Hardy perennial.

Daisy on a wind blown beach.


Adventures in Seeing: Welcome the Unexpected, Part Two

As I mentioned in my last post, sometimes the unexpected is very difficult to welcome. The header photograph is my record of some of the unexpected things we had to deal with last month. A fortnight on, things are beginning to settle down, and I’m trying to get back to something approaching normal – whatever the new normal is.  

Creativity is still limited: I’ve found sticking to established routines helps. Creative Sprint, which has been my life saver, has finished, but I’m trying to keep the impetus going by resuming 365 – Make Something Every Day.

I’ve concentrated on filling in the gaps where I missed days out before, and using familiar techniques because I don’t have the emotional energy to try anything too new. I do like the blue feather, though.

The Year of Stitches is making slow progress, but this one has reached the stage where I’m thinking ‘I quite like this’ which motivates me to finish it, so I speed up. I’m planning an outbreak of flowers in the centre, spilling over the lines.

I’m still knitting samples from Nicky Epstein’s ‘Knitting in Circles’, but I have also made an SKO. 

This is a particularly strange ‘strange knitted object’ because the wool (Airedale Wool’s ‘Lustre’, which is otherwise lovely), biased – hence the slanting embroidery and the off balance shape. I don’t usually block SKO’s, but I’m thinking of experimenting with stuffing them with plastic bags to try to even out some of the lumps and bumps. 

When I sat down to write this I thought it was going to be short, because I hadn’t done much – but there ‘s more than I thought. So even if no-one’s reading this, I’ve cheered myself up a bit, which has to be good.

Adventures in Seeing #2 – Awaken the Senses

This week’s exercise focuses on food – either a ‘food event’ or the preparation of a meal. My problem was that my main ‘food event’ this week was a trip to the supermarket – which I don’t find very inspiring. We did eat out a couple of times, but a bowl of soup, or a cream tea, didn’t really provide the inspiration for multiple photos.

On the other hand, I don’t cook much any more. When Wensleydale retired, he took over the cooking, so these days I only make cakes (for special occasions) and bread. No special occasions on the horizon, so bread it was. 

When we first married I made my own bread by hand, using fresh yeast, but that stopped when the babies arrived. After eating shop bread for years, I now use a bread maker. It doesn’t have the romance and ritual of making bread from scratch, but it’s quick, easy and the result tastes better than shop bought.

Kim Manley Ort suggests thinking about each ingredient, its appearance, taste and smell,  where it comes from, and what it contributes to the end product. Not many ingredients in a loaf of bread, although I do add a few extras to mine.

1. In my Panasonic bread maker, you put the yeast in first. I’ve tried several different dried yeasts over the years, but I always come back to Doves. It seems to work better.

2. I buy flour from our favourite farm shop, Saddleback. It’s ground nearby from local and Canadian flour, and makes a delicious loaf. I like to mix wholemeal flour for flavour and texture, and white to improve the rise. The additions the mill makes to the white are a bonus.

3. Salt and sugar – just the ordinary stuff from Waitrose, though sometimes I use honey from the farm shop, rather than sugar. 

4. Water. From the tap. And before that from an artesian well deep in the chalk, so it’s got a lot of calcium in it. I’ve no idea what that adds to the bread, but perhaps it’s good for my bones.

5. The secret ingredients, from Holland and Barrett. Clockwise from top left, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp and flax seeds. I use a lot of these, and the little packets from supermarkets don’t last very long, so it’s more economical to buy them from H&B. They add flavour and crunch to the bread, and according to Gordon Ramsey they improve the glycemic index.

6. And, also from H&B, flax oil. Since I started adding flax seeds and oil to our bread, my formerly flaky nails have got much stronger. Not perfect, but they now get to a decent length before they break. 

7. Looking down into the bread maker bucket before cooking.

The end product is at the head of this post. Of course I can’t photograph the taste and smell, you’ll have to imagine those. After trying this exercise, I realise that the sight, smell and flavour of bread is far more than the sum of its parts. The ingredients themselves are mostly beige, and yet the bread is a beautiful brown. With some exceptions, the ingredients don’t have noticeable flavours or smells, and yet the smell and taste of bread is unmistakeable. 

I meant to take a photo of the first slice I ate this morning, with a boiled egg, but it looked so good I just tucked in.

Samplers, samples and experiments.

I’m really enjoying this Year of Stitches sampler. I’m much more process than product driven, so I like this sort of piece, where I just get started and follow the ideas that come up as I’m working. It doesn’t always work – it didn’t for the first Year of Stitches sampler, but I’ve realised that it works better if I put down some guidelines when I start, though I am very likely to change my mind later. This one started with wave-like lines across the fabric, but as you can see, they morphed into leaves and petals.

Unfortunately, the Frixion pen I used to draw the lines has left marks on the fabric so it’s a good job I’m not so worried about the product. I’ve had it happen before on coloured paper, but not on fabric. This is hand-dyed with Procion, so maybe Frixion and Procion don’t get on – I know Procion is supposed to discharge with bleach.

The experiments didn’t work. I’ve had some alcohol inks for ages, and never done much with them, so I decided to have a play. They worked OK on various bits of plastic, spread with some felt in a bulldog clip, but I wasn’t wildly excited by the results. I read somewhere that you can drip them into water and marble them, so I gave it a go. 

The results were so awful I didn’t even take photos. I think the ink set as soon as it hit the water. The white just went into clumps,   and the other colours  were reluctant to marble. I did dip sheets of plastic into the mess and some ink was picked up, but as it dried it just flaked off. So I put the results down to experience and in the bin.

The knitted samples aren’t very exciting either. I’ve found when I make my SKO’s that I tend to use the same few base patterns and some of them don’t  lie flat.

So I’m working my way through Nicky Epstein’s ‘Knitting in Circles’. I shan’t try all 100, because:

a) some have seams and I refuse to sew up seams;

b) some of them, like the really lacy ones, are probably unsuitable – although it might be interesting to try one or two;

c) I shall get bored. 

The icord knitting hasn’t gone away. I currently have 4 on the go. The 7 metre blue one is in the process of being coiled into a bowl/basket, but the process is hard on my arthritic hands, so it proceeds slowly. The yellow one has been sewn into a loopy thing (in both senses of the word) and is awaiting the addition of beads and French knots. The shorter blue one will be wired, unless a better idea comes to me. And I have a brown one on the needles, which is progressing slowly for icord. In theory if I slip stitches at regular intervals it should become kinky – although there is no sign of it doing so yet. The problem is that, to ensure the slip stitches come in the right places, I have to chant ‘1 2 3 slip’ as I knit – there are 3 stitches so this means that the slip stitch moves one stitch over each row. Should be easy? It isn’t. It’s a bit like meditating in that my mind wanders, and I find myself just counting ‘1 2 3’. Which does not work.

The openness photographs have fallen by the wayside a bit, but I hope to find a few more before I move on the next topic in the middle of the week. There is this one, though. Guess which book this is?

Adventures with an iPad.

The author of a blog I follow has been posting her photographs inspired by the book ‘Adventures in Seeing’ by Kim Manley Ort. I was interested, so after careful consideration (it’s quite expensive), I bought my own copy.

The subtitle is ‘How the Camera Teaches You to Pause, Focus and Connect with Life’, which gives you an idea of the approach Ort takes: more about focusing on the ‘process of seeing’, rather than how to focus your camera. Or in my case, iPad and iPhone. 

I’m not usually one for touchy feely, mindfulnessy things, but I’m finding the book interesting and helpful. For example, Ort suggests that before you take a photo, you think about what it is that made you want to take it. Yesterday we took advantage of some sunshine to go out to our favourite local gardens. Instead of just photographing everything in sight, I thought about what I was experiencing – specifically the magnolias and camellias, which were magnificent. My photos really doesn’t do them justice – but at least I have something to remind me of an enjoyable afternoon. 

Of course, I realise now, revisiting my photos for this post, that I neglected to take any close ups. So I’ve learnt something.

Ort outlines a series of ‘Adventures’ – topics for photography – and suggests you take a week over each one. The first, cleverly, is ‘Symbols of Openess’. Which seems like a good thing to keep in mind in these troubled times.

So I’ve pottered around the house – and garden, after the downpour stopped – and here are some of the results.