But So much more than just cosy. A way of life for the Danes, who adopted a Norse word for well-being in the 18th Century and have hugged it ever since. Recently it has crossed to our shores and there is a lot about Hygge everywhere, magazines, Pinterest, new books, a whole movement towards the comfort and cuddle for autumn and winter. It's in the squidge of maltloaf, it's in butter on hot toast, cold hands in mittens and a hug under an umbrella in the rain. I love it!
I think for some people Hygge (one possible way of pronouncing it is Hue-gaa) comes naturally. For others it needs to be a conscious action. I am one of the natural Hyggers. I eschew white paint (except for ceilings as that helps the lighting in the room but that’s the only reason) preferring rich deep colours. This house is all rich greens (accidentally not actually planned that way) with warm creams and yellows and accents of deep red or soft pink. Despite the 1970’s vibe they can evoke, we have paper lantern style lampshades on pendant lights (I haven’t yet found another shade that disperses light softly), or soft, glass shaded wall lights, and lot of lamps, and of course candles. I even make candles in vintage glass ice cream bowls or jelly moulds, or in teacups and milk jugs (these are great to use during a power cut when you need to walk around the house, they have a very useful handle and don’t drip).
However not everything is obviously Hygge. It isn’t just about open fires and woolly socks. It’s a sense of wellbeing, of love, a smell that is hard to describe. As a child I remember hot bowls of semolina and bramble jelly when we came home from swimming lessons. The contrast of the steaming creamy semolina and cold, garnet red jelly, wet hair drying, mixing with the smell of chlorine. The sting of chapped shins from the slap of wet wellies on bare legs when we came in from playing and were briskly rubbed dry by mum or dad, holding on to their heads for balance, shivering with cold and being warmed up with soup or hot chocolate, & long trousers or pyjamas. Of camping holidays, the smell of wet grass, mildew of damp canvas, and gas from the stove. The quivers of excitement, delicious terror, tiredness as we lay listening to storms rage overhead, safe in our tent, or so we thought, not always knowing that mum and dad were hanging on to the tent’s poles to stop us blowing away! Oh the joys of camping on the west coast of Scotland in August. Which I hated aged 16 but now have fond memories in retrospect. I still love being in a storm. Ten years or so ago B & I lived in a caravan for a year whilst we decided whether to build a house or not (not in the end) which I loved, especially during the winter, and he hated, especially during the winter! Such a cosy bedroom with piles of duvets, blankets and cats (we had five at the time). Especially during power cuts!
I love power cuts! We are so reliant for power in all aspects of our lives that the opportunity to be switched off for a while is great and I get a great ‘Dunkirk spirit’ sense about it. The best excuse for doing nothing (something I struggle with doing) I can’t do any washing or ironing; after a while there’s no computer; no phone until we plug the analogue one in; once I have finished bustling about setting up the camping cooker, locating torches and candles, getting the fire lit & making sure B is OK & my folks are alright, I can sit and read, unashamedly unable to anything but nothing. It makes me want to smile, to giggle and laugh out loud, there is a delicious bubble inside that I can now name as Hygge. It’s almost one of excitement, it’s about hunkering down, watching weather, fireside dozing, sitting it out. Power cuts, (as long as everyone is safe and not worried) are simply hygge. On one occasion a few years ago B & I went to visit friends during a power cut, because they had an open fire and at the time we didn’t. Four adults and five dogs had The. Best. Day. Ever. Still remembered by all of us with affection and laughter. We played charades for hours, read magazines, dozed, simply talked, around the fire. C & I made a pot luck supper of beef olives casserole, simply some onions, a tin of tomatoes, a tin of baked beans, and a few pinches of I don’t know what, magic perhaps; cooked in an enamel ashet on the side of the fire. I haven’t ever been able to replicate it, and I haven’t ever had better beef olives! Simply, totally, hyggelig. (Yes it’s both a verb and an adjective!)
Hygge is the effect that I'm aiming to achieve with how I set up the Barn for classes. There isn’t much light, the two windows are quite small, the barn being designed to house cows and not craft workshops! And although there are, by necessity, fluorescent strip lights they are softened by use of lamps, uplighters, and sometimes candles and fairy lights. There is bunting, piles of fabrics, baskets of yarns, mismatched chairs draped in blankets gathered around the fire. Although it’s an electric stove it looks like a wood burning stove, and an eclectic range of artwork and samples of sewing projects. I bake cakes or biscuits for each class, encourage chat, the sharing of experiences. I have an urge, a desire to make people feel comfortable, and comforted, and hope that students go away having had a good day.
I think I’m managing it, as I have been asked to do some sewing projects on a one to one with one of my junior Needlesmiths who has Asperger’s. She’s having difficulties with social interaction at the moment, so that she wants to leave the house to come up to the Barn and spend an hour with me doing something creative is huge, HUGE! She’s a lovely girl and I hope that she’ll benefit from our sessions. I feel that it’s an enormous validation that what I am striving to achieve does work.
In the new year once the excitement of Christmas has passed and the cold grey days of January and February are upon us, I am planning to hold some cosy afternoons at the Barn, ‘Sew Hygge’, some small projects or simply the opportunity to meet and sit and chat in front of the fire with friends, hot chocolate, and cake whilst sewing or knitting or just sitting.
Now I need to go out in to the wind and weather which is being fairly wild and typically west of Scotland wet autumn, to walk Rosie the dog before getting ready to go out to teach my Sew Upcycled evening class at the Community Centre in Lochgilphead.
Recently I've read a couple of books about Hygge:
‘The Little book of Hygge, the Danish way to live well’ by Meik Wiking CEO of the Danish Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen. Yes there is such a place! This is a super little book. Little only in terms of height & width as it is quite thick. Lovely matt pages, beautiful photographs. Easy to dip in and out of for a quick dose of Hygge. Ideas to increase Hygge throughout the year. Delicious sounding recipes that make you want to start cooking immediately, suggestions for picnics that have you visualising strapping food filled wicker baskets and tin mugs to bikes whatever the weather.
The Art of Hygge by Jonny Jackson & Elias Larson. A little light on substance but lots of lovely pictures and some nice recipes for really autumn-y food & drinks. An easy to read for coffee time, it gives you a nice glow, and inspiration to get up and ‘do stuff’ to the house to create more Hygge!
Also 'The Cozy Life' by Pia Edberg and 'Hygge The Complete Guide to Embracing the Danish Concept of Cosy and Simple Living' by Oliver Hansen and I’m really looking forward to reading ‘A year of living Danishly’ by Helen Russell a Londoner living in rural Jutland for a year – lucky thing!
I’m up in my cabin all day today, I thoroughly enjoy ‘my space’, and I know I am a very lucky girl to have such a great space to play err I mean WORK in! The views from here are great and I have been known to take my sewing machine outside and set up at the picnic table on the deck on the occasions we have hot dry days (not very often!!)
My mum and dad live on a hill farm, and some years ago built a small wooden cabin along the lines of a static caravan. It was let out to holiday makers for a couple of years before dad became ill and mum couldn’t manage the turnarounds any longer. About three years ago at Christmas I asked if I could use it to make Christmas presents and cards in as there wasn’t really anywhere suitable at home. And, well, I haven’t really ever moved out! It’s now a formal arrangement and I pay rent, which works for both sets of businesses. So my workshop/studio consists of two bedrooms, sitting room, shower room/loo and galley kitchen! One of the bedrooms is now my sewing room and it’s where I keep all the smaller haberdashery items I use. The sitting room is mostly taken over by boxes and bags of fabric and baskets of wool. You’re more likely to find felt making or painting and printing equipment in the kitchen cabinets than food, and the shower cubicle currently houses the vacuum cleaner, and my wedding dress! (Don’t ask, long story!) The bed which I do occasionally use when I have had late nights or when B (my husb) has been away and Rosie & I retreat to the cabin for a night. Only at the moment it is covered in my vintage blanket collection and there isn’t any room for me, Rosie likes it though!
Today I’m getting ready for the next couple of weeks of the Sew Upcycle course at the Community Centre in Lochgilphead. This week we’re making hanging storage pockets from a shirt, a piece of blanket and some sheet, and next week it’ll be slippers from jumpers or blankets. But I can’t help having a wee think about the up coming Christmas course….. Sew Christmassy! It’s all in the name. I LOVE Christmastime, the candles, the lights, the smells, the dark nights, the ‘hygge’ness* of it all, and, in my case, the makings. I make mincemeat, and the Christmas cake, cards & presents, and the contents of four advent calendars for some very special people. This year I’m also making the samples and examples for the sewing course which starts in November. I know that’s a wee while away yet and there is still the lovely autumn-ness of the rest of September & October to get through.
Doing a project with felt leaves and making pumpkins with the Junior Needlesmiths; snuggly slippers & a cosy tweed scarf with the adults; & I’m really looking forward to a ‘Sew New’ Saturday learning how to crochet with Jude Hubble. My first visiting tutor to the Barn.
Sew, I’d better get on, fabric doesn’t sew it’self!
PS *Hygge' the Danish word for more than cosy. Currently very in vogue but something I naturally do at this time of year, it just has a word now! More on this another time.
'Sew New' is a series of one day creative days. Running from 10am until 4pm it is a full day spent in the Barn in the company of likeminded individuals and friends, working on a project from start to finish. Sometimes it can be frustrating to have to put something to one side because of the interruptions of children, spouse or dog, appointments or ringing phones. So these are days where you can totally immerse yourself in fabric, fibre and fun! We always start the day with coffee, cake and chat. Getting to know each other a bit, talking about the day, discussing methods and fabrics. Then we get down to work. Choosing fabric (or fibre), taking measurements, cutting patterns, starting to piece the process together. Then in no time at all it's lunchtime. We down tools for homemade soup & bread, cheeses and fruit. Then it's back to work until we've finished when it's time for afternoon tea and cake and the opportunity to bask in the pride of your finished item.
Just after the Felt making class I ran the first Lampshade cover workshop. Alka & Liz brought along two unloved and unlovely shades that needed a bit of a make-over. The lampshade slip-cover making process I designed to 'upcycle' existing lampshades. It might be that you have a shade that is the right size and shape for the base but the cover has seen better days. Or perhaps you have changed the interior decor and the shade no longer ‘goes’. Maybe you like to swap cushions and curtains depending on the time of the year, now you can swap your lampshade covers too.
Alka’s shade belongs to her mother-in-law and she was redoing it as a surprise present. It sits on top of a beautiful silver candlestick lamp base that was presented to Jan many years ago. The square purple pleated taffeta style shade of Liz’s was one of a matching pair from her beside tables. She was delighted to have been able to make two covers so that they continued to match.
I think the finished lamps look fabulous, don’t you?
If you fancy learning to make slipcovers for your lampshades, either drum shades or a coolie hat style, then I’m running this day again in November.
Bronte & Anne came up to the Barn at the beginning of September to spend the day learning how to make felt using the wetfelting method.
Felt making is something I didn't think I would be interested in as I had an impression in my head that it involved large amounts of water and lots of stamping up and down and swooshing about in big baths and bowls of water. How wrong could I be! After seeing the totally unique and utterly charming cockeral teacosy made by one friend for anothers hen party I thought that it might be something I'd like to have a go at. One class and I was hooked. Totally. Addicted! I use it mostly as an artwork medium and mix it with embroidery both machine & hand. I am a bit of a lazy felter in that I want to move on to the next piece almost before I've finshed one.
I'm always fascinated by watching other people m
I hugely enjoy writing. Fiction and poetry. I don’t' seem to find time to write often and I only seem to do it if there is a deadline. If someone has given me a title or subject and there is a date it needs to be in by. About six years ago I started a two-year Open University Creative Writing course. I completed the first year and passed so went on to start the second year. Life began to get a bit bumpy and I put my writing aside to concentrate on the external 'stuff'. Then four years ago I entered the SWI Federation Show Creative Writing competition for the first time, submitting a poem and a short story. To my complete astonishment I got Gold for my poem and Silver for my short story and won the Cup! That was a bit of a surprise! The Show is held bi-annually so it was held again this year. I was in a bit of a quandary. Do I enter again? How can I top my first year? What to do? After much thought and mental cogitation, I thought I would write something for the entries and if I didn't like them when I finished I didn't have to send them in. The story was to be less than 1000 words and the subject 'A Tall Tale'. No other help or guidance given. So I put pen to paper and came up with the following tale.....
A Tall Tale by Kate MacDonald
A Tall Tale
Malcolm strolled across the forecourt, seemingly relaxed. In fact he was alert to every sound: each dry leaf blowing along the verge, the discarded coffee cup rolling under a car, each scuffle and scutt, every squealing brake, child cry and horn blast. All had been checked, assessed, and categorised as needing no further attention.
The electronic door swished open as he approached. A quick recce of the reception area showed him that it had been a busy evening, the wastepaper bins were full of the ubiquitous plastic coffee cups and chocolate bar wrappers, a couple of the chairs were askew and the floor needed mopping, but it was still early and Ina hadn’t reached Reception yet, offices being first to receive her ministrations. Taking all that into consideration, he decided that on the whole everything was as it should be. Glancing at Lena on Reception he nodded and she smiled back, “Morning Malcolm” she called, as he shouldered his way through the hallway door that always stood ajar, against the rules, but no-one ever shut it.
He carried on down the corridor heading directly for the Incident Room, knowing that it was there he was likely to find the object of his affections. There she was, looking through a file at her desk. Her long tawny coloured hair twisted up untidily and secured with a number of biros, tapping her fingers to a tune only she could hear, whilst she studied a series of photographs. He walked up to her chair, standing just behind her, relaxed and at ease for a moment. Sensing his presence, she turned, smiling into his golden brown eyes.
“Hello gorgeous,” she crooned, as he moved to sit on the end of her desk, allowing her long slim fingers to massage his neck and stroke his shoulders. “Fancy giving me a hand this morning?” Gazing at her Malcolm simply blinked slowly in assent. He looked over her shoulder at the photographs now lying scattered across the desk.
“It’s a tough one, cookie,” she said noticing the direction of his gaze and returning her attention to the pictures. “We don’t know where to start. This one’s eluding us. However many traps we set, he is getting away before the team arrives. It’s as though he knows where we’ll be and when we’re going to strike, ahead of time. There’s a leak in this department big enough to sail the QE2 on.” Her brow furrowed in distress. Tapping the side of her mug she mused wryly, “Time was that the police paid snouts for information on criminal activity, not the other way around!” This case vexed her. If she could only find out who was supplementing their income by apprising this guy of their movements. Catching him would be a real feather in her cap. She could do with solving another crime to prove that the last one hadn’t been a fluke, finding the source of this leak would be a start.
She watched Malcolm roaming around the office. His attention was caught by something in the still full wastepaper bin of one of her colleagues. Ina hadn’t reached the Incident Room yet, although the whirring noise of the vacuum cleaner which could be heard coming down the hall bumping into the walls as it was tugged along behind her, signalled she wouldn’t be long.
“You can’t be that hungry!” Julia called across, “Anyway, Gary ‘The Hoover’ doesn’t ever leave food!” However, it wasn’t food Malcolm was looking for; he had hoiked out a piece of crumpled paper from the bin and was studying it intently. Curious, Julia went to investigate. Standing next to him she could see that it had been torn from a Police daybook and she bent to pick it up saying, “He’s going to get in to trouble for that if anyone finds out.”
Malcolm looked at her intently. A prickle of disquiet ran down Julia’s spine, her guts flip-flopped. She’d had this feeling before, had learnt to listen to it, and to Malcolm. Smoothing the paper out she saw it was a list of dates, and locations she recognised, across the top in pencil was scrawled a phone number. She returned to her desk and started to type, her fingers clicking quickly across the keyboard, then she picked up the phone, dialling the Telecoms department. Whilst waiting for the call to be answered she stole a look over the top of the screen to check that she and Malcolm were still alone. “Yes, Hi Steve, could you look up a number for me?” Listening to his reply she scribbled a couple of notes before replacing the receiver. She sighed with satisfaction. Five minutes later the bin would have been emptied and the leak would have carried on, dripping away, wasting detectives’ time, allowing more drugs to reach the streets, causing more deaths. Now, with the evidence Malcolm had unearthed, and the details confirmed by Telecoms, she could help put a stop to all that. She looked around for Malcolm to tell him what she’d found out, but he’d gone. Never mind, she thought as she got up from her desk, I’ll buy him dinner tonight.
Malcolm was stalking along the corridor, proud, upright. He brooked no nonsense, suffered no fools and took no prisoners; ironic since that was his preferred sleeping place. He was often to be found snoozing on the pile of grey blankets on the cell bunk. No-one knew where he came from, no-one knew his real name, for it certainly wasn’t Malcolm, but on that subject he kept a judicious silence. He answered to none and was nobody’s lap dog. He lived alone; he walked alone, and worked alone. Occasionally, on cold nights he could be found tucked into the small of a warm back, helping Julia to right wrongs. A feline criminologist, Malcolm worked for the CSI, Cats of Singular Intelligence at GCHQ and was rightfully DSI Norfolk Alfred Magpie, but Malcolm would do.
And so to the poem. Our prompt for this was 'Seasons' and the only guidene was that it was to be no longer than 16 lines.
Seasons .......... of the skies by Kate MacDonald
A diamond sprinkled black shawl drapes over shoulders of mountains.
Mercurial March blows cloudless, moonless, nights.
Shedding ice shards, white & sparkling, amongst emerald shoots.
Seen at morning’s dawn, the wafer of translucent moon.
Skipping over vapour trails from holiday planes,
Snow white powder puffs of fluff sail through calm seas of blue.
Moonshine white, illumines night time movements.
The filament bright sphere firmament high.
Shot through with red at the dying of the days,
As trees weep leaves, so the skies leak tears.
Observed by the harvest lady in her golden light.
Riding the horizon, Boadicea of the heavens
Heavy, snow filled, clouds creak and groan
As they collide. Bumping and bruising cumulonimbus.
Pieced through by pin bright stars,
Driven on by a blade sharp crescent moon.
And that was the last time I wrote anything creative.... but I can feel my fingers itching, a few lines scribbled down in haste before they are forgotten. As other creatures go in to hibernation at this time of year, my creative mind awakens and stretches after a summer of busy. I have made a writing corner on a table in our spare bedroom. It faces the wall rather than the window. Even beautifully wallpapered as it is (by me), in Vanessa Arbuthnott's 'Cow parsley in Duck egg & Cornflower wallpaper it is less distracting than the window, or the television if I sat in the sitting room, or the washing up I would see in the kitchen, I have placed the ironing basket judiciously out of sight behind me. This is my space for writing. For concentrating. For not checking emails and facebook. For clearing my mind of other things. Well, we shall see if anything comes of it! Meanwhile this blog is getting written, course notes getting written up and files of photographs are being organised. Catching up with writing is reminding my fingers where all the letters of the keyboard can be found.
Earlier in the year whilst working on designing and teaching courses with one side of my brain I did some small painted pictures for the Scottish Women's Institute Federation show in April.
This was the entry for 'Flowers', it achieved a silver star which I was delighted with. It is painted with acrylics on cotton.
And this one was for the ‘Stormy Sea’ category. There were a lot of very impressive very stormy sea pictures. Mine is a bit of a gentle storm, all I can say is that it looked stormier when it was wet! It got, I think. 3 points.
About the same time I spent an evening cutting out, not one but two dress patterns.One for a long sleeved tunic in a white on white striped cotton, and a dress type tunic thing in red gingham. Very excited and pleased with my industrialness that evening, I sat down to sew them up, only to discover that I didn't have any white cotton in the house, not a thread. A dozen or more reels in the Cabin & Barn, but not a useable one in the house.
Quite a few in my vintage cotton reel collection that I display in an old type setting drawer, but the thread on these has deteriorate too far and wouldn’t survive a modern sewing machine’s tension. I did contemplate getting out one of my hand Singer sewing machines ….. I STILL haven’t sewn up these tunics! Life got a little frenetic, so maybe they’re for next summer now.
Fabric hoarder & sewing stuff accumulator; Tea drinker & cake eater; Artist; & Carer; Teacher of things made with needles ...