Episodes in my Life

Today, the fourth Sunday in Lent, is Mothering Sunday. From at least the seventeenth century, Mothering Sunday was the day when young apprentices and maidservants had the day off to visit their mothers. They would bring her a cake as a gift, often a traditional Simnel cake, and a small posy of spring flowers.

Daffodils

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When I was eleven, I was sent to Boarding School, a horrific experience which I try not to think about, but there was one thing I learnt which has proved really useful, and that was Sewing. We only did it for one year, but it covered all the basics, including darning.

It’s now winter and I feel the cold. I have several jumpers and cardigans which I rely on to keep me warm. I’ve had them for years and I love them all but they are beginning to show their age and holes are beginning to appear. My darning skills are needed!

My Orkney jumper by Judith Glue

Take my Orkney jumper. My mother bought it for me when we visited Judith Glue’s shop in Kirkwall in the Orkneys in 1996. It has five rows of runes along the top, which read ‘Orkney’, a row of Pictish birds underneath, then a row of stylized waves, followed by rows of triangles in browns and greys. It’s incredibly warm.

Judith Glue lives and works in the Orkneys, and mine is one of her runic designs.

Darning the elbows

Unfortunately, as you can see, holes developed at the elbows and I’ve had to darn them. They are not perfect but at least they tone in with the pattern – well, that’s what I tell myself.

Dealing with the moths

Then I noticed that moths had nibbled at the bottom of the ribbing at the front. I’ve over sewn it and mended a tiny hole in between the two heather-coloured triangles. There were at least six tiny moth-holes which are too small to darn. Fortunately, Shetland wool is thick and I’m hoping my repairs don’t show.

My Welsh jumper

I’ve had my Wendy Lawrence jumper which for at least twenty years – I bought it in a Charity shop in Harlech in Wales for £5. It’s a thing of beauty and I can’t imagine how anyone would want to get rid of it. I absolutely love it and it even warmer than the Orkney jumper. It’s so thick that, so far, it doesn’t need darning.

Dealing with the seams

But it’s beginning to come apart at the seams. You can see – just – where I’ve over sewn the arm seam with thick black wool.

Multi-coloured stripy cardigan, Gap, 2007

I love this cardigan, too. It’s 100% lambs’ wool and not as heavy as the two jumpers. The sleeves are three-quarter length and I wish the cardigan was an inch or so longer but it’s still a very useful garment as it goes with almost anything. However, both elbows developed holes which I’ve repaired by cutting a large suede patch in half, cutting out a suitably-sized template and creating two patches, one for each elbow. I’ve folded one sleeve over for the photo so that you can see that, from the front, the patches don’t show at all – probably just as well!

Repairs under the arm

It, too, is beginning to come apart at the seams and I’ve had to over sew where the underarm sleeve meets the rest of the cardigan. It’s an awkward place and I chose cream wool on purpose so that I could see exactly what I was sewing. Fortunately, I don’t go around with my arms raised so it doesn’t show.

Gap cardigan sleeve seam repair

I’ve been keeping my eye on Gap’s new season cardigans but unfortunately, at the moment, they are going in for sparkly stripes and too many colours with yellow in them, neither of which suit me. So I’m using such sewing skills as I have and hoping that fashion will move on.

James Pringle of Inverness 100% wool cardigan

Lastly, there’s my 100% lambs’ wool navy cardigan which I bought in Fort William. Again, it’s very warm and I wear it a lot in winter. However, I’ve recently noticed a hole in one of the sleeves (I’ve put a bit of card inside the sleeve so that you can see it), and the other sleeve is also thinning at the elbow. They will have to be darned.

Navy darning wool and my darning mushroom

I went into my local department store which has a small  haberdashery compartment and said to the girl at the counter, ‘I’m looking for navy darning wool.’ She looked bewildered. ‘What’s darning wool?’ I explained but it was obvious that she didn’t really know what I meant.

I eventually found some but I felt like a relic of a long-vanished past. Am I the only person who still darns?

The garments look huge in the photos, I don’t know why. They are all size M.

Elizabeth Hawksley

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mr Little’s auction house, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham. I am about eight and I spot an interesting-looking orange book on an old table. It is Little Women. I pick it up and show it to my mother who says in surprise,  ‘Haven’t you read it?’ I shake my head. She takes the book and marches off to find Mr Little; two minutes and half-a-crown later, the book is mine.

My copy of ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott

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Yesterday, on a freezing December day, I visited the RHS gardens at Wisley for the first time. I’d been longing to go there for years. It was not, perhaps, the best time to see the gardens but, on the other hand, it wasn’t too crowded, there was still plenty to see, and the Coffee Shop and the Glasshouse Café were both very welcoming when our fingers got numb and coffee – or lunch – called.

Lake with Laboratory in the background

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I just love Cambridge Market – even on a chilly November day, it’s full of wonderful stalls selling practically everything. Yesterday, we ( three of us) I decided to treat ourselves to a day in Cambridge. We met at 10 am at the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley (famous steam locomotive engineer) by the ticket office at King’s Cross station. I was waiting by the statue, when a man came up and gently patted Sir Nigel’s arm before bending down to explain something to the small boy with him, and gesturing towards Sir Nigel. Obviously a train buff. I understood how he felt. I love steam engines myself and, as a child, I used to wave at Sir Nigel’s elegant trains as they flew past, smoke streaming from their funnels. I usually got a ‘toot’ from the engine driver.

Sir Nigel Gresley (1876-1941) by the King’s Cross ticket office

For me, seeing the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley brings back childhood  memories of going somewhere exciting on a train.

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About ten years ago I decided I’d like to make my own jewellery. Somehow, I never had quite the right necklace, bracelet or earrings; they were too short, too long, the wrong colour, or just not very interesting. Surely, I thought, I could make my own – if only I could find a book to set me on my way. And Barbara Case’s Making Beaded Jewellery proved to be exactly what I needed.

Barbara Case’s brilliant book

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I write blogs, first and foremost, because I enjoy it. I’ve always been interested in history, travel, literature and the arts generally and I want to write about the places I’ve been to and things I’ve seen. I particularly love seeing places which the general public don’t normally see. As a novelist, what interests me are the stories. I want my readers to become involved, and for that, my writing must be both emotionally engaged with the topic but I must also retain my professional objectivity to ensure that what I say is accurate. It can be a tricky balance.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

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There’s something very serene about the combination of birds, particularly swans, and water. Sometimes, waterfowl can be aggressive towards each other birds, or squabble about food, but, generally speaking, they move gently but purposefully, and I find looking at them very calming. I was brought up in the country and trees, water, birds and wildlife generally is something I miss.

Leeds Castle and waterfowl

I was thinking about this last week when I visited Leeds Castle in Kent. The castle itself is built on an island in the River Len and surrounded by a wide moat which is almost a lake and next to Great Water, another lake. The walk there, through woods by the river and passing yet more ponds and lakes, means there is plenty of room for waterfowl.

Black swan and white swans, mallard and coot

I loved the contrast between the dramatic black swan and the other white swans, whilst smaller mallard and the occasional coot provided the supporting cast. I’d had a tiring week and, as I watched them, I could feel the tension leaching out of me. I could stop and admire them; I didn’t have to rush.

White swan and cormorant

I stopped again by the cascade garden and walked to the middle of a scarlet, vaguely Chinese-looking bridge which faced a cascade at the end of a large pond, where another swan was majestically sailing. Nearby on the low stone edging, a cormorant stood awkwardly, its neck stuck out at an angle.

White swan

As the white swan floated past, the cormorant slipped into the water and followed, looking ungainly, almost as if it was half-submerged.

Canada geese and a stray mallard on the grass in front of the larger pond

In the distance,  you can just see the small green train on the left crossing the green on the far side of the lake which takes visitors straight to the castle. I preferred to walk through the woods but it’s a couple of miles and there’s no doubt the train is quicker, besides giving the visitor a ringside view of the castle itself.

It was all very good for the soul.

Elizabeth Hawksley

 

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On a chilly Sunday back in March, I wrote about the Culpeper Community Garden. This weekend, I decided to revisit it. It’s still the same peaceful place it was, with people sitting under trees or on the benches enjoying the sunshine. But, in late August, the general impression is that the flowers are past their best and many of the forty allotments need an end of summer clear out.

View from east to west

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