Roxanne O'Connell

Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Needlecraft Updates

Knitting productivity is rampant! I’ve blocked three shawl-scarves and started another shawl with Stolen Stitches, Cois Farraige (Seaside). I literally knitted myself out of a migraine last night with working out this pattern. Sometimes, when you’ve taken everything in your medicine chest for the thing, deeply concentrating on something other than your headache will get you some relief.

Two of the shawls were 1 skein projects I found on Ravelry when I looked for what I could do with two skeins I had bought when the yarn shop in Warren, RI folded. That was probably over 15 years ago and I finally was able to do something with them. I finished knitting them around Christmas but, since I didn’t have anyone in mind, they just sat there, unblocked, unfinished. Talking to a neighbor today, I learned that her sister, Patricia, is in hospice and I asked would she like anything… maybe one of these shawls. My neighbor thought it would cheer her up no end so I went straight to work with blocking it. It should be dry tomorrow and be ready to be sent up when my neighbor goes to visit her sister in Waterford city. That is the trick, for me, of getting something finished—figure out who will get it.

I’m not sure who will get this one, but since I was doing the one, I may as well do both. Normally I would block using the interlocking mats, blocking wires and pins, but that was being used for Patricia’s shawl, I took a leaf out of Carol Feller’s method of using interlocking exercise mats… more than twice the size of my fancy blocking mats. Well I didn’t have those but I did have my yoga mat! I just unrolled it and set everything up on the floor. My studio is DEFINITELY a NO GO area for the CAT now!

Finally, I have my Grianchloch shawl all blocked and finished. It is so lovely and light and soft. I can’t wait to wear it. I have bought MORE yarn for another just like it in blues for my dear friend June who is almost always wearing something around her neck 🙂

March may be half over but it can be a very long month if there’s no knitting to do. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem!

Signs of Spring Garden Post

While the weather is nothing to boast of—3 1/2″ of rain over the past two days, much of it last night—the temperatures are rather mild. A quick gander around the garden shows signs of spring that gladden the heart.

I planted 16 seed potatoes in two of the raised beds outside my studio so we could just nip out and dig some up for dinner in June. I might do a few in bags. I’ll be sowing peas in a week or so, as soon as I get fresh seeds from Quickcrop.

I’ll probably sow some lettuce in the greenhouse along with some Bishop’s Children dahlias and a few other flowers. It’s just getting warm enough to spend some time out there, although not dry enough to clear everything out and get things in order. Lots of things to pot up (dahlias, pelargoniums, and some peonies I got on sale that we’ll want to plant out in a new area.) But all that can wait until the end of the month. March is still too soon I think. Too much rain and too many weather surprises.

Grianchloch MKAL shawl done!

To be honest, the finishing of a knitting project is hardly ever my favorite part. Blocking, weaving in the tails of the yarn, all a bit fussy and laborious. And yet, on a misty, rainy day, with no new project on the needles, what else can you do? So, to the sink to wash and wet the garment, wrap it in a towel and squeeze out any extra moisture, and on to the floor to open it out with long wires, pins and interlocking blocking squares.

It took a few hours but I’m happy with how it is shaping up—literally.
I carefully closed and latched the door. If there’s anything the cat likes more than going to sleep on the quilt stretched on my frame, it’s finding T-pins (or ANY kind of pin or needle) to play with.

And now, I need a nap.

Doing an MKAL with Stolen Stitches

MKAL = Mystery Knit Along! Where you make something based on the written directions in the clues that are published periodically. No pictures. Kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle without the box cover.

A little over a year ago I knitted a shawl (actually 3 of them now) that was originally a Mystery Knit Along kit from a favorite wool site, The Fibre Co. I loved how much I learned from it. But it was never a mystery for me because I bought the kit well after the Mystery/Clue phase was done.

Recently I started viewing tutorials from Carol Feller and found a treasure trove of projects and MKALs, past, present and future! And the bonus for me is that Carol and her studio/shop are right next door in Cork! No more dealing with import VAT and duty and the long wait for stuff to arrive.

The MKAL I’m doing now is called Grianchloch (Irish for quartz I think—”sun rock”). The yarns are “scrummy”, to use a favorite Mary Berry term—rich colors and gorgeous textures. I’m just about done with the first clue. The second clue is issued on the 27th.

In May, I’ll be starting another MKAL—a throw blanket from a collaboration between Carol and Thea  Colman—Queen of the cables! I’m looking forward to that one, but the work will have to be squeezed in between the demands of the garden. Two years ago, I was away in August and September and last year I was away in April and May and again in September. I’m afraid my vegetable garden paid the price.

I’m going to be more focused this year and try to enjoy whatever bit of summer we get. So far nothing has matched the standard set in the summer of 2020. But I’m hopeful that this year will make up for the wet miserable summer we had last year. And if it is wet and dreary, I’ll just keep quilting and knitting.

Quilting Crazy

The rain is drumming on the skylights. The sky is leaden. It feels like ages since the sun has had a full day out. It’s the kind of February day that could really get you down. But I have the antidote—at least for me. Read on…

I have come to the conclusion that I’m in my “happy place” most when I’m sitting in my comfy chair, my earbuds in, a great narrator reading me a wonderful book, and my quilting hoop on my lap. Added pleasure is a cat lying across my foot. There are days during this rainy winter when I find myself just filling in time until dinner is done, the plates cleared and all is tidied up so I can lose myself for the evening in the gentle order of stitches making patterns across the patchwork of whatever quilt I’ve put together.

Putting the actual quilt top together has its own rhythm and energy. Sew two pieces of fabric together, add that assembly to more pieces and you’ve created a fabric building “block.” Sew two or more blocks together and you create a new visual landscape.  Every time I go to the ironing board to press the seams it’s a magical reveal of a new patterned fabric unfolding like the twist of a kaleidoscope. But most of that work happens during the day. It generates excitement and anticipation. It is not conducive to relaxation and unwinding. For that I need to don my earbuds and thimble, enfold myself in a good story and stitch myself back together from whatever I’ve been doing all day.

This is especially true on days when I’ve been dealing with things like paying bills, reconciling bank statements, preparing for the tax return or deleting over 7,500 malware posts from this blogsite. (The good folks at DreamHost have cleaned out all the bad code and we’ve reset passwords and installed other safety protocols. But the most important thing I can do, I think, is get back to doing, at a minimum, a post a month. So this is February’s post.)

To catch up with what I’ve been doing  since August, here’s a little gallery of the Quilts I’ve worked on since my last post:

Well, I know that’s cheating a little… because I finished Cath’s Coastal quilt in May. But I didn’t get to see it on her bed in her new condo until September. Aiden’s quilt is deceptively simple. I used a sea themed “layer cake” I thought I might use for Cath’s quilt but the collection was a little too subdued. The challenge came in creating something a 19 year old male would like (and hopefully treasure.) And in giving each 10″ block some interesting geometric quilting in black thread for contrast.

Nicki’s quilt was a major challenge, each block of symbolic significance (Sister’s Choice, Storm at Sea, Slip Knot, Trip Around the World) and each needing a different quilting pattern. The border, because it was so wide, needed special attention—a balance of geometric lines and curves. I found a stencil for a spiral seashell that worked perfectly! The decision to use only fabric (for the top) that I already had, including some batiks that Nicki had brought me (decades ago) from Indonesia, also put me on my current path—I’ve resolved to use (as much as possible) whatever I have in my stash in various kinds of “scrap” quilts.

What is a scrap quilt? It’s a quilt where you use, as much as possible, fabric leftover from other projects. New fabric can be bought for the background or borders, but you get an extra thrill when you can keep that to a minimum, or not use “new” at all! My first scrap quilt is the one we have on our bed. In it are fabrics I used for other quilts and my daughter’s little dresses. It took 20 years to finish because I had several twists and turns in my professional life as well as a move to a smaller house with no room to set up my big frame, so it stayed rolled up under the bed in the spare room. It was the specter of having to move it unfinished YET AGAIN that goaded me into finishing it before we came to Ireland in 2017.

That’s what led to Mick & Paula’s Anniversary Quilt—a log cabin quilt made of scrap fabrics. I even carefully stitched together the batting from leftovers. The backing was some fabric I had bought yards of thinking that I would make curtains when we moved to Bristol, RI, but never used because I was in a new job and then decided to go back to school for my PhD. It’s interesting that the fabrics I’m drawn to tend to be 100% cotton (and the yarns tend to be luxurious wools!). I’ve also been known to buy the rest of the bolt if there’s only a yard or so left.

I’ve discovered the constraints that come with only using what you’ve got have actually push me to be more creative and daring in my use of color and shape and I’m really pleased with the outcome. The quilt I am now working on has, as its focus, a panel I bought over 35 years ago. I actually bought two identical panels. The first was quilted into a wall hanging for my friends, Brian and Lindsay, who love everything Christmas. The second was intended for ourselves but, alas, I never got around to it and it sat in a bin of UFPs (Unfinished Projects) until now. The images on the panel are charming and I’m totally immersed in them. Each picture in the panel gives me a new treatment challenge—how much or how little to quilt to emphasize the shapes within the pictures needs careful study. And sometimes my stitches need to be very small indeed!

It’s been a miserably wet winter so far and this month hasn’t looked much better. But it can rain all evening and I won’t complain. As long as I have my hoop, my thimble and and something to quilt, I’m more than content—I’m at peace.

The Cat King of Cardboard

Sometimes I think that my relationship with Amazon (or any of the online shopping I use) is less about buying things and more about getting things in big cardboard boxes. Cardboard—especially the brown, uncoated kind—is a boon to a “no dig” gardener (see Charles Dowding primer). Lay some down on a weed and grass covered patch, mulch generously (about 4 inches) with compost, wood chip or bark mulch, and you’ll have far less weeding, more organic matter and, over time, more fertile soil for whatever you want to plant.

However, I have competition for any cardboard that comes my way—Mouse, the cat.

Minutes after I have taken out whatever I have ordered and towed the box and the packaging outside to put paper or straw in the compost and strip off any tape, especially the non-biodegradable stuff, I turn around to find the cat has taken possession.

He does this with little piles of dirt and detritus I sweep up on the path as well as newly cleared and composted VegTrug beds and potato bags… even my “potting bowl”! (See below for a gallery of places he has overtaken.)

I’m not sure what the attraction is. Himself (Robbie) says it’s because these are things I’m working with and that Mouse sees me as his “mommy”—heaven forbid!

But maybe he has a point… because the other day I turned my back on a selection of fabric for a quilt I was planning in order to contemplate my “almost neatly stacked” fabric shelves of scraps and pieces for possible additions. When I turned back… behold! He had, yet again, taken possession of my stuff! I call this his Mandarin Pose—and I think he knows it.

The Cat Who Would be King of All Cardboard
(and straw and dirt and planting places)

A visual walk around the garden

Lots of needlework — very little gardening

Here we are—almost at the end of what must be the wettest March I have ever experienced. Even when the day gets a bit of sun, the ground is so heavy and wet that there’s little can be done in the way of gardening. With the help of cousin Fionán, we did cover and mulch the Blackcurrant bed. What was a lovely ground cover of Ajuga Reptans (Wild Bugle) had become choked with creeping buttercup. When I could, I dug up the small ajuga plants and potted them up to grow on. We’ll replant them in the edges of the bed and in the rockery. Once (if ever) the bed is free of buttercup, I’ll replant the ajuga again. In any case, the bed is all mulched and will need very little attention for now.

The other project I completed was a lacy shawl for Lizzie. I learned several new techniques and stitch patterns doing this, sitting by the fire in the long winter nights while listening to all the Terry Pratchett Discworld books on Audible. This is something I find I’m doing more of… going through whole books (and authors) while my fingers are busy with needles and soft fine wool… sometimes with a glass of wine or a brandy & port. It really puts me in my “happy place.”

Much of what is happening in the garden is taking place without my attention. The daffodils are on the wane and the tulips are beginning to bloom along with the gorgeously scented skimmia. Of the fruit trees, the plum tree is the first to show any flowers, the others just barely in bud. The rhubarb has been coming up and the early variety, Timperley, is just about ready for a crumble. I’ll add some of the frozen blackcurrants I put by from last August and it will feel like summer is nearly here.

I am now on to a massive dose of quilting. Much of this spring has been spent on hand quilting my daughter’s quilt. I bought the fabric last September when I was in Ballard visiting my dear friend and colleague Kathy. She is also a quilter although she’s been very busy remodeling her new house there. Shout out to Quilting Mayhem! A most amazing quilt store — I WILL be back! I know there are some who would rather spend five hours in a dentist chair than 5 minutes hand quilting anything but I find a calm and serenity in my needle and thread, using my stitches to create the subtle third dimension in the quilt. The very intentional divisions and the re-joining and defining of two-dimensional patterns add complexity to the quilt no machine could achieve. It soothes and satisfies me and makes me feel like I’ve brought peace, order and beauty into my small space.

I’m beginning work on a new quilt for my sister Monique who turns 60 this April. I think I’ve found a combination of blocks that fit her life: Traveller ‘Round the World for the center, Slip Knot, Storm at Sea and Sister’s Choice for the framing blocks, which should look like Dutch tiles. There’s a bit of geometry and math required as two blocks are a 4-patch base while Sister’s Choice is a 5-patch base and I need 12″ finished blocks to make the 60″x60″ quilt (not including the outside border.) So there’s a challenge involved… and the making of “test” blocks to make sure my math is correct before cutting into the fabric for the final quilt. A little stressful, but it’s creativity stress, so that’s okay.

All of this should tide me over until I get a sunny enough day to clear out the greenhouse. I’ve detected aphids so I think I need to take EVERYTHING out and spray it down and maybe add a bit of garlic or vinegar to the sprayer. And we probably should tidy up the tool shed as well… that’s two days work and we have not had a warm enough (or sunny enough) day to get that done. But April is just two days away. Maybe we’ll get lucky. Saturday promises a sunny afternoon and sunset at 8:04 pm… so maybe we can get something started. Although that WILL be April Fool’s Day. Finger’s crossed!

 

Lá Fhéile Bríde Shona Daoibh!

Imbolc (Imbolg)– the first day of Spring and the feast of Brigid!

Signs of spring are already showing up in our garden, green things pushing up through the ground, the sun rising earlier and earlier, bird song abounds and, the most heart lifting of all, there’s a stretch in the evening—that soft blue gloaming in the west that stretches the light after sundown.

This year will be the first time a feast day celebrating Bríd (both the mythic and saint) will be a public holiday. It falls on the first Monday of February, completing the cycle of the four Celtic feasts for which there is a public holiday, the other three being Samhain (November 1), Bealtaine (May 1), and Lughnasadh (August 1).

Lá FhĂ©ile BrĂ­de is the first public holiday that celebrates women—even Nollaig na mBan, Women’s Christmas doesn’t do that. As is fitting, some of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians have composed and choreographed pieces for the day. I’ve posted these pieces by CaitlĂ­n Nic Gabhann—a slip jig Lá ‘le BrĂ­de, SĂ­le Denvir’s song Seo Ă­ isteach mo BhrĂ­deog, and Louise Mulcahy’s jig Port Naomh BrĂ­d.

Enjoy the day and celebrate the end of Winter—even if it doesn’t look much like it wherever you are.

For the record…

I’m not one to get involved in New Year’s Resolutions—particularly resolutions involving activities for which I have no great desire. That’s really setting one’s self up for failure. But for things that I might have deferred or got out of practice with, having a promise to indulge in these in the coming year has its attractions, reminders that there are these things I really do want to do and now is a good time to do them. So, keeping the list to just five things I really DO want to do, here goes:

  1. Get out the mountain dulcimer and really learn how to play it. I have started on this already by asking Robbie to string it for me and I’ve dug out the books we have. I’m going to research some YouTube videos as well because I’m someone who uses ear as much as eye in learning things. If I give myself over to doing this even once a week, I’ll get there.
  2. Get back into doing Yoga. I was doing well with it when there was a regular yoga class here in the village. I’m going to find out if such a thing will be starting again soon. If not, I’ll just make the effort once a week to use the video to get back into the swing of it.
  3. Do what I can to help get the community basketball court up and running. We’ve been given the money but there hasn’t been much activity. The weather hasn’t helped. Now that the holidays are over, maybe we can get things going. I will make it a point to be at the next CAKCC meeting.
  4. Do what I can to help with the Grotto plantings and the pond. This will be equal parts money and time but my own garden will not come second this time.
  5. Quilt and/or knit daily. Sitting with my earbuds, listening to a book that engrosses me or makes me laugh out loud, while moving my hands in a creative project puts me in my Happy Place. I want to have even one hour of that a day.

There’s my start. New desires might come onto the list but this feels like a good start and enough to be getting on with.

If I wanted to add one more thing, I think it would be “Write a blog post once a month.” Well, so far, since last month, I’ve been doing that. So I’ll change that to “KEEP writing a blog post once a month.” The other thing is the Ancestry/Photo work. It’s the kind of thing that acts as a time vampire—once you start hours, days, weeks elapse. There might be a point at which that will seem attractive again but for the time being, I think I’ll just leave that in the “resting” pile. I’m resting from doing that kind of stuff until something comes up that makes it take precedence over the five or six things I have on my list.

Not a bad start. I’ll check in next month to see how I’m getting along. Checking in with myself may be the most important resolution of all.

« Older posts

© 2024 Roxanne O'Connell

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑