29 March 2014

Stormy Seas

Nina brought home these two paintings from school this week. That very contained little boat, neat as a pin, under those rather menacing clouds and that tempestuous sea could be emblematic, I suppose, of her somewhat opaque personality. She's so often such a together little girl, always busy, often on her own, deeply immersed in creating something and sailing contentedly along. And yet the storm clouds and the rough seas are never far away. Like all parents, I wonder in which particular ways I will fail each of my children, and with Nina I suspect it will be my failure to comprehend what causes the electrical build up that releases the lightning, and my vain attempts to calm those waters when they need to rage.

27 March 2014

Emerging Artist

Hansel & Gretel

Letter to Elsie

The artist at work, even before she gets out of her pyjamas

Mother & child fight an invasion of ants

Those pesky ants....

House - with letters and chimney

Ruby and Nina were prolific and talented drawers from what seemed like birth. They had their own entirely different styles, and drew constantly. They always seemed confident in their ability to draw anything, and any resemblance to reality was a secondary concern. Grace took a little longer before she too started drawing all the time but certainly by the time she was in 3 y.o. kinder she was bringing home reams of paper decorated with drawings and paintings and collages.

Lily, however, was different. She never drew much and she didn't increase her output at 3 y.o. kinder. She would get easily frustrated trying to draw the image in her head and would give up quickly. She was a harsh critic of herself, and had to be coaxed to complete anything, or to not scribble out something she had drawn.

But, quite suddenly, she has emerged into her own. I'm not sure whether it is the fantastic art program at her current kinder, or whether it is just a consequence of being 4, or whether it is the growing confidence I see her developing by spending two days a week outside the house without her sisters around, but suddenly she is rarely to be seen without a pen or pencil in hand.

She has hit that stage where the distinction between drawing and writing is blurred. Why would you not populate your drawings with the letters and numbers you have learned? And when combinations of those letters actually spell a real word, it is as if you have cast your own magic spell. I love seeing the rapid leaps children make, the clicking of mental gears as concepts fall into place and their own delight in themselves.  Lily takes a little sketch book with her wherever she goes, practices her alphabet, draws cats.  It's pretty nice to witness.

18 March 2014

Scrap Bag - a quilt in seven evenings and a morning

Inspiration from the eighteenth century

The top picture is of a quilt made in the mid 1700's. Isn't it just gorgeous? I love the colours, the haphazard feel of it, how incredibly modern it looks (it's even quilted in chevrons for goodness sake).  I love that it is obviously made of pieces of genuinely scrap fabric, mostly silk, that would have been way too precious to discard.   Then I read this post and found it so perfectly in tune with both my quilting and general crafting philosophy.  I love how she says that her quilts are put to hard use, that they have to withstand all manner of rough treatment.  Inspired by these two things I decided to make a quilt for an as-yet-to-be-determined purpose. I would use only scraps, I would chose only a general colour scheme, I would not plan it out, I would not even lay it out, I would follow no pattern, I would trust in chance.

I spent two evenings in front of 'House of Cards' cutting out strips of fabrics from my scrap bags. They are all 4.5 inches wide (give or take) and varying lengths depending on what was available. I decided on yellows, blues, greens and reds, with twice as many yellows as any other colour. There are a few greys and pinks in there too. After cutting all the strips, I put them in piles according to colour. The cutting and sorting took two evenings.

I then spent two evenings piecing the quilt. I had the piles of fabric by my machine and I chose from each pile fairly randomly, making sure only that I used more yellow than any other colour and that I didn't stick to any consistent order in selecting from the piles. I chose between 18 and 20 pieces per long strip, but didn't measure anything, just judged the appropriate length by eye. After two nights I had pieced all the long strips and joined them together to make the quilt top.

Do you recognise the backing fabric? This is a cheaper rip off of a Sheridan sheet set that was hugely popular in the late 1980's and early 1990's. I remember coveting it on Sarah Walker's bed at college. I finally bought a version myself and I reckon had it on my bed in extremely high rotation for the better part of a decade. I've had that doona cover and pillow case set for about 25 years now and I'm pretty over it. I don't think I've used the doona cover in a good many years, though it remains in perfectly respectable condition. So I was more than happy to cut it up and put it to use as the backing fabric. I still think it is quite pretty. I spent two evenings quilting in a free motion stipple. I ran out of thread about half way through or I might have powered on through and finished in a night (though it would have been a late one).

I spent the seventh evening binding it in an old shot silk of my grandmothers. My grandmother was a strange person. Every few years she'd take herself off on a cruise to somewhere in Asia and come back looking several years younger. I guess in her penchant for plastic surgery she was ahead of her time, but not in a good way. When she died I got a box of fabrics, many of them bought in Hong Kong with prices and tags still attached, bought for a purpose in mind that had never been realised. There was a good length of Laura Ashley fabric which I used to make a couple of little dresses, one of which still fits Lily. There were pieces of faux suede and seersucker and something that had been destined for a dressing gown that never materialised. There are still some rather lovely pieces of silk and one day perhaps I'll make use of them. Our friend Paula used some of the fabric to make the most gorgeous party dresses for Ruby and Nina when they were tiny but she really is a seamstress who knows what she is doing.

One evening didn't quite see me get all the binding on (I handstitched it), so the morning after Grace's party, when we all had a bit of the inevitable post party blues, I finished it at the kitchen table while Lily drew carrots reflecting in the sun, and Nina made a jigsaw puzzle (not did a jigsaw puzzle, made one), Ruby practiced 'Scar' on the piano which she is playing and singing for her piano concert and Grace made a bookmark to put in her new picture version of her (so far) all time favourite book, 'The Enchanted Wood'.

I'm very happy with it.  It is rough and uneven and imperfect and I want to make a whole slew of these.

17 March 2014

Disco Seven

Ruby and Nina collaborated on Grace's present, making her a stone hedgehog and a special book to hide treasures in.  They asked me for a really dull book title that no one would to read and I gave them a few ideas, but they landed on the 'History of Taxation in Australia' by B.Oring (get it?).  It reminds me of a job interview I went to as a final year law student.  I knew where I wanted to work but wasn't sure I'd get offered 'articles', as they were then known, at the law firm of my choice, so I applied for various other firms, including one that specialised in taxation law.  The interview went along these lines: 'So I see that you haven't done tax law yet?' 'Uh, no.' 'You know that we are a taxation law specialist firm?' 'Uh yes'. 'Do you intend to do tax law?' 'Um no.' 'Well I strongly recommend you do tax law.'  Silence. We looked at each other, the interviewer and I.  We'd only been in the interview for about 5 minutes and he clearly didn't know what to do, so he gave me a tour of the library - a library in which, it was abundantly apparent to us both, I would never have the opportunity to work. When a respectable amount of time had passed, he hastily made his escape, leaving me to find my own way out.   

Grace was delighted, which was good because it was a lot of work ruling all those straight lines to look like the pages of a book.  Lily did a colourful drawing of eyes? peacock feathers? a tree with leaves? None of us know, and she changes her mind frequently.

Grace had settled on a disco party, so I did my now traditional 5 minute icecream cake (gotta work fast before the icecream melts).  I have learned that hours labouring over amazing cakes is not time well spent.  Chuck some lollies and sprinkles on it and watch it get wolfed down in minutes.

Grace had a sparkly skirt and a tinsel wig which she abandoned after a few dances as it was making her head hot.  Her friends danced shyly at first and then with increasing abandon until it couldn't really be called dancing - more leaping on each other in a display reminiscent of a 'stacks on'.  We did the limbo and played muscial chairs and danced like our favourite animals and then had honey joys and lemon slice and cocktail franks and all the traditional party food (but not chocolate crackles which I cannot abide).  Grace opened her presents, we danced some more, had the cake and the party was over.

Grace at seven is such a pleasure.  She remains enthusiastic, generally happy, sweet and just the slightest bit vague.

11 March 2014


Like nearly all of Melbourne we escaped to the bush this weekend. Even the most cursory glance at Instagram suggests that most people took the chance to get down to the beach, the river, into the hills, away to craft. The weather was perfect and everyone, in different parts of the state, seemed to be sharing the same lovely gentle sunsets and glorious morning light. 
We went camping, our first time with all the girls. Our camp spot, on private land above the Great Ocean Road in a field of wildflowers, would have to be as good a place to pitch a tent and sit around a campfire as exists anywhere on earth.  We were blessed with warm but not stinking hot weather and nights cool enough sleep comfortably in a tent with five other bodies. On Sunday night a ferocious wind sprang up and shook out tent for hours, but by mid morning it had died down completely, leaving such tranquility in its wake that it was impossible to imagine it had ever been. We finally saw a koala too - everyone else who has visited this bit of land has spotted at least one, and our good friends saw a mother and baby.  But we were pretty pleased with this sleepy fellow who lifted his head to watch us watch him and drifted back to sleep as we left.
We kept it very simple  - sausages and onions, jacket potatoes baked in the campfire, followed by rather burnt s'mores, bacon and eggs for brekkie and takeaway fish and chips the second night. We didn't have a heap of gear, and didn't need it - chairs and a table, books, a plate and mug each was about it. I did wonder what we would do all day up on the ridge; there is only so much gazing at gorgeous views that can be done.  But between firewood gathering, game playing, book reading, sunset watching, tent pitching, mattress inflating, and a couple of trips to the beach, the time just flew.

04 March 2014

Arnie Jones Minkplush

Dear Arnie Jones Minkplush
I have feelings for you that you probably don't know I have.
You are kind, gentle, caring, loving and I like you that way.  When I talk to you my eyes light up like starts.
Arnie Jones Minkplush, I love you

yours sincerely
Your Secret Admirer

03 March 2014

Parks and Recreation

I've been told that we now require Park I.D's to go into our garden.  The Park Ranger, Fred, is apparently a pretty reasonable guy, but the night rangers are really strict and you don't want to get caught without your Park I.D.  Having said that, it may only apply in some futuristic alternate universe, seeing as 'Maya's' Park I.D. was only created on the 5 of November 2015, and bizarrely she was already six even though it would appear that her birthday is not until the following day......
It's not too bad though - that Park I.D is valid for longer than my licence.