February, freehand


February has always felt like a hinge to me, a time when the first early bulbs might come into flower, when I’ve noted the first salmonberry blossoms in sheltered areas, when the sky, late afternoon, will have something of spring in it. A certain kind of light, a clarity. This morning is foggy and grey but when I went out to fill the bird-feeder, I could smell the soil. Time to fill little seed trays and plant some peas and early salad greens.

My mum used to say that she didn’t like a winter to pass without having something to show for it. She crocheted and knit, badly. Is it mean to say this? We have her lopsided baby blankets still and I love them for their odd shapes and their history. I like putting them on the crib in the room our grandchildren sleep in. And John still wears the sweater of Cowichan wool she made for him in the early 1980s, along with one for Forrest.


John’s sweater had the sleeves up near his elbows so my mum cheerfully made them longer (and lopsided). The shoulders are beginning to unravel and I might try to fix it, though my knitting skills are pretty rudimentary. Still he loves his old sweater, he says, pulling it on to cut firewood or prune the roses.

And who am I to talk about lopsided or careless? My freehand quilting is both. But I love to do it. I’m almost finished the indigo wholecloth quilt, stitching spirals and anchoring them with shell buttons. A winter’s work. A wholecloth quilt is often an opportunity for a quilter to showcase her (or his) fine stitching but not mine. I’m resigned to the fact that I will never make those little perfect mice-tracks across a length of fabric but I do love the meditative possibilities of sitting by the fire and allowing my hands to guide thread into a spiral, a quiet labyrinth of red stitches holding the layers together. And look! Going into the kitchen a few minutes ago to pour a cup of coffee, there it was, waiting for me. (The morning light makes the colour look lighter than it actually is. Think new jeans, not stonewashed or faded.)


The shortest month, maybe the most promising in some ways. There were mosquitoes the other day and the sound of frogs. And tulips coming up in the raised beds in the vegetable garden, protected from the deer. I have enough red thread to finish my quilt and seeds to plant.

Winter garden,
the moon thinned to a thread,
insects singing.

—Matsuo Basho


6 thoughts on “February, freehand”

  1. Ah, “something to show for it.” I get that but never find that winter’s my most productive time. I am intensely and frustratingly engaged in learning PhotoShop, a painful combination of taking a class and learning on my own. I am results-oriented – I want something to show for my labour – but with this software there is a crushing blow around ever key stroke!! “I get it, I get it, I DON’t get it”. The trick is, I’m now at that point of needing it as well as wanting it so onwards/upwards. BTW, the quilt is beautiful as usual. No frogs for us yet; it will be some moons before we’re at that point… xo

  2. I think learning something new absolutely counts, A. And sometimes these software programmes are counter-intuitive. What you think should happen doesn’t. Easy to over-think. Stay warm. xo

  3. “Is it mean to say this?” But you say it with such affection!
    In another of your recent blog posts, you speak of writing both objectively and subjectively. I think this is a perfect example: an honest assessment of how she knit brimming with your feelings about what she knit.
    It’s a lovely post!

    1. Thanks, Alice. I’m actually quite fond of imperfection, in textile work as well as everything else. I looked out the kitchen window the other day and saw John in the sweater my mum knitted for him and it was one of those moments when I missed her so acutely that it hurt. The sweater so lopsided but somehow full of her attention to what he did and what he needed. And the photograph on my post, of my son (who will soon be 37!) in his little sweater — I wish we’d kept it now.

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