Thursday, September 30, 2010

After Apple-picking

Two apples from our cordoned Bramley.  These two were from one spur: one pound two ounces and thirteen ounces.

Some time ago, I tried to install a site-meter, and was dismayed to find that it e-mailed each week to inform me that no one had visited - again..  How could this be, when I have two sisters and at least one colleague known to follow my blog? 

Last week, I discovered the Stats section of Blogger for the first time and was astonished to find that someone in Turkey has visited many times, along with visitors from India, Greece, Switzerland, Thailand....  I hope that they were not disappointed. 

Now, I have four followers, which I find very flattering, as I only follow two blogs and have a number of others on my Favourites list.

Recent posts have touched on the Celtic knotwork of the early 90s in knitting.  This quilt which is on the bed in our spare room, has a long history.  Some twenty-three years ago we had a snow-day - a rarity for us.  I intended to make it memorable and spent it cutting out the pieces for this Dresden plate patchwork, not thinking of it as a quilt.

 Once the blocks were completed and assembled, I thought to add wadding and backing.  Then I tried some simple outline quilting and discovered the template for the cabled sashing.

The navy valances needed some support from quilting.  Never one to be underambitious, I tried the feathered  ring, without grasping how to place the template accurately.

At that time, I realised two things: the wadding I had chosen was much too thick for hand-quilting and I didn't like getting my fingers needled so often.

I bought some Celtic quilting patterns from Ally Pally and I improvised some others by photocopying and enlarging, in one case a ceramic keyfob.  Celtic knotwork was in vogue at the time, on brooches and scarves.   I repeated patterns up each side.

Eventually, I had completed all but one roundel.  At this point Christmas visitors were expected, so I finished the edges without doing the final block.  That's how it remains, because that is the most complex block.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Random Harvests

Opal Socks

A pair of socks knitted in an Opal yarn I had not seen before.  Curiously, each colourway has the name of a Prince or Princess.  They are lovely colour combinations, richer in the yarn than in the photo.  In Selestat, in Alsace, I saw some yarn which produced a chequer board pattern.  These don't do that but they are more subtle than some self-patterning yarns.

The blue version has very small pink sections.  I chose to make the heel speckled, by selecting some from further though the ball.  The yarn has very clear colour repeats.

This week's dress-making features a lovely piece of tweed with a mid-brown base and pale blue and purple checks.  I bought this skirt-length in a sale in  Stratford some years ago: two lengths for £10.  This skirt has a pleat in the back to allow a bit more leg room - essential for getting into the car.  I am really enjoying getting back into sewing but it will take a while to build up my repertoire again. 

As a teenager, I made all my clothes using the hand sewing machine belonging to my mother.  She had bought it second-hand for thirty shillings - that is £1.50.  On it she made all our childhood dresses.  I recently came across the notebook in which my friend and I kept a record of what we made and where the fabric came from.  In the 60s it was still possible to buy fabric and all the notions more cheaply than you could buy ready-made clothes.  This would be a challenge today.  Fortunately, I have a stock of lovely fabric to work through.

Today was our shared day off, so my husband and I went up to our allotment.  Harvesting carrots, swede, leeks and using our own potatoes and onions I made soup for lunch.  Simple pleasures.

Friday, September 17, 2010


My knitted sample from Alice Starmore's class.  I had taken a spare ball from my throw and knitted a few rows before the class in anticipation.  Alice kept repeating "Read your knitting," as a kind of mantra, and of course it makes sense.  I always need a clear picture of the end product in sight, so that the chart comes alive, and not all patterns provide clear images.

Some more views of my throw.  I designed it for a specific location, where I already have a blue and white strippy Aran sampler throw. 

 My original intention was to adapt knotwork patterns from the Viking crosses found in West Cumbria, specifically the one at Gosforth.  There is a modern replica of this at Aspatria, where the knotwork is much crisper.

However,  I had reckoned without my inexperience in writing stitch patterns, so instead I used the knotwork patterns from Starmore's Cromarty sweater as the blue stripes.  Then I put together two Aran elements from Barbara Walker's "Treasury" for the cream stripes, which I felt needed vertical continuity.

The only element where I actually managed to do it myself is in the central panel.  Viking knotwork panels often turn out to be serpents or dragons with heads and tails.  I havered over the heads for some time, but, while on a long car journey, it came to me just to fudge it:  I opened up the cable I was knitting and made the outline of the head.  I then enhanced the mouth and added the ear and eye in embroidery.  I am more pleased with the device of having the heads face each other.  This would have been beyond me, so instead I knitted two strips and grafted them together - this is evident at the edge where I have not mastered grafting in moss stitch.

I am very pleased with it - so pleased that it is now in daily use in our living room, where it does not go with anything else colour-wise.

On a different note, I spent yesterday reliving my teenage years, knocking up a new item of clothing from a bargain length of fabric.  Some weeks ago, I bought two tweed skirt lengths from e-bay, for less than ten pounds the pair.  I would love to know what was going through the mind of the original owner who appears to have sent away for about five pieces of tweed from Strone House, Argyllshire, each autumn, but then never used any of them.  All these years later, I paid very little more than she did, perhaps because the seller suggested they might be slightly musty.  I know from musty, as the Americans have it, and these were completely free of must.

The hem is often the giveaway on homemade items, so I made use of the selvedges which provided a little fringe.  Keeping the orientation of the tweed  while doing this procedure cost me some thought but I managed it.

 Handwoven tweed, in lovely colours, and the knee-length skirt once more a wearable item in fashion terms.- - what more can one desire?

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Friday, and a day off, so I make my way to the i-knit London Weekender, getting off at St James's Park and walking over a few streets.
I'd booked the class on Celtic Knotwork by Alice Starmore, whose work I have admired since I first saw "The Celtic Collection"


I don't know what I had imagined - she has a ferocious reputation - but she was charming, friendly and helpful, patient with those having troubles.   Her accent has that Gaelic lilt, quite different from Scots but with the odd trans-Atlantic nuance.  In the picture you can see the wonderful purple cardigan she was wearing, the shaping achieved alongside the Celtic braids and cables.  It is a lightweight Aran and certainly looked quite different from the boxy affairs in Celtic Knitting", especially on her svelte figure.  She was wearing Westwood - either that or her tartan skirt had got caught up in her underwear, but no - it was Westwood.

This was my first ever knitting class, so what did I learn?  To be fair, other people all around me were having lightbulb moments, as they realised how those closed motifs are started and ended.  And I did grasp for the first time what was meant to happen at a crucial point in the manoeuvre.  But I had basically got my head round the method when I started my throw, or at least by the time I had finished it some eighteen months later.

No, what I learned was how to make use of an OHT without someone using the dreaded word "PowerPoint."  I learned something about how she began to design knots and a little about their life on a croft.  I also learned that she will be seen using natural dyes on an episode of "Coast" some time in the future, using a cauldron they unearthed in the garden of their croft, which sounds remarkably like the one I have standing in the centre of my garden which came from my parents' Cumbrian farm. 

Sadly, I didn't learn how to translate source material from Viking crosses into knitting patterns.  But it was worth every penny to have Alice Starmore declare my knitting sample excellent.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

What we did on our Holidays Part Two...

Strasbourg Cathedral
From Colmar, we moved on to Strasbourg - that's about fifty miles, but we were intent on making stress-free journeys this time.  Strasbourg cathedral has to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  We admired it in the sunlight...

And at night, at a wonderful son et lumiere presentation orchestrating dramatic lighting effects to Russian music.  Just a tiny part of me thought this was a terribly populist way to treat such an impressive and important building.

We climbed the tower - all 338 steps of it - and looked out across the ancient town....

and we spent ages looking at all the intricate detailing, from gothic statuary -

to ancient and extremely fine graffiti...

We did our best to sample the local cuisine, although choucroute and three types of sausage did not suit us.  The local tourte flambee - a very thin type of pizza - was more to our taste, and when we saw a version with apple slices bathed in blue flames from the Calvados poured over it, we knew we had to try it.