Sunday, February 22, 2015

Midwinter Spring...

To Cumbria for half-term, my one day a week tuition meaning we are still following school terms.

February 14th - what could one expect?  A low sky? Drizzle?  But instead we were blessed by the first of two glorious days, not of winter sunshine, but of the real thing - full-on blue skies, high wispy cloud, and just a bit of haze to take the edge off the views.

Last year we climbed Dodd for the first time, and now it looks like entering our regular rotation of walks.  We climbed up through woodlands already alive with birdsong, on paths which are so well maintained that you don't have to pick your way.  Opposite, the flank of Skiddaw still bore streaks of snow; the summit of Lower Man intermittently wreathed in cloud.

We emerged from the woodland; suddenly, there was the view - right down Derwentwater to Lodore, the lake glistening in the haze. 

A little higher, and the view to the west opened up: Bassenthwaite, with all the land down to the Solway beyond.

By now a brisk wind had got up, as often on even a small top.  We ate lunch sitting on a rock and then made our way down the terraced paths to the Sawmill tearoom at the bottom.  Three miles, but, like last time, it took three hours as it is quite a stiff climb.

And so to Sunday: another clear, bright day.  We took out our bikes and headed up the coast.  Once, you had to compete with boy racers testing their engines on the coastal road to Silloth, but now a very useful track has been laid, for cycling and walking, and it is much used.  We were able to take our time, stopping to survey the foreshore which was alive with birdlife: redshanks, oystercatchers, curlew, their wavering, trilling calls unmistakable.

A little further and we saw stonechats sunning themselves, perched out atop exposed stalks.

We went on through Allonby and up to Beckfoot, where we ate lunch sitting on the beach - in February.

The last day of good weather saw us taking the route above Loweswater, leading to High Nook Tarn.  On our way we crossed a sheltered field in which many birds were foraging.  first we saw a songthrush, now increasingly rare for us.  But then we saw both redwings and fieldfares, which are winter thrushes.  Two bullfinches were perched in a bush and I was delighted to spot a treecreeper.  I am not a birder, but it is good to be able to name the species, just as we are increasingly able to identify individual hilltops in the Lakes.

Work continues on my latest project: the Skye cardigan.  The chart for this is available free on
Ravelry, where it was used on the front of socks.  Here, I am using a maroon Shetland
heathered with ginger and rust, paired with the Katia Ole sock yarn in a pinkish colourway.
The challenge here was to find a way of mirroring the chart for the two fronts.  What do you know?  It turns out that holding the chart up to a mirror, and taking a photo of it in the mirror, gives a good enough image to use for the second front.


Sunday, February 08, 2015


I've been having issues uploading pictures - still not resolved.  Warning: heavy knitting content.

Over the Christmas break I found myself knitting the sleeves of Signild for the second time after picking up the stitches around the arm hole.  There is a tutorial on how to do this posted by  Bygumbygolly - I've no idea why this is the name of the site.  It does make it very clear, with masses of pictures, exactly what to do.  The writer explains that it is all based on Barbara Walker's "Knitting from the Top down", so of course I had to order that too.

 Essentially, you work out how many stitches are going to be needed for the widest part of the sleeve across the upper arm.  Then you pick up that many stitches around the armhole using a shortish circular.   You knit across the top third of the stitches for the top of the sleeve. Then you begin to work short rows across the upper part of the sleeve head, picking up one stitch each row and wrapping and turning.  It is all much clearer with pictures.

A website I am devoted to is Ravelry, and it never ceases to amaze me when I talk to keen knitters who have never heard of it.  What I love most about it is the world wide reach of its membership.  When I posted images of the Whithorn Celtic pullover on Ravelry, the first comment I received was from someone in the Falkland Islands, and the second from someone in a hill-station in India.  Knitting as an international language?

More recently, I've been working on some cowls.  The first was this very useful moss-stitch cowl in a Noro yarn  This is very snug when wrapped around twice close to the face, and the silk yarn makes it bearable against the skin.  The subtle colour shifts of Noro make this a special item.

Next, was this mustard cowl using a lace and bobble stitch from another stitch directory.   I have been struck by how mustard and a number of different acid greens have been to the fore in recent seasons.  This one picks up the mustardy flecks in my tweed Lavenham jacket.

Finally, this purple cowl, using a complex stitch pattern from Barbara Walker's "Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns".  This is a Drops yarn, Nepal, a mix of wool and alpaca.  I'm pleased with the stitch definition and colour.  This year, I found myself stuck for a Secret Santa gift at the last minute.  I'm thinking that this might go in my bottom drawer for just such an event.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


This is Signild by Elsebeth Lavold, which has also reached completion over the Christmas break.
I have admired the work of Lavold for some time: all those wonderful designs in "Viking Knits" - but I've never actually knitted one.  This one appeared in the September issue of "The Knitter", and I loved the Celtic, or Viking, knotwork.  This is an exceptionally simple design, with the simplest ribs and the button bands knitted as  the edge stitches of the fronts.  A beginner could knit it.
I used a yarn I have had for some time, but have not found  a pattern to suit .  I bought it on a cone from Coldharbour Mills, which specialised in remaindered yarns.  It was unbranded, but not cheap, and the smooth handle suggests that it is a high-end Merino.  However, it knits at somewhere between a DK and an Aran, so I ended up making the largest size, to be sure that it would fit.
Then there were the sleeve heads.  The shoulders are slightly dropped, with a shallow sleeve head.  I tried simply sewing these in, in the usual manner, but was not happy with the result.  The yarn is very smooth and reveals any flaws.  Eventually I decided to knit the sleeves again, using a top-down method, picking up stitches around the armhole.  Someone has very helpfully provided a free tutorial on this technique on their web-site.  It gives a much better result.
Maureen asked about the edging used on the Fair Isle pullover.  This is a really simple combination of garter stitch and single rib, which gives a neat effect. 
Knit two rows
K.1 P1 two rows
Knit two rows
I first used this on my Summer Isles waistcoat, where I was making up the pattern as I went along.  Because the bottom ribs were curling and flaring I took them off and reknitted then upside down,.  This had the effect of making the cast -off edge the same at the bottom of the waitcoat as on the front edgings, almost like a braid.

I used it again on the Windfalls waistcoat, but not on Jewels as it is knitted in Shetland style wool, and I just used single rib for that.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Works in progress

Just before Christmas we made our duty visit to the Cotswolds, where, fortunately, all was well with my husband's step-mother.  While there we did a little pootling in Stratford, passing this wrapped, or yarn-bombed, tree. 

I can understand the idea behind this practice, but only to a degree.  It's a bit like those giant art-works involving wrapping whole buildings in cloth.  Several of the qualities of knitted or crocheted fabric are negated by this process: it's not keeping anything warm,  it's not waterproof, it will get dirty..  I do think that this one looks cute though, like an illustration in a child's book.

A friend recently attempted to log her wips on Ravelry.  She gave up the attempt when she realised that there were more than twenty items on the needles around her house.  I have not counted how many unfinished items I have, but it will be a few.

I generally like to work on one item at a time, but have been persuaded
by Jean Miles' practice of having several items of varying complexity on the go, for different purposes: waiting-rooms, car journeys, quiet afternoons.

Top of this list is the Pierowall pullover.  I'm now working on the last section, involving decreasing through those complex charts.  This is knitting which demands my full attention.  I retreat to the dining room, where I can have the chart laid out on the table in front of me.  It's taking some time, but I am pleased with the effect.

Edited to add:  After ten hours of the Radio 4 production of "War and Peace", I am happy to announce that the Pierowall Pullover has now moved to Finished Object status. 

In the original, the designer, Liz Lovick, used sixteen different yarns, swapping one yarn in each row to give a subtle shaded effect.  It was knitted in the round, with steeks, and had patterns front and back. I'd love to see it in wear.

  In my simplified version (!!) I used a speckled sock yarn by Katia with a 4ply merino in jade for the front, which I knitted back and forth.  This may have been a mistake.  For the back I used a 150 gm ball of a sock yarn by Regia, in a remarkably similar colour, using a plain single rib. 

For the edgings, I used that combination of garter stitch and rib which I have used before, which just gives a neat edge.  Wet blocking the front made all the difference to the set of the stitches on the front.  It has a luxurious handle from the Merino 4-ply.  Incredibly, it took only one ball of the Katia speckled sock yarn.

I love it.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Photo tourism

So where was I off to today?

Was I catching the Hogwarts' Express?

In fact, I was meeting an old friend at Peterborough, which is about midway between our homes.  I'd never been before, and I must say that I was impressed. 

Those of you who imagine these trips as a sequence of visual delights might bear in mind that on the journey out my train was cancelled.  No problem, as Peterborough featured on a number of routes. 

But on the way back the same thing: train cancelled and the alternative a stopping train, doubling the length of the journey, delivering me to London for the rush hour.  Then we were held at an intermediate station while the police rounded up someone who had decided to trespass on the line and run around to avoid arrest.  It took four hours to get home.

But in Peterborough the cathedral is an absolute gem.  The West Front is early 13th century; the only Gothic part of the building.

Elsewhere,  rank upon rank of Norman arches with delicate columns decorate the exterior.

The cathedral has housed the tomb of Katharine of Aragon, since her death at Kimbolton in 1536.

Everywhere, history is layered into the fabric of the building.

The centre of the city is a giant modern mall, but we had a choice of eateries: Carluccio's is housed in a former almshouse bearing this plaque. 

 Instead we chose Pizza Express, with this Arts and Crafts facade.

On the needles, or rather just off them, was a pair of fingerless mittens bearing  cabled owls, gifted in a secret Santa without being photographed.  Meanwhile. I am ploughing on with Signild, a cardigan by Elsebeth Lavold, in September's edition of "The Knitter".


Monday, December 01, 2014

Late Rembrandt

Last Friday to Trafalgar Square, to meet up with my younger sister and take in the Rembrandt exhibition.  Arriving early, my husband and I popped into the Portrait Gallery to look at Tudor portraits, and specifically the picture of Thomas Cromwell referred to by Hilary Mantel in "Wolf Hall."    After several failed attempts to get started on this novel, which I now think is a masterpiece, I made it past the confusing opening and enjoyed its wonderfully rich texture.  In the second volume, Mantel is much clearer as to exactly who is speaking at any particular point and this simple technique helps a lot. 

Standing in front of what is in fact a copy of the Holbein portrait, I related the story Mantel tells of how Cromwell felt it made him look like a murderer and said so to his son - who paused, then asked him "Did you not know?"  I recounted the story, then turned -  to find a total stranger standing at my shoulder, just where I had thought my husband to be!  So now I have turned into the sort of confused old person who rambles on to bystanders in galleries.

Trafalgar Square is completely transformed by the pedestrianisation of the section outside the National Gallery. There was a holiday atmosphere, buskers, bagpipers, mime artists and all.

Within, the Rembrandt exhibition was the usual victim of its own success.  Entering on a timed ticket we found the crowd already twenty deep.  Those telling self-portraits and the bigger pieces full of movement and energy were still impressive even with the overcrowding, but the tiny etchings were difficult to appreciate in this setting.  It appears that the gallery allow half an hour for each visit, and this is nowhere near enough. 

On the knitting front, I am making slow progress on the Pierowall pullover, largely because it is too complex to knit on while doing something else, such as watching tv.  This, on the other hand, has been ideal.  It is a seed stitch cowl, using two balls of Noro Silk Garden.  I used the first ball as it came, but used the second from the middle out.  This reversed the colour sequence.  Not all balls of Noro are identical, but these two were.


Monday, November 17, 2014


Those of you who enjoy a challenge in your knitting will find all that you need in Liz Lovick's Pierowall pullover.  I bought mine from her Ravelry page, but it is also available on Etsy, apparently.  In her version, many different yarns are used for both the background and the pattern, swapping one shade on each round.  I have taken a much simpler approach in using only one colour for each.  This is a dark green merino paired with a speckled sock yarn which I am hoping will give an idea of carved stone.  I'm thinking of the Northumbrian crosses at Whithorn.

I'm knitting mine flat, not in the round.  This does mean that I have to knit purl rows, but the rows are half the length.  I'm knitting the back in ribbing which seems to give a good fit.

The real challenge comes in following the charts on motifs which are not symmetrical.  Unlike horizontal Fair Isle bands there are no easy rows here. I have to give it my full attention.  Still to come is the matter of continuing the pattern while decreasing for the armholes and neck.  I'm thinking that I will draw the line on to a copy of the chart.  We'll see.