Monday, December 22, 2008

Visible and Invisible knitting

Comes the Christmas hols at last: long hours snugged down with little to do - ideal knitting time. So this is the time that the itchy rash on my left hand kicks in severely enough to keep me awake at night. I consider a work glove for my left hand only. I'm convinced it is shampoo which is the cause as it's only my left hand. Washing in rubber gloves is very odd.
Just an odd suspicion that it could be fibre related, although why just the one hand is the mystery.

My last pair of Newfoundland Mittens, in Jamieson and Smith scraps of Autumnal colours. Running out of one dark earth colour, I combine two strands of a brown and a deep mauve. I am amazed to see that it blends in right away. All these pairs have now been gifted.

Next up was the invisible knitting: black cashmere and merino linings for my red Komi mittens. A thin wind blew straight through these on the Lorton walk last year, so the lining is essential. Let's hope the weather allows for airy but not damp walking.

Then, a project I have been putting off: Fingerless gloves for a 10 year old. Short fingered gloves actually, and very fiddly to make. What's more to the point, no child's hand to check out the fit. But, with the body in two by two rib, these are very forgiving, and seem to have passed the cool test. Bit too cool for me in mid-winter. Now I only need to knit a pair for the 8 year old, the 6 year old and the 5 year old.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Among my souvenirs

What would the collective noun be for mittens? A clutch? A handful? These are Newfoundland Mittens,the beauty of which is that they are knit in one colour at a time, the slip stitches suggesting otherwise. And they use hardly any of each yarn, so the remnants from sock knitting or that odd skein bought some time ago, turn out to be perfectly adequate. Add to this a quick turnaround, with a finished item always in view and they form the ideal winter project.

Summer, however, usually finds me searching for that elusive textile treasure. Having once picked up a stunning white quilt in France for under twenty pounds, I remain convinced that neglected gems are still out there and find myself incapable of passing a Brocante without checking it out. The quilt, it turned out, was English, seventeenth century, and not unlike one in the Burrell collection.

Here, we have a sampler, found in the scruffiest of village vide-greniers in the Auvergne. It was filthy, stained, crumpled. Gradually, I noticed that the same three letters are repeated in different styles. Who was this girl, and why did she stop where she did, when the letters are so very ambitious and the stitching so very regular? After a little pre-testing of a thread end, I boiled it in Persil, not without trepidation, and it was transformed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Odds and Ends

That's an awful lot of pumpkin. My first soups, pepped up with curry spices, didn't get over the essential wateriness of the vegetable, its tendency to puree without being blended. It need something very pungent to permeate its blandness. A small amount of bacon scraps, fried to release the fat and brine, had just that smoky saltiness it needed. That, and the roasting of the cubed pumpkin to dry it out a little. A bowl of this was very welcome on a wet November evening.

Then, what about pumpkin pie? Trawling the Net for a recipe proved how many variations there might be on this theme. My local shop was out of some key ingredients, such as maple syrup, and pastry is something I've never mastered. Instead, I believe I have invented a completely new dessert here. Most of a pack of Hobnobs with about two ounces of butter to make a crust. Two eggs beaten with milk, brown sugar and cinnamon to bind it all and roasted pumpkin as the filling. Baked for forty-five minutes, by which time the biscuit of the crust has assimilated with the egg mixture to form a kind of parkin around the pumpkin pieces. I could see us having this again, or maybe something else completely unexpected, dependent on the store cupboard.

As for knitting:

Newfoundland Mittens, a traditional pattern, apparently. This is the result of two remainders of very bright sock yarn, knit double and a dk base colour. They were very easy to knit as only one colour is in use at a time, with slipped stitches suggesting otherwise. The construction creates pockets of fabric which must be why they are so warm. I was very pleased with how these turned out.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pumpkin Eaters

The harvesting of the pumpkins: much to-ing and fro-ing with the wheelbarrow and an attempt at the world's strongest woman contest. Such glorious autumn weather, so that we were able to clear the bean row, the corn patch and the courgettes. How bucolic that sounds!

Weighing in at 30 pounds, the big one beat those grown by the nurseryman who has the plot just over from us. Not that we were trying for a record with these. But I did notice last year how well they stored into real winter. And I do like the idea of produce stashed away against the cold.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Turkish slippers

A pair of fancy knitted slippers, given to me by my sister, who bought them from a stall in a street market in Istanbul. It is part of the challenge of the holiday to locate a little something which will suit the taste of the recipient, while also redolent of the place visited. Over the years, I've been gifted reindeer horn buttons from Iceland and Mountain Colours sock yarn, on this principle.

The slippers are of interesting construction: DK, starting with an 8 stitch strip for the heel . This is knit for abour four inches, then stitches picked up on each side, probably on two separate needles. After about four inches of Garter, this is joined and a stocking stitch Fair Isle section begins. The decreases for the toe are on every round, at the top and bottom of the foot, so as to create a pointed toe. The final section is Kitchenered, so there is no seaming involved. The top edge is then finished with a row of crochet. I could see these being travel slipers, as they are flat to pack.

On the mitten front: I was pleased that the mittens finally arrived in Rochester, after more than two months travel. It had seemed silly to send them air-mail when it was still summer, but I wasn't expecting it to take this long.

Meanwhile, Helena has named me as a "Blog she likes to read", which makes me feel a fraud as I post so rarely. I have enjoyed seeing new blog titles mentioned on this scheme, however. I always read Jean Miles, as she posts daily and always has something of interest to say. I also love Knitting on Impulse and Little Cotton Rabbit. Both of these are the work of artists in colour and design, very different in style but very beautiful to look at.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Harlot Saturday

First, the latest shawl for the Wrapped in Care project. This one a lovely mixture of colours, remarkably subtle for such a budget purchase. The pattern is simply that basic triangle, with moss stich on alternate chevrons to give some textural interest. I hope it does give some comfort to the recipient.

On Saturday, to London to the i-Knit event in Westminster, to hear Stephanie Pearl-Mcphee, the Yarn Harlot. I have been amazed by her posts on London in the last few days. How many of us could hit the National Gallery, jet-lagged, exhausted and basically lost, and write so well and with such relish about the paintings there? The times I have visited galleries while abroad and been already footsore and past it before I even reached the art-works. Venice, now, is as she describes, an unexpected treasure at every turn, but who would see London in that way?

So, her talk was a delight, her accent and delivery slow and warm. Knowing her audience obviously helped, as it must have done over all those other dates on the tour, but she was funny and serious, not the easiest combination to manage. And the audience! Looking along the row it seemed like everyone in the place took out their work in progress and knit through the talk. Where else would that happen? Yet how many meetings and courses might be vastly improved if it were the norm? Someone was even spinning with a drop spindle - this seemed a bit extreme, as the range of movement required was wider.

The mittens I knit that day, one during that talk.

With me at the fair was my sister. We found just watching the crowd fascinating: the range of hand-knits on display. Always a fine line, that one, even at a knitting event. Large shawls may once have been universal female dress, as in Mitchell and Kenyon's films of factory workers coming off shift, but what messages do they send on a wet Saturday in September in broad daylight? Small shawls seemed like the way to go, not least because the price of lace-weight never fails to astound.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I often feel that I am bound to be disappointed in my holiday experiences. This is because the places I wish to visit are romanticised versions of the past: they don't exist now, but they probably didn't exist then either. I want to see the herringboats returning to the little villages where the fisher-wives hug their shawls about them, their needles busy with the need to clothe their families against the bitter cold. I want cedar chests of patterned bodices and knitted red braces, boiled wool jackets - that sort of thing.

So, now, who knew that Sweden is a hot country? Who could have guessed that we'd be grateful for air-conditioning in the alarmingly luxurious spa hotel where we found ourselves in Gothenburg? Who knew that the city was hosting a gig by Iron Maiden whose fans would arrive in their thousands just as we did?

We explored the Bohuslan coast and the museum at Uddevalla, hoping for inspirational examples of Bohus knitting. In fact, the kits in the gift-shop were strikingly more alive than the exhibits. Commmercial hand-knitting with very fine yarn - 3-ply, it looked like, is definitely a thing of the past.

On to Gotland, an island where the sheep features heavily. In Visby, a walled Hanseatic town, a brilliant museum full of Viking picture stones and silver hoards - one find per year still on Gotland, so rich they were, from trade in Baltic beeswax, apparently.

In the town centre, a shop full of pared down linen clothes and wool and linen yarn- Yllet - they have a website. And a different shop with this simple style:

Gotland itself is dry and gritty, at least in August. We saw many wonderful church interiors; there are 92 built prior to 1361. And more of the picture stones, some in the church-yards, some in the open-air museum at Bunge.

At Orebro, a spectacular Slott and very civilised public gardens full of sculpture leading to Wadkoping, a collection of wooden houses and craftworkshops.

Orebro, castle

Then, finally, to Stockholm, where the wonders of Internet booking found us on a motor-yacht, once, briefly the property of Barbara Hutton, given to her as an 18th birthday present by her father, just as WW2 broke out, it seems. Moored alongside Riddarholmen in Lake Mallaren, the equivalent of the Thames just by the House of Lords, it was ideally located. The restaurant, as the sun set, offered this spectacular view, of what is apparently City Hall, built 1915. Probably better not to know that.

Stockholm, sunset.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mittens finale

This is what 400 gm of Aran yarn looks like translated into 11 pairs of mittens. I got to six and considered moving on, but then I thought I would just see how many pairs I could get out of the ball. That's £2.50 worth of yarn.

Why was this project so compelling? Well, the pattern by Elizabeth Durand was both convincing and easy to memorise. I converted it to two needles as I don't have four needles that size.

Then, it was really quick to complete a pair - one pair I knocked up while chatting to a friend as she got ready to leave after a short stay. I was also intrigued at the idea of school age children who would actually wear hand-knitted items. The average Braintree child would freeze to death rather than wear something not made by Nike.

This is my piece de resistance, the only pair which demanded any thought. Basically it's a motif from Alice St*rmore's book "Fishermen's Swe*ters", just placed on the back of the mitt, and fancy cabled ribs. I can't decide whether the effect is unbalanced and clumsy, or unusual and appealing. It was certainly a clever technique for closing the motif at the top.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rochester Mittens

Six pairs of mittens for a charity appeal based in Rochester, N.Y.

I was inspired to knit these by two things. One, a comment on my blog by a librarian in Rochester blogging as Just Another Raveler. She went on to post a wonderful image of blue hostas just for me. I'm a sucker for the enthusiastic response, which seems to me more American than British.

Secondly, the fact that I had bought a giant ball of blue wool from the stock of a wool shop which Kerrie and her partner at Hipknits had bought in Scotland and shipped down. I picked this up really cheaply. It's only 20% wool but the rest is Courtelle and it certainly has a lovely handle.

I was reminded, as I knit the pair with the star design from Sheila Mcgregor's Fair Isle knitting patterns book, just how motivating it is to knit simple geometric designs.

The story on the appeal references the work of one Mrs Nellis in 1933 organising a drive for knitted clothes in Rochester. I am surprised that there is the same need in 2008, but it appears to be so.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


This is Ribbons by Sasha Kagan. It's in Jand S jumperweight, a yarn which holds layers of memories for me.

I first met it in Whitby, in a shop called "The Shepherd's Purse". I'll never forget the impact of seeing, in effect, the whole shade card range in skeins hanging from a line across the shop. On that occasion, I bought navy and three shades of mauve for a a striped sweater. That would have been in the early 80s.

Sasha Kagan's book was published in 84 and I must have bought it soon after. The yarn for this was bought in the now defunct but much mentioned "Art Needlework Industries" shop in Oxford, again a treaure house of colour and texture.

Sadly, when I visited the actual premises of J and S in Lerwick I was very disappointed. This was in 2000, so it may have changed since. It was as if Kaffe had never existed; in fact, the view seemed to be that his technique, presumably of darning in the ends, was not up to snuff. But what of his technique of using colour in surprising and pleasing ways? The whole place seemed to be stuck somewhere about 1958. Very sad.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Yesterday, to a reunion of old colleagues from thirty years ago, at the home of a very dear friend. Sunshine and showers, walks in woodland, lively conversation and delicious food - the ideal summer Saturday.

This little cardigan is from Sasha Kagan's book, "The Sasha Kagan Sweater Book" published in 1984. It was fun to knit because it had white mohair bands and silver lurex stripes behind the flowers.

I was amazed to find that my friend, who is modelling it here, had kept it stored over several house moves. I don't think I would still fit into items I wore in 1984. Only the pleated sleeve caps really reveal its vintage, and the mohair bands have felted a little. However, the colours retain their freshness and the Jand S jumper weight yarn has held up very well.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wrapped in Care 2

Another shawl in this periwinkle yarn for the Wrapped in Care programme. This one is the simplest triangle with some YOs added for interest. It was a pleasure to knit, although it takes some time to achieve an appropriate width at the top. I'm using straight needles so it is very bunched up by that point. Casting off is a revelation.

Last weekend, I compared notes with my work mates on plans for Saturday. The highlight of my day was to be collecting a load of well-rotted FYM from a colleague's field where she keeps horses. Even I thought it sounded downbeat as a leisure activity.

Saturday dawned to quite heavy rain, but it faired up enough to allow us to set out. In heavy drizzle, we clambered acroos the midden to reach the well-rotted sector, ankle deep in horse-muck. Twelve bags later, we drove off, filthy and sweating, but feeling that we had got a treasure.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wrapped in Care

A simple shawl for the charity Wrapped in Care which provides shawls for mothers.

It's a lovely colour: periwinkle, my favourite after a deep peacock green. What's more, the project specified easy care yarn, and this is 100% acrylic at £1 per 100 grams.

The pattern is Matilda, free on Kate Blackburn's site. Very easy to knit, once I had got over a major misreading of the first line and decided to fare forward hopefully, essentially knitting half a shawl, upside down. I don't think you would be able to tell.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


First, some of the fifteen hats, sweet as slices of Battenburg, knitted for the Save the children appeal publicised in "Woman's Weekly", that ancient home of the knitter. The premise is that new-borns lose heat rapidly so hats will save lives. Let's hope it is so. I was less convinced by the injunction to attach a label to each one berating Gordon Brown for his failings. In some world weary corner of my mind,I wonder if that, rather than the knitting, was the point of the campaign.

Next, gooseberries from our allotment. We planted four bushes, thinking of jam, sturdy and reliable producers They are certainly that: unlike tenderer fruit, they overwhelm us with their bounty each year. This is a small proportion of what one bush has produced.

Finally, the green house on our plot. This is the ancestral greenhouse which we dismantled in Ealing and transported to Essex. Months of restoration followed. Then we realised that, although useful as a store and as a shelter, it did not work for plants as it easily became too hot and they dried out.

One day in 2006, we visited the plot after a dreadful storm to find no greenhouse, but shards of glass and splintered wood everywhere. A weaker man might have called it a day at this point, but not my husband; this was his grandfather's greenhouse after all. Weeks of toil saw it restored to its former state, but with several cunning additions; metal stakes in each corner to anchor it and nylon rope over the roofridge lashing it to its breeze-block base. And both of us thoroughly enjoyed the shared project: simple physical work in the open air, re-using old materials, holding on to the past.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Kaffe Revisited

This lively jacket demonstrates the inventiveness of Kaffe Fassett at his best, in "Glorious Knitting."

It is shown again in "Kaffe at the Vand A", and really demonstrates how a simple stripe pattern comes alive with fluctuating colour ranges. I knit this for my sister many years ago, largely from the leftovers of the dark version of the Pompeii Jacket. I like Rowan yarns, but not the price of them , so this is entirely knit in oddments from a yarn shop in Tiptree - single balls of unusual eveningy yarns. And I do believe that there is enough still leftover to knit another whole jumper.

I do agree with whoever it was recently who called their stash a resource, rather than seeing it as a burden. Unless you don't feel able to buy new yarn until you have used up what is in store, I think stocks of yarn should be an inspiration.

A close-up of the toothed stripe waistcoat I was wearing for the Kaffe event. It was knit in Shetland wools from Jamieson and Smith, at least twenty years ago as a gift for my mother. What gives it life is not only the movement created by the flickering teeth, which are knit randomly, but also the addition of occasional bright blues and purples alongside the browns and greens.

I do think his new book, "Kaffe Knits Again", is a pale reflection of former glory. The sheer inventiveness of "Glorious Knitting" and the wonderful aesthetic feast of the V and A book really point this up. He may be right that throws and scarves are more likely to appeal, but surely the use of more subtle palettes would make the cardigans and jumpers more timeless and less obviously 80s.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kaffe Fassett

Today to a long-awaited event with my friend, Alison. A visit to the Warner Textile Archive to see the collection of woven fabrics and textile pieces from the days of the silk mill in Braintree.
Then, a piece of astonishing luck. We were heading for a village hall not a mile from where we had lunch but became spectacularly lost, driving in a circle, so that we arrived with minutes to spare, instead of half an hour early as planned.
To our amazement, and the chagrin of those already seated, we were ushered to the front row, from where we had an uninterrupted view of the great man himself.
He gave a talk, as a commentary on a series of slides of his work and what inspired it. Brendon Mably managed the slides.
At times gasps of amazement or spontaneous applause greeted particular items, pricipally the quilts. It was a great afternoon, competed by the book-signing. I hand over the book to a man who has given me great pleasure over nearly thirty years and I find I have nothing to say. He, however, tells me he likes the colours in my waistcoat, which is the brown Toothed Stripe, one of his most vibrant designs. Imagine that.
Piles of wonderful textiles were strewn across the stage, and more were pulled from a holdall.

Kaffe Fassett signing my book.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


On a day when we are forecast the worst storm of the year: two scarves.

The first for my husband, in Jaeger Luxury Spun, an e-bay buy of a discontinued yarn. We had gone up to London on a rare visit, on a bitterly cold day, and stood outside Liberty's waiting for my sister who was delayed. With half an hour to kill, we browsed Lberty's menswear dept, checking out scarves since it was so cold. We were astonished to see one, with a designer name, but also a price tage of almost two hundred pounds. It was knit on one side and silk-lined on the other, a very appealing item.

We bought a navy lambswool scarf for fifteen pounds, but the idea stayed with me. This one is in a diagonal rib, lined with silk from the silk mill in Sudbury, just up the road. The silk makes it smooth against the skin, instead of itchy.

Secondly, a feather and fan scarf in Colinette four-ply, bought at Allie Pallie, one of those buys which has to wait years for its hour to come.

Both are being worn by the wall fruit trees in our garden: the espaliered pear just coming into bud.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sunday' Best

Perhaps I'll try posting once a week and see how it goes. Somehow I can't get into the Work-in-Progress groove - half-finished socks, one front of the Arwen cardigan, more hours than I like to think of on the Icarus shawl...

I like things a little more finished.

A treat just before Christmas: a card from the Innocent Smoothie organiser commenting on the hat in Sanquhar knitting. Then, some days later, this.

Now, nothing on the site reveals that there were rosettes - how many, for what? My design was not chosen as Hat of the Week. But I was really gratified to have this rosette, the first I've ever been awarded, even if thousands of others also received them.

Next some mittens with a tale behind them. For some while I read Blogdogblog, finding the links from there intriguing. There, I first saw Sanquhar gloves and a Japanese rendering of them. Sanquhar is less than a hundred miles from my birthplace, but I'd never heard of it until then.

I also saw knitted braids there too for the first time. These mittens are a mixture of Komi patterns from Charlene Schurch's book "Knitting Marvellous Mittens".

These were knit on two needles in Shetland 2ply wool. I thought they would be interesting but unwearable but, in fact, they've been in constant winter use.