Out In The ‘Blue Remembered Hills’

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Into my heart on air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

From A. E. Housman’s  A Shropshire Lad  1896

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We are lucky enough to live on the edge of Wenlock Edge whose ridge-top road delivers us straight to the heart of Shropshire’s hill country. Caer Caradoc, Lawley, Ragleth, Long Mynd, Stiperstones are some of the most well known of our uplands, each striking in its own way and often featuring in old tales and mysterious legends. This is not surprising considering that humans have been walking these lands for at least the last 9,000 years when the ice sheets retreated.

The whole area is rich in prehistoric remains – burial cairns, standing stones, hill forts, Bronze Age field systems, trackways, drove roads and trade routes. This photo was taken from the northerly flanks of the Long Mynd, on the lane to Ratlinghope and Bridges, and looks over the Lawley to the long blue-green spine of Wenlock Edge.

July Squares #18

Crocosmic Blue

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A couple of years ago I dumped a big wodge of Crocosmia corms over the fence behind the old privies. The plants were too big for the garden and I’d lost patience with them leaning over and smothering everything else. But I didn’t quite have the heart to dispose of them altogether. And this year I’m glad I didn’t. The exiled Crocosmia are now as happy as Larry, not leaning over at all, but reaching up and up into the summer sky.

July Squares #17

What A Good Yarn! Knitting Bombs in Bishops Castle

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Well you can’t help but think it, can you: would that all bombing were so beautifully harmless and smile-inducing. In my last post I mentioned our ‘guerrilla garden’, but here we have a spot of guerrilla knitting found in and around our favourite small Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle. The great knitting outbreak apparently began here a few years ago to coincide with the town’s arts festival, but I noticed some more recent additions on our last visit. It’s inspiring me to get my knitting needles out again for a little more creative procrastination, though yarn bombing Wenlock might be a step too far. Maybe the allotment…?!*&

Knitted peas and carrots anyone?

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Crocheted cupcakes at Poppies Tearoom?

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Much indulging of the imagination at the bookshop:

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And then some subtle, ‘environmentally sensitive’ yarning:

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Last but not least, in the entrance of the Town Hall you may also see a knitted version whose accompanying notice says it was created by Nigel. It’s there to serve a particular good cause, inviting donations for the care and renovation of this lovely building that sits so finely at the top of the town:

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July Squares #16

Just Now ~ The Blue Over Wenlock Edge

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I noticed last night that the wheat in Townsend Meadow is on the turn – the silver-grey ears taking on the faintest sheen of gold. Out in the guerrilla garden there is also much gold on the go. The chamomile daisies are over a metre tall, and the giant mullein are being truly gigantic. Soon the helianthus will be blooming and it will be full-on yellow, here on the edge of Wenlock Edge.

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July Squares #11

Atelier nani Iro Meets Indian Woodblock~ A Case Of Sewing Not Writing

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I started making my own clothes in my teens: it was the era of Pop Art and Mary Quant shifts. I made a bee-line for cheap remnants of furnishing fabrics with big prints and turned out some surprising garments. Much much later, when were living in Kenya and Zambia, I was inspired by the bright local fabrics and started sewing again. Graham still has some striking longish shorts – an all-over mango tree design – orange print on navy – the lovely glazed cotton bought in Lusaka back in ‘93 and initially used as curtains in our little house on Sable Road.

Back in England again, I did not sew so much, though I remember making a big winter coat which features in one of my earlier blog headers. Thereafter the sewing urge mostly faded away. It was easier to buy stuff.

And then recently I discovered nani IRO. Not only was it love at first sight, but the advent of a whole new sewing adventure: the hitherto unencountered territory of Japanese design. This was the book that started it:

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For those like me i.e. not-in-the-know, Nani IRO is the brand name for the fabrics created from designs by Japanese artist Naomi Ito. And Atelier nani IRO is the design studio that produces the sewing patterns. In the past they have catered only for petite Japanese sizes. But this current collection now includes sizes up to UK 14/US 12.

The book is beautiful – every page of it. But being captivated by the images and fabrics is one thing. I soon realised the challenge of using it to make an actual garment was probably bordering on the impossible. The patterns that come with the book comprise two fat folded wads of stiff white paper. They are inscribed with multiple pattern pieces that overlay one another, and at all angles. Furthermore, the instructions are in Japanese, although on the whole the book’s accompanying diagrams are more or less clear to anyone used to tackling European dress patterns.

So: this is what a small part of the pattern sheet looks like. Think exploded Venn diagram meets Heathrow air traffic control flight paths:

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Each garment does however have a letter code in English and the sizes are indicated S, ML, L+, 2L. After this, you are pretty much on your own.

Once you know the letter of your chosen project, you must then study the designated layout in the book to fix in visual brain the shapes of all the pattern pieces you’ll need. Then you have to search for those shapes within this bonkers mega-puzzle, and having located them, trace them off to the appropriate size on dressmaking tracing paper.

By this point, on my hands and knees amid clouds of tissue paper strewn across the bedroom floor, I realise I am pursuing, and with dogged intent, an extreme form of writer’s procrastination. I have actually chosen to unravel this devilish design of cross-purposes rather than sort out the pressing narrative plotting problems of the novel.

Found you out! I cry. This is not really about making a big blue frock out of a stash of Indian block print cotton that you just happened to have handy. This is about NOT WRITING.

But  then of course when it comes to prevarication, writers have all the excuses. I tell myself it’s good at my age to go in for new forms of mental and manual exercise, even if the initial processes are killing on the knees. Besides, there is also the great satisfaction of making and completing a project. And while I can see that my new blue Indo-Japanese gown is hardly the sort of thing I can wear at the allotment, it does have potential as a personal seaside ‘changing room’. I can even look fairly gracious when needing to treat with the postman before I’m quite up in the morning.

And then I’m actually rather in love with the thing itself. Scenes from Kurosawa epics (Seven Samurai, Ran, Yohimbo) come flitting through my mind. Perhaps a little of the master’s creative impulses might just rub off on me (though hopefully not adding confusing Japanese influences to a yarn set in the East African bush. Or there again…) So I may just hang the finished work on the wall. Perhaps it will tell me I’ve used up all present excuses to not write. Perhaps it will say: stop play-acting out in the field with the other half and get back to the keyboard!

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July Squares #7

Today In The Garden ~ Blue On Blue

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One of the best things about a garden on several levels is that you get to see plants  from unexpected view points. Here’s Rozanne busy flowering her socks off. She’s on top of the wall that holds up the bank behind the house, well above my head height,  and will be flowering now until the first frosts. The almost black foliage in the corner is Cotinus aka Smoke Bush or Smoke Tree. When it flowers it is a mass of feathery creamy-pink plumes.

July Squares #4

The Blue Of Marc Chagall

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For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Chagall was one of life’s shining stars. According to Wikipedia he is described by art critic Robert Hughes as a ‘quintessential Jewish artist’. Yet such a description is truly too confining for a creator who saw his work as ‘not a dream of one people, but of all humanity.’ To me, an unbeliever, his work speaks of spirit – the soaring, transcending best of us that comes with a wry but kindly smile and, above all, forgiveness (for ourselves and for others).

The stained glass in the photo comes from a window in the auditorium at the Musee National Marc Chagall on Cimiez Hill in Nice, one of the loveliest little art galleries of the world. The hill, too, is surely a place of creative hallowed ground: just up the road from Chagall is the wonderful Matisse museum. Both artists were magician-shamans, masters of colour, form and light – their works the manifestation of their spirit-journeys that ever invite us to rise to the occasion and follow.

Chagall was still working in his nineties, his last commissioned work (I’ve just discovered) is the north stained glass window of Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, England. I feel a pilgrimage coming on. In the meantime another detail of the Nice window:

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When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.

Pablo Picasso

July Squares #2