Hello, and thank you for calling in. We are safe and well, although with two teachers and two tiny people in our family the dreaded virus seems to be coming closer and closer. Little Cottontail, now almost fifteen months old, had a runny, snuffly nose last week and a little tired cough (for a day) and her nursery would not let her attend until she had taken a Covid-19 test and received a negative result, even though she had none of the official symptoms of the virus. The poor darling had to have those very invasive swab tests, and of course she screamed her head off, and then her parents were not allowed to go to work until the negative result came in, forty-eight hours later. We are now waiting for her to get the next inevitable nursery cold and repeat the whole process.
Autumn arrived here with a deluge. After an initial week of relentless rain we had some glorious blue skies but the sunshine is replaced by rain every time I'm ready to grab my camera and go out to enjoy my favourite season so I've been cracking on with some creative projects instead. Creative projects have saved my mental wellbeing during this year.
I always knew that I was not "artistic" because when I was a child I wasn't good at drawing or painting and that was what I knew to be the definition of "artistic". Those were the school lessons I enjoyed least of all and I was immensely relieved when, after two years at secondary school, I was able to leave the art room behind for good. There is a caveat to that: in my first year, we had to draw an animal skull in pen and ink, I think it was a sheep, and I remember a gentle and empathetic teacher explaining how we should look at the object in front of us and how we should replicate what we saw. I enjoyed that lesson, sitting quietly by myself and becoming absorbed in the task, oblivious to what was going on around me, and the following week I walked into the art room and was absolutely amazed to see that my drawing had been mounted and displayed on the wall. My heart swelled with pride. It was a unique occurrence and memorable for that. Last year my mother gave me my school reports and I was amazed again: in that year I attained 87% and a Grade A for Art! I think that must show the power and effectiveness of a good teacher. The following year, with a different teacher, I attained 68% and a Grade B but he commented that I was a "very capable girl". I had completely forgotten that I was ever any better than hopeless at art.
When I was in my twenties I realised that I did have some artistic sensibilities. I bought a house and read lots of interior design books and magazines and discovered that I had strong views about how colours are affected by light and which colours I wanted to live with. Actually, now that I think about that, I probably developed ideas about that when I was a teenager and started using make-up. I have always known that blue eyeshadow does nothing for my hazel eyes! Still, I associated being artistic with the ability to paint and draw and so it was not a label I could attach to myself, even hesitantly.
A couple of years ago I had an interesting conversation with my eleven year old nephew. He has the talent and skill which I lack and loves to paint and draw and had painted small canvases for his aunts and grandparents for Christmas. He told me how important it is to him to be able to exercise his talent and express himself with paint, particularly watercolour. I told him how important it has become to me to do something creative every day. I remembered a keen gardening friend who once told me that because he worked in an office all day, gardening provided him with the outlet to create something with his hands and my businesswoman sister who makes the most beautiful greetings cards. I thought of other people I know who dance, play musical instruments, cook wonderful meals, bake and decorate extraordinary cakes and take stunning photographs. It has taken years for me to realise that I am creative - I still wouldn't use the word "artistic", even though I now know that the word encompasses far more than the ability to paint and draw. I looked up definitions of "creativity" and I liked this one:
, the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form. (www.britannica.com, the website of the Encylcopedia Britannica)
Over these last months when I have had to spend so much time at home, creativity has given me something to do to fill the time, something to focus on entirely so that there has been no room for my mind to wander to grim, hopeless places and something very satisfying indeed. I'd like to share the results of some that creativity.
Then there were the crocheted rainbows which I showed you in August, bedecked with beads and pompoms, twenty-one of them all told. That did become a bit of a chore, only because there were so many of them, but playing around with the beads as I carefully selected them was great fun, and watching the summerhouse fill up with them was very satisfying - there were ten of them in there at one point.
As usual, there were rainbow blankets for babies. My standard colours are Lipstick, Spice, Saffron, Lime, Turquoise, Violet and Magenta and I didn't choose them myself, I copied them from another crocheter, but each border is different. I have made two of these since March.
Then there was a new rainbow blanket, a commission, with instructions that I could choose the pattern and rainbow colours myself. I chose Stylecraft Special DK as usual because it washes and wears so well, which I think is important in blankets for small children, but this time I chose a much brighter palette of Matador, Jaffa, Sunshine, Grass Green, Turquoise, Empire and Proper Purple. I was worried about the Jaffa and the Matador as they are almost bright enough to require the wearing of sunglasses(!) but the other colours pulled them in and they all worked well together. I couldn't fail to smile every time I looked at it.
We celebrated Cottontail's first birthday in July and I crocheted her a jacket using some scrumptious, squishy Stylecraft Special Aran yarn. As he unwrapped it for her, Tom Kitten looked at me and said, "You made it!" and my heart filled up. It is SO special to be able to make things for the people you love.
Well, I think that everything I have shown you so far has looked pretty good but now I am going to something I created with love and care and not a great deal of skill! When my sister asked me to spend her special birthday with her I decided to make her a celebratory cake. This was brave because my cakes look very homely - I've never used a piping bag and I've only used fondant once. I'm a bit old-fashioned. However, I couldn't bear the thought of her going without a birthday cake on her actual birthday so I consulted my friend's thirteen year-old daughter, a keen baker. She suggested a pinata cake - in case you haven't come across one of these before, it's a three-layer sponge, filled and covered with icing, with a secret hole in the middle which is filled with sweets so that when you cut a slice, the sweets spill out of the centre. Got it? Another super-duper baking friend suggested that I use a madeira cake recipe as it's more robust than my standard Victoria sponge and that if I had a deep cake tin, I could bake it in that and slice it into three layers rather than bake each layer separately. So that's what I did. I baked the cake the day before the birthday and the next morning, when it was cool and settled (which is more than I was!), I held my breath and sliced it horizontally, twice, something else I've never done before. I made a ridiculous amount of chocolate butter icing, which I have rarely done as one of my children never liked it, sandwiched the layers together with the sweetie treasure in the middle and covered the cake. I smoothed the icing as best I could and as you can see, it's not smooth! This is probably the ugliest cake my sister has ever received but it was made with love and I think she appreciated that. Best of all was that she had never come across a pinata cake before so the sweets were a big surprise. Making this cake caused me a great deal of worry and tension but it was as important to me as that mounted drawing of a sheep's skull hanging on the wall.
This is how it looked before I put the top layer on.
Now that schools have reopened and we are easing back into the old routine, to some extent, I have reverted to yarn, needles and hooks but I have not forgotten that I stretched some different creative muscles and that I enjoyed it. I saw a side of myself which I haven't seen for a long time and which I'd like to see more often. I think that creativity isn't merely an end in itself but it facilitates other activities, too: a long time ago I read that learning to play a musical instrument improved children's academic performance in other subjects, too. That's why I think it's important to make time and space to be creative. I'll leave you now with a definition of creativity from the author C.J. Lyons.
"Living in possibility and abundance rather than limitation and scarcity."
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x