Tag Archives: friendship is the best form of wealth

Transformations: Blind to Banner

I think some of my earliest sewing projects were mending and banner making.  I see no reason to change now!  This week the household is preparing to head out and let CommBank know we want them to rule out funding the Adani coal mine.  This mega-mine would mean that Australia could not hope to meet its obligations under the Paris agreement on climate action, let alone claim global leadership on addressing the most serious threat facing the planet, all species, and humanity.  We are part of the national movement to stop the money going to this project, and our strategies include going to the banks and singing about our hopes and expectations. We also want the passersby to know what we are doing–and that is where the banner comes in.

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A few weeks back I saw an old holland blind abandoned on the verge/nature strip.  I took it home because it was crying out to become a banner.  Nice, firm, neutral coloured fabric that won’t bleed through–and otherwise destined for landfill. I cut off the really sad parts that were coming apart through UV light damage and long use.  Then I washed off the surface grime (it had been out in the weather when I came across it).  Next, discussion about how big the banner should be, and snip!  In with the scissors.

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Next, collaboration on the engineering aspects, and construction of the pole pockets, with me on the sewing machine and my friends supporting the weight of the fabric.  We agreed on the message and design, then ate a delicious dinner!  I roughed out the text with a pencil and then we got to colouring it in, and called a friend for resources.  She came over with paint and brushes and I outlined the black sections in texta/sharpie/permanent felt tip pen. Then  everything went quiet for a while.  It’s more fun than you think to collaborate on a thing like this. And it doesn’t have to be a work of art, it just has to be a communication.

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Ready to go… but not quite… next day, off to the local bamboo clump, with some admiration of guerilla gardening success en route.  Here, I planted everything except the tree.

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Here, my friends and I planted everything, and there is so much cover now a friend planted a eucalypt in there with me one day–the site is protected enough that it might make it now!

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Then I made my bamboo selections, cut a spare one or two, stripped the leaves and headed home for breakfast and work.  We are ready to go!  If you are in Adelaide and want to join us, see you at 10 am outside the Commbank branch on Gouger St City, beside the market, for an hour of songs about why renewable energy is preferable to coal, the need for climate action, our determination to dump banks that won’t see sense and stop investing in fossil fuels, and some very fun new songs about stopping Adani. Feel free to swell our numbers whether you sing or not.  There’s a banner you could hold… or bring your own!

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More socks!

As usual, the latest pair of socks spent quite a lot of time on public transport. This is a local train service knitting opportunity.
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They came on some pretty tired and sad visits to hospital and nursing home as one of my dearests has been having a very tough time and I have been doing what I can to accompany her.  Knitting on public transport was a big help on a few visits when I took trips to visit her and she had already been taken by ambulance to some other place.

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Socks don’t care about your worries.  They just keep growing as you keep knitting, and that works for me.

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As you can see, it’s another pair of socks made with the same fibres.  And roughly the same size.  And there the resemblances end!  I managed to finish the skein with only this tiny ball of wool left!  But did get two pairs out of my naturally dyed Suffolk handspun.

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They have already gone to a dear friend who spends more time in gumboots than pleases her sometimes, and finds a hand knit sock an asset in her gumboot (wellington boot? galosh? wellie boot?  rubber boot? you get the picture, I hope).

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None of the pictures really came out right, with some too washed out and some a little overdone.  But I am sure you get the idea!  And in these times of considering mortality and suffering, I thought I would share this little gem taken as I ran through the cemetery one morning.  There were four magpies perched on this statue but two flew away as I approached. Camera shy.  I understand.

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Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Striped jumper for a fairy goddess-son

In a development that I could not have predicted, I have been recruited onto the English translation team for a Danish knitting business that specialises in knitting and embroidery kits.  A friend who now lives in Denmark was doing some of the translation and they were looking for an English speaking knitter. This is about as far from local and bespoke as it is possible to get! Anyway–it has led to my receiving knitting kits from Kit Couture.  This is my first effort: the Sotra Pullover.

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Well.  There was knitting the body on the way home from my folks’ place (by train) with a bag full of mandarins and mutant spring onions bigger than some leeks I’ve met from their garden.

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I forgot everything I knew about knitting jogless jogs (making the transition from one stripe to another less visible) and dropped all the joins back to try again at one point.  Then faced the reality that the wearer will not notice, and even if he noticed, would not care.  I managed to knit the ends in and was not facing hours of darning in ends at the end of all those stripes.  Thank you, Kaffe Fassett.  One of Kaffe’s books was the place I learned this was possible, and this is the place I have really used this strategy to the maximum.  This is one of the reasons I read knitting books: the real gift from a book may not be a pattern you knit from it!

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Here I am knitting a sleeve in public somewhere with my grease marked backpack as an aesthetically questionable backdrop.

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The exciting moment when I joined sleeves to body the night before and am preparing to take the whole thing to work so I can knit on the train, in a seminar and then in the bus home again… that blue patch at the top is the indigo and woad dyed bag the jumper is going into.

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My fairy goddess-son is perfect in every way, but evidently not quite the same shape as the models in Copenhagen.  So this version is a Frankenfit in which I am knitting the 4 year old size in width and the 10 year old size (and then some) in length.

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It is approximately the opposite situation to the Frankenfit necessary for me to use a Vogue pattern, in which it has always been the case that the Vogue Body and my body are not very similar.

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The colours are rather lovely, I think.  This experience has made me realise that I usually confront a lot more choices and decisions when making a jumper.  My handspun is not always even, not always one of the routine thicknesses for which knitting patterns are made, not the colours in anyone’s picture, and I often design my own jumpers.  This has its upsides and joys, but there was something differently gleeful about only having to figure out how to make width and length come together (not too challenging).  And–Kit Couture’s pattern was designed to be knit from the bottom up, seamlessly and in the round.  One of the ways I prefer to knit. Fantastic.

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The day we celebrated solstice with many friends, it finished blocking and drying. I tied it with handmade string, packed it into a bag for safekeeping, and handed it over.  I think it worked out pretty well, and my very dear goddess-son looks right at home in it…

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A little bag of cards

I have been very much enjoying adding to India Flint’s Wandercards.

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One of my beloved friends said something about them that made me think she might like a set of her own.  Well, they won’t be a set of India’s lovely cards, but nevertheless, a set of plant dyed cards with quotes that might help her to keep her heart full and her courage blazing through tough times.

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I wish I could make cards as beautiful as those India selected,–beautiful paper with rounded corners and such–but I decided to embrace the imperfection and do what I could.

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Then there was the question of a suitable bag.  I thought I’d make one, but then I realised I already had a perfect bag.  Here I am on a train, embroidering on it and listening to an audio book.  Audio books and podcasts make public transport so pleasurable!

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And so, a set of cards and a little bag for them to live in, packaged up and ready to send to their new home!  I know my friend will add quotes from her favourite poets and sources of inspiration.

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Scrap patchwork bags

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The more sewing there is, the more scraps there are.  The more garments get cut up and converted into other things, the more bits and pieces of old clothing are lying around the place.  I notice there are waves of action around here.  Waves where things come apart–clothes get cut up ready to convert, dyeing creates new opportunities, fabrics come out of cupboards, sewing clothes creates leftover pieces of cloth… and then there are waves of coming together, sometimes driven by a sheer need to clean up and manage all those bits.

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Having made one round of bags with printed patches on them, I began to piece onto the remaining patches and to sew scraps together for linings.  Perfectly good pockets coming from clothes that have passed the point of no return (as garments of one kind) were sewn into bag linings for future use.  Eventually, they all came together into four lined bag bodies in search of straps, and all the pieces of old clothing and exhausted tablecloth that had been through one indigo vat or another started to come together as well.

In the end, I decided more denim would really help and invested $4 on the bargain rack at a Red Cross op shop.  Anything that has made it to half price at an op shop is likely on its way to rags or landfill.  If you’re feeling tough minded, or you would like to know what happens to clothing that is donated to op shops in this country, here!  Read this.

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Two bags got linen straps. This one, I think I will send to a fellow climate change activist, someone I met in Newcastle at a protest last year.  I’ve become her friend on facebook and I can see how hard it is for her to be constantly trying to explain how serious the issue facing us all is–and how urgent, while she deals with her own feelings on the subject.  This is a bit of a long distance hug for her, ’cause she’s awesome.

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This one is going to another friend who lives in the country.  She and I go way back.  I can see it’s tough being so far away from so many people she knows and events she might want to attend–though of course there are great things going on at home too. She’s a musician and knitter and gardener and feminist. Also pretty awesome.

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This patch is so like something she wrote a few weeks back I decided as I read–that it should be hers. And in case you’re wondering… there are two still bags to finish!

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Patch bags

My beloved returned from a trip abroad with a gift for me.  Patches made from recycled clothing scraps!  I love them!  And then, a familiar tale unfolded.  Long time readers will feel like they have read this post before.

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I realised that a bag was called for!  Apparently my year of scrap patchwork cross pollinated with my bag lady tendency, and behold.  These patches spoke to me of a friend who describes themself as non binary–not enthusiastic about being understood as male or female.  Disinterested in the whole sport of there being two rigid ideas about how to organise humanity.  You know.  ‘There are two kinds of people…’.

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As a person who wants to be able to do anything–knit and fix the washing machine, embroider and ride a bike… be soft and be loud and be courageous and … you know!  I support my beloved friends in their journeys outside the box.  These bags include scraps from trousers and shirts I’ve made, leftover denim from making jeans, fabric that has been ‘stuff steep and store’-d with madder root, leftover quilt fabric.  You know.  Then some of the patches called to me about another friend and their journey lately.

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I like the denim aesthetic for a nice solid bag, and soon I was digging into the cupboard where garments that are ripe for their next incarnation live.

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Pretty soon the linings were getting pockets. I used to do this with jeans in the 1980s! (More or less).

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A pair of jeans went past the point of mending and were cut up and added to the pile of bag materials.  An old pair of hemp shorts got the cut. Some webbing from goodness knows where became a strap for this zippered bag. You know, variety.

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And, I admit it, I gave one bag away before I took its picture. I loved seeing my friend wearing it on his bike!

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And… I still have some patches and some ‘blocks’.  Watch this space!

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Shibusa: India Flint at the Onkaparinga Woollen Mills, Lobethal

India Flint is exhibiting at the historic Onkaparinga Woollen Mill in Lobethal (for those of you far away, this is a small town in the hills outside Adelaide).  A dear friend and I made a date and went to see the exhibit last weekend and there is one weekend to go!  21 January-12 February, Building 20, 11.30-4.00 pm on weekends only.  Check details here.  Yes, friends, this exhibit (part of it, at least) has been on show in Texas, and now–we have it to see and admire right here (I know, lots of you are not here)!

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‘Shibusa’ is a Japanese concept which is described in the exhibition documents as ‘a way of being that contrasts elegance with imperfection, spontaneity with restraint’.  Clearly an extremely good fit with India’s way of working and aesthetic.  ‘The seven elements of shibusa are simplicity, implicity, modesty, silence, naturalness, everydayness, and imperfection’.  Here, shibusa becomes an organising principle that brings together natural fibres, the imperfections of clothing that has been well-loved and well-worn, plant dyes and an immense imagination and a huge body of technique and skill.

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There is a very striking piece that felt as though it was greeting us or calling to us on our way into the space.  It draws on Latvian clothing traditions and includes embroidered Latvian text.  It drew our attention immediately.  India Flint has written about this piece herself in a rather wonderful way right here on her blog.  She has many more images of this work in her post, and explains its autobiographical references.  Despite its obviously tactile, material, concrete form, this aproned figure bearing words of such significance that they have been stitched into her surface nevertheless conveys an impression of ghostliness, one that it seems was intended by the artist herself.

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Like all of the works in the exhibition, the details are wonderful: dense stitching, reconstructed garments pieced together in ingenious ways, resist marks as well as leafy details.  And always the generous number of pockets that a wanderer–by choice or without alternatives–might need, no matter the occasion.  Hidden pockets, tiny pockets, pockets that contrast, former cuffs and sleeves transmogrified into pockets, front, back and side pockets.  Pockets full of bones.

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Garments dominate the space, a quiet but rather elegant crowd.  It is only in getting close to them that themes emerge.  Some of these dresses are rich in strips: torn pieces of silk; plackets that have become separated from their original garments and restitched, ribbons, shreds of lace.  Some have pockets in even greater abundance than others.  Some are gathered and pleated and feature gathers and pleats that might once have formed the front of a short or the feature on a jacket.  Some bear text: they are signed, or stitched with song lyrics.  It is only when you get close to them that you form the sense that their elegance has been formed from elements that are rescued, sometimes threadbare, newly transformed into new shapes, for the new purposes of new wearers.

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The ingenuity with which India reshapes garments never ceases to fascinate me.  You could say that transforming old garments and other textiles is something that also consumes my sewing life.  But the ways in which India undertakes this kind of shape-changing is utterly different, full of whimsy and genius. And always, full of leaves.

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We studied the garments in some detail, and I struggled to capture what it is I find interesting and lovely about them in images.  But I was rather riveted by two other parts of the exhibition.  One, a wall of trouser legs, separated from their previous partners.

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Needless to say, they were also dyed in rather spectacular fashion.

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Then, there was the wall of sleeves, severed from their former bodies and transformed by eucalypts and perhaps a few other plants.

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The shapes and colours and details are just so wonderful.

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We stepped out into the afternoon and went on to visit the India Flint made- and/or dyed-clothing and cushions available at Poet’s Ode in Hahndorf in what I understand are the last week or two the shop will be open.  And to talk up our plans for dyeing and stitching, inspired and delighted.  I hope some of you can also visit while the opportunity is still available!

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Filed under Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

Mellow blueness

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The woad has been thriving in this time of rain followed by warmth.  (The potatoes aren’t doing badly either, as you can see). And that can only mean one thing, when free time opens up!

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I managed to obtain Jill Goodman’s A Dyer’s Manual recently, and had the benefit of others helping me to grasp the chemistry of fresh woad and how it differs from using indigo that has already been prepared from fresh plants by someone else. I came by the book at the annual spinner’s retreat where there were folk with interest and knowledge–perfect, and very helpful indeed.  So this time I felt I knew why I was adding air in the early stages of the process, only to then remove it in the de-oygenation process required to have the dye become fully soluble and able to attach to fibres.  Previously this has been a total mystery or had me feeling I had done something wrong, or both.

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I still had part of one package of hydrosulphite left.  I am pretty keen to have it be the last.  Hydrosulphite is a substance the earth could do without. But equally, since I have it, better to use it rather than let it become stale and unusable for this process.  So I tried two vats: one with hydrosulphite and one with fructose.  The picture above is grey merino fleece descending through the ‘flower’ on the surface of the hydrosulphite vat and into the yellowy depths below.

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This image is the fructose vat, which involved some guesswork on my part (no way to measure how much woad pigment there was in my solution). I am not experienced enough to have great judgment or to trust my own judgement.  I can measure temperature and I can measure Ph.  The complex part is judging the reduction (de-oxygenation) of the vat. This looked very promising to me!  That said, there were moments when I had realisations that gave me pause.  Jill Goodman, for example, seems to live in England and I suspect her conditions and mine are not the same. She goes from scalding leaves with boiling water through various processes to heating the vat to raise it to 50C (there was a lot of conversion to metric involved for me)… I did the processes concerned and still had a vat at 70C and decided in the end to put the vat in a sink of cold water and ice!

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This linen scarf did the amazing woad magic of going from yellow to green to blue when put out into the air.

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Both of my tied textiles dyed only on the outside and therefore were re-tied and re-dipped. The greeny-blue of the image above converted to blue very quickly on rinsing (you can see an image further down).

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Soon I had dyed my planned fabrics and imagined that the vat would be exhausted, because previous vats have yielded so little.  The next day it was clear that the hydros vat was not exhausted, so I adjusted Ph and temperature and set about continuing to dye. The fructose vat was still not reduced, so far as I could tell with a test dip, though again it looked promising and eventually looked much like the hydros vat.  However, it still had not reduced, and thus, was unable to dye.  In the late afternoon I decided it probably didn’t have any dye in it. Do not read on if you have a weak constitution–but one of the reasons for my belief was that I had accidentally boiled the fructose vat early in the process. Eeek! I had a very little hydros left, so added some to the fructose vat.  Then half an hour later, a little more.  30 minutes later, it came into order and began to dye, and I dyed using both vats until bed time using the only clean fleece I seem to have. The fructose-hydros vat dyed over two more days, as it turned out!

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I threw in more cloth and went to bed, feeling extremely pleased.  On the down side, I used hydros.  On the up side, it can only have been a matter of time before that fructose vat would have reduced.  I just needed to hold my nerve and be patient.  Maybe add more fructose. Admittedly, time is one of my biggest issues because I do have a day job and other commitments.  However, this is by far the most successful woad effort to date.  I now understand that I need to use a vat rather than direct dyeing for the woad to be wash-fast.  I think I now have a sense of how to tell whether there is dye in the vat (at all) as I process the solution.  The low concentrations of colour claimed for woad are not so low as to make it useless, and I have quite a bit of leaf.  One vat with 1.6 kg leaves and one with 900g leaves from one part of the garden where other things have struggled to grow well–and this is my second harvest from them.  I also have the happy sense that my understanding is sufficient to reach success with a fermentation/fructose vat given time.  The pigment from my previous crop of woad is in a different vat which has not shown promise even though I have been waiting for weeks.  But it still may!  And I am confident now that reduction is the main issue and not one of the other possibilities.  Very encouraging mellow blues–and more pictures to come when everything is clean and dry.

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Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Needle books on the Murray River

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We went for a birthday holiday on a house boat on the Mighty Murray River.  I’ve never been on a house boat before and it was pretty funny to be in something with six bedrooms, but on the water!  We set out on a sunny day and it was just lovely.  And then, hours before sunset, the sky turned dark.  The river was anything but calm.  My capable companions decided it was time to find a mooring, and that the green tinge in the distant clouds was a sign of hail even though it is November.  And we moored just in time for powerful winds, amazing rain… the whole thing.

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Eventually things calmed down and for those feeling nauseous, that part subsided, and the sun set over beautiful river red gums.

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Last week I finally stitched these two little eucalyptus dyed needle books together with madder-dyed thread and they were in my sewing tin along with everything else, so they found new homes among my companions.  Here they sit on the obligatory holiday puzzle.

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It wasn’t all wild weather… there were naps and songs and stories and birthday cake and lots of delicious food and company, and beautiful views.  There were so many birds… cormorants, pelicans, ducks and ducklings, superb blue wrens, raptors of various kinds… fabulous!

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On our return we discovered that every single car (and a lot of houseboats) had been hit by hail the size of golf balls.  In November.  We’d had a summary phoned in on our first night out, but it was quite a sight in person.  After a safety check, we drove home slowly, with the light dancing off all the cracks from 17 major hits on the windscreen. Too many dents in the car to count! Just as well there were needle books to keep things a little bit sensible in between times.  A person needs evidence of the ordinary in these challenging times.

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Alas, the red socks!

Once upon a time, I cast on a lovely pair of red socks, from possum wool.  They had an intended recipient and unusually, I had told her they were coming.

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Here we are on the way to work on the bus. I am known to some in my workplace as the parsley fairy.

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Here they are on the way to the Newcastle Local Court, out of focus on the window ledge of the plane.  And then, one day I went to a long series of meetings and was one and a half socks in, past the heel and on the home strait toward the toe… I remember seeing the bag with the socks in it on my office desk and thinking I should pack that to take home.  I caught an usual series of public transport home, and when I stopped to change from bus to tram and the tram was late, I got out my knitting.  Well, I would have, but it was GONE!!!!  I know you will understand I hunted high and low and contacted several different possible places a lost sock might be handed in.  But I think I have to face the fact that my one and a half socks, wool, needles and bag… are GONE to who only knows where?  But quite likely, somewhere where those socks will not be completed or warm anyone’s toes, sadly.

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