Thursday 24 October 2013

Dandelion Clocks

This is the time when everything drops into the earth.  In spring there is an upward movement all around one, with a lift in plants and trees.  Now it is the time of weight, when seed pod and berry, fruit and leaf fall and return to the earth.  It is truly the Fall, a lovelier word for this season than autumn.

Clare Leighton, Four Hedges (Little Toller Books: Stamford, 2010), p107.

Seedpods decorate the wayside and gardens with an Orient of riches.  They sit atop long stems and, weighing more than the leaves, rise to a certain architectural beauty.  Dry brown purses, spindly candelabras, round pepper shakers and round-hipped cups; with one thwack they scatter seeds higgledy-piggledy, sprinkling a chaotic hoard on the ground beside each plant.
Don't you think the dried-up flowers and chattery pods of some plants look almost unworldly?  Queen Anne's lace pods look like ethereal birds' nests when they are closed.  Asters form fluffy pods and dandelion clocks full moons of silky parachutes.  Autumn may be the season during which everything falls to the ground, transformed with time into decaying matter, but dandelion seeds, with one puff, become windborne, propelled into a floating trance which I almost envy; a far cry from the squashed damsons and decaying quinces I tread into the sodden pathway on my daily walks with Gaspard.

 I may be on the constant lookout for flashes of colour during these autumnal walks but I am, in truth, craving subdued hues these days, a little like the drab, so eloquently described by dear Knitsofacto Annie on her latest post entitled A Dingy Day.  During my evenings of knitting last week - such a treat - I snubbed my fabulous stash of mostly kaleidoscopic yarns and reached out for a single skein of Madelinetosh Merino Light in the delicate colourway Calligraphy.
It was time to create something for the eldest daughter of the household (our feisty youngest is very well served in the knitted garment department) and the beautiful cowl pattern, Dandelion Days, won instant favour with Héloïse.  Not in the lustrous yellow of the original pattern however but in the colour of dandelion clocks.  It is a perfect pattern with four eighteen row repeats, once the eyelet edging is completed, each row divided into twelve clusters of sixteen stitches.  A perfect balance between varied and meditative knitting.

My Ravelry notes for Dandelion Clocks may be found here

On a fraught day of university application deadlines during those first cold-ridden days of half-term (I can truthfully say that the final year of Baccalauréat preparation in France is intensive and exhausting) we grabbed an hour to be outside in the waning sunshine.  Both mother and daughter were pale and a little on edge - it was one of those days - but Héloïse graciously succeeded in shaking off a day's accumulation of tension infront of the eager camera.
Not all days are plain sailing, you will agree, but I choose to recall the glint of the October sunlight on my eldest daughter's hair instead of my unnecessarily sharp words: her pleasure whilst watching this cowl blocking on her bed instead of the nagging sadness that I am not in England with my parents on their respective birthdays this week.  Surely, in retrospect, the good moments prevail over the not-so-good?  I am mostly endeavouring, these days, to find the balance between the thrill and the inevitable wrench of my first-born daughter leaving our home in a few fleeting months.

So here's to those few months and savouring them to the full before this silken dandelion seed of a wonderful daughter floats off to take root somewhere else.

Before I leave I wish to share my huge admiration for the courage of this lady who has, through the past exceedingly difficult months, never ceased to capture and share her own unique and marvellous sense of beauty.  And finally to express my gratitude for another inspiring woman who always makes me feel ridiculously happy after reading each and every one of her blog posts.  Thank you, Lori, for the precious giveaway yarn and sea glass you sent from California to France.  Be patient a little while I transform your sea-coloured yarn into something worthy of its beauty.  Pictures to follow!

A bientôt,


Sunday 6 October 2013

Tchaikovsky And A Teacup

Dear readers,

I blame Tchaikovsky for my obssession with themes and images.  My first trip to London to see The Nutcracker took place when I was seven, thanks to Robert Mayer's Concerts For Schoolchildren.  You will understand that, as a child, half the fun with such an outing was the idea of taking a coach with a gaggle of school friends, and a scumptious picnic. The concert may even have taken second place in my list of fun things that day.  But that ballet, well, suffice to say it marked me for life.  I was entranced by the notion one could create music, a choreography, and a costume to portray such things as hot chocolate, tea, or coffee and the scenery for Act IV, The Land Of Sweets conquered my imagination completely.  In other words, I discovered that a theme, such as drinks or sweets in this case, could incite a spectacular variety of artistic créations. 

Of course, if I am to lay blame on Tchaikovsky, Hoffmann should bear his share of responsibility too; the composer's libretto being a sweetened version of the German author's dark and provocative tale written in 1816.  A while back I explained why the main message behind Hoffmann's story struck a chord with me, namely the importance to free children's imaginations so that they may fulfill their desires.  To paraphrase Hoffmann, the most wonderful things may be seen if one has the right eyes.

'Though Marie was not allowed to talk about her adventures, the images of that wondrous fairyland hovered around her in sweetly rushing billows and gracious, charming sounds.  She looked at everything once more, focusing sharply.  And so, in lieu of playing as usual, she sat there, quiet and rigid and deeply self-absorbed.  That is why everyone scolded her for being a little "dreamer".'
extract from E.T.A. Hoffmann, Nutcracker and Mouse King (Penquin Classics, London, 2007) p.59.

And so, as an adult more than ever perhaps, I understand the vital importance of delighting in one's imagination and cultivating a new mode of perception similar to Marie's, Hoffmann's main character, acquired from her time spent in  the dazzling Kingdom Of Dolls.
I am sure you will agree that it doesn't take much to spark one's creativity.  I found this teacup - made in Germany between 1949 and 1955 by Johann Seltmann Vohenstrauss -  and had it shipped over from Amsterdam by two charming ladies who share a common passion for brocante finds.  Juxtaposing this gold and raspberry cup against my French great-grandmother's hand-embroidered placemat triggered faint memories of a theatrical backdrop design - from the Nutcracker perhaps? - and I found myself dreaming of a land full of sweets again!

My children have been clamouring for fudge these days and, when I have a treasured tin of Golden Syrup in my kitchen cupboards - I sadly do not right now as it is devilishly hard to find in France - I always turn to this recipe.  I was intrigued to find, incidentally, that fudge is a relatively modern confection, at least under that name. The Oxford English Dictionary has its first example from as late as 1896, a mere four years after the premiere of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet in St Petersburg!

And from the pretty colours of that vintage teacup this sweet shrug was born thanks to another delightful knitting pattern, Ice cream Sundae, by Dani Sunshine.  I'm in good company too: Amanda from SouleMama cast off a blue version of the same pattern a few days before.

Ice cream Sundae is a treat.  The scalloped neckline, a few short rows, and the edging which requires picking up stitches around the main body of the knitting make for a fun and quick knit.  This pattern requires one skein only of DK yarn (200 metres) with a little extra for the contrasting colour.  Angélique wanted to slip it on immediately although her face in some of these pictures belies her enthusiasm a little!

My Ravelry notes may be found here.

And here is her tunic - yes, yes, it was mild enough here in Touraine for her to wear it today - made from the Liberty fabric, Scrumptious, which was launched for their Autumn and Winter 2013 collection.  Perhaps I should call it 'Nutcracker'?  There are a myriad of vintage and modern sweets on this fabric which have absorbed my children's attention for a long while.  Those sweets have triggered many memories and anecdotes from my part and, I can tell you, there are a few fudges hiding in that forest of teeth-rotting treats!

And finally, where would I be without a matching hare wearing a fudge-coloured sweater?

Enough said, I think! 
I do hope I will be able to find the time over the next few weeks to put my thoughts down here on a fairly regular basis.  I am busy honouring customer orders for a hoard of hares and a few mice too.  I have images, themes, and colours flitting through my head as I sleep as you can imagine.  Thank you Tchaikovsky!
I wish you all a very happy weekend and a week spiced up with dreams and creatvity.
A bientôt,

ps The roses in my header picture are reminiscent of the many second blooming roses gracing old stone walls and towering gateways in our village.  They also reveal that I am burying my head in the sand in regards to autumn's arrival!

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