I’m loving life as a retired person. Now I have time to enjoy, among many other loves, making things. Knitting. Crochet. Sewing.
In the past three years I have made many things. Some as special gifts for special people. Some for me. And some just because I love making them. Some I have sold at craft fairs. And now I have set up a shop on Etsy, called Nutmeg & Purls.
Nutmeg & Purls has had quite a long and loving gestation.
My mother taught me to knit and sew from a very young age. I don’t remember when I actually started. Knitting and sewing are just things I have always done.
I also learned to sew at school. Miallo State School in Far North Queensland in the 1960s was a little two teacher school wedged between a rainforest-fringed creek and a sugar cane field.
When you’re little, the world is big, and we had a ‘down the hill’, a ‘woods’ and, over the fence and through the bush, the ‘Clay Bank’: a fresh water swimming hole with an enormous bank of clay to slide down, a swift current around it and calmer shallow water at the edges. It was a perfect world. It is all still there, my grand-nieces and -nephews go to school there, but it’s different now.
The school is much larger and to my adult eyes the hill is tiny, the woods just a small stand of tall trees and the Clay Bank sadly is over-run by crocodiles and unswimmable. But it’s still a magical school wedged between a rainforest-fringed creek and a sugar cane field.
My first teacher, Mrs Newman, taught me to sew by hand and then on a Singer treadle machine. At high school I learned sewing every year to grade 12 when I made my own white debutante gown.
I sewed a lot at home too under my mother’s watchful eye. Sometimes she rescued projects I abandoned. One particularly complex dress I threw into a corner of the sewing bench in frustration when I was about 18. Later I found her at the sewing machine finishing it for me.
Shane, an Aboriginal boy who lived next door and called my mother Mumma Lloyd his entire life, was playing on the floor beside her. He was then about three years old.
“I don’t know why you threw this in a corner, it’s a lovely dress,” Mum said.
“I couldn’t figure it out. I got frustrated,” I explained.
“Ah yes! Your daddy is like that,” she said sagely.
She asked me to put the dress on so she could adjust the fit.
“I don’t know why you have such big hips!” she complained.
“I can’t help it, my mummy is like that!” I said sweetly.
Shane looked up and laughed, making us laugh too.
Sometimes, with particularly thorny projects, we sought advice from Aunty Clare. She was a dressmaker and made the most beautiful things, including countless bespoke bridal gowns.
Aunty Clare had four children and her house was small so she worked at her kitchen table. Her house was always amazingly neat. I can’t imagine how she kept all her sewing paraphernalia under control.
One day as I watched her hand stitching, she began unpicking her work.
“Made a mistake,” she commented.
“No one will notice it,” I said.
“Maybe not. But I will know it’s there,” she said and went on unpicking.
Aunty Clare taught me to crochet when I was about fourteen. I absorbed her attitude to mistakes and to this day I can’t leave a mistake, I have to fix it because even if no one else notices it, I will know it’s there.
My mother didn’t learn to crochet until after I’d left home. Mum and I still share knitting and crochet patterns, and I have many vintage patterns she has given me. You can’t buy them anymore, except sometimes in antique shops, I have found some there. Mum still helps me out sometimes with particularly difficult knitting patterns and I help her out with crochet. She also does smocking but I have never learned this beautiful old craft. Sadly, not many people smock anymore. Lately I’ve been thinking of asking her to teach me.
I also have a love of sheds.
When I was growing up on our sugar farm, Dad had a huge open sided shed with a hard earth floor. It housed tractors and ploughs and all sorts of other farm machinery, tools and workbenches and all sorts of bits and pieces.
We loved the shed. We’d find hammers and nails and bits of wood to hammer them into. We’d find empty hessian bags and use them to build cubby houses. We’d sit in the tractor seats and become imaginary cane farmers and headland explorers. We found all sorts of things to play with in the shed. We’d sit on piled up bags of fertilizer and eat luscious oranges and mandarins picked from trees growing in the chook pen.
Thirty years ago Mum and Dad built a new house on a hill at the back of the farm but Dad still used the big shed until he sold the farm when he was 80. It slowly fell into disuse, becoming increasingly dilapidated until part of it fell down in a storm and it had to be demolished a few years ago. The space where it once stood is now empty and forlorn.
On the hill Dad’s much smaller shed is still there, a year after his passing. On the tool board in his distinctive writing is scrawled a command: “If you borrow it, return it!” People still borrow things from Dad’s shed and mostly they still return them.
I’ve always envied men their sheds. Then soon after I retired, a friend gave me a fabulous book about women’s sheds. It was a revelation! Lots of women have sheds! For writing. For gardening. For painting. For crafts. For whatever they want. I couldn’t believe it! Browsing through this beautiful book, my soul began to sing.
I had to have my own shed. Or a version of a shed. Our house block is awkward for sheds but our house is large enough for us not to need them. The shed John does have is only large enough for storing garden tools. Instead of a work shed, he has work areas in the house and the garage.
I have a sewing nook in our large study. And I have converted a part of the sleepout of our 1930s tin and timber Queenslander into my knitting and crochet ‘craft shed’. I have drawers full of yarns and patterns, jars filled with knitting needles and crochet hooks, and clear plastic boxes storing finished work. Inspiration is everywhere in my ‘craft shed’.
So a couple of years ago when I’d started accumulating finished work and needed to find an outlet for it, I decided to set up a shop on Etsy and, needing to come up with a name for my shop, I started thinking about something to do with craft sheds. I played with variations of that idea for months but everything seemed lame. Then I played with other ideas to do with stitches and witches. That didn’t work either. Finally I sat down and wrote a very long list of things I love and words associated with them. John liked the idea of a two-part name, Something & Something, and he added Nutmeg to the list. And one day it just all fell into place and I had a name: Nutmeg & Purls.
So Nutmeg & Purls is about beautiful things I love and that I hope you will love too.
I love purl, a knitting stitch both contrary and restful. And I love our cat, Nutmeg, a British shorthair. She keeps me company while I stitch. There’s a lovely photo of her in the shop.
We set up the Etsy shop in 2015, but only now have I put some stock in it. We need to take photos of everything, which is a process in itself, and when you’re retired, you’re so busy!
So far the shop has a collection of finished baby blankets. Soon I will add some baby clothes and beautiful vintage lacy women’s tops in soft cotton, in time for summer.
Everything in the Nutmeg & Purls store has been hand made with love and care. I hope you will enjoy browsing and returning from time to time to check for new stock. These things take time to make so stock numbers will always be quite small. If you decide to buy something, for yourself or as a unique gift for a special someone, I’m sure it will give many years of pleasure.
And it would be wonderful if browsing Nutmeg & Purls inspires you in your own unique crafts journey.