Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Table Turning

Like most of the UK, our holiday plans have been radically altered by the severe weather.  Watching the  scenes of traffic benighted on the M6, we decided to stay put, rescheduling some of our visits for next week.  After all, it is seven hour's drive to Cumbria, through bands of snow and freezing fog - seven hours on a good day. 

Earlier in the year I had suggested to my husband that he motivate himself to work through a tedious patch of his big project by setting himself a deadline - why not have it ready for Christmas?  He has spent some long hours in his shed this week and yesterday moved to the assembly phase.

The table in our dining-room was second-hand when I bought it for £15 in 1984.  It had seen hard service, but had the advantage of an extra leaf which could be put in for bigger parties.  It is so old, it had almost become a fashionable item - solid wood, with a g-plan vibe to the design.  However, the top was badly marked, and the legs not totally steady.

Unlike the replacement.  This is the result of much research into Arts and Crafts models, the Gordon Russell Museum in Broadway, Blackwell in the Lake District  - every joint carefully checked out.  No glue has been used in the construction, and screws only in fixing the top.

Oak table

Note the pegs at the top of the legs, and the button on the cross bar.

Pegged joints

This is several hundred pounds worth of English oak.  It can be taken down, which is fortunate as it is too big to move through the doorway of the room and had to be assembled in situ.

I love it.  We will be christening it on Christmas Day.

Another Eleanor cowl from Knitty.  Such a satisfying piece of lace to knit, with different sized needles to give the flare at the bottom.  This was a merino 4-ply, so I added an extra pattern repeat.  It used almost all of one 50 gram ball.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Woad, Weld and Madder

Sounds like a firm of solicitors, but in fact these are three of the dyes a member of the Mid-Essex Guild of Spinners and Weavers used in the making of the gift I received from the Secret Santa.  She had done a demonstration dyeing session at West Stow Anglo Saxon Village and had a pile of small amounts of yarn in interesting colours.  This is what she made of some of it - it's a pot-holder.

The red is madder, the orange turmeric, the blue woad and the green weld overdyed with woad.

At rthe event, the wrapping was meant to be as creative as the gift.  To wrap the cowl I made, I put together a bag made of silk patchwork scraps, with a little pocket of tie silk which happenened to have Christmas trees all over it.  Unfortunately, I did not take a picture before I gifted it.  The parcel I got was tied with green ribbon with this madder-dyed flower attched.

This little group of miniatures were not made by my husband, but by my father.  In his retirement, he derived much pleasure from retreating to his garage where he had a work-bench set up.  Two of these items have huge symbolic meaning. 

The small box is a sailor's "Diddy-box".   In 1939, my father, who had already left Cumbria to work in Northampton, decided to "join up" for seven years.  He chose the Navy because his Uncle Nat had served in the Navy.  He sent my mother a postcard with a drawing of a pair of bell-bottom trousers on it  - she was supposed to work out the significance of this for herself.  They married in 1940, but it was 1947 before they were able to set up home together. 

Soon, they were able to buy the farm of the same Uncle Nat, who was just ready to retire.  They bought it "Lock, stock and barrel", and I don't doubt that a barrow just like the one above was part of the equipment included.  My father certainly "mucked out" with a barrow each morning for many years.  The muck was shifted out to the midden where it stayed until he loaded it by hand onto a cart, and put it out in heaps on the fields.  Then, again by hand, he spread each heap out.  Whenever we do this, as a leisure activity, on our allotment, I think of the toil which went into making a living.  Now, of course, farmers use mechanical scrapers and slurry tanks

Friday, December 10, 2010

Icy Blast

Cold weather gear.  Every year this padded jacket, christened by my husband "The Yak-Herder", comes into its own.  It was bought from a tiny boutique in Maldon but is made by Phool.  When I bought it, along with a heavy black cardigan with a double front, I remember thinking that I might not actually get much wear out of either of them.  But, both have been reliable companions.

Similarly, this merino Nordic knit.  It was there waiting for me in a charity shop, Brand New With Tags, as they say on e-bay.  Someone clearly thought it OTT in the cold light of day once back in Essex.  But I just love those reindeer trooping around the top and bottom, and the merino lived up to its reputation, smooth and snuggly.

I was fascinated by the comments left on my last entry.  I always used to think of our house as already standing at the time of Shakespeare, indeed, at the time of  Chaucer.  This used to amaze and thrill me.  It is possible that the space we live in was already in occupation as the central section between two cross-wings.  It would have had an external stair-turret and the fireplace would not have been where it is today; instead, there would have been a central, open fire.  Our roof timbers are said to be smoke-blackened.  It would have been open floor to ceiling with a lower roof-line than currently.  So then, later, the roof would have been raised in order to divide the space into two floors.

Alternatively, it is possible that there were two houses with a space between, and that in, say, 1635, the space was roofed over to make a third house.  However, what is certain is that timber framed properties can be stripped down to the timbers and completely reconstructed and reconfigured, so who knows? 

This is the Eleanor Cowl from Knitty Deep Fall 2010, and a very satisfying knit it has proved.  I'm not completely convinced of the utility of a cowl, but they seem to be everywhere.  This one is destined for the Secret Santa at the Spinners' and Weavers' Guild.  It is knitted from Yarnsmith's Pure Alchemy, the same colourway as my Swallowtail shawl.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Snow Days

Snow day: school closed!!  Oh, wait...It's my day off anyway.  But somehow, the insane excitement of sledges and snowballs fills the air - after all, I don't have to struggle through the traffic to work today.

Last week, to a big  public meeting on the project organised by the village Heritage society.  This project aims to establish the dates of properties in the centre of Coggeshall.   Our house is part of that centre.  The project has some very well-qualified people giving up their time in early retirement, and has secured funds from the Lottery to employ a dendrochronologist, to date timbers.  Our house has been selected.

Dating timbers is a tricky business.  Elm will not date.  Oak has to be of a certain girth and, preferably, with the bark attached.  The timbers have to be accessible and boreable.  North of the village is Monks' Wood, and it is thought that much of the timber for the village centre came from there, so there is oak rather than elm.

When our house was surveyed, we began to look at details with new eyes.  We had always enjoyed the exposed timber in our dining-room, but had never thought of it as belonging to the house next door. 

The large capital at the head of this upright has some moulding to it.  This, we learn is Jacobean, rather than late mediaeval. 

In fact, the part of our house which arouses most interest is the loft, which is unconverted, although it has ancient floor-boards.  Timbers which can be dendroed were found, along with evidence of a previous large bay-window.  Was the roof lifted, and original timbers reused?  Or were these timbers formerly in another property?  Always the question is: had this been the central section of a hall-house, with the neighbouring properties all part of the same structure?

The survey seemed to raise questions rather than answer them.  However, timber in another house just along the street was dated to 1386, the earliest in the village so far.  It seems odd to say this, but we were actually disappointed to discover that our roof timber dated to 1635, the summer of 1635.  We were very pleased to be included in the project, nonetheless.