This morning is still and cold. As usual, I am woken early by my son. But today, instead of lingering in play by the wood fire, we bundle on woollens and head straight out into the still deserted street. Today is the start of a new week. And this morning, there is fresh snow on the ground. How could we resist?
Inching our way around the curve of the church, trying to avoid the invisible patches of ice, my little one stoops to pick handfuls of crunchy snow. I stop for a moment to lift my head from my feet and up towards the summits. It is so many months since I last called the mountains my home. And yet here I am, once again back here surrounded by them. We are new to this valley, having previously called a village across the peaks our home. And yet, no matter how new, it is still a familiar view. A soon to be treasured view. A view that lifts my spirits, no matter how low they may have fallen.
High above the village, the hillsides are silent and still, covered in a dusting of overnight snow. The first of this new year. Even when though the winter sun is slowly waking, the moon lingers on in the still, blue sky. And the summits of the central Pyrenees are struck with the golden early morning light.
I am increasingly finding myself drawn to the conclusion that the act of making is also an act of storytelling. A quiet and considered conversation held between material & maker, as an idea slowly comes into being. Once that idea has become material, that conversation then continues to flow, beyond the maker & the walls of the studio, out into the world.
In the past two or so years that I’ve been publicly sharing my bear making work online, I’ve experimented with various forms of storytelling, on various platforms. Starting by working through a variety of blogs, as I’ve struggled to settle on a name that sufficiently expresses all I want my work to encompass. And also experimenting with photography & video.
These past years, I have truly enjoyed experimenting with all these paths to self expression, most especially on Instagram. In that particular space, I have found both my self-confidence & my expertise slowly build and grow, nourished by an incredibly supportive community of folks spread across the world. I truly value the connections I’ve woven there, the friends I have made, the opportunities that have sprung forth from those little squares. But increasingly, I’ve also been feeling a growing niggle with the place itself. Whilst I find the excitement & buzz of that particular online gathering spaces to be a source of stimulation & inspiration, since falling pregnant again, I find myself becoming once again particularly fond of those smaller and quieter places of conversation, connection and sharing that can still be found in blogs. Over there it often feels like being at a very crowded, very noisy party, albeit one filled with very kind & lovely folk. There is an energy and a creativity to be found there in the thronging crowd, but recently, I’ve been finding it once again overwhelming and exhausting.
I remember with great fondness to a few years back when I first discovered the online crafting world. And how visiting a favourite blog feels more like being invited round a dear friend’s house for a cup or tea and a knit. A moment to share some meaningful conversations about life & knitting whilst we quietly work on our respective projects. Just as my own blog currently reminds me of an abandoned house, all dusty and untidy having been so long neglected, so sadly many of the online journals of friends & favourites have also been left to languish. And yet.
Despite the dust, I am feeling a deep urge to return to this space, draw back the curtains, fling wide the shutters and let some fresh air back in. My intention, is to come and make this space feel like a home again. And once the cobwebs have been banished, the grate swept and a fresh fire lit in the grate, to start telling some of the stories of making once again.
The tales of what I make, but also how that making enables me to enter into conversations with the world around me, weaving connections with the land base I currently find myself in and the people & animals that populate it.
As a toymaker, there is also an inevitable biographical aspect to my work, as I cannot help but reach deep inside myself finding inspiration in memories & lived experiences. And so over time, I’m sure there will also be stories told about those parts of me that inevitably get woven into my making too.
Within these pages (and also my monthly letters) you will find honest words written from the heart. My thoughts on intentionally slow & sustainable making, my passion for natural fibres (especially wool) and the gentle rhythm that brings the light & shade to our days, shaped by the seasons and guided by a desire to do more with less.
It is my sincere hope that this place will also allow for conversations to open up between me & you. It has been many, many months since I last had the desire, time or energy to regularly sit down and write. But I am so excited to finally settle back in here and begin finding a rhythm that suits.
Today the sky is grey and the air thick with mist. The oak tree above the roof window has just a few solitary leaves still clinging to it’s otherwise bare branches. The flannelette sheets and woollen blankets have been on the bed for weeks. Back in the house, a fire is crackling merrily in the wood stove.
Here in the studio, there is no wood stove. So I’m staving off the cold as best I can. There are socks on my feet, a heavily cabled hat on my head and my favourite hand-spun shawl wrapped around my neck. There are so many woollen layers elsewhere that I’ve lost count. I’m also trying my best to stave off the runny nose and the prickling at the back of my throat hats been bothering me since yesterday. My boy has already succumbed so there is much soup sipping, eucalyptus balm rubbing, on the sofa cuddling, and nose wiping. We are in the waning days of late autumn, and here in Brittany they are mostly dark & damp.
Looking around my studio, cardboard boxes litter what I intend to become a usually tidy room. When packing up my old studio space a month ago, I had begun with the easy stuff, arranging my yarn neatly into boxes arranged by provenance, then moving onto my patterns, needles and notions, until I was left with all the more tricky things, the scraps of paper and notebooks. The half finished projects. The remnants and the scraps. If the early weeks of packing were easily dynamic and assertive, now things are a bit more tricky.
We leave this house in less than two weeks. Looking at the boxes and mess scattered around me, I am overwhelmed by how much is still left to do. And yet my heart is already yearning to be gone, to be flying south towards our new nest. Our year in Brittany has been such an enriching, wonderful experience. But the house we have called home these past months has been less than homely. And on a freezing, damp day like today, I am already aching to be elsewhere.
At my heart, I’m a maker. And at the heart of my making, there is wool. Wool is the raw material I return to time and time again. Whether hand spinning, knitting, natural dyeing, felting or bear making, the golden thread running through my making is woollen.
And this work with wool feels somehow like an extension of the whole of me. When I work closely with this fibre in an intentionally slow & mindful way, I find some of life’s many tangles become unravelled, some of it’s creases become straightened out.
Working wool with my hands allows me to reconnect with myself and my values, my wildest dreams and my most cherished priorities. Each turn of the wheel, click of the needles, tiniest of stitches is an outpouring of my heart, as it were.
This coming spring, it will be ten years since I opened my first online journal. I’d need all my fingers and nearly all my toes were I to try to count the number of different blogs I’ve had since that first. Perhaps I should be embarrassed by this constant changing, this lack of consistency. But when I think about it properly, each new journal has coincided with a (big) change in my life: from fresher, to year abroad student, to final year student, to recently arrived foreigner, to fledgling freelancer, to aspiring spinner, to new mama. This past decade, these different notebooks, often public but sometimes private have been instrumental in helping me navigate my way through these different seasons of my life. A place to both make sense of the changes and to find my voice through the upheaval.
And now here I am, once again in a place of transition. We’ve recently moved both house and region, leaving the muddy hills of central Brittany behind to return to the mountains of the Pyrenees. Our three and a half year old son is on the cusp of childhood rather than toddlerhood…and there are other big changes for our little family waiting to greet us further down the path of the year.
And so as we settle into our new surroundings and unpack our belongings into our new home, I also feel a need to return to this little space and properly “move in” here too. Because despite a physically challenging end to the year, culminating in our big move, as 2019 begins I’m feeling surprisingly refreshed. And, much to my great surprise and relief, sparks of creativity seem to have returned.
Thank you so much for following along with me here up until now. I’d be delighted if you were to come and join me here from time to time.
Week by week, the nights are slowly getting a little less disturbed. A little more restful. So today I can creep from the darkness & the warmth of the family bed, knowing I am as rested as I’ll manage for this morning.
On tiptoe, I creep down the stairs, into the spare room and turn on the lamp. The project I was working on last night is still laying out patiently on the work table. Beside it, my wheel is also waiting. A bobbin half full with a cloud of fibres hanging in the air.
Not knowing how long I’ll have, it’s hard to know where to begin. Ideas flutter around my head like butterflies. I leave the sewing & the spinning untouched and instead reach to my notebook. The one with all the lists. And scribbled ideas. There is so much I am aching to do. But there seems to be no time. No energy. No right moment to get started.
Then I remember something I heard a few weeks back. About how there is indeed never a “right” moment to start anything. So instead of never getting started, it’s all about taking that first step right now. Starting where you are, wherever you are.
He stirs in his sleep, the bed creaks and after a moment I hear “MAMA” calling out. I drop what I was doing and dash back up the stairs, sinking back beneath the woollen blankets. The warmth of his little body warming mine on this foggy morning in early January. After we have snuggled for a while, the day will begin with all it’s toddler energy & pace: there will be breakfast which will leave me mopping up spilt tea and trying to wipe crumbs and egg from the floor & table. Then we will play, and the floor will be covered in all the elements needed to create this morning’s particular playscape. Cushions will be pulled from the armchair, the little quilt dragged from the bed and soon wooden animals, teddies and a tea pot will be strewn across our living room. By mid morning I’m forcing a comb through my bedraggled hair, trying to make the best of myself without the shower I am so craving. I look at myself in the mirror, with the tired eyes and the stain on my t-shirt and wonder if this really is the moment. Even with the help of my partner, it is not always easy to find time and energy beyond the caring responsibilities I have at the moment. Caring for my boy. Caring for my partnership.Caring for my health.
It’s so easy at times like this to sink into a spiral of negative feelings: guilt, low self esteem, embarrassment. But today, I am resolved. Resolved that yes indeed, now is the time to start.
So here I am: with a toddler grabbing at my skirt, crumbs on the floor waiting to be swept and a deep resolve to give it a go. It won’t be perfect, but then when is anything ever perfect these days? I gave up aspiring to perfect long ago. Instead these days I try to find joy & beauty in the mess and the crumples, the tiredness and the tears. If I can somehow craft things of beauty from the mess on my work table, then I’m sure it must be possible to do the same with my life.
Consider this an intention to get started, properly sometime very soon. And also to begin some wild & wonderful adventures in sustainable creativity. All be it at a deliberately slow pace.