Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Season for Plum Flowers
by Lee Chul Soo

In early spring,
When a plum tree that survived the long winter blooms redolent flowers,
A farmer, who survived the long winter,
while plowing the field, smiles at the life that survived the cold weather.
Life in spring and the farmer are friends in this way.

Woodcut and poem by Lee Chul Soo

Friday, 19 April 2013

Listening to flower pots...

There is something truly wonderful about the pile of old terracotta pots sitting patiently in the greenhouse, awaiting the chance to fulfil their potential. The very fact that they are made from the earth is testament to its essential productivity and they seem to hold within the promise of fruitfulness. Most of these are very old, perhaps some over 100 years, handed on from gardener to gardener, garden to garden; but for this year they are here and silently crying out to work with me in trying to bring a harvest from the earth.

And in gardening, as in life, we need that encouragement, that belief. In spring we need to see these pots, empty and have the thought that maybe with just a little bit of compost (old dead matter) and a seed and some measure of luck, something beautiful and wonderful will come from it – as unlikely as that may seem and even if experience tells us it doesn’t always work out. To pick one up and know, that to not fill it, to not sow something, to leave it unfulfilled is to have already written failure; but that to take that chance, to take that risk, might just result in a little miracle and something quite wonderful.

So I sit in the warmth of the small greenhouse with the wind and rain hammering to get in, next to this pile of pots, and try not to look out the windows, past the shed, at the beds unprepared, the grass growing too long, the weeds waking up from their long winter rest, keen to make up for time. Instead I fill each one and nestle some seed down into its dark duvet and try not to get too excited by the pictures on the packet or the descriptions of fantastical crops. Although in this I would almost certainly fail, where it not for last year’s fallen written across labels and gathered like tombstones in an old broken pot. I take one out, put a line though the squash that for some reason didn’t ripen or the celeriac that never got planted and then, with genuine belief that this year will be different, write on the new name.

I have been trying to think of a sentence which neatly uses the word that keeps coming to mind, but actually it’s so fundamental to all life that it deserves one of it’s own. Tenacity. Nature has it in abundance; the damn Marestail that you just cannot get to the end of; the Marguerite that shrivels and dies due to me failing to water it enough during the summer, but then revives each winter to take another onslaught and the rhubarb that no matter else fails can always be relied on to be there, allowing us at least one meal from the allotment in early spring.

Whilst it would be foolish to suggest that we take pride in not learning from our mistakes, it would be twice as foolish to be paralysed by the thought that we might make them again. The pots have no memory of past wrongs and take no umbrage at being emptied of dried compost and stalks too withered to be identified. So I’ll take my lead from them and sit in quiet, hopeful expectation, and fill and sow each one as though it were my first.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Some recent things...


We'll start with weaving, as that’s the craft that takes me the most energy to come back to. Not because I don't love it - I do - but because success is not always guaranteed and the initial warping and dressing of the loom takes a while; which doesn't easily fit with my impatient nature that loves to see something finished the same day that its started. But that's good; as it makes it not only a craft exercise but a personal (spiritual?) one too.

We were visiting our adopted local city, Norwich, a while back and in one of the charity shops down by the Cathedral square was a lonely (slightly dirty) cone of creamy yarn. A sniff and a rub on the neck by both of us confirmed it was wool and I happily parted with £2 for what is over 2lb of yarn. It’s a little coarse and sticks a touch during weaving, but it looks to be undyded and has the most wonderful feeling of welsh hillsides and leaves your hands scented of lanolin.

My weaving skills are still very embryonic, but I wanted to try something new, so I have created a check pattern by warping a charcoal woollen yarn every 11th warp thread and then weaving to the same. This meant the charcoal thread had to run along floating selvedge, which has given me something else to worry about when it comes to the tricky selvedge. I certainly recognise myself in the following description that I found on one website 'Frequently, new weavers have trouble making even selvedges when they weave, or they fuss excessively over the selvedges, slowing down their weaving'. You'll notice that the photo above doesn't show the selvedges!

The other half walked in on me when I had done the first three inches and announced I was weaving a snood for her - although it will need a lot of softening and fulling if that's the case.

Book Binding & Slipcases

I am really pleased with some of the book binding that I have been doing - in particular slipcases for existing books. I followed an excellent tutorial on YouTube by Sage Reynolds and have made a few now; all using recycled materials. When we were clearing out my parent’s house I found a pile of foolscap envelopes, all of them sealed. I have no idea why or what they were for, but the inside paper texture is really interesting and made an excellent work-a-day book cloth for the two volumes of Roget's Thesaurus. All the cardboard comes from display signs that our local clothing shops throw out with depressing regularity each Sunday. Some have cardboard stands at the back, which limit their useful size, but I have never needed to buy any card for my projects.

When I got a copy of Miriam Darlington's book Otter Country I just knew it was crying out for a slipcase that made the most of the book's dust cover. I made a template of the cover to ensure I got the window in the right place and then created a slight ressess to finish it. Likewise I have protected my favourite little volume of poetry 170 Chinese Poems, with a rather pleasing black and yellow slipcase.

Please do give these a go; if you have a favourite book it really does make it stand out and gives it a little something. There is nothing quite like ordering a coffee in a cafe and sliding out a little volume from it's homemade slipcase to make everything feel pretty peachy and special.

Where from here...?

I know I still haven't shown you the homemade bone folders yet, plus both the book press and engineers cabinet are still being worked on. With the weather having finally broken the allotment is going to be the subject of my next post, followed by a photo blog of me making up some willow cloches.