Gone from my sight

Saturday 30 May 2009

It’s been a challenging time of late. My mother died unexpectedly on 25th April : ANZAC Day, so I’m not likely to forget. I got myself back to England within a few days, and spent the next week living, mostly alone, in her house. Delving, as one does, through the memories of years; each drawer, each cupboard, each shelf, all had their stories to tell. A time of discovery; of feelings that have been buried, or of things being revealed to me for the first time ever. It’s a bit of a helter-skelter ride of emotions – so desperately sorry that she could never be the mother I craved, yet the person that she was was one who I admired and respected, during our mostly difficult mother-daughter relationship. Doubly difficult for both of us because my father had died when I was just 11 years. I suspect the truth is that we were just too alike – and the same case might be argued of her own mother before her.

The funeral was a small affair; I was the only family member to step forward to speak, and I finished with a poem. It could have been about me; I seemed to be always leaving my mother; leaving home at an early age; later leaving the country for a life here in Australia. I know she found these departures so difficult. But this time it was she doing the leaving, and perhaps I now have the tiniest inkling of the grief she experienced every time I went away.

‘Gone from my Sight’ by Henry Van Dyke:

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says;
“There, she is gone!”

“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side.
And she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, “There, she is gone!”
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad
shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying.



Thursday 12 February 2009

and some VERY BIG incentives to donate to the Redcross Bushfire Appeal

Donate to Australian Red Cross Today

Donate to Australian Red Cross Today


Here’s a copy of the note I sent out overnight to my newsletter subscribers:

Hello Subscribers,

A brief Newsletter for you, and very much to the point. Whether you live overseas or across Australia you will not have escaped the news and horrific images of the terrible tragedy unfolding here in Victoria.

Last Saturday, on a day of weather conditions that might only be described as evil, a bushfire started just 2kms from my own home & business base – just across the hill, down in Kilmore East. That fire then roared across our State of Victoria, joining up with others fires on its way, consuming everything in its path. Today (Wed 11th Feb) as I write, there are over 180 people dead, over 1000 homes destroyed, and complete towns have been wiped off the map. These grim statistics are rising every day, and further fires are threatening other communities as we head into another weekend of high fire risk weather.

Whilst the people of Australia have rallied to assist, providing the immediate neccessities of shelter, clothing & food, the ongoing needs of the many thousands traumatised and displaced by this ghastly event are being co-ordinated by the larger support groups such as the Australian Red Cross and the Salvation Army.


I would ask each and every one of my subscribers to consider donating a sum of money – as much as you can afford – to Red Cross Australia.

One of Australia’s popular knit bloggers ‘Passionfruit’ has taken the initiative to put together some great incentives for all knitters, whether from Australia or overseas, to dig deep into their pockets and DONATE TO AUSTRALIAN RED CROSS TODAY.

For every $10 that you donate to Australian Red Cross (see links below) you can receive one raffle ticket in the draw for a huge range of valuable knitterly awards. Local and International yarn shops & designers, large & small, have rallied behind Passionfruit’s cause: Kangaroo UK, ColourMart Cashmere UK, Prestige Yarns, NSW and we here at Sarah Durrant, VIC, along with many others, have put forward prizes that knitters will find irresistible. Kilos of cashmere, jumper and cardi knit kits, full packs of delicious yarns, an entire range of leading designer patterns….and so much more.

Please go now to Passionfruit’s blog:
to view the full details of these great incentives and how to ensure you earn your place in the draw.

Then head over to Red Cross Australia, credit card at the ready:
and make your donation.

What does $10 mean to you? A pair of new needles? $20 might mean that you have to defer that sock yarn purchase to another day. $30 might be the yarn you have your eye on for that hat & scarf set? That can wait until winter! But these humble sums of money, used collectively by Australian Red Cross, will mean EVERYTHING to all these victims of bushfire who have absolutely nothing left.


Meet the grandparents:

My Grandparents, circa 1917

My Grandparents, circa 1917

I never met my grandfather; he was held by the Japanese in an internment camp in China and died there in 1944, 12 years before I was born. It’s a long and complicated story, but my grandfather was South African by birth and went over to England as a young man – I presume to complete his studies as an architect – and then the first World War interrupted everyone’s lives and he joined up in England to fight. I don’t actually know at what stage he met my grandmother, but they married in Oxford in 1917 and, at the end of the war, they both went off to China to live where he practised as a well respected architect, with many of his buildings still in existence there today.

I doubt my grandmother would have known it at the time she first stepped on board the ship that was taking them to Shanghai, but she would have been just a few weeks pregnant with my mother – who was born 6 months after their arrival. But it seems the marriage was not to be a happy one. Whilst I have no details, and my mother has no knowledge or real memory of what took place, it sounded like these two individuals were poles apart in their attitudes and expectations. More of that at some other time, but in 1928 my grandmother went back to England, taking her 8 year old daughter with her, neither ever to see my grandfather again. They divorced (and you’ll appreciate just how rare it was for couples to divorce back in the 1920s) and my grandmother never remarried. And neither was there any further knowledge of what had become of my grandfather.

This year, after helping Mr Knitterly Notions trace some previously unknown lines of his own family, I decided that the time had come to investigate my own past. My mother had made an attempt some years ago, but without the advantages of the internet and email, it was a long, hard slog that bore disappointing results.

My chase first led me to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who had detailed my Grandfather’s death whilst in captivity, but it also gave me the next clue in my search: the name of his second wife. Then I went looking for information about the camp that the Japanese had secured them in when they invaded China and, with the benefit of the internet, I discovered a website dedicated to those who had been interned in that particular camp. Reading the documents, the diaries, seeing the photographs and the drawings done by those who were there was an extraordinary experience, and it was here that I learned that my grandfather had gone on to have 3 more daughters (half-sisters to my mother), all of whom were imprisoned with he and his second wife.

I then reached the stage where I had made contact with a fellow in England who was also in that camp as a young boy. He later became heavily involved with the Far East Internees Association and, as such, had access to many documents that would give me some much needed clues about my grandfathers origins. But, perhaps more exciting, was that he is currently in contact the daughters of my grandfather’s second marriage. The eldest – who he knew best – is now 73, and he was offering to write to her on my behalf to see whether she would be interested in making contact.

It was some weeks later, on New Years Eve, that he emailed me to say that he had been in touch with D and unfortunately “there was no way she wanted to know anything about this”. I was utterly deflated – I’d felt this might be the only way I could fill in some of the details surrounding my grandfathers little known past. BUT, he went on to say, he had since been contacted by one of the other daughters, and she was VERY interested. So he’d forwarded her all my email correspondance to him, and said that if I didn’t hear anything back from her, then he could only give me whatever information was in the public domain.

In the meantime, I continued unearthing obscure records like some master sleuth! A tiny fragment of information that presented itself during a Google Books search led me to discover an extract from Who’s Who of China 1925 that indicated there was a listing included for my grandfather. One of just 2 places named where that book is held? The Australian National Library in Canberra! By the next weekend I was there in Canberra with the book in my hand – and his entry included his place of birth and father’s name, as well as the date of his first arrival in China. And when I came back from Canberra, what should be waiting for me but emails, two very excited and welcoming emails, from two of the 3 sisters (my half-aunts!) no less.

It’s all been a bit overwhelming since then……reams of information passing between here, the US and England. They are just as keen to know about WGP as I – it wasn’t until 1983 that they first became aware that their father had even been married before; their mother had harboured that information right through the decades. We all respect that their eldest sister wants to know nothing about this – but I do think it’s rather sad that there’s bitterness and divisions evident after all this time. Many photographs of my grandfather and relatives that I hadn’t even known of until these last few weeks have now been exchanged. They even have one from the very same sitting that my photo (above) came from, complete with the bulldog but without my grandmother, his first wife, beside him!

What We Did on our Holidays

Wednesday 29 October 2008

We saw 3 of these magnificent creatures…

Our third whale of the morning

Our third whale of the morning

We saw thousands (if not millions!) of these…..

Just one lamb of millions presently in NZ

Just one lamb of millions presently in NZ

Visited several dozen of the crafty places recommended by this….

Ann Packer's Crafty Girls' Road Trip of New Zealand

Ann Packer's Crafty Girls' Road Trip of New Zealand

Which enabled me to purchase these….

Just a small portion of the stash enhancing

Just a small portion of the stash enhancing exercise

As well as these…..

Possum/Merino/Silk - A bargain buy (at half price!)direct from the mill

Possum/Merino/Silk - A bargain buy (at half price!) direct from the mill

And I treated myself to this…

Handwoven by Lindy Chinnery, a collapse-weave scarf in hand-dyed silk

Handwoven by Lindy Chinnery, a collapse-weave scarf in hand-dyed silk

Was dropped by chopper onto this……

On Franz Josef Glacier, NZ

On Franz Josef Glacier, NZ

And around just about every corner of the road on the South Island was one of these….

Another Bloody Gorgeous View!

Another Bloody Gorgeous View!

And I discovered the voice of an angel to bring home with me …..

A Maori/Hebrew/Celtic 'mongrel'

A Maori/Hebrew/Celtic 'mongrel'

Only to also discover that it was cut short just this year, when a massive asthma attack took her life. Tragic.

Yes! It was a superb trip, and 3 weeks wasn’t anywhere near enough time to do see the South Island: there’s so much more, that I’m sure I’ll be back. More specifics about the trip when I find time.

An Unexpected Arrival

Friday 29 August 2008

It’s not often I get something unexpected turn up in the mail – but today was one of those days.

Along with the unwelcome notification from the bank that they’d increased our direct debit amount for the fortnightly mortgage repayment, there was a large package from Murdoch Books. It contained this:


Complete Contemporary Craft: Textiles

 They’ve compiled selected pages from the ‘handmade style’ series and put them together into one pretty substantial volume (383 pages). Some of you may know that I designed a couple of pieces that were published in their ‘Knit: Handmade Style’ book in 2006 – a pure silk top and tie frontjacket – and those two patterns have been included in the selection they’ve reprinted in this new title.  But it’s also rather nice to see these other textile craft titles compiled into the one volume – the felting and the weaving sections are particularly attractive. 

Interestingly, the complimentary edition they’ve sent me is a UK version, priced at UKP19.99, but I think it’s also around in Australia for about $50.00 rrp.

Nimble of hand but light of finger

Thursday 31 July 2008

Shoplifting has never been much of a problem for us at shows and exhibitions – we’ve had the odd pattern book walk away without being paid for, and we did have a throw kit stolen from a larger show (we established that  the devious thief first knocked it to the floor and then kicked it around the corner, past our stand, so that they could escape with it unseen by us!). But at the Melbourne Craft & Quilt Fair this last week, pilfering was in almost epidemic proportions.

Perhaps the most disappointing incident was regarding a scarf that I’d knitted in JitterBug, that I’d only just finished in time for the Australian Sheep & Wool Show, held the previous week. Many of our customers and visitors there made favourable comment on the scarf – I’d actually reworked an existing large basket stitch pattern to make it even more dimensional & textured, and basically knitted the full hank of JitterBug to see what size piece would eventuate. Many had asked me for the pattern, and I gave promise to chart my stitch design and write up the pattern instructions.

But, alas, within the first hour of the first day of the Melbourne Craft & Quilt Fair being open, that same scarf has been stolen from our stand. And the pilfering didn’t cease there.  Many will have seen how we package together sock kits – a hank of JitterBug with sock pattern, an 80cm Knit Picks circular, and a leaflet describing how to work in the round using the Magic Loop. It saves the purchaser about $2.50 on the individual purchases, as we’re able to adjust down the price of the JitterBug when purchased at the same time as the needles – just a basic marketing process.  During the course of one day at the show I found at least 5 kits that had their needles removed. Stolen. We’re talking of an $8.50 item here, not the crown jewels, so why would people who’d already paid an entrance fee to get into the show, find it necessary to steal such relatively low cost items? What’s worse is that these people are clearly KNITTERS themselves. Now that does leave a bad taste. We like to think of our fellow knitters as good people, as honest people, but there is surely an element among us – as, I suppose,  amongst just about any group in society – that does not possess the same scruples and conscience as the majority.

Alas, it is the majority that suffers, because we found we then had to tie down items on display, that we had to seal up the kits with staples (which, incredibly, people then ripped open), and then we ended up finding it necessary to put all but one sample kit out of public reach, and just made up the kits on demand. 

We all suffer in the end: the customer because they aren’t given such free access to our products as they might like; and us because the barriers we create may deter the honest customer from making a purchase.

I don’t know what the best answer is – many other stores simply build in a percentage in their retail prices to cover an expected level of shoplifting, but that is something I prefer not to have to do. Strategically placed mirrors, additional staff, there’s a range of deterrents that might work but my concern is that we might deter the genuine purchasers too.

But to anyone who sees my scarf out on the streets of Melbourne (such audacity to wear things they’ve stolen!), you might like to approach the wearer and ask them how long it took them to knit it? And where can you get the pattern? For yes, it was such a lovely scarf.

The nerve of some people!

Fit & Finish

Monday 14 July 2008

At the recent Sydney Craft & Quilt Fair, held at Darling Harbour, I ran a short workshop for visiting knitters each day, focussing on the fit & finish of knitted garments. These two areas are typically where most problems with handknit projects are encountered. And what could be worse than investing large amounts of money, time & devotion into knitting something that you ultimately discover to be unwearable ? The good news is that the success, or otherwise, of the outcome is almost 100% within the control of the knitter themself (but how often have you heard a knitter blame the pattern!). The bad news is that many knitters are so eager to get their project on and off the needles that they tend to omit some of the vital preparatory stages that would ensure them success. Basic things like being familiar with your current body measurements sound like common sense, but there’s many a knitter who’s not placed a tape measure anywhere near her own body in years! And then there’s the familiar dread raised in knitters across the globe at the mere mention of the words ‘tension swatch’!

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words – here are a couple that make a very simple point about how critical tension swatching can be towards achieving a perfect fit.

Same number of stitches, same number of rows!

Same number of stitches, same number of rows!

Both these samples in Iona, each worked on different needle sizes, have produced a fabric that at first glance looks and feels perfectly acceptable, neither too stiff or overly  sloppy. Both swatches have exactly the same number of stitches and the same number of rows in the very same yarn. Yet look at the difference in the physical size of the two pieces! The swatches themselves represent only a small percentage of a full garment, so multiply the ‘error’ margin across the circumference of a garment body and what do you have? Either a garment that’s too tiny to get around you, or one that is so oversize that it’ll swamp you.

While this is an extreme example, made to get the point across, it’s clear why so many knitters are dissatisfied with the sizing of their garment: a small variation from the patterns’ required tension can make a significant difference to the finished size. Answer? Swatch, swatch (and swatch again) until you can match the given tension exactly. Unless you match the tension given in the pattern instructions, your resulting garment will not be of the given measurements.

What a difference a stitch makes

What a difference a stitch makes

Here’s another very graphic example – this time about the importance of measuring your swatch over the same stitch pattern that your pattern instructions require you to. This time, in Jitterbug,  we have even used exactly the same needle size, over exactly the same number of stitches and the same number of rows. The difference this time is only in the stitch pattern: the left hand swatch is worked in k2, p2 rib and the right hand swatch is in moss st (seed stitch). Need I say more?

The last element of the workshop was dedicated to blocking and finishing – while the given time of 20mins is hardly enough to even scratch the surface of such a complex topic, the thing that many of the participants expressed particular gratitude for was my demonstration of how to sew up a seam using mattress stitch. Surprisingly, there were a good number of seasoned knitters who’d never before come across mattress stitch – such a neat and near invisible way of joining pieces. At the completion of one of my sessions, a lady in the audience proclaimed she’d been knitting for 40 years and couldn’t believe that she’s actually just learned something new to her.

Yes, and I’m still learning too! And long may it continue.