Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas tables and collages

Christmas is over! Its that strange kind of post-excitement post busy-ness deflated feeling for me. We had a lovely Christmas with some family that live in these parts of the world, in an amazing house in the countryside.

We made the place settings and Christmas crackers for the table. Each cracker had inside a green and blacks organic chocolate, a small packet of seeds that could be grown in pots, like sunflowers, chives etc, a joke (handpicked by Malcolm and not vetted by me first, mistake, - the only Aussie in the group got the Aussie joke, but was fine about it and no one else seemed mortally offended) and some origami paper and the instructions for an origami creation. I used my little tea light candle holders for the centre of the table. All the place names were just hand drawn on Microsoft Paintshop, which made me feel like a kid again. So much fun. It did get a little silly, I mean, what does a moose have to do with Christmas?

If I made the crackers again, I think I'd use a more fragile paper, as these were so hardy we couldn't pull them apart very easily! Oh well. I am gradually learning that research before you embark on a project is time well spent, though my bias is toward learning in action, I'm impatient and want to get on with it. Which means I get lots done, but not always with the best results!

While I'm posting, here's some of the fruits of my most favourite projects of late. I've been making mini-collages on offcuts of hardwood. Drill a hole and
put a little hanging loop in the back (like the ones you hang mirrors with) and voila, mini ready to hang art for your wall. So much fun. I source the pictures from everywhere, mostly charity shop second hand children's books. Then I spraypaint a textured background onto the wood block, lay down a layer of very thin tissue paper with watery PVA glue on top of that, or pieces of old dressmaking patterns, and that's my base onto which I then build the rest of the collage. Once finished, i apply several coats of PVA varnish and trim off the edges. Each collage is only about ten cm by 16 cm big. And original and loveable. Delish.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Peace, Ignatius, it's Nouwen view of the long dark night of the soul

Excuse the obscure title. hopefully, all will become clearer as this post unfolds.

So there have been a few themes that have been unfolding of late...

I have always been a bit of a die hard pacifist, but have never been able to really understand why it resonates so strongly with me or even had a good counter argument to the hypothetical situation that pacifism always seem to raise: that what about if your family was being attacked would you kill the attacker to save them.(?)..

I took some time to listen this excellent series, called 'inglorious pastors' (a groanworthy pun from those that get the reference) on pacifism, by a Canadian church called the Meeting house, who come from Mennonite roots. Well worth a listen in my opinion, especially if you're interested in pacifism. One of the key themes emerging from these talks is that of a 'third way': neither aggression or passivity, but of active non violent resistance.

Malcolm and I recently attended a talk on Ignatian spirituality, which engages your mind and imagination and emotions in scripture reading. From that talk we heard of a website that does little 12 min 'pray as you go' podcasts, Ignatian style. It's a non-verbal form of prayer, one which I had not really considered before. Dangerous thing to listen to before going to sleep, as you almost never hear the end...

As well as this, over the last year I have been reading Henri Nouwen, who talks a lot about silence, solitude and prayer, and is the author of a number of books that have been richly drawn upon in pastoral care. Martin Laird has written a gorgeous book that I'd like to read again called 'into the silent land'. I first heard of 'new monasticism' a few years ago, but this sense of drawing on the spiritual wisdom and practices of the christian mystics (like st john of the cross, who wrote 'the long dark night of the soul')and ancient monastic communities is very appealing in lots of ways.

I think this strand of Christian thought offers a slightly more holistic take on spirituality than perhaps the protestant/evangelical tradition that I have known so far. What I mean is it acknowledges the presence of God in the created world, and in humans (regardless of their faith). It seems as though it is based a little less on cerebral 'head' belief and more on the lived experience of faith and engaging with the presence of God. (These are generalisations, of course). It is interesting to see some of these practices and traditions emerging again in the contemporary christian church.

One of the key practices of mystics and monastics is contemplation- or meditation, something which in practice is very very similar to mindfulness meditation. When we arrived in Oxford I became involved in a massive university trial studying recurrent depression, as this is something I have struggled with for many years of my life. the trial is looking at thousand of people suffering recurrent depression and is looking at the effectiveness of various therapy based treatments for it. I was 'randomly selected' into a group who were taught mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. This therapy uses exercises of mediation and breathing to help people suffering depression, anxiety or pain learn to cope with their own emotional,mental and physical experiences. Much of it is about engaging with the present moment, not being mentally 'elsewhere' with worry abut the future or ruminating about the past. It is about recognising the way in which thoughts impact on your emotions and body, and becoming aware of your own thinking patterns.

I found it really challenging, my mind is so busy and I struggled to engage with the exercises. However, over the course of the group I learnt a lot about my own mind and well-being, recognising some of my own self-critical and negative habits, and tendency to drive myself to the point of unhappiness and exhaustion.

I was delighted to discover that there is an ancient stream of Christian tradition, of, essentially mindfulness practice, very similar in practice to the Buddhist based mindfulness but coming from an entirely different world-view, one that recognises the work of the Holy Spirit and the love and guidance of God in human lives. This tradition often uses a 'prayer word' or phrase that is repeated at the start of the contemplation/meditation, which certainly was a helpful practice for my busy mind to use in order to settle and enter into stillness.

I say 'randomly selected' for the mindfulness group in the trial but it has felt like the direction God has been leading me for some time. As my wise mum always said, we're human 'beings' not human 'doings'! I am finally learning how to 'be'.

I think that the milieu we live in is inherently destructive to human well-being. We live in a culture of upward comparisons, social climbing, consumerism and pressure to 'do' 'succeed' 'achieve' and 'produce' - while at the same time, old community links and networks are weaker, people are more transient, families more fractured, and the pace at which we live and absorb information seem to be accelerating rapidly. No wonder depression is rampant, as well as other mental health problems. Huge amounts of suffering are caused by mental illness all over the world.

My belief is that spirituality is a key way to create good mental health and healthier societies. Not all religion is 'good religion' for mental health - I'm thinking here of overly controlling religious groups, religious fundamentalism, and guilt or fear based religions. However, belief systems and practices that give you meaning, purpose, and a sense of inner understanding cannot help but benefit mental health.

For my own experience, recognising the unconditional love of God, a love not based on performance in any sense, but on the fact that I am a created child of God is essential. Having a different value system - one that upholds justice, relationships, peace and compassion is a good antidote to the destructive greed and materialism and subtle discontent that we can easily succumb to. I have so much to be thankful for, right here, and learning to 'be' in each present moment opens up my eyes to the goodness in life again and again. And from a basis of good mental health we are much more able to engage in the world in building community, justice and peace.

If you've made to the end of this post, well done! It's a little more heavy than my usual postings, but all stuff that has been really revolutionary for me. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and find some of the links and names helpful.

Here's some pics from a frosty morning in the botanic gardens...

Christmas lights

I made some Christmas versions of the tea-light holders I blogged about last month. Well - actually they are just red and white and some of them have stars, so semi-Christmas versions. Check them out:

I like them! I made the addition of spray painting lace and other bits and bobs onto the glasses first, before putting tissue paper and other decorations on. Now I want to spray paint everything!!!!!! it's dangerous stuff!


So - excitement of the week -

I went to the attic at work to take down the Christmas decorations, pulled out the box,

and squealed! I thought the furry thing clinging to the box was an enormous spider, but, to my great relief it was a sleeping bat! I've always had a soft spot for bats, despite being bitten by a fruit bat at Steve Irwin's wildlife park in Australia when I was a kid (I did stroke his furry tummy, so I probably deserved it). Bats are super-cool critters. After a bit of googling ( ie internet searching And staring at bat), I decided it would be wise to ring the Bat helpline.

I found out:

There are 17 species of bat in the UK, they are endangered
It's illegal to disturb a roosting/hibernating bat
Property developers hate them because it means they can't knock down old buildings if Bats live there! mwahahaha.
Our bat was probably a common pipistrelle, according to the bat folk, whom I sent this photo to:

Isn't it cute? covered in cobwebs, which I guess happens if you hibernate, and only about 5 cm long. It certainly made my day!

Friday, November 12, 2010


I have just finished running my first felting workshops.

It is awesome to make stuff with other people. I just love it.

Here's a couple of pics from the 'beads and baubles' workshop. A bit dark but you get eh picture. Jo of 'darn it and stitch' has such a great vision for enabling people in the community to be crafting.

Hopefully we'll do some more workshops in the new year. In the meantime, I need to get on and felt some booties ... we have a running total of 14 pregnant people we know (friends and family) many babies to follow! Apologies if you are one of the pregnant ones reading this blog, I've given away what you're probably going to be getting...

T' Rug

This has been a long held scheme of mine... I have been thinking about how to make a rug for the floor of the cabin, without having to go buy one. The floor is pretty cold, and given that I spend a fair bit of time sitting on the floor making stuff, it seemed like a good plan to make it warmer.

I have a pair of enormous wooden knitting needles, and Malcolm's brother Don kindly donated a bunch of clothes he didn't need any more, including loads of T-shirts. T-shirt fabric doesn't fray when you cut it, and it's got a bit of stretch, which means that if you cut it into strips you can knit with it. So I set about knitting lots of squares, each ten stitches cast on, then knitted till I ran out of that colour or the square was squarish enough. I used moss stitch, which made the rug look more interesting than just plain knitting.

Then I stitched them all together using an enormous needle and some rope-like thread I found in a charity shop. It was a great was to use up all my scraps of wool that were not suitable for other uses. Re-cycling old clothing is great too, unfortunately lots of old clothing gets sent to African countries, impacting on local industry often (but not always) in a negative way.

The weird thing was, I knitted till I ran out of stuff to knit, and when I placed all the squares together, there was the exact amount to make the rug, nothing spare and nothing short. Canny!

And here it is, the rug of many colours....

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This little light

I've been getting into collage a bit, and last time I was in London I had tea at the V'n'A (Victoria and Albert Museum) with a friend I've known since we were nine ( that's more than two decades)... anyway, in the giftshop (which is a fabulous giftshop) some flyers were advertising an exhibition just been. They immediately caught my attention:

What a combination of great words! I took a couple of the fliers, and when I found three little glasses for 20p each in a charity shop a week or to later, I just knew what I had to do....

All I needed was some glue, (PVA) some old patterns, some very pale pink tulle, and I cut out little pictures from old books, catalogs and fliers I'd collected, using as a focus some of the words off the poster.

Then once I was happy with how they looked I made a glaze from PVA and water, and applied a couple of coats to finish it off and seal it, and voila, some pretty little lights to make me feel happier about the dark evenings.

Friday, October 29, 2010


A poem


The trees are shedding summer's sun,
in glorious array:
One last burst of golden light
to tide us through the gathering grey.

and some photos:

Friday, October 22, 2010

nettle dye

There are a lot of stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)in the UK, growing in the hedgerows, in abandoned corners and down lane-ways.

They are fabulous things to use, while you want to avoid touching them they make great tea (good for hayfever and colds), as a herbal remedy they are used for ailments such as eczema, allergies, arthritis and gout, you can make fabric from them, they make yummy soup ( I have tried them as soup while camping, which made me feel proper wilderness savvy). Recently, I was given as a birthday present a bottle of nettle wine, which was delicious - light, fresh and full of subtle flavours. I plan to brew some nettle beer in the near future (well - realistically in spring)

But to the point - you can use them as dye! I had some plain homespun wool, about 400 grams of it, and I picked about 800 grams of nettles, boiled them up with vinegar and left the wool in to soak for 24 hours. Result? a very subtle, pale warm beige - apparently you get this yellowy beige if you use nettles in autumn, while in spring, while the plants are full of chlorophyll, you get a pale olivy green. I was pleased - unfortunately the wool is a little itchy to use as clothing, but I plan to incorporate it into a fabulous and weird knitted rug... will be posting about that in a little while...

Finally- while coming home from work one evening, I turned into the park, and it was awash with glorious autumnal light filtering through the trees, photos don't really do it justice:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clothing for Africa

Anyone that know me knows how much I love buying things in charity shops. That's pretty much the only place I shop - and my poor one bar wardrobe is literally bending under the weight of charity shop finds.

Over the course of this year, I've really noticed the way my relationship with clothing shapes a lot of what I put my energy into - here's some observations
I feel permanantly scruffy.
I often feel out of date, unfashionable and downright frumpy.
I shop to make myself feel better - and I kid myself because it's only a charity shop buy, therefore it's ok -
but actually I spend more money than we have budgeted on charity shop clothing, feel guilty while shopping, and still end up feeling scruffy...

There's something going on here to my relationship with stuff - check out this blogpost I found looking at one woman's analysis of her own relationship to buying things

I tried, with not much success to give up charity shopping for lent - but failed, fairly miserably.I've been thinking and talking about this issue for a little while - my lovely lulastic friend did an even mroe radical project: wore only two sets of clothes for 6 months - basically, to break the link between self esteem and image. I am a self declared feminist - and I think it's pretty interesting how much pressure (and money) rests on how women look: you are what you look like, goes the message, over and over again - and even the most liberated of us find it hard not to internalise this on some fundamental level. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy clothing as a way of expressing myself, love colour and have no qualms about dressing to look nice - but how quickly this flips over from a healthy into an unhealthy connection, for me anyway.

So I decided it's time for something drastic: re-learn my habits for making myself feel better.

I have a grand goal, one that I've held for ages - to go to Africa. We really hope to make this happen in about a years time, and we need to save save save - so I'm giving up buying clothing, and going to Africa.

So: as of today, 19th October 2010 - until we go to Africa - I am buying no more clothes.

Here are my parameters: underwear and socks/tights - allowed
New running shoes - if I need them - (old pair falling apart)
Jewelery - only when we go on a holiday planned in March to a country that has amazing jewlery but i don't want to give too much away ;-)
1 pair of ethically made new black trousers - allowed (this helps with mixing and match existing clothing hugely)

Anything I can make myself, with existing materials (until they are all used up) - allowed (buttons zips and threads for making allowed)

So the plan is to do this mindfully- to not use buying clothes as a pick me up, though I scoot past the charity shops every day on my way to work- they are not my emotional crutch anymore.I will find other, more healthy ways of recognising and dealing with self esteem and negative feelings.

Blogging about it is one way of making myself accountable - and I will post some of my makings too...

What do you think? How's your relationship to clothes?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Felt like it

Almost the end of September and I have not yet posted this month, it's been horrendously, ridiculously busy. All good things, but a bit more going on than I'd ideally want. At least, the slower pace of winter is something to look forward to. There's definately a bite in the air which makes my heart sink. But it does mean... knitting season. Mmmm.

On the topic of wool, I am preparing for an upcoming felting workshop, where I will be teaching some folks to needle felt, and wet felt. And because it's autumn, make autumny things, like.... Mushrooms!

I photographed these in the park, and some kids came over to have a look cos they thought they were real.

So, I will be doing an Autumnal felting session, where we learn to make mushrooms, acorns. Any squirrel would be sadly disappointed to find these cuties:

Closer to Christmas I'll do another workshop on bead and baubles, here's some felt beads I made, in their felt container(!) and then a couple of finished products, necklaces made from a mix of felt beads and other beads. I quite like them, and was well pleased with my container.

And finally, baubles to put on a Christmas tree: oh these were so much fun to make...

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