Hey all, it’s the end of July and I thought it would be nice to catch up with you on what I’ve been up to in the past weeks and what I’m currently working on. So grab a cup of whatever you like to drink ( or if your weather is like mine you might want to make it an ice cream) and read about my torrid walks, summer blooms and of course craft adventures.
It’s been a hot, dry and sticky summer so far. June brought us a succession of heatwaves and July was not much different, we are still struggling with droughts and we skimmed the ludicrous levels of 40 degrees again. I remember when I was a child that bumping above 25 degree territory in summer was a rarity, then we started getting temperatures around 25-30 degrees more often and getting over 30 degrees regularly and then even more recently breaching the previously assumed unimaginable 40 degrees for the first time. I don’t have to tell you how frightening the speed of this level of change is. These are all official temperatures, measured in the shade outside the cities. I honestly don’t want to think too much about the actual temperatures we reach on my south facing balcony in the city amongst all the buildings and all that concrete.
As if in a bizarre attempt to drive the climate collapse point home on one of the hottest days of the year (ahem…so far), at the hottest point of the day while full sun was shining on it one of my apartment windows broke due to sheer warmth pressure that it couldn’t withstand. This is apparently something that can just happen because of the heat…and apparently does happen a lot judging from the waiting list at the repair folk. This bodes..eh…well for our resilience towards future, increasingly hot summers. Anyway because of the aforementioned waiting list we will be boasting a broken window for a while longer yet (it’s fine, it adds real character to our apartment and if need be we can always update it to “early Halloween decor”). Climate change and ecological collapse is never far from my mind, but in recent summers its beating drum is particularly inescapable with the effects of droughts, hotter temperatures and ecological collapse visible everywhere you look. Of course our struggles pale in comparison to our southerly European neighbours and elsewhere in the world where they are currently dealing with even hotter temperatures and are battling intense wildfires. My thoughts are with you all and my anger at the political (and corporate) inaction of our nation and the world at large is for the future of all of us.
After the nice mellow summer we had last year, and the “abnormally” warm, sunny and dry spring we had this year the following summer was always going to feel like a challenge and tediously long, but it’s especially the case with a summer that has been so dry and hot as it has been now. I’ve been relishing the odd overcast days we have and the even rarer rainy day, as rainy summer days are, unsurprisingly, my favourite summer days. I just seem to be able to get way more done and think clearer on those days, especially compared to days when it’s really hot. Nature perks up from the rain as well, and everything is greener, stands a bit taller and is more lush after the rain. This only goes so far though. We’ve barely had any rain in the past two months and when the whole landscape is barren, brown and dead more than a rainy day is needed for things to perk back up. The photos I’ve included here have been taken stretched over the long months of summer and a lot of the photos I’ve included here of the forests, meadows and gardens were taken on the odd rainy or overcast days and they where taken earlier in the summer. Things do not look as green now. I want to tell it like it is that is why I talk about our dry and hot struggles, but I want to add the photos anyway as I honestly also needs some reminders of some good and green things in summer. Perhaps you do to.
On a positive note I feel my knowledge about and ability to identify wildflowers, plants and insects etc has gotten a lot better this summer. I guess my year of reading almost solely nature, garden and wildlife books is really paying off. There is still a lot more that I don’t know, but it’s nice to feel like it’s progressing. The more you know about these things the more your eyes open to the astonishing and precious diversity we still have (though it is undoubtedly in steep decline) in plants, insects and wildlife. I look at it with a sense of wonder and incredible heartache at the same time; wonder in nature and heartache at the pace we are loosing it all and at the lack of will to do much about it.
This year we’ve been seeing lots of foxgloves in the forest. They are native wildflowers in my neck of the woods, and one of the few wildflowers which have been embraced as ornamental garden flowers as well so encountering them out in the woods is always a nice reminder of their their wilder origins (though some who made it back into the forests will be ornamental garden escapees!). I have regularly seen the common pink, purple and white foxglove variety, but there is also a smaller yellow variety that is much rarer and as a wildflower can only be found in the south of the country where I grew up (but, as an adult at least, I’ve never spotted it). This illusive flower remains on the “would like to encounter, but have yet to do so” list!
This summer we’ve been visiting one of our local public gardens. Over here it has a specific name, heemtuin, but I feel it doesn’t translate well into different languages or even garden concepts elsewhere so I’ll just explain what it is. The garden is a sort of mix between an educational, wildlife and a conservation garden. Part of their educational and conservation work is wildlife and wild plants, but another equal important part is conservation of cultivated agricultural land. They grow, for example, lots of types of grains that used to be common in this area before the 20th century, and they grow and harvest it in the same way it used to be done for centuries in these parts.
One of the most striking visual differences is that these fields are dotted with wildflowers growing among the grain, making for a more colourful and much, much livelier field than cultivated farmland is nowadays. Another almost as stark a difference that struck me the first time I visited is the diversity in type of grains in the different little fields. It’s been educational and interesting and really opens your eyes to what we lost when we replaced it with the monoculture that farmland is these days. A profound sense of loss washes over me whenever I visit, but there is hope to be found in this as well as our society could, at pretty much any given moment in the future, restore some of these areas and/or practises. One should hope it would happen before complete climate collapse and loss of what little biodiversity we still have. Until that moment there is hope to be found in places such as these still excising and hope to be found in the flowers teeming with life.
Summer knitting! By which I mean what I’m knitting this summer as these projects don’t particularly conjure up summery images. I finished the Afmaeli jumper I was working on in early summer. I sort of had it as a goal to finish it before the real summer heat set in as climate change has put an end to my “I’ll just knit this thick lopapeysa while it rests on my lap in peak summer” days. I don’t like putting pressure on a project, but in this case I’m glad I did (and that lopapeysa are relatively speedy knits!). You will have to wait to see more of the jumper until the cooler days are upon us again when I’ll be sure to give her a proper showing.
In the meantime new projects have been cast on! I started a pair of fingerless colourwork gloves to have a practical small project to work on. In other seasons I have a tendency to hyper focus on one project at the time but in summer I like to have a small project on the go at all times in addition to a “big project”. I’d been meaning to knit myself a pair of fingerless gloves for a while but I never made work of settling on a project so it always got postponed. This summer I finally just picked one and we are well on our way now. The pattern is the underwing mitts and they are a very popular fingerless mitts pair that I’m sure you have seen around on your inspirational knitwear browsing rounds. It’s and enjoyable knit and the colourwork is gorgeous. it looks like between this pair and the selbu mittens 2022 is shaping up to be – in part – the year of the mitten for me.
The other main project I’m working on is a yoke cardigan. The cardigan has a plain knitted body and sleeves and a colourwork yoke. I’m not knitting from a pattern and instead am giving one of my own ideas a chance on the needles. It’s quite liberating to just pick a stitch amount for the sleeves and start knitting. Of course I’m now in the, relatively straightforward part, so lets see how I think about it later on in the project. I’m knitting it bottom up and in 4ply weight so I’ll be sailing on the seas of plain knit stitches for quite some time before I get to see if my yoke idea works out. Needles crossed!
Finally I cast on a sock in a self striping yarn. This was an emergency cast on in what was a peak summer craft moment as I couldn’t knit further on my other project because I did not have the correct needle size of the type that I needed (I know…can you believe it after all those years???). It meant I would be without a knitting project for a few days as I waited for the needles to arrive, and that simply will not do in this house and in this timeline so these socks entered the scene. I opted to go for the simplest of socks – plain socks in self striping yarn- just to tide me over a few days. I didn’t discount the distinct possibility of me completely abandoning the project once the correct needles arrived but I surprised myself by continuing to work on it while simultaneously working on my yoke cardigan. The yarn is actually from a Christmas line though with winter firmly away from the brain while we are in high summer it read very different to me now – my partner thought it was watermelon inspired and to me, with it’s white, mint green, and shades of pink that conjure up images of roses, hollyhocks, snapdragons and foxgloves it read cottage garden. So that’s what I’m going with as a working title for this project. When I cast this on the mallows in my garden, with their strong pinks and purples, where stealing the show so of course I photographed the project in their company.
Finally in addition to knitting new things I’ve also been frogging, unmaking, some things I made over the years. Immediately after I frogged my Phoenix Feathers jumper a few months ago I was thinking of frogging some other projects as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly as it’s what I knit most of; but they are all sweaters with colourwork; yoke jumpers in this case. I first try to weave out all the woven in ends and then frog it in one go. The latest batch are all jumpers that I made years ago, in times when I ahem…knew myself less well and I haven’t worn them in a long time and in one case never wore at all as the colours and neckline have always bothered me. I’m pleased I finally ticked off doing this and they were made with great yarns that I still use today and now that they are free can be used in other projects.
Sewing and Quilting
I mentioned I started a new quilt project in May and I’ve done quite a bit of work on that project since then. It’s progressing smoother and faster than I anticipated…though my previous (and only) self made quilt so far was a years long adventure so anything compared to that might have felt like I was speeding down the proverbial quilt lane. This quilt is a lot smaller and that certainly helps, but I also think having finished my first one; knowing all the steps and trusting the process also does a lot of work making the project swim along at a steadier pace. I have finished the top and made the quilt sandwich since we last spoke so now she is ready to quilt! As with my four patch quilt I’ll be hand quilting this one, and I got my thread ready to go, but with the hot weather have been putting off actually starting. When it is less sweltering out there it will be exciting to see if my hand stitching actually has somewhat improved!
I’ve also cut out a garment sewing project while I was still working on the quilt top. I haven’t yet started sewing it because I didn’t want to be constantly swapping around my thread spools (the colours are very different). However now that my quilt project has progressed to the quilting stage I can get working on the garment. The project will be a sleeveless summer dress, which might be my only overtly summer project this year. After a few years of special focus on summer sewing – because my summer wardrobe was in a bad and neglected shape as summer was my least favourite season to sew for – that part of my wardrobe has come a long way and is possibly in a better shape then the rest of my self made wardrobe ( funny how these things go).
Spinning and Weaving
On my wheel I’m spinning the beautiful Karakul fleece that I showed you in my spring craft and garden post. It spins up beautifully, certainly a rougher fleece making for a rustic yarn which is enhanced by the woollen preparation of the fibre. Unless you are very new here (in which case HI!) you’ll know that this type of wool is right up my alley so we are having a lot of fun together. As you could see in my last post I’m also working my way through my first raw fleece which is rather exciting still. I’m spinning more on my spindles as well, though you wouldn’t know it by the photographic evidence as I’m still spinning on the same fibre as I did last time I showed my spindle spinning here (it’s a lot of fibre to get through). My spindle spinning always goes up a notch in summer when due to the heat my wheel spinning takes more of a backseat.
I’m also weaving a lot, when temperature allows and some very excited things are afoot here which you’ll hear more about in another post ( I write the most spectacular cliffhangers don’t I?).
This year I’ve been flower pressing for the first time since I was a child (possibly the cottagecore content finally got to me?). I thought it would be a nice way to preserve some of our garden blooms as well as mark the first year ever when we focus – almost completely – on flowers in our garden. If the flowers are numerous enough picking them and then drying them is also a nice way to identify unknown flowers. In spring I trialled the set up with some wildflowers – mostly daisies, buttercups and mayflowers (as well as our ridiculous overwintering nasturtium) and since then have transitioned to our garden flowers as well as summer wildflowers. As I don’t want to feel take too much from the pollinators, I don’t take a lot, and of some of our most visited flowers I don’t take anything at all. Just enough to have some nice reminders of our summer garden that I can use in my journal.
The garden is going fantastic this year. We got a lot growing and flowering and a lot is doing well. We planted so much this year that I feel we may finally have reached balcony jungle status, a feeling that is amplified when we climb over and under plants to water them. We have a fair few plants that are way taller than I am and towering over me. It is often said and advised that you should only plant low staying plants on your balcony but in my experience, with the right care and pot, that is absolutely not the case. Having a variety of plants and at different heights looks a lot nicer I think and is better for wildlife too.
We have been visited by a lot of pollinators this year, a lot of those I had never seen on the balcony before. While I did think things would be a little different this year when we purposely set out to make an as wildlife friendly balcony as possible at the beginning of the year, I did not have an inkling quite how stark the difference would be in terms of amount of bees, butterflies and other visitors to the balcony. It has been so wonderful and encouraging to see! A wildlife friendly balcony also means welcoming critters that normally aren’t considered such welcome garden guests like aphids, caterpillars and snails. However without caterpillars no butterflies and aphids are food for lots of other insects and it really is true that they keep each other in check (meaning I have never seen so many ladybirds on the balcony… or even on a single plant before). Some plants have attracted notably more wildlife than others and I’ve made some notes already as to what will definitely return and what might be swapped to give something else a chance next year.
In our various insect hotels the first fledglings hatched earlier this month and flown out already, making way for the late summer brood. This year for the first time during our stay here we have a few leafcutter bees which has been super exciting. I also saw them in action, cutting leafs from our plants (Musk Mallow was a popular choice) and see them come and go with leaf cuttings and pollen. We have also seen much more butterflies and hover flies than ever on the balcony and lots of species that I haven’s seen before visiting us. Another notable first was a visit from a beautiful damselfly, on a super scorching day.
We’ve been experimenting with making our own liquid plant feed. This can fairly easily be done through a fermentation process of plant material. We first tried a nettle feed and then made some from banana peels. The nettle we gathered just outside of our building in some roadside ditches. We let it ferment in pot and then diluted it and gave to the plants as a feed. It worked really well, however nettles are a very valuable plant for wildlife particularly for butterflies, so I don’t actually want to take much away from them in their most important season. Especially since plants in the growing season need regular feeding particularly if you, like us, only work in pots. So next stop was trying banana peels. I saw this one recommended a lot on gardening sites and wanted to give it a shot. Similarly to the nettles you have to let the peels sit in water and ferment and then dilute it with water and feed to the plants.
A bit counter-intuitively as we were still in the mids of summer we’ve also started preparing and working towards next year’s garden. On one of the hottest days of the year we put in an order for next years spring bulbs, this felt super odd to do as I associate it so much with autumn and most places don’t start selling them until the end of summer. We really wanted organic bulbs for our garden and there just are less places that sell them and less bulbs in general to go around so they work with a pre order system, so while we have ordered them we won’t get them until late summer or early autumn. We also sowed some biannual plant seeds. We haven’t done that before as it feels more of a hassle to do so when you only garden in containers but we at least wanted to try it once so we can see how it goes. So far the seedling sprouted nicely so fingers crossed! With July almost over we’ve started collecting and harvesting seeds which will continue and only increase as we go into late summer. Doing more seed saving was one of my garden summer goals and it’s nice to make a start at it. So with all these things in the works you could definitely say that preparations for next year’s garden are well on their way!
One Last Thing
Before I leave you to go back to your summer crafting, a final note about my social media use. My “stepping back from social media” one year anniversary came up in May and it was a good moment to reflect and decide on the future of my online presence. Perhaps this won’t come as a surprise to you, or perhaps it will but after a year of almost no social media I decided to delete all my posts and remove/deactivate my accounts. Aside from the personal and ethical reasons of me no longer wanting to be in those spaces it also felt weird and not great to have all my photos and other content still out there when I’m not around to manage it and with companies that have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted to handle that content in an ethical way. In addition to all that I also felt the longer I wasn’t on there any more the less I could see myself return to it one day and the more alien and overstimulating the experience felt in those small moments that I was on there (for example when I went on to remove all my posts). Since I haven’t been posting in these spaces anyway I doubt this will be a huge shocker or greatly impact your personal experience in these spaces but I wanted to let you know anyway in case you found yourself wondering or search for me somewhere in the future. I will continue to post here and log my projects on Ravelry for now, but who knows maybe one day I’ll pack that up as well and go full hermit and completely disappear into the woods never to be seen again!
I hope you are all well, that your summer projects are moving along smoothly, your gardens are blooming and your woodland wanderings are lush. See you next time!