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Tag Archives: Family

This Is About Lilly

(my great-grandmother with my mother)

These days I find myself thinking a lot about my great-grandmother, Lilly.

Lilly was born whilst the First World War was raging outside Danish borders. Born into a poor family, she would pick grains from fields at dusk hoping to get enough for her mother to bake bread. At fourteen she was already working as a servant girl. At twenty (or twenty-one) she married her employer – a man nearly thirty years her senior. By this time she had already acted as a mother figure to her soon-to-be husband’s seven motherless children. She would end up having eleven children of her own. Relying solely on her oldest children to help her, Lilly brought up eighteen (18) children in the 1930s and 1940s during the Great Depression and World War Two. The house had no running water and no central heating. The family lived off the land and whatever petty jobs could be had.

Lilly was in her sixties when I was born and she looked after me until I was old enough to start school. She brought me old dish rags on which I could embroider my name and I made dolls’ clothes using her hand-crank Singer sewing machine. Her button box gave me endless hours of pleasure and it was passed down to me.

And she taught me to knit next to the kerosene stove in her living room.

Family lore has it that she fell out with her mother in the early 1930s and, as revenge, Lilly changed from knitting throwing-style to knitting Continental-style. They made up, but every subsequent generation of women was taught to knit Continental-style by Lilly. She was a formidable, smart woman who played the long game. Lilly would have made an excellent army general.

These days I think a lot about Lilly and her generation. I heard her stories about World War Two (during which Denmark was occupied) and these stories run through my head when I see people talking about inspiring WW2 heroes and kicking Nazi butt.

I was brought up in a family very much altered by World War Two. Someone came home to dinner one night wearing a uniform as he had signed up to guard Allied prisoners. I never knew that family branch existed until Lilly’s funeral and his son showed up. Lilly’s oldest brother went into the Resistance and when he passed away (at age 100!), we found a medal. The files are still sealed by the government and my great-granduncle refused to utter as much as a word about the War. We have no idea what he did but his eyes spoke volumes. My grandmother recalls seeing planes flying over the fields, columns of emaciated German soldiers marching through the village and Lilly ushering everybody into the threshing barn.

My great-grandmother taught me World War Two was a time of hardship, strife, loss, bitterness, and heartbreaking despair. Resistance heroes were ordinary men and women. They weren’t “absolute legends”, nor clickbait, nor Brad Pitt with a comedic accent, nor a jingoistic poster. Their actions ranged from whatever my great-granduncle did (but which affected him for the rest of his very long life) to Lilly’s refusal to break bread with a family member. War is dirty and terrible – and I really dislike seeing people almost fetishising the idea of reliving World War Two in 2017. This is not a chance to live out your favourite films nor indulge in cosplay (link from 2010 but it still strikes me as tone-deaf). I genuinely wonder what part our collective sense of nostalgia has played in Recent Events – a sense of nostalgia that has been fed by the media we consume. How is it we react to things?

I don’t honestly know where I am going with this. I really, really do not know. These days I just find myself thinking of Lilly a lot. I think of what she taught her daughter, her grand-daughter and what she taught me. Lessons of resilience and the many complexities of life. She would have turned 101 years this year and I honestly don’t know what she would have made of this mess.

(Lilly with her parents, my great-great-grandparents)

In Her Soft Wind I Will Whisper

Lady on the left? My great-grandmother. She would have been a hundred years old today.

The photo was taken in the early 1950s outside her cottage and she is with two of her sons, K and T.

I have several photos of her; my other favourite is from the 1930s when she was approached by a travelling salesman who wanted her to become a hair model. I presume she shot him one of her withering glances. The photo shows her with long, gorgeous hair. I was told it was chestnut-coloured. The photo is black/white.

I was lucky enough to grow up around her. She looked after me when I was pre-kindergarten and I spent most of my school holidays in her cottage. Her cottage did not have running water until I was maybe seven or eight and never got central heating.

I can still envision her sitting in her chair in front of the kerosene-fuelled stove. She’d knit long garter stitch strips from yarn scraps and sew them into blankets. She was the one who taught me to knit. She was certainly the one who taught me how to skip rope.

Happy birthday, momse. We may not always have seen eye to eye, but we loved and understood each other. And I still miss you.

Title comes from this beautiful farewell song (youtube link). Post reposted from previous years with Momse’s age amended. I continue to miss her.

Important Letter

I have the best mother-in-law. Technically she is not my mother-in-law because D. and I are not married, but she is awesome. To wit, I just got the following through the post today because “it had your name on it”.

June 2014 126

Crocheted with Love

April 2014 028

I often get asked how I ended up doing what I do for a living. Now that is a very long story – so I often just explain that I’m the fifth generation of very crafty, creative women. It’s a simplification but it is also the truth. In 2011 I exhibited knitted art at Glasgow’s Tramway gallery – my Homebound piece explored how the act of making tied my family together and how we make ourselves through the act of creation/crafting.

Today added another chapter to the story as I received a parcel from my lovely mum.

I own many handmade things handed down to me: a big blanket made by my great-grandmother; Hardanger-embroidered table clothes lovingly made by my gran; a christening gown which I believed was first sewn by my great-great-grandmother (then altered by my glamorous aunt Grethe); knitted cardigans and various embroidery pieces .. but I do not own many things made by my mum especially for me. That changed today, though.

My mum asked advice on colours, but otherwise this is her work. The squares are neatly joined with crochet and all ends are neatly woven in. My mum has always been very meticulous about her finishing – every time I weave in ends, I think of her! She used this Garnstudio pattern which surprised me as she usually just makes things up as she goes along. She was fairly faithful to it, though she reported she hated the edging and wishes she had just used one of her own ones. She’s a Westermann, alright!

When I teach crochet, I tend to joke that my mum thinks I cheat by using relatively heavy yarns (i.e. double-knitting and worsted-weight) when I crochet. Mum usually uses fine hooks and fine yarns, but her new love for making blankets obviously translates into heavier yarns. And I think that is interesting: we develop and change as crafters throughout our entire lives.

The new blanket suits our living room – and I am very, very pleased to have received it. Do you think I could get away with asking for some matching pillows?

In Her Soft Wind I Will Whisper

Lady on the left? My great-grandmother. She would have been ninety-eight today.

The photo was taken in the early 1950s outside her cottage and she is with two of her sons, K and T.

I have several photos of her; my other favourite is from the 1930s when she was approached by a travelling salesman who wanted her to become a hair model. I presume she shot him one of her withering glances. The photo shows her with long, gorgeous hair. I was told it was chestnut-coloured. The photo is black/white.

I was lucky enough to grow up around her. She looked after me when I was pre-kindergarten and I spent most of my school holidays in her cottage. Her cottage did not have running water until I was maybe seven or eight and never got central heating. I can still envision her sitting in her chair in front of the kerosene-fuelled stove. She’d knit long garter stitch strips from yarn scraps and sew them into blankets. I think she was the one who taught me to knit. She was certainly the one who taught me how to skip rope.

Happy birthday, momse. We may not always have seen eye to eye, but we loved and understood each other. And I still miss you.

Title comes from this beautiful farewell song (youtube link). Post reposted from 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 with Momse’s age amended. I continue to miss her.

Sanity: Restored

Sea Spray

Oh how I wish I were still sitting here..

We unplugged ourselves from the world  – no computers and no smart-phones – and went up north for a mini-holiday. Dave grew up on Scotland’s North East coast and I always love visiting his childhood landscape. The light is different up north – it is thinner and bluer – and to me it feels very Scandinavian. It was a joy to sit on the beach and watch the North Sea roll towards us again and again and again.

And although the light was thin and blue, it was also strong. The UK had another bad bout of weather this week, but somehow the North Sea Coast emerged relatively unscathed .. apart from sea foam. We basked in unexpected sunshine, skipped stones and tried to identify sea birds.

Skein of geese
We had no trouble identifying these geese flying south for the winter. The birds were everywhere in the sky and flew in the most marvellous formations.

Auchquhorthies

And there were muddy fields too. We went in search of prehistoric sites near the coast and found two stone circles just 300 metres apart. It was an interesting walk towards the two sites as tractors had been working the muddy fields and we had to navigate our way around the worst tractor tracks whilst trying to avoid stepping in cow pats. One of us was successful (hint: it wasn’t me). The two sites – Auchquhorthies and Old Bourtreebush – were my first UK stone circles and I’d be interested in following the Causey Mounth track. I’ll need to invest in proper wellies first. And maybe learn how to pronounce “Auchquhorthies”..

Hattie

 It was sad having to leave our little beach haven with its stone circles, fishing huts and picturesque cottages. It was also sad saying adieu to family and new-found friends (such as Hattie the Horse with her on-trend haircut). Alas, the modern world awaits us and I have patterns to finish, samples to knit, and workshops to teach.

But it was good to get away for a few days. I feel a lot more sane than I did just a week ago.

In Her Soft Wind I Will Whisper

Lady on the left? My great-grandmother. She would have been ninety-six today.

The photo was taken in the early 1950s outside her cottage and she is with two of her sons, K and T.

I have several photos of her; my other favourite is from the 1930s when she was approached by a travelling salesman who wanted her to become a hair model. I presume she shot him one of her withering glances. The photo shows her with long, gorgeous hair. I was told it was chestnut-coloured. The photo is black/white.

I was lucky enough to grow up around her. She minded me when I was pre-kindergarten and I spent most of my school holidays in her cottage. Her cottage did not have running water until I was maybe seven or eight and never got central heating. I can still envision her sitting in her chair in front of the kerosene-fuelled stove. She’d knit long garter stitch strips from yarn scraps and sew them into blankets. I think she was the one who taught me to knit. She was certainly the one who taught me how to skip rope.

Happy birthday, momse. We may not always have seen eye to eye, but we loved and understood each other. And I still miss you.

Title comes from this beautiful farewell song (youtube link). Post reposted from 2009, 2010 and 2011 with Momse’s age amended. I continue to miss her.

A Month Away

Count yourself lucky that I have not posted the blog post I spent the other day writing. It turned out to be a 2,000 word essay on defamiliarisation as narrative device in Emma Donoghue’s Room and Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin complete with bibliography and footnotes. If I were still handing out assignments, I would totally ask undergraduates to compare and contrast narrative devices in the two novels. But, you are not getting 2,000 words on literature. Why make it easy for undergraduates? I wish had read Kevin a few days earlier than I did, incidentally. It would have added some much needed quality to my 2011 reading list.

I have also been kept busy by a quasi-flu and trying to compile a wish list for my birthday. Wish lists are hard because they need to fulfill a certain list of criteria (mostly to do with my family’s location) rather than what I’d love to have in my wildest imagination. So, without further ado, here’s my real wishlist:

+ A dwelling similar to this one, but in Glasgow. Also, with very different art.
+ A puppy, preferably a little crossbreed with a dash of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (not a purebreed because Cavaliers are awfully in-bred and unhealthy).
+ Moda “Circa 1934” Jelly Roll: .”. collection [of] its typewriter key caps, vintage numbers and ornate medallions.. Rich red, worn yellow, antique white and sage green give you the perfect palette to work with.
+ 15 balls of Rowan Baby Alpaca in mid-grey. Just because, you know, it’s a gorgeous yarn.
+ Andrew Pettegree’s The Book in the Renaissance
+ A chromatic typewriter
+ A really, really snazzy DSLR camera – I do like Canon’s cameras.
+ A trip on the Orient Express – art deco decadence for the win!
+ This poster in a lovely understated frame.
+ A cherry brooch
+ This t-shirt – although I should read the book (again? – have I read it?)
+ You can take the girl out of Scandinavia, but she’ll always love classic Danish design lamps.
+ Another trip to New Zealand. I’d love to show D. Wellington – man, I loved Wellington. Yeah, two months should be plenty. Thank you.
+ And, finally, blocking wires! I cannot believe I still don’t have any!

So, which things would you love to receive but also know you’ll probably never get for your birthday?

Where Did The Time Go?

Well, Christmas happened and Casa Bookish went off to Aberdeenshire without as much as a hey nonny, nonny. So, belated happy holidays everyone. I hope yours was a good one.

I was given an amazing Danish knitting book: Mere Feminin Strik by Lene Holme-Samsøe. The Ravelry photos do not do it justice – it is well-conceived, clever, and luscious. It is split into four sections: ‘plain’ knitting, textures, cabling, and lace. Each section has garments as well as accessories showcasing the theme. The attention to detail is evident on every page and I really like how wearable the designs are. I have a couple of must-knit garmentss such as the stunning Cecilia which is knitted top-down and Lily, a bottom-up garterstitch cardigan, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be knitting some of the smaller pieces too. So far Mere Feminin Strik is only available in Scandinavia, but seeing Holme-Samsøe’s first book was snapped up and translated by Interweave Press, I’d be surprised if this follow-up book wasn’t given the same treatment.

ETA: Interweave Press will be publishing a translated version in 2012 – thank you to Carol for the info – she’s the translator!

Overall, though, we did try to give presents that would not only please the recipient but also support people we know and love. This included presents from Gabrielle Reith’s Small Stories range and t-shirts from SevenHundred. I was also very humbled to see many people choosing to gift one of my patterns to friends over this festive period. Thank you!

Things are already in motion for a very lovely 2012 – I hope to catch with myself, you and everyone else before the clock ticks over, though.

Survival of the Knitter

We went on a much-needed mini-break this week.

(And by ‘much-needed’ I really mean ‘if I don’t get out of this place for more than one day, I will start shouting at strangers on the street and actually bitchslap them if they keep stopping right in front of me.’ Have I ever mention that I am a city girl who’s not a huge fan of crowds or human beings?)

Anyway. Mini-break.

I brought some knitting and made headway into a project I shouldn’t really have cast on (I have too much work knitting to do, but these past few days were me-time). D. brought some books and finished two. I only checked mail twice (good girl) and I lived on a carefully balanced diet of cheese, wine, coffee, and cheesecake. It was lovely.

One afternoon we walked from one small finishing fishing village to another. A scrambling, rambling walk of some 6 miles. Fresh air, plenty of wildlife, and beautiful scenery. Another night we had dinner at Lairhillock Inn which was spectacularly charming: it is a 200-year-old coaching inn set in the countryside about 15 minutes from Aberdeen by car. The inn had a lovely, cosy feel with its dark wooden beams and log fires – and the food was surprisingly excellent in the gastro-pub vein. Locally sourced and freshly prepared food, yum. I succumbed to slow-cooked lamb shank with rosemary mash while my serving of cranachan was so generous, I had to leave half of it.

Do I feel refreshed and ready for another stab at Glasgow life? Uhmm.. er.. we have some very important visitors heading our way next week so hopefully that’ll register on the internal energy & joy metre. I just wish I could have enjoyed this view a bit longer this week –>

While I have been away, the Man Booker Prize was announced which went to that jolly good egg known as Julian Barnes (also known as the man who wrote one of the most awful books I have ever read). I have not read his book but I suspect it was the least objectionable and most save-our-face book on the shortlist. I look forward to the Man Booker 2012 long list already. To celebrate I have begun re-reading the 1990 Booker winner. It’ll be my .. seventh? .. time reading AS Byatt’s Possession: A Romance and like all (good) books it is able to change and grow just as I am changing and growing.

Between Byatt, visitors, cranachan and The Daily Puppy, I may just yet survive.