'If you make happiness your goal, then you're not going to get to it… The goal should be an interesting life."

Dorothy Rowe

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Silence returned to this blog -

because, firstly, the school holidays meant extra grandparenting. The VHC requested that he come to our house, play in our garden, and have a bath - which requests were granted. However even the beautiful weather didn't prevent him becoming bored with this choice of events, so a few other activities were organised. Manor Farm being out of favour, we enjoyed:
- an Easter egg hunt at Mottisfont (one of at least 4 they went to, although we didn't attend the others);
- a trip to Eastleigh Lakeside railway (a.k.a. 'the little trains');
- and Winchester Science Centre, where the VHC explored parachutes, the rowing machine and the crane, while his sister spent at least 45 minutes on the 'Stem Cell Volcano' (think a 2 metre diameter, horizontal 3D pinball machine). I don't think she learned much about stem cells, but she had a lot of fun, and I got an upper body workout providing the power which raised the marbles - er, stem cells - to the top of the volcano.

Secondly, it is nearly the end of the semester, which meant we part-timers had to prepare and mount, a small exhibition of our work this year, together with our portfolios and other evidence that we had actually done some work this year.

You may have detected a slight conflict of interests here. This was made worse because Uni was operating on West Sussex term dates, so were on holiday for a week before and a week after Easter. The children's school was not, so they are on holiday for two weeks after Easter. This meant that set up day (last Monday) was also a grandparenting day - the busiest grandparenting day because they weren't in school and Mondays incorporate a swimming lesson. For other reasons, things got very complicated, and we ended up having the little guys overnight, but granddad coped - and so did I, despite a bad night listening for voices and/or footsteps. The exhibition is up, the supporting portfolios etc. are in place, and I can relax till take-down day, which is next week. On a grandparenting day, naturally.

When I was doing the Foundation Degree, I usually ended up with something relatively simple to display. Wall hanging? Just need a pin in the wall. Cardboard 'treasure chest' (3D piece)? Just needs a plinth. Rolled paper tubes? (It was a textiles degree, despite all the evidence to the contrary.) Hang a few on the wall, pin up some photos, unroll the several metre long collection of rolled envelopes held together by string - done.

This time, things were a little more complicated. First we had to prepare the walls: the original plan had involved polyfilla and paint, but unfortunately (not) there was no paint, so after an emergency text to my long distance DIY expert, who fortunately had a lull in the grandparenting, I successfully polyfilled several small holes. Then some more after I'd hammered panel pins in the wrong places.

I had a 2 metre long column of gloves to suspend in a double-story space. A bracket, installed by the helpful technician, solved that, but I had to climb up the step ladder to tie the gloves on, and I don't do step ladders, or reaching up while holding 2 kilos of gloves.  And of course whenever I went up I got to the top and realised I had forgotten something, so had to go down again. 

Then there were prints and more gloves to fasten to the walls. This involved lots of bending down and climbing up (on a stepstool, fortunately) with long measuring tapes, metre rulers, spirit levels, and plumb lines (except that I had forgotten to take a plumb line and had to extemporise with my scissors and some yarn from the textiles room). It also involved a pin push and some pins, till I broke the pin push. Fortunately I had some panel pins and a hammer - and big pockets, in which I could stow most of the aforementioned.

But a stepstool, a poor head for heights and arthritic hips are not a good combination, and I was very glad to finish and come home.

If I have a long day on my feet, I often get cramp at night, and Monday night was no exception, so that was another wakeful night. Despite this, I had a lot of energy in the morning, so I decided to tidy my workroom - which involved a lot of of bending down and climbing up on a stepstool, plus moving heavy things from A to B - and - often - back again. I was fine till I sat down at lunchtime, but standing up again was something of a challenge. My joints told me very clearly that all this was not a good idea...

Attentive readers of this blog may remember that just after Christmas I announced my intention to make two ornaments a month, in order to decorate an Advent bough next December. I managed 3. Since then things have gone very quiet on the Advent decorations front. This was because I decided to focus on Uni work until the end of the semester and then catch up. The semester is not quite over yet, but I decided that this afternoon I would get started.

So, inspired by this, I made a book. No, it isn't one of the decorations. While I was looking through my extensive Pocket collection to find Christmas decoration instructions, I came across the picture on that link, and was sidetracked. I didn't have any interesting paper in a large size like the example in the picture, but I did have an A3 misprint of one of the images from the exhibition, so I made a quarter size version. 

Today I did get round to the Christmas decorations, using my own non-Christmassy colour scheme. Not quite according to the instructions  (now there's a surprise), which involved hot glue. Glue and I do not get on at the best of times, but hot glue? A recipe for disaster, I much prefer a needle and thread. Now I have to decide if these constitute 2 decorations, which means I have made 5, and only have half of March and all of April to do - or only 1, which means I am still 4 down. I think that question may only be answered when we get to December, and I see how many I have managed...

Monday, 6 April 2015

Can you spot the (not so) deliberate mistake?

Not these. These were not mistakes. Weird, but not mistakes. Even the unfinished yarn ends which have felted together are deliberate. 

I may have shown you the left hand one before, but I've felted it a bit more since then. It was originally a tree with hands for branches. Now it's a glove with gloves for fingers, and has therefore, become the first of my unwearable gloves series. The glove on the right was intended to be unwearable right from the start. It was going to have a long tail (knit till the wool runs out) but I got bored and added a frill (increase in every stitch till the wool runs out). The result makes me think of a hand growing out of a brain. I am seriously beginning to wonder what is lurking in my subconscious and what will come out next. Especially because of what did happen next...

You may have noticed that all my samples so far have been made in neutral colours - because I was thinking of skin tones. However I've been pondering on using colour - after all, they are gloves, not hands. Or are they?

I wasn't sure what colour, but when I came across a big skein of  red yarn in a charity shop, I grabbed it. It felt like wool, and £4.50 for 800 grammes was a bargain. I like red, and I'd been very impressed by Louise Bourgeois' paintings of red hands at Southampton Art Gallery last month.

Of course, because it was a skein, I had to get out my swift and nostepinne. I know I shouldn't set up the swift in this ramshackle way, (that's not the deliberate mistake), but the stool is the only thing I can clamp it to. It actually reminds me of this. 

The image of the yarn on the swift is a more accurate colour than the others.

I thought I would only wind off about half of it to begin with, but I had a comfortable chair, I was enjoying the process, and I just kept going. It made me realise how important to me it is that I do these things by hand, in the old way. Wooden tools are nice too. But I don't think my foremothers had Radio 3 to keep them company.

I knitted a tiny sample and washed it - yup, it's wool - and started a glove. It wasn't going to be an unwearable glove, but one of a Louise Bourgeois inspired pair. But when I'd finished it and was sewing in the ends I realised this had happened.

I knew the stitch count was off when I got to the fingers, but just thought I'd miscalculated. Obviously my subconscious was telling me to stick with the unwearable gloves...

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

One of those days.

No Uni today, as it is Easter break. Carefully timed not to be the same two weeks as the little guys' Easter break, but that's another story.

Today I had two essential  tasks, before getting down to Uni work: make some soup for lunch, and make some cakes.

I put all the soup ingredients into the electric pressure cooker - easy - started it, and started the cakes. Not a difficult recipe, but with several different steps, and needing to get the timing right.

In the middle of reducing the Guiness, melting the chocolate and butter,  and whisking the eggs and sugar, I realise that all is not well with the pressure cooker. Instead of automatically turning the heat down when it gets to the right pressure, cooking the soup for 20 minutes, then turning itself off, it is hissing like an angry cat, the lid isn't on properly, and the kitchen is full of steam.

The cake mixture is at a crucial stage, so I just turn off the pressure cooker and return to the cake making. 

In the middle of adding the hot butter and sugar, very carefully as advised by Ms Monroe, the buzzer on my washing machine goes off. This is only to tell me that it's finished, but it's annoying so I have to turn it off.

When I've got the brownies in the oven, and tidied the kitchen,  I return to the pressure cooker. I try to refit the lid but realise the the safety button has lifted and it's not going to work. Normally at this stage I'd have shoved the soup in a pan and finished it on the hob, but it is white bean soup, so needs long cooking, and I need it for lunch. So I get down the old manual pressure cooker which I haven't used since I bought the electric one. Unfortunately I haven't cleaned it in that time either, so it needs washing before I can use it.

The sink is full of the detritus from cake making, soaking to get all the chocolate off. 

Eventually I get the pressure cooker clean, decant the soup into it, put it on the hob - and realise that I can't remember how to use it. Nor can I find the manual. 

I did get it sorted eventually, and hopefully by the time I've written this we'll have some bean and tomato soup to enjoy - the brownies are for someone else.

But that is why I am now enjoying the left over Guiness, and may well open another can.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Weeks 27 & 28: Glovelier and Glovelier

Weeks 27 & 28: Glovelier and Glovelier.

It is, by my calculations, 4 weeks until we put up the exhibition which, for the part-timers, is the final part of this year's course. (Where the heck did that year go?) By now, I should be coasting gently towards the end, finishing off pieces for exhibition, making sure my supporting portfolio is up to date, and planning for a well earned break.

Am I? What do you think? 

I spent the first semester procrastinating by pretending to be working on the essay, but since the switch from trees to gloves, I keep having ideas. And I keep having tutorials in which other people make interesting suggestions. And I keep following them up. So that small but beautifully formed body of work which I thought I was going to produce (ha!) is, in reality, a collection of unfinished bits and bobs reflecting a series of wild goose chases.

For example, I think I mentioned the suggestion that I bought a lot of cheap gloves and used them to explore ideas. I started sewing them together without really thinking about it, and ended up with a short tube, which I didn't think I wanted, until I'd unpicked it. (Unpicking tight black stitches in black gloves in dim light is not a good idea and resulted in frayed cuffs and tempers.) (I've just read the previous sentence, and think I should make it clear that I wasn't wearing the gloves. That would be silly.)

Then I decided that a tube was probably a good idea, so I had to start again. The trouble is that sewing magic gloves together is both boring and difficult, which leaves to procrastination. Such as blog writing.

Here is the tube in progress on the right, and the remaining gloves on the left. Unless I decide I want a longer tube, in which case it is about half the remaining gloves. Then I have to decide whether I want an erect column of gloves, or a hanging cylinder, and go and consult one of our excellent technicians about how to achieve it.

My tutor suggested that I tried stuffing one of the gloves with fleece, and shrank it. So I did. I think you can probably work out which is the shrunk one. Interesting, but I don't think I'm going to stuff 4 or 5 dozen gloves with fleece, unless someone has one to spare - and even then I don't think I've got time or a big enough washing machine...

I had another tutorial last week - we are encouraged to book tutorials with all the members of staff.  I was enthusing about Louise Bourgeois's wonderful bronze hands - and was told to try copying them. Apparently copying is good, and trying to be original isn't, which was a bit of a surprise.

So here are two Bourgeois knock-offs. The single hand has yet to be felted, and will join two or three others. They are slightly more expressive than I expected, but somehow I don't think I'm going to be able to pass them off as genuine. 

And finally, some small gloves for an enlarged version of this. 

On a good night, I can make two of these, but looking at them in the photo I think I'm going to need a lot more than nine. Better get those needles clacking...

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Weeks 25 & 26

have been busy, hence the radio silence. We have had two Visual Marks Sessions: a standard one last week, and then this week an excellent workshop with Cas Holmes. So although I have a lot of Uni work, today was scheduled for two VM activities as well: following up the CH workshop, and this, which  is one of the challenges our mighty leaders delight in giving us. 


In case you are wondering, it is a drip mat for a plant pot. Or it was. Not saying what I have in mind to make, but as you can see it involved a shisha/sequin. It is a long time since I sewed on a shisha, and the last time I did it, I cheated and used shisha rings. So, I have forgotten how to do shisha stitch. It took many attempts to get this far.

Then, as you can see, I spilled red bush tea on it.

Fortunately, the other side is OK, so I shall turn it over and have another go when I feel up to it. Possibly after my first drink of the day. White wine doesn't stain.

My Cas Holmes related work for today was to paint backings (below) for what I'd done on the day (above) - I decided they needed one after I got home. I managed to achieve that without mishap. Tomorrow I will attach the collages and try to pluck up the courage to add some machine embroidery. Mishaps cannot be ruled out.

The Uni highlight of last week had been the crits (critiques). Yes, really! I can't remember if I wrote about the previous  one, but it was a bit demoralising, so I was a tad nervous about this one, especially as it was a Friday afternoon. But the tutors were really positive and encouraging, with lots of suggestions about where to go from here.

Which led to an outbreak of lunacy in the garden. It was suggested that I think about putting my hands/gloves/prosthetics on poles. (Don't ask. I can rationalise it, but I'm trying not to overthink things.)

So yesterday we pottered off for a walk in the sunshine at the Hillier  Gardens, coffee and cake in the cafe, and the purchase of canes in the garden centre.

And the final task on the list for today was to put the gloves on the poles, stick the poles in the lawn, and photograph them. I was expecting the pole-pushing to be difficult, but one of the advantages of having a lawn which  is mostly moss is that the first few inches are quite soft. (After that it's chalk, and you need a pick axe.)

If the neighbours didn't already think I was nuts, they do now.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Week 24: a week of two halves.

Last week was reading week, or, as the little guys call it, half term. That meant that I didn't have to go into Uni, and because the little guys' mummy took the week off, there was no grandparenting either. 

Despite it being reading week, the only thing I read was Hilary Mantel. But as the Uni knitting I'm doing at the moment is straightforward once I've finished the fingers, I can read and knit at the same time,  so I hope counts!

Instead of reading, I'd planned some art/knitting related visits. The flu still lingers - next week will be the 8th week! - but I made myself go out, and I'm glad I did. Well, apart from Friday.

On Monday we went down to Walford Mill to have lunch - er - to see Knit 1, Mend 1, Keep 1, Change 1 - a title I find it impossible to remember.  However the exhibition was very good and very inspirational, and I came away with lots of ideas.

Tuesday was spent reading and knitting, as previously described. Two prosthetic gloves have now been finished, and a third is on the needles.

Yes, that is a plaster.

Wednesday was what was supposed to be the last meeting of 'neuf', the group made up of students from my year of the Foundation Degree. Since we finished, it's been increasingly difficult to find times to meet when we are all free, so six of us made it to the final meeting, for lunch and a gossip. Except that we enjoyed it so much, we will probably do it again in the summer!

On Thursday we went to Southampton Art Gallery, to see 'Artist Room: Louise Bourgeois' and Kurt Jackson's 'Place'. Both excellent exhibitions, interesting contrasts, and idea provoking in very different ways.

On Friday. Well, I would have done better to stay in bed. I wanted to go to Farnham Maltings to 'unravel': unfortunately a lot of other people had decided to go to Farnham too. After we had followed a lot of other people very slowly around completely full car parks, we gave up and came home.  

After lunch I decided to make some bread.

This is what a breadmaker loaf looks like if you forget to put the yeast in, and the nut dispenser doesn't work. 

Unfortunately I didn't realise that the nut dispenser hadn't worked until later, when it did work and filled the empty breadmaker with nuts, which  were very difficult to remove.

So the first part of the week was enjoyable and successful, and Friday wasn't. Not quite half the week, perhaps, but long enough.

We've spent a quiet weekend bracing ourselves for our return to the grindstone on Monday. And I even found the energy for some work in a sketchbook, thinking about  arrangements for gloves.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Week 23

I knew I hadn't posted for a while, but I didn't realise it was quite this long! My excuse is that what I was calling a chest infection turned out to be flu, because just like almost everyone else who had the jab, I still caught it. And I still have the cough, sniffles and occasional wheezing. And no energy.

I have been getting into Uni, where  we had a special visitor.

I managed to escape extermination, and after a couple of tutorials, the trees have been replaced with hands - or possibly gloves. The final deciding factor was these, which turned out much better than I expected, if a little small. I find those odd little fingers strangely expressive. They look even better pinned to a wall.

So now I am researching, collecting photos, drawing (!), knitting and modelling hands and gloves.

I"m exploring different sizes and styles, before deciding what I am actually going to do with them!

On an encouraging note, I got told off by a member of staff because I didn't put anything in for an exhibition which is coming up. I really didn't have anything suitable - they had to have D-rings attached, which is difficult with knitting - but in the depths of my flu induced misery, it was good to know someone thought my work was better than I did!