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Tin, paint, paper, creative generosity and kindness.

It arrived at my most sad moment.

returning, walking back from work, having cried openly all the way to my temporary home, along the roads, with all the bags, on opening the door, the parcel wrapped in brown paper rested on the hall table in my friend’s house.

I knew exactly what it was and whom had sent it.

the generous kindness of Françoise Delot-Rolando, an artist that I have long followed for her beautiful paintings of fragments of clothes. beautiful clothes. She had contacted me a few weeks before asking if she could share the painting she had done of an old cardigan I had knitted some years ago.

on seeing her message to me, i thought she was joking but she was not. I was honoured by her connection. her equisite, detailed, expression in paint of my expression in yarn took my breath away, so you see, i knew what was in the squared parcel wrapped in brown paper. a gem, a gift, a rare thing.

i stupidly opened it whilst on the phone to a service that i thought might listen to my deepest sad moment, a moment that surfaced so strongly that the flood gates couldn’t hold it back – a result of analysing my current housing situation. six months without home, constantly moving from pillar to post, searching, getting one, losing one, then another, and another loss but i began to learn from the losses. all the hours of searching online, phoning for viewings before all the viewing spaces are gone within 2 hours of the property going live on the market, no slowing down of the cruel speed within which hiked-up house prices rise by the week to be bid upon by people paying 20% above the asking price with their hard earned money to be in a ‘best and final’ bidding war where we all offer more over the most we can offer and we are in a whirl wind of houses going for a ridiculous price whatever their state.

i hear of people going to painting residencies labelled, Loss and Renewal, painting into being. everyone has loss and renewal but loss pours from me and i yearn for renewal. in my deep sadness in not finding a home, i am becoming a shell, a husk of what i was – functioning well at work, but not any place else.

BUT – then, there the little orange tin glowed on the floor, sent from France, to remind me of kindness and good. from a good woman who does not know me but for some kind and beautiful reason connected.

Françoise has a keen eye for detail, painting something more than a knitted pattern in a cardigan, more than a fragment of clothing expressed in paint and marks but the nuance of telling the story of a life in a garment.

but this perfectly formed, generous, gift arrives and i cannot take my eyes of its form until finally, i stop blethering about my situation and see a thing in front of me to be most grateful for.

when finally i get a home, and i will, shabby or broken or not, with its high price tag and cost of living in energy and worry, take this painting and it will hang in pride of place and i will be removed from this sad day of mine.

grateful thanks to Françoise Delot-Rolando, for lifting me on this grey evening. Please take a look at her beautiful work on the website or on instagram mentioned below.

https://lamenagereenvrac.tumblr.com

instagram @lamenagereenvrac

Pebble stack building – Church Ope Cove

At Church Ope Cove, I arrive just in time for sunrise. I squat on the pebble beach to build a pebble stack, reaching arm’s length for stones.

What I soon realise is that I cannot rush building a pebble tower. There always needs to be a solid safe foundation stone. I cannot grab just any stone because any stones laid on top, rely on the base and each other to stand strongly. I soon realise that I cannot rush the build otherwise it will be messy and unstable, ultimately falling down.  The building of a pebble stack at sunrise, which I briefly recognise as an analogy of me and my rebuilding of a life,  teaches me to find a solid foundation stone. As I build, I recognise myself as both the possible unstable stack and the foundation stone. I connect to the stack because I am not entirely stable at the moment and I have been building on instability, therfore, becoming wobbly and unstable.

I am the foundation of my future life and need to make this position strong and secure, with balance and steadiness.  

Hello Day, hello balance, hello understanding.

In the nineteen minutes between the visibility of the very top of the rising sun and its full emergence, I learn that the stack foundation stone is not stable and neither am I. We are both unsteady.  I start again, with new stones, finishing with a perfect egg shape, that can neither be built upon nor be entirely safe but is aesthetically pleasing.   I will continue to practice building pebble stacks every day I am here now, mindful of self and rebuilding. I have rushed the job because I am distracted by the sun rising and a swimming man. Rushing is also recognised as a problem of mine.

As a small fishing boat passes, I wave to the fisherman.  He does not wave back. 

I shout, ‘Wave to me, wave to me.’

And he slowly raises his right arm and waves briefly left then right, half-heartedly but steadily and surely. I laugh out loud reciprocating with both arms waving with gay abandon.  

At this precise moment, I feel free, clear headed, understanding some small but importante requirement of rebuilding a new start of self and home.  

wave to me, wave to me.

Get the foundation right and the rest will follow.

I watch as a man strips to shorts, gloves and sea shoes, wades bravely into the choppy sea without flinching and swims.  He is submerged in freezing water to his chin.  This is his foundation stone.

I need to stop my internal struggle. Stop the internal fight with myself and internal dialogues. I need to stop. It will help build a steady foundation stone.

Pebbles are pulled back into the sea.  The ebbing tide rolls a cacophony of singing stones. Once again, I reach for my knitting and knit to the rising sun, feeling the sun’s warmth and glow upon my face, the pebbles singing to the ebb, a man swimming  and a rare deep, honest contentment fills me from inside out.  Nature has taught me a clear lesson.

I understand something fundamental. We are our own rocks. 

We sing, we balance, we fall, we are unstable, we are attractive and attracting and we are also rubble.

Inner landscapes

pin hole camera image after one full year on the drainpipe.

In august 2020, when I first saw the croft house that I was buying in Shetland (3weeks before moving in) my friend Janette met me, drove me to Levenwick, walked round and fastened a pinhole camera made out of a beer can to the drainpipe of the house. You can see it in some of these images. It stayed there for just over a year.


In September 2021, just before I left Shetland, she removed it. Last night she sent me the pinhole image of a year taken by that beer can camera that was strapped to the drain pipe.


It took my breath away. Janette has asked me to write 200 words to accompany the image for an exhibition in Somerset. I was excited but then became aware of the enormous nature of writing about my one year in Shetland in 200 words. I have started and restarted. I don’t know if I will be able to capture the essence of my one year there because I’m still processing it. And, that one year is still processing me.


I moved from joy and excitement to vulnerability and an inner trauma that spiraled from my own thoughts.   Here is my start, it may change.



Inner Landscapes.

At a still point of the turning earth, where stars are caught arching and the sun warms the metal roof,

I ask you,

what did we both see in the one year that we both looked outward?


You, with your objective tin-sheltered eye looking south.

Me with my dream-like wishful eye looking east to the horizon from a bed that became a boat tossed around in a sea of extreme weather and emotions.

I arrived on a tide of high hopes and dreams, having moved heaven and earth to make it from city to island.  You stoically rested against the house.

All the things came and went – ALL the things, except my son and daughter.

Hushed by clear moonlit nights, wide-eyed at blue winter days and crystalline turquoise seas, looking up to encounter the milky way in the midnight sky, endless pure unbroken fiery sunrises cracking open the fold in the world between sea and sky, whales and tiny golden birds – there is no place like Shetland. But beauty alone was not enough for me.

You sat beside the house through storms, gales, fog, winds so harsh that I could not stand and still your tin eye stayed open capturing a static and whirling world.

But you did not feel. You did not feel the damaging power of loneliness creeping over the horizon month by month eating me away to a vulnerable husk, looking inward, feeling everything and nothing, seeing little outward.

I am still processing my year in Shetland. In truth, I could not even think of it until asked to write 200 words to accompany the photograph. I feel I am touching on the essence of a full year but have not fully done the time justice. This is my thinking process so far.

Winter Solstice – at the still point of the turning world

At the turning point of the earth, on the shortest day, when the sun is furthest away, I celebrate Winter Solstice thinking of a gradual return of light. Celebrating the Winter Solstice is marked by people all over the world, in their own beautiful, personal ways.

I go outdoors. I wanted to connect with the environment but nothing prepared me for how I responded to that connection.

I waited for sunrise in a white sky. It did not arrive, but I felt its energy opening me up to connect to something hugely greater than self.

As the dank air penetrated, without plan or thought, I stood on the edge of Stanage,  opened my arms, closed my eyes and breathed in connecting with the landscape and something deep within myself.   I rarely express my life’s energy with open arms.  Today, I did. 

Here I am in my favourite spot on Stanage edge. Standing on ancient rocks, facing the horizon, in the split second of raising my arms and closing my eyes, there it was – that one pure moment of inner freedom, letting go, connecting with living the dance of life. 

It is an empowering action to accept life with open arms to allow my inner landscape to melt into the present moment. It is also slightly embarrassing but honest.

TS Eliot came to mind, written in Burnt Norton, one of the Four Quartets, he said it better than I ever could :-

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor

fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance

is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity.

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement

from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline.  Except for the point, the still

point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been : but I cannot say where.

And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time…

I am reminded of the man who gave me these 4 Quartet booklets about 25 years ago.  A wise man, a teacher, a friend, a patron, a good man who was previously the Provost of Derby Cathedral and retired as Vicar at Chatsworth where I also lived at that time. A man who swapped books with me.  I gave him Jeanette Winterson, he gave me TS Eliot and William Morris books. We learned from each other.  I often think of him when I am at the still point of the turning world. And, I am grateful.

Today, I returned to Stanage Edge, as I have done so many times over, to acknowledge my internal and external place in life. I return to the solid rocks again and again connecting to past and present, whilst thinking of future. These stones and rocks become an anchor to steady my heart.

A familiar sight holds me, grouse utter their sounds in the heather, a cow bellows, the wind is a gentle whisper.

It is the shortest day of the year – Winter Solstice and I am finally

home

Cold fingers and knees atop an edge of ancient stones.

Today, I wore my newly finished ‘New Year Beret’, which I started in Shetland and finished in Sheffield. 

If you would like to look at the New Year Beret pattern, it is here.

I wish you a Happy Winter Solstice and I honestly want to say Happy Christmas and Good wishes for the New Year.   I want to say thank you to every one of you who have joined me this last year in an online workshop and thank you to those who have bought a pattern from me.  I’m truly grateful. Tracey, December 2021

Journal entry from Shetland – November / December 2020

Good Wishes for the New Year.

Hat design, research and process – Tracey Doxey November 2020

On September 11th 2020, I moved into a small but perfectly formed decrofted croft house called Smola, formerly Croft Number 7.  More or less immediately, I began to research the previous names and inhabitants of the house, which I found by looking at some of the archives at Shetland Museum and then confirmed by word of mouth by people still living in the village.  I found that the Halcrow family had lived here through the 1800’s – 1960. They are listed on the 1888 valuation role of the Symbister Estate, Whalsay, partly owned by William Arthur Bruce who was the laird  (landlord.  In 1888, John Halcrow (Susan’s Father) tenant, paid a yearly rent of £4, 10 Shillings for croft number 7 – at that time, it had outlying lands with the house. Susan would have been 12 years old.  The whole family are on the census of 1881 and ‘Susanna’ is listed as being 5 years old – there were 7 people living in this small house at that time – Thomas Halcrow aged 86, Barbara Halcrow aged 83 ( Susan’s grandparents), John Halcrow aged 40 and Ann Halcrow aged 41 (Susan’s parents) John aged 9, Susan aged 5 and a boy named John Brown aged 13.  7  people living in this small 2 bedroomed house.  

Susan, was born on 6/2/1876 -and died in 4/1/1960 – she was a capable, marvellous 83 year old who had lived in this house alone after her parents died in 1908 and 1914, then her brother John died in the Battle of Jutland May 31st 1916.   I have been to see the family graves at Levenwick cemetery.  Susan is on her own next to her parents and brothers.  John was a twin to Thomas, who died at the age of 2years.    

I was fully introduced to Susan through photographs brought to the door by Raymond, whose Aunt Alice, lived at Smola until the 1990’s, for 30 years after Susan.  Raymond also returned the old pottery that had belonged to Susan, which had been removed after Alice had died.  Looking at the photographs and turning her jugs, plate, glasses around in my hands, was as if she was back in the house again. She would have used the Salt ware jug with a pewter lid on, daily – maybe for milk which she sold to the villagers. Raymond told me that it was on a shelf in the kitchen – and I’ve put it back in the kitchen.  I have been told the she placed the milk bills in a row on a little shelf in the porch about 80 years ago. That was just before the 2nd world war, She would have been in her 60’s.

My newest knitting design is entirely inspired by Susan Halcrow and her beautiful serene face. When I was handed the photographs, I couldn’t stop looking at her, at her clothes, her smile, where she stood by the wall, her dog sitting on the wall, her horse and people standing by the wall that still stands today.  I can touch the history of where she lived in this place.   I can sit on the wall, where her dog is photographed sitting, I can lift the latch of the door that she lifted, open the door to the porch which was her door and see the sea – as she would have looked out, especially I am sure, when her brother died at sea in the battle of Jutland on the HMS Invincible.   I can lift the pewter lid of her salt ware jug – these things feed inspiration.  These things are real. Tangible.

I have 7 photographs of her and have studied what I think are the colours of her peat stacks, her tri-coloured dog, her dark clothes and hair, the lichen on the walls, the turf, flowers, grass and the house itself.  I can still see these things today within this landscape – tangible, visible, visceral history.  So, after much reflection, I chose colours that I felt reflected Susan and her life here – Peat, Sunrise, Havana, Cocoa, Rye, Moorgrass, Dewdrop and Maroon. They are not showy colours, but colours of strength and of solid ground.  The design I chose for the hat is an all-over traditional Shetland pattern and I have blended the colours to work with each other – the background and foreground have had much consideration and work harmoniously.   The background is all grasses, seas, lichen and skies, stone walls, and the air – the foreground is of peat stacks, woollen clothes, shawls and warmth.  The motif has a kind of stacking pattern, as I felt the peats did in the peat stack photo and the colours chosen for this hat reflect what I am learning of Susan by just living here, seeing the weather, feeling the winter, holding the peats and sitting on those stones.   

I had wanted to make Susan a beret but instinctively knew that when I was knitting the hat, the body was a little short for a beret. I could have knitted another section of the pattern – added to the length but I didn’t because it would have taken on an altogether different shape.    The design of my hats is usually dictated by the motifs and where they fall.  This hat follows that design process – the motifs have dictated the amount of rows and the perfect place to decrease.  On a number of occasions, I took the knitting off the small circular needle and placed it on a larger one so that I could try it on my head to see how it fell – I already knew in my heart how it would fall and it wasn’t going to be a beret.  In the end, the finished shape is more like a pudding bowl and I gently blocked it purposely in that manner over an inflated balloon.  It covers my ears and is a neat, solid, stoic hat made in pure Shetland Jamieson’s of Shetland yarn.   Spun from the fleeces of the sheep that roam these islands. 

I knit intuitively.  I don’t use the computer to design.  I draw all the patterns out on graph paper, feel the yarn, consider the colours and sometimes knit a swatch – sometimes not.  I instinctively figure out the stitches, length and depth and adjust as I go along.  This is, of course, open to risk but I can always recover my knitting and we learn from mistakes.  My process is based on 40 years of knitting, the tactile act of handling yarn and by drawing out the pattern with a pencil.

This hat pattern design actually means a lot to me in the sense that it is unique to this house and a woman who once lived here and it is now a place that I live in, in some ways, like Susan – alone, growing things, making the fire, opening the old latch door, looking out to sea every day.   I will be very proud next year if I have a peat stack like Susan’s.

I have decided to call this pattern – ‘Good Wishes for the New Year’ – A message Susan wrote at the bottom of a Christmas card that she had taken and printed in a Commercial Photography Studio in Lerwick. This photograph will be on the pattern as it is Susan and her writing that has inspired this pattern.    She may have borrowed the fur stole as a prop – we will never know, but she was an ordinary crofting woman living a simple life – often, I think a hard life, but meaningful.  

You can see my initial findings of Susan on my blog here

I have attached the following images with this post –  the colours and a close up image of the colour blended motif in the knitted hat. The image of Susan serenely captured in her Christmas Card – ‘Good Wishes for the New Year’ which will be on the cover of the knitting pattern plus research images of Susan’s family tree.

I will be adding more pieces to accompany this knitted hat and I hope that this has opened your heart to a Shetland Woman and to knitting with colour inspired by the landscapes of the people that lived here.

I will publish this pattern on Ravelry on Friday 27th November

I teach colour blending workshops and yoke sampling workshops. I hope to teach them in person next year and also offer workshops during wool week.

7th December, 2021

When I look back at my journal entry about the ‘Good Wishes for the New Year’ hat pattern, I see how much integrity and love went into that design. It is not just a knitting pattern or the unearthing of a story – it was a true connection to a life lived within the house that I lived in and to my love of it. How many people really do and feel that?

I published the Good Wishes for the New Year hat pattern last November. So many people have knitted it and after my online workshops to teach colour blending, participants have been developing their own colour choices within the pattern and it makes me smile to see everyone else developing their colour blending practice.

Now, in between finding a home, rehoming my cats, looking for, applying for, interviewing for and not getting jobs. I am turning once again to this Good Wishes hat and I am developing it into the beret that I hoped at the beginning of last november.

I feel grateful for the chance to have met Susan Halcrow and honour her in some small way with the new design which is a beret in greens and mulberry colours.

If I don’t write here again before Christmas, – I want to say Good wishes for Christmas and the New year and thanks to everyone who has bought a pattern and attended a workshop.  I have genuinely enjoyed meeting everyone from all over the world.  Tracey 😊

here is the original hat – Good wishes for the new year

and here is the start of the new one.

when I left Smola on 23rd October 2021, I also left the saltware jug with the Pewter lid. This is the last photo that I took in the house before the cats and I left the house for the long journey back south. It is Alfie, mirrored below Susan’s jug.

The moving city of stillness in all its chaos

 unexpected partner – the Wind

The 16th day of the 11th month. 2021

19 days in the city and finally, no longer is my first involuntary sense that of hearing. 

My body is not accompanied by that initial, uninvited, instinctive sense to hear before listening, which partnered me for the year I lived in the small croft house facing the sea, in Shetland.  I learned that my human body automatically responded to the anger or the brevity or the absence of the sound of the wind whipping around the house or down the chimney by hearing to listen. We gather information by hearing. but, what of it when there is nothing to hear?

I no longer need that first sense because here, in the still city, basic survival it is not a requirement – for me, though it will be for others – I think of the homeless, or abused.

To hear before the body wakes fully is about survival, it is a fully lived experience of the close surrounding external world. Hearing first is a heightened way of living dictated by surroundings.

To hear fully in this way is not heard by all – not even in a lifetime. In my case, it / was is closely related to fear. 

I am sure that the experience was heightened because I lived it alone, in unfamiliar surroundings, without a person to share any of my experiences with. If I had had someone by my side to share the initial waking of a day, I am sure the immediate sense of acute hearing would have been diluted, slower,  but I didn’t.  Living alone in extreme weather conditions is not like living alone in a city or town where the weather is halted in some sense by buildings.  

And I think that here it is uncovered – the second layer of external and internal effects that required survival techniques – being alone.  I did it all alone. Dealing with everything alone in extreme conditions multiplies sensory response –  when there is not a support network to turn to.

Humans intuitively have sensory responses to situations. When I am alone, sensory perception is heightened.

But, three weeks back in the city and I am not yet used to its silence. Even in the long queues of purring traffic, the emergency vehicle sirens, the streets of people talking, kids and dogs, it is all still and silent to me. I am surprised by the stillness of the crowded city. I am not yet used to the loss of the wind.

Stillness meaning windless.

A swapped state of experiential extreme natural elements, which almost can be looked back on as charming, but only from the comfort of a busy city. A city where the fierce weather is removed and it is not a daily battering, nerve fraying occurrence.  

Two years ago, I lived on Fair Isle for November and December and the winds did not shake that island world.  Last year, I arrived in Shetland in September and the winds did not shake my world for weeks, but this year, 2021, the winds did latterly shake my world daily. In the end, my experienced days were accompanied by the ever-present winds of between 40 and 55mph driving around the house – driving me in. But, when the exhaustion of a howling harsh wind is removed, only then can the memory of it change in to something that was maybe a dream.

So, I have lost my partner – the wind, and I am not sorry. I had craved a changing world from a city, and I got it. I experienced it fully.

23rd September 5am

Looking back through journals, I see that every entry expresses my daily companion to some extent or degree – the weather features in every written page and not as an English conversation but as an observation of how it affected the day – both positively and negatively. My closest daily companion, with all its friendliness and rage was the weather – the fog to the ground for weeks, the brightest blue sky and sea, the lashing rains, the sea spray plastering the windows, the sun sparkling, a full double rainbow as big as the world view,  the cracking open of the day light in the fold between earth, sea and sky, the extended moonlit nights, crisp crunchy ice, the crystalline constellations and stars above and the winds – all extreme, all experienced fully.

bow

The elemental life that I so craved for five years before moving to Shetland, became my first and last daily thought – and, you might say to yourself that I knew what I was getting in to. And I will say to you, no human will ever know such extremes until you fully live it, without escape, alone with your own thoughts.  Even if you did your research for extended previous stays, it appears that the weather is changing and living with extreme winds is different.

At the end of a Shetland year, what does one desire? A windless day? A respite in weeks of fog? A walk along a beach, a street, in a park, through a gallery, by the canal or along a pedestrian shopping street? A full moonlit night? A partner? Ease in the storm? A long awaited visitor? A long train journey south? A son sitting opposite me at a table with a dinner laid out? Or a daughter’s arm place around my shoulder as she steps off the train? These are not material things. Materialism is long gone from my desire – these desires are peace.

It is easy to – guild the lily, over egg the pudding, lay it on thick, go overboard when all is beautiful and in Shetland there is plenty of beauty but when there is no longer the heart for it, it is time to go.

An inner landscape changed by an outer one. I changed into something vulnerable.

I missed my son and daughter. I missed the choice to visit them – for them to visit me.  It all changed, it went off like a light switch.

Release comes in bursts, in letting go, in acceptance. The process to understand will take time – it is complex.

True enough, I am not stirred by the sun rises in the city, nor the way in which the moon shifts. I do not have a clear unbroken view of sun or moon or sea as in the beautiful house in Shetland but I am calm in the arms of the city – both inward and out.  Nature was not enough in all its beauty. A beautiful house was not enough, in all its glory. In the end –  a painful experience which I am still slowly unravelling. I am a changed person from it . Someone told me, ‘the soul knows where it has been’

It will soon be Christmas, but before that will be a friend’s birthday – a time to celebrate with more faces in one room than I had seen in one year in Shetland.  A place to be part of something bigger than just me and a beautiful house.  

I am slowly processing so much. Slowly, slowly accepting the moving city of stillness in all its chaos. Everything is familiar but new again. Nothing yet everything has changed.

At Christmas, with a daughter, there will be a serving of dinner and memory making of family, however small but true.

I wonder if the last year was all a dream but I am assured that it was not.  And, I regret nothing, not the dream, nor the extreme move, the purchase and sale of a house within a year, the extreme move back, the terrible fall on the ferry, and now, my feeling adrift. I regret nothing because, I suppose, when my energy is high, I am a soul searching woman.

Below is an entry from my journal. I notice now that, retrospectively, the wind was creeping in. I read that I was fascinated with a sense the excitement of everything new, including the wind.

It was A dream.

15th day of the 11th Month, 2020 – one year ago.

Sunday

Winter winds

Now, every day, the winds blow to some degree (except the occasional pure crystal clear still day – but they are few in Winter). By the porch, I have a creeping juniper that is growing flat to the ground, over the flags, across the stones. It seeks solace and creeps lower than the wind / under the wind.  It grows entirely horizontally covering the contours of the stones, adopting the shapes beneath it, twisting its arterial trunk backwards upon itself to grow low. This tree/bush cannot escape the wind but it has devised a way to survive. I nearly removed it for practical reasons of access but it has been a topic of conversation for anyone local – they say it is years and years old and I will respect that. I am learning each day.  It will go on creeping.

On waking, my first sense is hearing.  Before my eyes are open, I register the day by what I can hear. This is not a conscious decision, it is my living body waking to my surroundings, possibly drawing on human’s need to survive.   I now realise that anyone living in this house before me would have done the same – listened.   Weather can dictate our entire Island day. Wind is no element to strike up a fight with.  My living body listens to the day before I open my eyes.  If there is no sound of wind, sight swiftly decides the situation by looking seaward.  These sensory responses of hearing and sight take place over a nano second. 

My waking gauge  of the strength of the wind is primitive, having said that, I have unwritten and flexible wavering levels of experience.  If I can hear the sound of wind wrapping around the house, down the chimney to the blocked fireplaces or rattling the gutter downpipe in its socket – the wind tells me it is here and from which direction it arrives.  It will blow my hood down, blow the ash from the fire into a dust cloud, will make Alfie squint and fold his ears back when he exits the porch, will make my door knocker, knock as if the wind itself is trying to get in.

I was told that there is a sense of hibernation here in the winter.  I have yet to burrow down.

We have had one storm. I sat by the fire watching the fanned flames in the stove burn the coals away at a ferocious speed.  I need a capping on the chimney before next winter.  It is difficult to get anyone to come out at this time of year.  I have not yet gone through a winter but learned I need to stop the wind fanning the fire.

Yesterday was a harsh weather day.  Visible driving winds from the west full of spiteful rain, chased down the hill, across the road in sheets towards the sea.   I thought that because the house faces East with its back to the West and a hill behind the road, I might be protected from the Westerly winds but found that the wind hits the other side of the hill with high pressure. On this side of the hill is low pressure due to being protected but the low pressure sucks down the high pressure and causes Flans, which are sudden squalls of wind that are channelled in direction and take out anything in their path.  They have been known to take out residential caravans, sheds and outbuilding roofs.

I have decided, at my cost, to never leave the house now without wearing waterproof trousers during Winter.  I can be drenched in minutes without warning.  Often after brief fine weather, we have fog rolling over the hill, often accompanied by winds.  


I am finding this fascinating – taking me back to a way of life dictated entirely by weather. This I never felt in the protected city.

Growing things.

I have a small porch, and in it, I have dragged the solid garden pot plants that I had growing so calmly in Sheffield.  A jasmine, star jasmine, orange blossom, two cherry trees grown from stones and a rusty pot with Allium like fireworks.   Outside, they were all suffering.  Inside the porch, they are flourishing sheltered from the winds and salt water rain. Yesterday, rather belatedly, I dragged in the hydrangea which now resembles sticks with odd burned leaves from Sea salt in the winds.  I am hoping that they will regain strength.

Here are no Autumn Apple harvests or fir cone collecting days or bunching of dried flowers for wreaths – I will look to other ways of foraging and collecting – I have started with whale bones from whales long washed up on a shore in Scalloway. 

I am growing and learning along with the plants in the porch, and the starlings and sparrows coming for their seed breakfast.

Design and colour in Knitting Workshop Ideas for Sheffield

Call out to register interest in Sheffield workshops.

I have been back in Sheffield almost two weeks and I have found the perfect space for workshops in the city for like-minded people to meet and spend creative time knitting, learning and experimenting with colour and design for knitting. I am now considering doing two new face to face workshops in Sheffield starting in January and if you are interested, I would love you to register your interest in the form at the bottom of the workshops page here.

The workshops will be in a creative space called ‘Craft Sheffield’, owned by Sarah, who offers sewing workshops and a chance for other creative teachers (like me) to hire the space, which nestles over an old coach house yard on Abbeydale Road. You can see it below above the shop.

The studio has a large table in the middle and 10 separate workstations and a beautiful bay window with two relaxing chairs, which means there is plenty of space for a group of 10 to sit around the table and to use as break out spaces if you wish. There’s also a great little kitchen and bathroom so everything is to hand.

Access – please note that there are steps up to the entrance of the studio space – it is not on ground level, which unfortunately makes in not possible for participants who are unable to climb stairs to access the space. I’m sorry about that.

My first two face to face Sheffield workshops that I am considering are:-

Workshop 1  – Colour Blending and swatch knitting for Fair Isle motifs

Workshop 2 – Start experimenting with colour and design to start your swatch design book

Possible dates – Saturday January 8th and Saturday 15th (tbc)  10am – 2:30pm

A small synopsis of each session is written below. But if you would like an overview of each session sending to you, please contact me through the online form on the Online Workshops page here.

Colour blending swatch workshop  10am – 2:30pm – date tbc

For up to 10 people.

At this hands-on workshop, you are able to learn the basics and more difficult techniques of colour blending within Fair Isle knitting. I will do a one-hour presentation on colour blending within Fair Isle motifs,  then we will be aiming for everyone to knit a yoke sample with a tree and star in the colours of your choice.  The choice will be yours as to what motif you use to swatch and what colours to use from an abundance of 200 balls of Jamieson’s of Shetland yarn available on the table. I will show you many traditional Shetland tree and star designs and you will be able to use copies of motifs out of my swatch book or you could graph your own Shetland star motif to knit your swatch sample at the workshop.

The main learning curve of this session is to develop an understanding of how to blend colours within your own knitting projects and to develop the skill of choosing your own colours with confidence and understanding how it will turn out, therefore minimising colour mistakes. This is a session for the experimenter in us all and for those who want to learn how to successfully choose your own colours for projects rather than using the colours that the designer has chosen.

Workshop requirements: – 

If you can knit and are not an absolute beginner, and you want to learn more about colour blending and Shetland design – this is for you. Come and experiment.  This workshop is not for people who cannot knit.

At this workshop, you will learn: –

  • The basic and more difficult techniques of Shetland yoke patterns – the choice will be yours as to what motifs you use from a selection on offer.
  • How to blend colours in your knitting using the huge variety of colours on offer to create a harmonious pattern.
  • You will learn how to choose your own colours for your own projects – and not to just go with the designer’s colour choice.
  • If you love colour and textiles, you will enjoy the experimentation

What is Included in the session.

All yarn will be provided for the workshop.  You will be able to choose from a large selection of Jamieson of Shetland spindrift yarn colours provided for you to knit your swatch.

If you have not had time to finish your swatch during the workshop, you will be able to take enough yarn home to finish your sample.

A full set of workshop Handouts on colour blending, tree and star patterns and how to colour blend.

All tea, coffee, biscuits and cake provided during the workshop

Workshop 2

Swatch/design book Saturday 10am – 2:30pm date tbc

for up to 10 People.

This is a hands-on experimental workshop where you are able to learn the basics and more difficult techniques of colour blending within Fair Isle knitting to make your own experimental knitted swatches sing in the colours you want.  I will do a one hour presentation on colour blending  and the benefits of swatching for your knitting projects. Swatching isn’t torture – it’s a great way to understand quickly if your colour choices will work or not. It’s a great way to learn, show progression and learning.  We will be aiming for everyone to graph out a motif of your choice or you can use photo copies of motifs that I have already graphed out (to save time) for your first swatch and your new sketch book. I will photocopy motifs from traditional Shetland pattern books and you’ll be able to choose a motif that you like most then you will be able to choose the colours you would like to use from an abundance of 200 balls of Jamieson’s of Shetland yarn available on the table. The choice will be yours as to what motif you use to swatch and which colours you will use.

The main learning curve of this session is to get excited about experimenting with Shetland motifs and to knit it a swatch in the colours you choose.  It will start your journey of your own swatch/sketch book.

I will bring along my design sketch books from my Masters at Nottingham Trent University and you’ll be able to see how swatching develops your skills analysing what colours work and what doesn’t and even why.

Workshop requirements: – 

If you can knit and are not an absolute beginner, and you want to learn more about colour blending and how to really experiment with Shetland motifs and colour – this is for you.  It would be a good workshop for a textile student to develop ideas for sketch books.  This workshop is not for people who cannot knit.

What is Included in the session.

All yarn will be provided for the workshop.  You will be able to choose from a large selection of Jamieson of Shetland spindrift yarn colours provided for you to knit your swatch.

If you have not had time to finish your swatch during the workshop, you will be able to take enough yarn home to finish your sample.

A full set of workshop Handouts and graph paper.

All tea, coffee, biscuits and cake provided during the workshop

If you are interested in the above workshops, please go to my workshop page and complete the form at the bottom to register interesthere   

Happy knitting, happy learning, happy experimenting – visit Sheffield.

Testimonial – Alice Hartnell – I attended Tracey’s colour blending workshop during a holiday in Shetland.  The venue, Traceys croft, definitely added to the experience but the workshop was fascinating and informative.  I could knit but had no previous experience of colour blending, Tracey explained the theory using her own work to illustrate.  She encouraged us to choose colours for our own blending, explaining why some worked and some didn’t.  Once we had settled on our colours we knitted a sample to test our choices.  The day was well paced, Tracey had a knowledgeable but approachable style and I came away feeling I had learned a lot about the use of colour in knitting.  Highly recommended!

Smola – a replaced blog from November 2020

I came to Smola in the 57th year of my life, wondering if it was foolish, due to age, aloneness, no income, no idea of future with two cats in a cat pram, arriving in a storm.

I still wonder those things, but will be patient with myself and life.

There are real highs and fairly low lows but I am in the right place, I know it.  This place in time belongs to me and how I live it. I should not worry, I should just continue and be the best person I can be for myself and towards others. 

I’ve said it before but I will remind myself that, Anais Nin said, ‘we do not see things as they are but as we are’ .

Yesterday, I called in at John’s who said speak to Jim, so I went to Jim’s and Martin was there too, they were off to a funeral and Jim was gracious with his time with me. He told me of Susanna (Susan, Cissie) who lived in the house that I now live in and that he was sent, as a child, to get the milk from her.  She had one cow and rowed the little milk bills up on a shelf in the porch, the same porch that I have.  He was a young boy – he told me of his house too, so much history in every place.  After,  I walked out of Jim’s old back gate, across the tufted grass,  down the bank and on to the beach, along the length of it then up the south bank to come up behind the cemetery. I stupidly and possibly unempathetically, didn’t think that the funeral would be at Levenwick, so when I saw the people all in black with face masks arriving, I left.  

But Martin, spoke with Raymond who came to see me today with the most wonderful handful of photos of photos of Susanna Halcrow (Susan, Cissie, or even Zizzie) and I saw, for the first time, a face to a name of a woman who lived in my old house for many years. She was born on the 6th February 1876 and Died 4th January 1960 – she was 83 and what a beautiful picture she was.  Raymond brought me 4 photos of Cissie and 4 of John, that had been left in the house before his Aunt Alice lived in it. Raymond remembers it well. I had seen John in a photo before –   John Halcrow, who one day walked out of that front door of the old porch facing the sea in Levenwick and never came back – he died in the battle of Jutland 31st May 1916.    I am beginning to gather the stories of the lives in this old house – some sad and this one of war and loss and a wonderful looking woman called Susan with a dog called Ralph.  So, if Tiggy will allow me,  I will also get a new puppy and call him Ralph too.  The woman looking back at me, who appears to have only worn dresses, gives me strength and look – the group are leaning against the wall that still surrounds this tiny house that used to be called Croft number 7 and Ralph sits upon it too.   Susan looks absolutely calm and I want her to know that I already love her old house which is now called Smola and hope to share it with other women who possess  a love of the wild and windy Levenwick and the old authentic place with a wall around it. And I think my next knitting pattern will be named Cissie.

With great thanks and appreciation to Raymond Irvine.

Two letters – a replaced blog from November 2020

Yesterday, a witch wrote to me from Idaho.   What did she see in me that I do not yet see or acknowledge in myself.  She said that we would have been called witches – it was, and I took it as, a compliment.  My hair is becoming shaped and reshaped by the wind, knotted at the neck. Since being so far North, it has taken on a grass-like quality.  A little like a long cat’s tail with a curl at the end –  like a plait made of grass.

Tiggy purrs loudly beside me with watery eyes. His coat is wet from his night hunt in the rain – thankfully, he came back empty mouthed.

Today, 25th November, is the day I can open a letter I wrote to myself exactly one year ago to the day.  Also in the envelope is the letter I wrote to myself the year before.  The letters write what I hope for myself for the coming year, what I think I ought to do, try to aim for and wish for. I always forget what I wrote in the letter (s).  Today is the day to find out what I was thinking.  Here are both letters written to myself – word for word.

25th November, 2019, Upper House, Brindister, Shetland.

Dearest Tracey, So many things have happened since you wrote to yourself one year ago.  Some of the hopes have come true – risk taking, finding a path that is true to you, becoming more open.  
There is one thing you did but need to continue doing – that was to make calculated decisions and stick with them.  

You need to really decide now, because you are at a cross roads – what will you decide?  – here – I’ll list a few options.

Get an artist studio @SI Get an interesting job in Sheffield p/t – like arts co-ordinator

Sell the flat to buy in Shetland

Look to rent a place in Shetland for a year to see what happen
Apply for the Phd @ NTU – 2 options there

You WILL NOT get a full time office job – that’s for sure.

Tracey, choose a path.

Your patience has paid off lately.  Patience waiting @ SHU, patience with the situation last month, have patience with S because I think if you could have anything – it would be a growing, deepening relationship.

You learned to love on FI and you were loved also.

Do not forget that love in the coming year.   Open up more to love, Give more of yourself and of gifts of time – Just give

Volunteer, if you feel lost when you return to Sheffield. 

I wish for you, that your creativity flourishes – that you grow creatively  –  that the path you started to carve when you took VR is more deeply carved and you are on a great journey of self.

Be kind, be open be love and loved.  Xxx

Also, in the envelope was the letter from 6th November 2018, which I opened on 6th November 2019 by the sea whilst living on Fair Isle.  I took Lola, way before dawn and we walked to the North of the Island and I sat on a rock and opened the letter written to myself exactly a year before.

6th November 2018. 

Dearests Tracey.

Be kind to yourself.  To push yourself every minute is not entirely fruitful.

Take those moments to continue to be real, more real, most real.

What is this real?  What is the shape and colour of this reality?

Build on what touches your core, opens you up, loses you deeper into the life that is ever present. 

Wellbeing – basics – go to more yoga, keep going swimming, wear your cycling helmet, talk to dogs, wave at kids, book those trains, ferries, planes. 


Remember ( the distance between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash)

I hope in one year that you will have carved a path that is entirely true to you, a place that you are happy to work, a place of wellbeing, a place of some kind of contentment ringed by periodic risk taking.  Don’t stop taking risks.  Be true to the real reasons.  Do not blame.  What do you want for yourself for in one year?  

To be less (not isolated, not alone, not single – but more open to a partnership with someone – will you ever find that – that thing?

You are still on a journey – be patient, it will grow.   So much growth already, but we never stop developing ourselves, do we?

I hope that you will be more professionally fulfilled.   You take calculated risks but actually, you should make calculated decisions and stick with them.

Do you want to live on the Tibetan Plateau for a month – if so, do it.  This is now.   What do I want now for you in the future?  I want you to be sound and happy.  Eric would say during yoga, ‘comfort and stability’ whilst standing on one leg.  I want contentment and joy, or excitement and joy, or health and connection.  Does it have to be two things only?  No. 

I want you to grow more sound in your wellbeing, more connected to people, more open to those things that you can have, break through any fear, give more of yourself to others, open yourself to others because you already make opportunities.

Be pure, be you – 6th November 2018.

Midnight, 25th November 2020, Shetland.   

Two years later – I am outside, in the small road by my broken gate and the old wall surrounding my small house, under a sea of stars in this clear Shetland sky.

The Plough is not above me, as it was in Sheffield, but to the North.  the aurora is showing but I cannot see it with my eye. To see it through a six second open shutter is to stretch time, hold time in one frame as if holding my breath to catch the dancing green light.  I will wait.

Already the inside of the windows in the porch and bedroom are clouded with condensation through their touch with the outside cold.  Here on the bench, for the first time in weeks, I see the sea, the stars, the moon and smell the heady scent of peat fire smoke.  All the world is here within the stars, the universe, the sea with its horizon line lit at midnight by the light of the moon, the old stone walls built and rebuilt over almost 2 centuries surrounding this house. All these things turn on the axes of the earth and will still be here long after I have gone. 

The cats have taken themselves to bed.

Tomorrow, I will write myself a third letter of what I hope for myself to come for the year ahead.  3 letters in one envelope to read a year from now – so many changes already – so many to come

.26th November

I nearly deleted this post as it makes me feel open to criticism by being completely vulnerable but I read a beautiful comment which made me leave these words in the hope that it may make you stop, just for a moment. And, then I looked at some of the great changes I have made – moved house, moved 1,000 miles from city to island, had a year of making, of helping people at the NHS, of being brave, taking risks, being open, started designing small knitting projects, started driving again after over 12 years of not driving a car, written words, taken photos, dug out a byre, researched a woman who lived in this house facing the sea. To date, this is my most meaningful creative piece – it may be a hat but it encompasses over 40 years of my knitting, of travel, of recognising strong women. The life that has inspired this latest pattern is a woman that lived in this very house I write in for 83 years, looked out of the same windows and door on to that vast ocean and sky. I called the Pattern Good Wishes for the New Year – Here it is

Here she is

Ravelry: Good Wishes for the New Year pattern by Tracey Doxey

Ravelry: Designs by Tracey Doxey

Notes on the weight of colour

For me, choosing colour for my knitting projects (and even my home) comes in many forms, from many points of inspiration but always from really looking – I mean really looking, and feeling.  

Colour is a personal development of experience from seeing colour choice mistakes and understanding the mistakes to tweak them to make the piece sing. Colour choice is about experimenting and being excited to try new colour combinations as well as recognition of combinations through the tactile feel of yarn in my hands.

Colour comes from the edge of where sea meets sand or from looking at an old red gate with rusted hinges hanging off, once cared for – inspiration – not just seen but also felt.

Colour is in movement – the movement of the sea, of the eddying mist, the fog that drops like a blind and a flan or flann of wind (A sudden squall of wind blowing from high land over the sea- or in my case, over the hill behind the house, around a corner to find me)  which knocks me sideways. 

Anyone who has taken one of my colour blending workshops will hear what I say.

This is how I work. Colour invades me from different angles like the waves – always undulating, telling a story, many stories of winds and moon and sun affecting the tides. These things touch me. Colours undulate.

Colour also comes from a place of gratitude in seeing the small things – the bigger details of life.

I am always site responsive.  That means, I respond to the purity of a specific moment in a specific place which moves me. I figure out why it moves me enough to write about it, to see it through my eyes to sense the place or moment, to feel it personally  – the nature of a knitted row takes in not only yarn and the movement of my hands but the memory of the event which has moved me. It could be a first sight – such as inspired the Smola set of scarf, mitts and hat, inspired by a red gate, the peat cut by hand from the hills, stacked bagged and burned  on the fires, the smoke taken in on a quiet evening sitting on a bench below the chimney and then there is the movement of the sea. I suppose colour can be sensory for me. I don’t just grab colours for a project – the story and the idea dictate my colour choices.

Here is an extract from the story with the ‘Dear Susan’ Pattern. ‘Outside, I Inhale the heady scent of peat smoke, as a hundred women must have done so before me. Standing on to the hand-hewn flag stone veranda that skirts the front of the house, I take in the heady scent of the previous night’s peat fire smoke lingering in the air.  The grey sky is touching the grey sea beholding all that is in front of me, under my feet and behind me within the stones of this old house.’

And again here:-

I’ve likened this sharp first breath outside to that of when I lived in China. It is the sharp clear smell.  Here, the first air is heavy with last night’s peat smoke scent. In China, when I lived in the hutongs, it was braziers, left out in the lanes, lit in the evenings with charcoals for light and warmth.  There were no street lights there either. It’s the same combination of mixed senses.  Smell of coals, smoke and the biting freezing sharp air, backed by a rising sun. With this combination, I am instantly taken back to China. But I stand here, in frozen Shetland.

Senses enter the knitting and the colour choices. https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/dear-susan

In my workshops, I say, ‘go out and choose your colours with your heart.’ But now I see that there is something more to it for me and that is to ‘feel’ the elements of colour. Feel the moment.

I develop from mistakes. What I saw to be really interesting 2 years ago, I have developed into a movement of colour.  Below is my development from Shetland Wall Flowers pattern to the Smola colours and pattern.

The Smola Beanie, though my cheapest pattern at £2.50, cheaper than a brief cup of coffee in a café, is my most sophisticated in colour choice embodying light, sea, eddying mist, an old red gate, the scent of peat smoke, a walk where sea meets sand at an ever changing pace and place. It moves from light to dark in more ways than one.  A solitary, singular figure connecting with surroundings and landscapes.

If you would like to join me on a colour blending session which will make you see differently, I have added New online colour blending workshop dates to the website :-

Wednesday 24th November   2-4pm UK time

Wednesday 1st December   2-4pm UK time

Saturday4th December 2-4pm UK time

Sunday 5th December 2-4pm UK time

Smola trio of hat, scarf and gloves are here.

https://www.ravelry.com/designers/tracey-doxey