Monday, 13 April 2015

Morning Bush Walk & the Tradition of the Cairn

No dolly work today, hanging out with the children as its the school holidays here at the moment. I have to admit I love being able to wake up when when we want and not having to be anywhere by a certain time. Not to mention the days are absolutely gorgeous, brisk in the morning and evening, but warm and sunny during the day.... just perfect!

This morning we decided to go for a morning bush walk. Its been the first opportunity we've had since Easter as one by one we've all had a cold.... got to love being part of a large family, so lovely that we all share so kindly.

Its funny when you go for a nature walk with children, the first half of the walk is always spent trying to stop the kids running to far ahead, the last part trying to pull them onward as they dawdle behind.

The bush near our house was burnt out badly by fires about a year and a half ago. But thanks to some generous rain falls it is really looking amazing at the moment... the ferns are growing back and the wildflowers are blooming.

 The Banksias are in flower, a tell tale sign that the weather is getting cooler. They always remind me of candles, probably from my days as a child at a Steiner school where we had stories and sung songs about them as part of our winter festival. I have to admit I have a very distant school memory of playing the recorder to a song that celebrated these amazing flowers.

Not sure what these are called but aren't they amazing?!?! They are actually quite small in real life, no more than the size of a coin.

Flannel flowers, so soft and velvety, always makes my heart skip a beat when I spot one. There are hundreds upon hundreds of little flannel flower plants long the path where we walk.... a few more weeks and it should be awash in flowers.

Every great walk needs a cairn. This is ours and its the turning point for us on our walk. When we come across it we know its time to turn around and go back, otherwise our little walk in the bush turns into an eleven kilometer hike through the mountains. The kids always take turns placing a rock to mark our visit..... looking at its size though I think most people do.

Cairns are amazing and always have mystical feel about them. I love spotting them on bushwalks, especially if you're on one that isn't the most clear and used. Our local ones are used for markers on trails. But in ancient times cairns were used for astrology, hunting & religious purposes as well as navigation. Cairns date all the way back to the stone age and have been found all over the world.

On any bush walk you do feel a connection to the earth and a real sense of what is authentic... so important in this mixed up, hectic world. Placing a rock on a cairn is a lovely ceremony, not only does it mark our own personal passage through a place, but also our ancient roots to a much simpler time . In the process of placing our rock the kids and I always stop in a moment of peace and quiet, listen the sounds of the bush, breathe in the sweet air, and enjoy the tranquility.

Mel xx

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Mr Molly & his Wooden Lovelies

My wonderful husband Dave has been pottering in his shed these last few weeks, creating all sorts of Miss Molly delights. He has slowly been getting into wood work the last couple of years, and I think its fair to say he has gotten the bug. And I do think he loves collecting the timber as much as he loves creating wonderful things with it. We find a lot of timber locally, especially with trees that have been lopped down. But also with old pieces of antique furniture, floor boards and also in a fabulous wood shop in Sydney that has every kind of timber known.

Our garden cubby was his first big project, though to be honest he had been pottering with other little pieces for years, but for sure the cubby was a definite major work.

Apart from the weatherboards and roof the majority of the cubby came from recycled timber that we found.. primarily old pallets and a bunk bed.

Of late I have been busy with my Miss Molly work, and every so often I would mention to my Dave how cute it would be to have a little wooden dolly chair, or a pram... perhaps some little dolly toys. As time went by my list got longer. Then one day he emerged from his man cave with an ever so wee spindle dolly chair.

A few weeks later out popped some more dolly delights from the shed. Last night a very special dolly pram made from recycled antique pine and oregon. Dave spends ages sanding to make each piece as smooth as satin and then finishes them with oil and wax to bring out the beauty of the timber. He's fascinated with making them the old fashioned way, so no screws or nails!

I'm so excited to announce that my wonderful Dave will be coming on board with Miss Molly to make some special dolly pieces for the shop, so it will be a real family affair!... Lots of sketches and plans have been drawn up... beds, prams, strollers, cradles, wardrobes, high chairs, wagons and a selection of cute little pull toys. So keep an eye out.

Mel xx

Friday, 10 April 2015

Beginner Knitters Project - A Dolly Shawl

Its getting a bit cool here where I am at the moment. Time to start getting out the woolen jumpers and freshen them up for another winters use. Did get me thinking about the dollies though and that they too may need some extra coziness.

So I've been making some little dolly shawls, they are oh so very simple and only require knowledge of a few simple knitting techniques. This is an absolutely fabulous project for beginners or even for those learning to knit.

I have used a 4 ply yarn, I think 4 ply works better because its not so bulky around the dollies neck. I also used a larger needle than what I would ordinarily use for knitting with 4 ply, because I wanted the shawl to be stretchier and with a softer feeling to it. For these two finished examples I used a Suri alpaca mix, which is just a fancy name for baby alpaca... so really soft! The world is your oyster when it comes to yarn choices, mohair would be stunning as well!!

What you will need

4 ply yarn
3 3/4 mm needles
2 stitch markers

Lets begin.

We will be using garter stitch or plain stitch

Cast on 3 stitches.  Place stitch markers after the first and before the last stitch.

Row 1 - Knit 1, slip marker, knit front and back of next stitch, slip marker, knit last stitch.

Row 2 - Knit 1, slip marker, knit front & back of next stitch, knit to the stitch before next marker and knit front & back of stitch, slip marker, knit last stitch.

Repeat Row 2 until you get to the desired size.


Mel xx

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Downton Abbey, Bears and my Television Avoidance

The kids are home on their school holidays, apart from the rain over the Easter break, the days have been completely gorgeous and they have been outside in the garden most of the time. Their cubby house has been where most of the mischief and mayhem has been originating from. Little Matty though has advanced his excavating to yet another large hole in the centre of the yard and that is keeping him occupied for countless hours. Enough to say though that the kids have been reasonably happy and autonomous. I however have been occupied with making little bears, oh and little Lucy, a doll I am slowly working on.... but more about her later.

Yesterday was spent in my little work area, curled up with some yarn, a crochet hook and a full season of Downton Abbey. Would it shock you to know that up until yesterday I had never seen an episode? In fact, I never really knew of its existence, except for comments left for me on my Facebook page or emails, people would say such lovely comments about my hats and refer to Downton Abbey. I also did notice other references made to Downton in my Facebook feed, but alas I have been a little lost to what everyone was referring to.

I am not one for television at all, I find it terribly bothersome. I think its the non conformist in me. I find it off putting that some faceless programmer would tell me what to watch and when to watch it, not to mention them telling me what to think and when to think it.... but that's a soap box moment for a different post perhaps.

I do love watching films and documentaries and I admit to watching one current affairs show here in Australia on our public broadcaster, just to keep me abreast. As a family we regularly watch movies, but it is always on our terms and determination. I really don't remember the last time we sat down to traditional commercial television.

So with all the vintage buzz about Downton, I thought I best check it out!!! Yes, I might be a few years behind everyone, but all that matters is that I got there eventually. One season in and I am completely addicted. Though I am not sure if it is the story line, moreover perhaps the costuming and the set decorating.... just sublime, no other word for it!!! Having said that I do admit I am busting to find out if Mary and Matthew do eventually get together.

Almost a full day of straight viewing is a long time to watch anything, but my hands were busy, and while I was enjoying my first taste of Downton I crocheted a little bear. Her name is Miss Mary, of course.

Back to some dolly making for now, but a quick word about another little bear that is currently in my work basket. She is going to be my next giveaway over on my Facebook page. Probably at the end of the month all going well. So if you're interested in perhaps winning one of my bears keep a look out.

Mel xx

Friday, 3 April 2015

Easter in Australia & a celebration of Ida

A very wet Easter weekend here. It hasn't stopped raining for 2 days now... and its rather brisk as well. So any ideas I had of photographing dollies in the garden has soon gone to the wayside. Its Australian folklore that Easter is always rainy and cold. To be honest I do have memories of sunny Easters, but the years when it is cold and wet, we always exclaim a recurrent "see it always rains on Easter... hmmph". Now I'm not saying that our Australian expectation of wet weather actually leads to a communal prayer for rain.... like a subliminal rain dance, but enough to say that there is no real shock to see the storm clouds close in on the Thursday before Good Friday.

So I have spent the weekend curled up inside with the family, indulging in hot cross buns and lovely hot cups of  tea. And admittedly also losing myself in the internet.... they don't call it the web for nothing, what seems like a few minutes is in actuality hours, but I am quite sure we can all relate to that problem.

It was while I was adhered to the web I found myself searching for vintage Easter illustrations, and it was while I was searching through these wonderful images I stumbled on this very rare Australian Easter picture. And such a rare sight it was. Staring upon it all manner of thoughts crossed my mind. You see while most of the world celebrates Easter simultaneously with the beginning of spring, here in Australia however the Easter long weekend represents the first real sign of cool weather and Autumn. Most of my memories of Easter are about flannelette  pyjamas, warm slippers, hot cross buns, the odd chocolate egg (of course) and the first sign of Autumn leaves, oh and as stated previously...... rain.

So as I peered into this magical painting it reminded me of how sacred images of our own unique folklore are. And while the shops do seem be awash in a sea of pink, yellow and green at the moment, what a refreshing sight it is to see a truly Australian representation of Easter; misty mountains, cosy onesies , fallen leaves and mushrooms.

So who created this inspirational illustration I wondered, well it was indeed Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. And while we all know of the works of May Gibbs and her Gumnut babies or Peg Maltby's fairies, would it surprise you to know that Ida and her family were in fact the first to write magical Australian fairy stories, some 10 years before Gibbs and Maltby. In fact many believe Ida single-handedly inspired the Melbourne school of fantasy illustrators. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite led the way inspiring many to follow her lead to captivate children and to peer into the Australian bushland with wonder and awe.

Up until Ida's illustrations, children's fairy tales originated in the Northern Hemisphere, which held little connection for Australian children to the reality of where they lived.

So I thought I would share with you all, a little about this Australian artist and her magical vision of make believe and wonder.


Ida aged approx. 18 years

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite was born in 1888 in Melbourne, Australia. The youngest daughter to Rev. John Rentoul and Annie Rattray. Her father a professor of New Testament literature at Melbourne University and her mother having extensive interests in art, music and literature.  Both parents encouraged Ida's artistic pursuits and preferred that she develop her own style as opposed to attending formal art lessons. Many family holidays were spent in the Macedon Ranges and the Victorian Coast where make believe, witchery and mysticism within the Australian landscape was imbued within the Rentoul children. Ida began drawing from a young age, she collaborated with her sister Anne and other members of her family to create truly uniquely Australian fairy stories. Ida's first fantasy illustration was published by New Idea magazine when she was just 15.

An early rare photograph of Ida and her siblings, John (far left), Ida (next left), Anne (centre) and friends, 1891, Melbourne University

Anne Rattray Rentoul, Ida's sister and the author of many of the books that Ida illustrated

In 1906 Mollie's Bunyip was published. Written by her sister Anne and illustrated by Ida, this now very rare book, tells of how Mollie wanders into the bush and becomes lost. She is protected by the fairies and a magical Bunyip until she finds her way home again.  The book comprised of simple ink drawings and is truly a remarkable effort from two young girls.

The sequel to this book, Mollie's Staircase was in fact written by Ida's mother and shows how collaborative Ida was with her family. In fact a large majority of her illustrative work was a collaboration with her family.

These early stories and illustrations were the first of their kind in Australia. Up until their creation fairy tales were still very much of European origin. Remembering that the colony of Australia was only just a little over 100 years old, it had taken many decades for even traditional artists to come to terms with the exotic landscape and fauna and to not see through "European eyes". Now through the imagination of Ida and her family, Australia began to identify with a new fairy tale world deep within the Australian bush and the beginning of Australian fairy folklore was born.

In 1909 Ida married businessman Grenbry Outhwaite. Her husband encouraged her career and art, becoming closely involved in the management and marketing of her work. In fact he even collaborated with her to write several stories including The Enchanted Forest (1921), The Little Fairy Sister (1923) and Fairyland (1926).

Ida & Grenbry's wedding 1909

The bulk of Ida's work was created during her 29 year marriage, including many exhibitions, in Melbourne, London and Paris. Ida's books and illustrations became world famous, her work being produced on all manner of merchandise; jig saw puzzles, postcards, even candle and soap boxes.  Her stories of kookaburras, koala bears, cicadas and fairies also became mandatory reading within Australian schools.

What serves as huge inspiration to me is that Ida juggled the tribulations and responsibilities of home and family with her art career. In a time when few women even had a career, she successfully managed both career and motherhood and produced work that has often been compared to the same calibre as Rackman & Dulac.

Ida (standing rear), her mother Anne (seated) with Ida's children Anne, Wendy & Robert circa 1917

Ida circa 1926

In 1916 'Elves & Fairies' was published, no other Australian equivalent had ever been produced before this point.  Multiple exhibitions stemmed from these illustrations, her watercolours and ink drawings receiving international acclaim. In 1926 her equally respected 'Fairyland' was also published.

After WW2, Ida's popularity diminished slightly. She often spoke that the war "stopped the taste for fairies". Perhaps alluding to a nations innocence being lost. In 1938 Ida's husband passed away and she went to live with her sister in a flat in the outskirts of Melbourne. Ida continued to work until her death in 1960. By the end of her long life she had produced a massive amount of work. There is no doubt she was a true pioneer and changed the way we as Australians saw our land. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite inspired our nation and the world to look beyond the wildflowers and eucalypts and see magic and fairies.

So as we celebrate Easter around the world, in my little corner at least, I'm feeling the first brisk bites of cold and listening to the rain persistently falling on my roof. In the distance I can hear the creek behind my home cascading with water and I envision the Easter bunny later tonight making his way over that creek; using the little twig bridge that was constructed by the local fairy folk, through my back garden gate he'll wander, down the fairy path that meanders through my garden, under the salvias that are heavily laden with Autumn blooms and stooping low because of the rain, and finally into my little home. This magical bunny is wearing Autumn attire, rugged up in his warm woollen waist coat, holding a basket of chocolate in one hand and an umbrella in the other.

I dream of fairies and make believe in the Australian bush because of the undeniable brilliance of Ida.... she was after all, the first to see them.

Happy Easter everyone!

Mel xxxx