Thursday, November 25, 2010

E. Z.'s Niece

The Baby Surprise Jacket and the Adult Surprise Jacket - immediately recognisable across a room.  Last Saturday, to the meeting of the Mid-Essex Guild of Spinners and Weavers, although I weave not, neither do I spin.  Instead, I drool over the inventive pieces being worked by my fellow guild members.

This time we had Tricia Holman, the daughter of Elisabeth Zimmerman's sister, giving a talk and running a workshop.

Tricia Holman

In front of her was a table laden with knitted items, all engineered in the E. Z. manner.  She told stories abou E.Z.'s life and made a brave attempt at demystifying the percentage system.  We were intrigued to learn that  E.Z.'s grandfather was a builder involved in the building of the Houses of Parliament and that Arnold was a brewer but left Germany carrying only a backpack after he had criticised a Nazi Building as looking like a public convenience.

  She encouraged people to knit steeks and cut their knitting, showing us a work in progress, steeks stitches clearly visible centre front.

Everywhere the shaping, inventive construction and patterns echoed those in "Woolgathering".  This striking sweater was said to be an interpretation of South American patterns.

A stocking cap with a variety of fairisle patterns.

And a lace stole.

Last week I made this year's crop of blackcurrants into jam.  Who would have guessed that five pounds of currants would produce so much jam?  I ran out of jars by the end, but I was glad to free up space in the freezer. 

Finally, some more examples of my husband's craft: turned bowls, the light one in holly and the darker one turned from a slice of yew.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Last Friday to London, and first, a visit to the mothership, on the grounds that press reports speak of  a much increased haberdashery department.  And I actually need a 3mm circular.
I find Christmas in full swing, am amazed that classic blouses in Liberty prints now cost £85, and check out the construction of plaid skirts by Vivienne Westwood.  I buy only the 3mm circular and leave.

I am meeting my younger sister at the Foundling Museum, to visit the Threads of Feeling Exhibition, as suggested by Colleen from Rus in Urbis.  Two clear signs of ageing: I am delighted to find a leaflet at the railway station offering a two for one deal at the very museum I am visiting anyway, and taken aback when a younger woman offers me her seat on the train.

The exhibition is of tokens left with babies handed in at the orphanage, many of which are small fragments of textile: an embroidered baby sleeve, or a bunch of ribbons.  These are survivors of eighteenth century fabrics of the poorer kind and form a unique archive. 

Sadder and more shocking, though, are the accounts of how many infants were turned away, presumably to die in the streets.  Very moving, too, is the little display of contemporary items: a letter and a T-shirt, expressing the mother's love of the child she cannot keep.

A very civilised space, the Foundling Museum, with a good cafe.

We move on through Russell Square to visit the shop of Margot Selby where woven items make us drool.

A different kind of token: my husband's piece de resistance, dating from the early nineties. In the great storm of '87, an old apple tree in my garden was lost.  My husband helped me save some other, younger trees which had just blown over - we put guy ropes all round one, like a tent.  But this one had had it.  We saved the bole, which had a burr.

Some five years later, my husband had retreated to his workshop in late October.  He came in after dusk one day clutching his hand: copious amounts of blood were pouring from it and  continued to soak through bandages.   He had no choice but to defer work on this very special box. 

It is built on a plywood carcase, and is made of applewood veneer in oysters, hand-cut by my husband.  The darker stringing is mahogany and the lighter a pale exotic called ramin.  The colouring of the veneers is a lovely golden tortoiseshell.

Finally: knitting.  I plod on with the Aeolian Shawl.  the rows are now very long and there are many different charts, so I can only cope with this in daylight.  Meanwhile, it being the season, stealth projects are afoot.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Colour Therapy

 First, knitting.  In Sudbury, a little Suffolk market town about ten miles north of here, are several working silk mills.  Stephen Walters, a firm with historic origins in Spitalfields, has a mill shop, and I find myself drawn to it as a moth to a candle.  They weave silk to commission: their Christmas display, which was being assembled, featured fabulous brocade with rich metallic threads.  "Altar-cloth, woven for a customer who sells vestments," I was told.

 I try to resist the bags of patchwork pieces, since I have a few at home already.  But I am powerless when it comes to linen thread on cone - four cones for a pound, admittedly only small quantities of each.  The swatch on a size twelve needle suggests that lace, possibly of the table-centre variety, will suit the blond cones.  but what of the lovely subtle green, or the denim blue?

On Sunday, to Marks Hall, an arboretum just a mile or so north of our village.  This has a curious history:  Early in the twentieth century, Thomas Price, owner of the estate wrote to Kew gardens asking for advice on how best to preserve the timber on the estste.

 He was an older man married to a younger wife, and clearly could not have foreseen that the mansion itself, in the Strawberry Hill Gothic style, would not long survive its use an airbase during the Second World War.  His wife did not die until the sixties but it was decades before the Trust developed the estate into this fascinating and beautiful arboretum, with collections from different parts of the world.

In the distance, you can see clusters of mistletoe hanging in the tallest trees.

Finally: another example of my husband's handiwork.  This was a birthday present from the mid-80s.  The frame is mahogany, but the drawer fronts feature burr elm veneer, and a very rich colour it is too.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


A brillant, cheery bouquet, sent to me by an old friend.

 Blogger thinks that this is my hundredth post, but I know better.  In the early days, I inadvertently posted an empty title and then the post in a second try.  However, It was my birthday this week - the sort of birthday which makes you think: "Where has all that time gone?"  Then you have to ward off your Larkinesque tendencies; "Life is first boredom and then fear"etc...

A new topic:  My husband's woodwork.  This miniature chest of drawers was made for me some twenty-five years ago.  It is of the genre sometimes called "prentice pieces", but his skills were already pretty well honed when he made this.

It is of mahogany and veneered in mahogany to make a feature of the flaming on the front.  a
Note the full-sized chair legs behind.

 The top opens to access the upper drawers: who would not be charmed irresistibly to find their initial inside?

 The lower drawers work as drawers.  Here, the dovetails are in evidence - he always checks the dovetails on old furniture; they are a mark of quality.

In fact, the only things which have not worn well are the handles, and he didn't make those.

This is last week's skirt, in that heavy, felted fabric.  The selvedges had this unusual feature: it is on a knitted base which has a two-way stretch, so turning it sideways should not cause an issue.  I am very pleased with this, although it is so thick it will be for cold days.

This year's present from my husband: Fiskars' dress-making scissors.  I chose these because they do actually fit my hand, an ergonomic design.  He is at work on a long-term woodwork project, on a larger scale.

Finally, an autumnal bouquet from my niece; all the lovely rich colours of the autumn.