Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Wonderland

My back garden, under snow.

The quaintest of the five pubs in the village: The Woolpack.

The village church.

And the little chapel by the old abbey on our favourite short walk.  Just a pity that it is painfully cold and treacherous underfoot.  Ah, to be six again, when snow was an unalloyed pleasure.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...

Eighteen years we have lived in this house, yet I doubt  if we have lit this little stove more than five or six times.  Some early experiences involving a lot of smoke, and the presence of perfectly adequate storage heaters, have made it seem like a waste of time.  Still, as the temperature drops outside, what could be nicer than to bask in front of an open fire, enjoying buttered crumpets and mince pies?

Note, among the brassware, a piece of utilitarian laundry equipment, which I remember my mother buying new.  Called a "poss," it was in weekly use alongside the dolly-tub, boiler and mangle during my childhood.  And now here it is decorating my hearth.

Another little sampler from my collection.  In this case, a mystery item from a junkshop.  The imagery speaks of the Twenties or early Thirties, but it is still very much a sampler (click to embiggen)

Saturday brought an unpleasant surprise.  My husband having just collected a batch of timber destined to be our new dining-table, set off for his shed anticipating a few hours of pondering and pencil-chewing.  But, through night, a large, high, storage shelf had collapsed, scattering a scrow of debris over his workbench.  Thus began several hours of final reckoning and a trip to the tip.  When did I think I would ever complete a macrame lampshade, started in the early Eighties?  His shed is much improved by this enforced de-clutter.  Only this little owl survives from the macrame enterprise.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Stored Goodies

More Christmas preparation in the form of spiced preserves from Delia's Christmas book.  Pears in one jar, with lemon slices, and clementines in the other, both drenched in wine vienegar, brown sugar and cloves.  The kitchen certainly smelt like Christmas as these simmered.  In January, they are lovely with cold cuts.

Delia's Christmas food programme on tv, however, was like a voice from another age.  Who now slathers on the butter and double cream with quite such a free hand?  Though it is true that her Luxury Fish Pie was lovely because of the unctuous nature of the potato topping.

Our loft was recently much admired by two chaps from the local historical society, because its unimproved state allows full sight of the rafters with their many centuries of alterations and road -grime.  Stashed up there I have all those items bought at textile fairs and boot-fairs and charity shops, knowing they would come in one day.  That day has now arrived for a piece of tweed woven from sari silk scraps.  It's so long since I sewed anything for myself that I was unconvinced by this, but in fact, with skirts, it is a question of hitting a length which is currently in vogue and matching that with what one's figure will stand.  It looks very lively with a bright top picking up one of the colours and the obligatory black tights.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stir up Sunday

Now is a good time to start preparations for the Christmas feast, while the rain slatters down on the windows and the spirits sink.  Now, and not at the end of August, which is still summer in my book, but was when the first items appeared in the shops here.

I made my cake some weeks ago and have opened it up to feed it dark rum.  Rum always featured heavily in West Cumbrian Christmases... rum custard, rum butter ... and rum to feed the cake. Long traditions going back to when Whitehaven was a major port. 

This, another of my sampler collection.  I found this square of white lawn with its haunting inscription in  a box at  a local boot fair here in Essex.  I paid all of thirty pence for it.  What can be made of the fact that the fine lettering of the verse is followed by a coarser hand for the name and date?  Was it finished by someone else to memorialise the death of the original stitcher?  Or was it undated and the date is there just to suggest age it doesn't have?  The tiny stitches of the verse certainly look authentically old.  I just love these fragmentary pieces with their unknown histories.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


A box of apples, Fiestas.  Some twenty years ago, we were given a fan-trained apple, a retirement gift  for which my father-in -law had no wall space.  We then established espalier pears and felt that cordons would complete the set - we have a very narrow garden with plenty of brick wall to cover.

What we did not grasp was that some apples are too vigorous for cordons and that, as the years pass, they will grow in their own way.  Thus, our neighbour reported that a good crop of Fiests was ripening on their side of our wall, from the top growth of our tree.  This week she brought round the last ones to fall, a surprising late bounty.

Another pair of navy mittens, this time in an acrylic/wool mix, bought in Wigton, where I had gone hoping to identify some of the places in Melvin Bragg's "A Son of War".  And a very depressed little place it is, especially in drizzle.  I cheered myself up with a trip to Caldbeck, lunch at the Priest's Mill and a tour of the Wool Clip shop. 
Last week, my birthday brought a bounty of a different kind.  My family like to find mail order suppliers of delicious things to send us.  We have had a parcel of venison before now, and one year my husband was in raptures over a hamper of baked goods delivered by the local WI Market.  Smoked fish from Loch Fyne is always welcome.  This year my sister sent a box of breakfast items from  We started in on the sausage and black pudding and have enjoyed bacon sandwiches through the week.  The porridge oats may be destined for flapjack..  But the most surprising thing was the insulation in the box, sent by next day delivery, not the post.  It is made of wool, looks like Herdwick,  scoured and processed into a flat layer and encased in food-grade plastic.  They suggest some further uses for this, such as seat pads.  We'll see.

Finally, a sampler from my small collection.  in this case, from Norway, the work of one Kari Svenkerad, part of a group I picked up by chance in a junkshop in Nysbyen some years ago.  Probably these are the evidence of a school curriculum preparing girls for a life of make do and mend, and not in a good way.  This one has such clean graphic lines it is like a piece of drawing, but they are different ways of darning cloth.  Whoever Kari was, she was a great needlewoman.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


At last I summoned the resolve to visit the dentist; a loose molar had begun to ache.  I learnt to avoid the dentist after several encounters involving bridgework and crowns, in which the idea seemed to be to keep the patient in the dark as to the outcome and the amount of pain to anticipate - "Oh, that was just the worst case scenario!" one breezily informed me after a simple filling sorted out what he had described as requiring root canal work.

My strategy has been not to look for trouble, and I can't help thinking it has saved me not only pain but money over the last ten years.  Still, I find myself going up the steps for the check-up, only to find myself greeted by a recent ex-student, who is to be the dental nurse in attendance.  She is a strapping girl with a confident personality, but it must have been odd for her too.  The dentist was quick off the mark and we moved straight to the extraction, after three injections.  Poor old tooth was very loose and took seconds to dispatch.

A little tour of the shops was in order, I felt and, as sometimes happens, I felt something call my name in the first charity shop I entered.  This lovely tablecloth has a few small loose sections, but is otherwise unstained.  It looks a treat on our front room table.

To Ally Pally on Friday last.  One forgets just how awful driving into East London actually is, but it was a delight to look at some of the exhibits.  Past experience tells me not to buy special offers as they can be variable in quality.  Instead, my eye was caught by two balls of Mini-mochi in autumnal colours.  The highlight of the day was taking lunch at one of the dreadful food outlets and discovering that the ladies sharing the table were keen knitters but had not heard of Ravelry and were unsure of the exact nature of blogging. I do hope they are now revelling in the riches on offer.

Recent knitting has been a pair of navy blue mittens for the husband of a dear friend.  Mittens for men are apparently a rarity item.  I was happy to oblige, using some Jaeger Alpaca I had on hand.  Working out a pattern for 4-ply was a small challenge, but they are now in the post, without me taking their picture.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Design features

Working on the blond strips for the Celtic throw.  I tried a more complex cable, but it needed something simpler and more logitudinal. 

Barbara Walker's "Treasury" is a fantastic resource, not only for the stitch patterns but for the historical notes.

This is a pair of uneven cables, which she decribes as a kind of ancestral cable, in which two stitches are crossed behind four each time, giving a smoother, more stream-lined effect.  In the centre, Jacob's Ladder, again a traditional element.

Today, I gathered what must surely be the last of the blackberries and a clutch of apples from the hedge.  Carrying those and the handful of taters we had unearthed while digging over the potato patch, we enjoyed the rare October sunshine.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Finished Item

Earlier this year I completed the purple cardigan from a Sirdar pattern.  It was a neat design, with some very simple features, such as a very narrow garter stitch lower edge and an unfinished back neck.

It occurred to me that any open work pattern could be used for the fronts - anything with a ripple effect to it.  I had some handspun, hand-dyed russet toned yarn, bought at Woolfest three years ago - the sort of yarn which is lovely in the skein, but unimpressive as a block by itself.  So then, I located a stitch pattern in Barbara Walker's "Treasury" and made the sleeves.  I thought a knitted hem might be neater than the garter stitch, but in the end settled for the rolled edge this created.  Working on the front was going well, but then it struck me that the wave effect was directional and that the peaks would form at a different place on the cast-off edge.  So, then I knitted the fronts as separate pieces and stitched them on.

I am quite pleased with the finished effect; certainly the russet yarn shows very well against the dark green.  It is just a little snugger than the purple version, probably because the yarn is a smooth DK.  It took far less yardage than the pattern stated, so I have lots of spare yarn once again.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


My favourite time of year, and, after thirty-five years of full-time work, I have moved to three days a week. Hopefully those golden autumn days will see me out on a hike, instead of emerging at dusk with a pile of marking still to do. We'll see.
A bumper onion harvest this year, after a dry season, the rain only arriving once they were out of the ground. Our fear is that white rot will have set in and they won't be keepers. But for now, the store is full to bursting. Garlics grew for the first time, too.

Pears from our two trees, and apples various. Pears are a mixed blessing: so luscious but ripening all at once so that there is a glut which can't be saved or stored. We have our own apples but the Bramley has been cordoned and produces a small quantity. This year, for the first time, I spotted a tree with huge cooking apples in the hedge on our allotment ground, while picking brambles. So we have been enjoying Brown Betties and Charlottes and Eve's Pudding.

And on my first day off, a quick trawl of the charity shops after a hair-cut unearthed a harvest of a different kind: two brand-new blouses in Liberty fabrics. Cost to me: £3.50 each. Cost from the companies on-line: £55.00 each. My pleasure in wearing them will be massively enhanced by this knowledge.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Catching up

Some time since I posted, so long it is hard to know what is worth recording.

Knitting first: Two more panels of the Celtic throw almost complete - the duplicates of the previous ones for symmetry. Now we have been able to photograph the replica of Gosforth cross which stands in the churchyard of St Kentigern's in Aspatria, it becomes clear to me that the central panel needs to feature two opposing cables terminating in animal heads - like sea serpents.

Elsebeth Lavold managed this on the sweater she designed for her husband, and I can see it could be adapted from a pattern for a toy - a giraffe, say - and applied in low relief. not exactly mindless knitting to work this out. The blond cables to divide the panels, on the other hand, should be easy to set up.

I am almost done on a cardigan adapting the Sirdar pattern I used earlier in the year. Some time ago, at Woolfest, I bought a skein of very expensive handspun, hand-dyed, russet colours. As usual, no use for this came to me, but I used some in the Newfoundland Mittens last year. Now, I have used a chevron lace instead of feather and fan, and incuded a section of the handspun at the sleeve-ends. This will feature also on the front panel. The lovely russet colours really "pop" against the olive green.

Thirdly, a pair of Opel socks on the needles, made more satisfying by finding the yarn and pattern in a charity-shop for £1.30. Lovely, dense wool it is too.

The summer found us in Fife, "where the Norweyan banners flout the sky and fan our people cold", I find myself adding, inevitably. Somehow, I had expected open moorland and fellside, but the richness of this lowland farming country is evidenced by the sheer number of castles, most of which we visited.

First, To Stirling, where the thing that cought my eye was the tapestry project in the castle. Of course, it is really no different from restoring the roof or replicating the roof-bosses, but surely there is something odd in commissioning such time-consuming works but choosing such a well-known series as the Unicorn tapestries. Would it not have been better to locate a more obscure , contemporary model? It just strikes me as the equivalent of hearing Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" one more time.

A relaxed day in Culross, where the National Trust has created a sense of a past that never was, Culross having actually earned its living by salt pans and smelting, featuring large amounts of coal smoke. In the palace, something I've never seen before: themed needlework in every room, produced by a very active local group. Bargello seat covers, crewel-work window seats, samplers - it really made the rooms alive for me.

A walk and demanding climb up West Lomond, from which the whole Forth was visible.

Pittenweem Arts Festival with many studios open,most impressive the lovely pottery in the Page Gallery - if only one's kitchen had that pared-down simplicity
A glorious day walking from Anstruther to Crail, the sky burning blue for our lunchtime picnic.

And then the homely glory of St Andrews: I don't often find myself yearning to be a student again but three years here, with constant access to that glorious beach, seems like an attractive prospect.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Work in Progress

A rainy Sunday: who would have guessed that this would be a rare event? Our allotment is drinking in the moisture and all the dormant weeds are getting ready to pounce, but a window opens for blogging.

I usually only post finished items, but it would be a long wait for this blanket. I had the idea before we set off for Sweden last year, having read of Elsebeth Lavold's translations of Viking knotwork from standing stones. We saw plenty of those, although travelling and complex knitting do not mix for me.

Instead, I chose to use two knotwork designs from St*rmore's "Celtic Collection", from the sweater called "Cromarty". It is wonderfully ornate, looks great on the waif wearing it, but would make me look very squat indeed. As a set of knots , however, it's fairly straightforward. So then, the notion is to alternate these complex designs with strips of narrower, rope-like cables, either in natural aran or in pale terracotta. I am drawn to the latter because, in West Cumbria, there are to be found some Viking crosses covered in Celtic knotwork, the material of which is red sandstone. The cross at Gosforth is particularly famous as its slender shaft carries four different stories. I am hoping to create some kind of visual reference to these crosses in the cabling on the blanket.

At present, however, what I have are two seven inch strips of knotwork in pale duck-egg blue. Symmetry will almost certainly demand that I knit at least one of these again to create a matched pair. It's a work in progress, as I say.

Reading about Uk Ravelry Day on Jean's blog, I havered over pros and cons: Coventry is a two and a half hour's drive for me, but Meg Swansen and Jared Flood were to be there. Then, Jean directs me to go, and I buy my tickets without a second thought. How to explain that reasoning to others? I don't have tickets for Jared's sessions - already full - but only for Meg's big presentation. Now the question is, whether to book for the September I-Knit event with Alice St*rmore? What does Jean think?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Living in hope

At last: a finished item. A cardigan knit to Sirdar 9074 for myself.
In fact, the light does the colour no favours, as the yarn, bought fronm the Trefiw Woollen Mills in Snowdonia, is a lovely dark heathered purple, very rich at close quarters.

I bought 14 balls and tried a couple of patterns without feeling convinced. This one is very simple but the front borders are picked up and knit from tiny side fronts. Then it's just feather and fan, four inches deep. I could see a number of ways in which this might fail dismally.

What's more, a week or two ago I popped into Oxfam and spotted a turquoise rendering of this pattern, freshly knit and obviously sent in depair to the charity shop. Something about the setting in of the sleeves, it might have been. So I wasn't totally convinced that this would fit, especially as I seem to have at least five balls left over - how can that be?
In fact it fits neatly and looks great, the scalloped edge of the feather and fan forming a pleasant edge to edge effect.
Today, the first mowing of the lawn as Spring moves ahead. In the garden, pear blossom just bursting through, and grape hyacinths in full bloom.

On the allotment, we have put in parsnip, beet, carrots, leek and lettuces, and planted the first row of early potatoes. Onions and garlic are already established. It is only a week since we ate the last of the parsnips, the flesh sweetened by the frosts. Parsnips seem much more resistant to pests than carrots which everything else eats before we get them.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Seed Beds

Can it be so long since I posted? A lowering chest infection, allied to a visit from friends requiring a major house-clean and followed by the long awaited Ofsted inspection - all these have prolonged the hiatus.

First up, the Noro scarf. This was interesting to knit, though how people knit three in a row, I don't know. There were several knots, involving quite sudden colour shifts. And it was bought at full price, which isn't my usual practice.

However, it does turn heads and surprise people, because they may be everywhere in blogland, but not in Braintree.

The colour shifts are quite lovely, and I was surprised by how one colourway did not repeat the same colour sequence in the second skein, but introduced new mixes.

The most downbeat response I had was from a fellow knitter who told me that her mother used to knit scarves like it from her scrapbag. I don't think she can have looked properly.

Next, I found myself knitting a tea-cosy, almost an exact replica of one in our kitchen drawer knit by my late mother-in -law many years ago, and which we never use. This one was requested by one of my team, a young man who described his ideal Saturdays as lingering over the papers with a pot of tea. I was pleased to be able to oblige.

Quite a cheerful effect, and knit from leftover yarn, so costing nothing.

In between, a dark green ribbed scarf for another colleague, but no picture to go with it. With double knitting used double this was a quick and very effective knit.

So then, the allotment. Three weeks it has been fine enough to dig and we have made good progress, even though we have to ease ourselves back in to this level of physical activity, after the winter.

My husband, planting up the onion bed.

Images of the allotment tend to focus on its scruffy side, but to be up there as a fine March breeze blows across to dry the soil, and to be pottering about from job to job in the Spring sunshine - most of all, to be ready to go home, tired but content: these are some of the pleasures of life - or,at least, of middle age.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Little fingers

Fingerless gloves in pink for Katie, aged six. An acrylic/polyester mix called Stretch, and a pig to knit with.

Just what the Christmas holidays need to give a sense of purpose: focused knitting to clear requirements - pink, purple, green - without that doubt which surrounds knitting for actual gifts. As someone said, simultaneously too much and not enough.

In purple, for Holly, aged eight. This time a variegated wool yarn with more cling, so a more forgiving knit.

in dark green for William, aged five.

The delight with which these were greeted made the separate picking up and knitting of those forty little fingers and thumbs worthwhile - forty, as Amy already had hers.

On a different tack, I called at Indigo, in Penrith, on the way to our cottage. A moment of pure indulgence in treating myself to four balls of Noro Silk Garden to knit the inevitable ribbed scarf. Not sure that it really holds the attention to the extent that I would find it worthwhile knitting another, but I had to have it after seeing the photo of Franklin outside the Ritz wearing one.

New Year's resolution: At this point, after two weeks of rest and recuperation, making the effort to be more sociable seems like a realistic plan. After two weeks of school, doubtless previous reclusive habits will prove irresistible. The world is too much with us, late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers...