming of our four ducks, Tonka, Clover, Sorrel and Flax.

Friends had looked after them for us, while we were homeless and we couldn’t wait to get them back. I picked out a suitable outbuilding for them and set to work cleaning it up. We are fortunate that most of the outbuildings are dry and although we will repoint them and do some maintenance work on the roofs, doors and windows in the summer, they are fine to use as we need them.

The ducks settled in very quickly and I am so glad that they have this big indoor space for bad weather and bird flu lockdowns. I will be very happy to see them wandering around the garden when restrictions are eased though, they are excellent garden companions!

the-duck-house
welcoming-our-ducks-home

Our two rabbits, Otto and Muffin, also got to move in to their new home. They also have their own little outbuilding for their winter quarters, with room for them to both have pens to freely run around in, whatever the weather.

While we were clearing out these two little buildings, we discovered that an old flagstone path ran between them. It was buried underneath grass and a few inches of earth. We decided to start clearing it, because the comings and goings were turning it into a mudbath.

Wren thoroughly enjoyed helping me with this job. She is a big fan of mud and the wheelbarrow rides in between, were an added bonus!

A few days later we realised that these enormous flagstones extend right around the barns to the house, so we are tackling one area at a time, when the weather permits.

clearing-the-paths
clearing-the-paths
clearing-the-paths

It’s not all bad weather of course and I have wasted no time in making a start on the garden.

The garden will be a big focus for me this year. It is a fairly blank canvas at the moment, once cleared, and I have a craft garden, flower garden and vegetable garden to establish. Not forgetting a small orchard and mixed hedgerow around the perimeter.

This will all take years to bring to life, but it will start to grow this year and it will be wonderful to watch it change.

Although much of the land is just rough grassland, there are signs of a once loved garden and these have begun to show as I have been clearing. There is an enormous and very well established rhubarb patch, which we are very pleased about, as we will be starting from scratch with all other fruits.

I was also particularly pleased to find a large border of crocosmia, which I quickly cleared of old growth, to encourage new shoots to come through. This will give me a great source of sustainable weaving material, later in the year.

As I have been clearing the small walled garden, I have discovered various bulb plants, that once uncovered, have already put on a good amount of growth. It will be lovely to have some spring flowers, as we had so many of them at our old house and won’t be able to plant our own, until autumn. We will be planting lots of bulbs for next year, some just for looks, but many for weaving and dyes.

the-promise-of-spring
staeting-the-garden

After spending weeks deliberating over which polytunnel to buy, I finally bit the bullet and ordered one. It will offer me 35x14ft of indoor growing space, an absolute luxury after making do with our small porch area (which doubled as a pantry), for the past two years.

It arrived this week, a week of winds of up to 70mph! It has made me incredibly nervous about choosing the right spot for it. I am trying to weigh up some sort of balance between shelter from the harsh winds, and maximum light in an already short growing season.

I am hoping that some well positioned, wooden wind fencing might save the day.

With a bit of luck, we will find the time and a few calm weather days to put it up before the end of February, but if not, I have a plan for starting the first seeds. I will make use of the upstairs windows in our farmhouse, as renovation work won’t begin on it for a couple of months at least.

I have ordered an enormous quantity of seeds this year. My enthusiasm for growing as much of our own food as possible, coupled with my passion for growing flowers, has resulted in what might possibly be absolute chaos – even with a 35ft polytunnel!

I can’t wait to get started though. That joy of watching tiny seedlings appear and then tending to them and willing them to grow into healthy plants, is truly special and something that I have really missed over the past few months.

By the end of February, we will be living at our new home full-time, something that we are all looking forward to. It really is such a special place and our youngest two already have so much fun there. It is a place where dreams will come to life, simple pleasures will be enjoyed and it is a place that we will call home for many years to come.

orkney-islands-life
a-simple-life
life-in-the-orkney-life
January Blues? Not When there are so many things waiting to be made!

January Blues? Not When there are so many things waiting to be made!

January is flying by and there is no sign of the winter blues here. There is so much to be done and our new home gives me so much inspiration for making!

My very first basket of the year, was one that I made just for myself. I found some old baling twine in one of our barns and it was just crying out to be made into a basket. Although it must have been there a long time, it still looked and smelled as fresh as the day it was made.

That’s one of the things that I love about baskets – not only do they have practical uses, but they are also a pleasure for your senses. Take the time to hold a basket, feel the textures of the weave and then smell it. Each natural weaving material, has its own smell and a connection to the plant that it came from, or the season when it was gathered. Oh and of course it’s a treat for the eyes!

I decide to make a simple twined basket with this baling twine, that was so connected to our home’s history.

My skills at this kind of basketry don’t match my skills at coil basketry, but I really enjoy it and want to spend a lot more time working in this way, this year.

A simple little basket it might be, but it looks so at home our old farmhouse.

baler-twine-basket
baler-twine-basket

After indulging myself with the baler twine basket, I got to work on my first commission of the year.

This basket was filled with emotion for me, as it used the very last of the raffia that I dyed with fuchsia, from our old garden. The wonderful fuchsia hedge there, brought so much pleasure through the summer months, absolutely bursting with blooms and bees.

I shall miss it this year, but I have plans to start a new fuchsia hedge, at our new home. I certainly won’t be able to get any dye from it this year though, so this basket was a celebration of the beautiful green, that this plant gave me.

I decided to pair it with two different, soft yellows, the first from plantain stems and the second (with a hints of green and pink), from poinsettia leaves.

five-in-the-nest-raffia-basket-with-fuchsia-plantain-and-poinsettia-dye
raffia-coil-basket-with-natural-dyes
five-in-the-nest-raffia-basket

The poinsettia dye didn’t quite turn out as I had hoped, but proved to be just right for this particular basket.

I had hoped to create a red dye for my diminishing stocks, but I only had one plant with a dozen red leaves. I would certainly try again with poinsettia at some point in the future, but for now I am concentrating on making a variety of colours to keep me going until spring. I have a pot of sycamore dye on the go at the moment.

I have hoped for some time, to edge away from raffia, in favour of plants that I can grow on my own land. Moving house has obviously slowed up this transition, but I am keen to get it back on track, as soon as possible.

I have spent the past couple of weeks, researching plants to establish in my craft garden, with the intention of using them for basketry.

If I manage to achieve that goal this year, then I will be very happy!

poinsettis-dye
naturally-dyed-raffia
making-dyes-from-bark
Moving On – Big Dreams and a New Island

Moving On – Big Dreams and a New Island

I haven’t been writing here much, over the past few months. The stress of selling our old home and finding ourselves temporarily homeless, relying once again on self-catering holiday accommodation to put a roof over our heads, has made it difficult to settle to writing.

Although we are still living in temporary accommodation, the peace of mind that has come from finally buying our new home, has been instant.

Finding our way forward, has meant a change of island. We are now connected to Orkney mainland by the Churchill barriers, but are still very much living on a small, peaceful island. Those wide open spaces, that have meant so much to me over the past couple of years, are here in abundance and I can’t help standing out in the garden and just breathing it all in.

For a while, it looked like we might have to leave the islands. Covid has seen such a huge surge in interest, in a life up here, that there simply wasn’t any property available, that suited our slightly unusual needs.

Then, against the odds, a house that we had wanted to buy since we first saw it in early summer, became ours – four days before Christmas.

small-island-life
life-in-the-orkney-islands

I am so pleased to still be living in these beautiful islands, where I learned to make baskets and our children have spent such happy days, out and about in this huge landscape.

I also feel contentment, to find myself still living where I can always see the sea and hear the birds. These things bring me such peace and make me feel more like myself.

It’s just as well that these simple pleasures bring me such comfort, because there is a huge amount of work to be done, to make our new home into our dream.

We’re not wasting any time. Work began the day after we picked up the keys and after taking two days off with our kids for Christmas, we were straight back to work on Boxing Day.

It feels good to get started, after months of waiting and putting our lives on hold.

There are lots of little surprises for us, as we work. Discoveries and glimpses of the past, like a calendar from 1899, with compliments from J. Spence & Son, St Margarets Hope.

That is the joy of old houses. They have their many challenges, but they also have a deep connection to lives lived, which is so grounding and it feels like such a privilege to be part of.

old-orkney-calendar
victorian-orkney-calendar
victorian-orkney-calendar

There is so much that we are looking forward to doing here. Obviously sorting out our living space is top of the list, but as we work on that, we will also be starting to create working spaces, a flower and craft garden, a polytunnel and outside veg beds to grow our food, developing outbuildings for our animals and of course, developing our businesses.

It is a sustainable life that we are hoping to build here, simple in some ways, complicated in others, but always moving forward, learning together and doing the things that we have talked about for years.

five-in-the-nest-moving-on
making-our-home
bringing-our-home-back-to-life

So if I disappear from here from time to time, you know where I will be – busy living and working! But I will do my best to post here regularly again, as we move through 2022. It will be great to look back next December and see what we have achieved.

I wish you all a wonderful start to the new year and thank you for following along with me over the past twelve months. xx 

making-our-house-a-home
a-simple-life
Weaving Christmas Stars Tutorial

Weaving Christmas Stars Tutorial

I have finally found time to write a tutorial for the woven stars, that I made at the end of October. Although I originally made these with handmade cordage, I have worked the tutorial with yarn, to make it easier for children.

If you can’t get hold of any willow or hazel rods, you could use try using paper straws instead. You could also use natural twine instead of yarn.

I began by cutting five, 14cm lengths of willow. I had cut this willow several weeks ago, so I soaked the lengths in water for several hours before using.

I always find it easiest to start at the top of the star. Cross one length over the other and wrap yarn tightly around 2-3 times.

 

willow-for-making-christmas-stars
starting-a-woven-christmas-star

Then, wrap the yarn in between the crossed pieces 2-3 times (see picture below).

Knot tightly and cut close.

Now, you need to repeat this with the other points of the star. See the positioning of the third length below.  

making-a-star-frame-for-weaving
weaving-christmas-stars

When you add the fourth length, it should pass underneath the first length that it crosses and then across the top of the second length.

Push the star flat to the work surface with the palm of your hand. This will help to bend the willow into shape.

The fifth and final piece of willow, should follow the same pattern as the fourth, travelling first underneath and then across the top of the lengths that it crosses. 

christmas-craft-willow-stars
weaving-stars-for-christmas

Now that your star frame is complete, you can begin to weave.

The amount of yarn/cordage/twine that you need for each point of the star, will vary depending on the thickness of your weaving material. It should be between 3 and 5 metres.

If you run out, before reaching the base of your star, just repeat the starting and finishing steps below, with a new length of yarn.

Start by holding the end of your length of yarn against the left hand edge of the point (1st picture below).

Pass the yarn underneath the right side of the point and bring it all the way around and over the top.

Then pass the yarn underneath the lefthand point and again, around the front.

You will be working this figure eight shape all the way to the base of the point.  

beginning-to-weave-a-christmas-star
yarn-stars-for-christmas
weaving-in-a-figure-of-eight

If you have difficulty weaving as you near to the base of point, use a tapestry needle to pass the yarn back and forth.

Once you have filled the whole of the point with yarn, you need to weave in the ends.

Using a tapestry needle, pass the yarn up through the weaving and then back down through a different place. Cut the yarn close.

If you have decided to make your star with natural cordage, you will only need to pass the cordage up through the weaving to secure it.  

weaving-in-the-ends
weaving-in-the-ends

Repeat this process with the remaining four points.

They would look great hung on a tree or strung along a garland. You could even make them all different sizes.

However you choose to make yours, have fun and if you are making them with children you might want to make the frames in advance.

Next time, I will show you how to make an oat straw star, for a very natural Christmas.