Friday, December 30, 2011

Stately homes

To Crewe Hall, Cheshire, for an overnight stay, courtesy of my elder sister and her family.  Not that they live in this extraordinary mid-Victorian pile, of course; we were there for bed and breakfast on our way north to Cumbria.

This is an ornate interior, with every surface heavily encrusted with pattern and texture - a wonderful backdrop for weddings and big events.

A library, a Long Gallery, and its own chapel,  not to mention an extensive conference centre built in the stable quarter.

Before we left home, a surprise.  My younger sister is given to sending unusual vouchers as gifts, so I thought to return the compliment, ordering a selection of sausages and ham from a company called Dukeshill, to be delivered to her address on Monday, 19th December.  All morning I imagined her surprise on receiving the parcel.  Would she be able to fit it all into her freezer?  Would that much sausage be a welcome addition to their diet?

Just after lunch there was knock on our door: a delivery man with a familiar looking box.  Somehow the parcel had come to us, not to my sister, who lives in another part of the country.  In sorting out this problem, the company very generously sent another box to my sister, leaving us to wonder whether we have room in our freezer for all that sausage.  Not often that you get to give your sausage and eat it. 

In Cumbria, a combination of drizzle and high winds.  We did some of our regular walks under irregular conditions.  Sale Fell, above Bassenthwaite, in very high winds.  We thought it best to walk round the end of the fell and through the woodland, rather than going to the summit of even this modest fell.

Here, my husband at the site of the old Wythop church, a sheltered spot where we often eat our sandwiches.


And, finally another home - this time a deserted farmhouse, just beginning to lose its windows.  We often speculate as to which of a combination of factors - access roads, mains services, ownership - proved crucial to its abandonment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


On Sunday, we gave the allotment a miss, and set off around a network of lanes just north of here.  It was sufficiently frosty to harden up the inevitable mud, at least on the way out.

There was still plenty of colour  - here, an oak clinging on to its Autumn foliage.

 And here, sloes, glowing surprisingly bright blue in a hedge.

Cascades of red berries - can they be honeysuckle?  The red here may be a warning of poisonous intent as these are remarkably intact.

 The gnarled bark of an ancient tree

And an even more fascinating stump, full of craters and caverns.

The most amazing sights have no pictures.  Not far out, on a roadside property, we saw a male peacock in full display mode, facing out a guinea fowl which looked singularly unimpressed. 
A blur of bird rose in front of my husband.  Just then we met a keen photographer equipped with tripod who commented that we had "put up a woodcock."  Not that we would have known.
Half way round our planned circuit it came on to snow heavily.  We were glad of all our hats, hoods and scarves which had seemed excessive as we set off.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Penny pinching

This week, a consultation with a financial advisor - a process I hate.  He needs a clear idea of my regular expenditure in order to advise me.  We run through what I spend on bills and petrol.  He comes to "entertainment".  I have nothing to say.  How to explain to someone the pleasure to be had from popping across to the Coop and finding the week's meat at half-price, or snagging a bargain in a charity shop?

I went off shopping on Tuesday, thinking vaguely that a brown coat would be nice, brown with a fur collar like the one I had ten years ago.  It would go well with my Autumn Leaves mittens.  But shops almost never have the thing you are actually looking for, especially if the colour or style is not of the moment.  But there, in a charity shop, was the exact coat I was thinking of.  It was brand new, but had no sign of a label that I could see.  It was lined with brown fur fabric and, curiously, had pockets on the inside too.  But it was said to be a much smaller size than I need.  However, it fitted like a glove.

Further inspection at home revealed that the label was in the pocket, because it was made to be reversible, so that the brown fur could be worn on the outside. Perhaps this is to allow for cold or rainy days. It explains the second set of pockets, too.  All this for ten pounds!

At the top, my most recent bauble, this time fitted over a styrofoam ball, which gives a better shape. This is destined for the Secret Santa at my local Guild, where I suspect there will be more than a few interpretations of this idea. 

Friday, November 25, 2011


For my recent birthday my husband bought me a loom.  When I say "bought", I mean he gave me some money for the Ashford Rigid Heddle loom I had already ordered from Forest Fibres.  I find presents work best like this: no hassle for him and the thing I actually want for me.

At the last meeting of the Weavers, Spinners and Dyers guild we were shown how to warp up our looms in a process called direct warping.  There were about fifiteen people in the workshop and every person then went on to weave a strip of fabric.  There was an incredible variety of work in progress by the end, with one person actually finishing a complete muffler.  I experimented with a variety of textured yarn in the same colour range, and was very pleased with the result.  The dark grey warp tones down some of the cerise.

And this is the beast in question.  I chose a 20inch version on the advice of an expert weaver - more flexibility in the long run.  It fits neatly on a tabletop.

This is my second effort, in a more neutral palettte.  This took only a couple of hours start to finish, but the result is disappointing.  This seems to be down to the yarn, as it has an overly rigid handle.  I liked the idea of stripes in subtle variations, using up odds and ends.

I was gifted some lovely tweed fabric by a friend in the Guild.  Her mother had stashed it away some years ago.  The labels for Strone House show that it came from the same merchants as my blue handwoven tweed from e-bay. 

I like to highlight a colour in the tweed for my top, and so I was delighted to spot a ribbon knit cardigan in a charity shop.  It was just the right shade, but had a loose floppy flounce all round. A few pulled threads and several feet of applied i-cord later and it should match up nicely.  Now I am thinking: brown leather boots...

Friday, November 18, 2011


Is there no end to the possibilities for small knitted doo-dads?  Going with the inspiration of that book by Arne and Carlos, which I haven't bought - yet - I found this bauble pattern on a blog called Moth Heaven.  I use intarsia here because of the log gaps between the feet in the first row.  This created a mess of ends, but may be the way to go as the fabric has more give than in the Fair Isle examples which follow.  This is needed for the rounding of the ball shape when stuffing.

Two more baubles.  Each one can be done in an evening, so it's a satisfying little project.  For these, I used patterns from a leaflet I already own on the Selbu knitting tradition.  The central section has sixty stitches so it is just a matter of spacing the motifs evenly.

I used some remnants of Shetland wool, although I doubt that either would meet the new Shetland standard for accreditation.  I am not clear why the sheep have to be kept "organically" - whatever that means in relation to sheep as opposed to vegetables.  Neither can I see why being spun in a mill on Shetland would be  the deciding factor.  If it is true that the main wool buyer on the islands is excluded, then it makes no sense at all.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Time Passing...

Recently, I've had a significant birthday..

And, among my presents was this astonishing repousse pewter letter made especially for me by a clever lady called Sharon Dickinson.  That's A is for Acorn, as a reference to the super-abundance of acorns this season.

My colleagues gave me this splendid bouquet of autumnal flowers, which is glowing in my living-room window.

It has been a wonderful season for colour.  This vibrant shrub is in the arboretum at Mark's Hall, just north of our village.

Stunning red creeper on an old wall in St Albans.  What can those mysterious steps signify?

Finally, my current knitting.  Somehow, the season suggests mittens, and this is my third pair, utilising a richer palette of gingery colours.  This pattern allows even small oddments to be turned to good account.  These seem to glow, although I have avoided the wilder reaches of acid yellows seen everywhere in nature.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Autumn Leaves

My box of Jamieson and Smith jumper weight yarns - how differently these appear in sunlight, or at least the heathered  and tweeded colours do.

A pair of Newfoundland mittens, knitted to replace a pair for an old friend.  What a joy to select the lovely colours, reminiscent of falling leaves, just as the weather turns to frosty mornings.  I have found this pattern to be addictive before.  This time, I could not resist making a second pair for myself after the first were in the post.  Such a simple pattern, slipping two stitches for four rows to create this honeycomb effect.  The bunching up of the rows makes this a very warm design.

Last week, our walk took us from Colne Engaine to Pebmarsh, where we were pleased to see a really lovely church.  Behind the altar were three woven panels in deep blues and old gold.  These had been woven by a local handweaver, and the tale of their constuction, from the sourcing of the fleecces to their weaving, was a fascinating one.

In the bright sunshine, red berries always lift my spirits.  Here, garlands of red were threaded through the hedge.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Another version of the Mary-Janes, this tine in a merino, silk and cashmere blend for a christening.  Hunting out this one skein of Sublime yarn added focus to my trip to Alexandra Palace, where the abundance of Sale yarns has sometimes led to the sort of purchase one regrets sooner rather than later.  This one pristine ball of yarn was a pure joy.  The little mother of pearl button takes me back to the early 70's and a trip to the flea market at Place de Clignancourt.  I bought five cards of these buttons  - row after row of lovely buttons on silver foil cards.  I have chosen them regularly to complete projects, but there are whole cards still to be used.

This Sunday to Maldon, where my husband had spotted the opportunity to walk across the causeway to Northey Island, the first landing place for theVikings, prior to the Battle of Maldon.  All I can say is that they can't have minded mud, those Vikings.  Holding a battle just here must have been a slow and messy business.

Lots of atmospheric shipping, including  Thames barges.

Along with hundreds of others, we walked over to the island and around the circuit.  In World War 2 the owner of the island was on a list of German targets, presumably because of the strange structure of the house, like a military lookout post.  It must be very bleak here when the mist rolls in.

We crossed back to the mainland well before dark, but this picture was taken facing the sun, which explains the strange effect.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

"Out through the fields and the woods..."

First, some actual knitting: a pair of tiny shoes from the mary-jane pattern by Lucie Sinkler .         These are two and a half inches long - perhaps too small for the intended recipient, but sooo cute.  A second pair, a little larger, is already on the needles.

On Friday, we decided to set out early from Earl's Colne, a noble- sounding village some four miles to the North of us.  The main village is nineteenth century, built around a once-thriving iron foundry.  All along the valley small iron-working enterprises have been set up by those who have learnt their trade in the now defunct works.

This fine memorial, in wrought iron, marks the site of the old priory.  It was based on a design from Constantinople.  Our walk took us out past the church, its tower showing elaborate flush work borders above the flint.

In many of the villages on the Essex/Suffolk border, the churches are larger and finer than the village now would warrant.  These tend to be "Wool Churches" - financed by wealth from the wool trade in the late medieval period.  Thus Lavenham and Long Melford, Stoke by Nayland and our village church at Coggeshall.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The potato harvest was quite exceptional this year - and whoever thought one would write such a sentence?  Here, the two largest with a standard apple for comparison.  One of these weighs nearly two pounds, and is much more than we would need at one meal.

An enormous beetroot, grown by Angelo, our Italian neighbour on the allotments, who has green fingers.  This one is even now being rendered down into soup - beetroot and ginger, eaten with the addition of some crumbly white cheese.

Courgette soup, made simply with the addition of a potato and onion and blended.  Even the largest of the courgettes can be turned into this.  It needs lots of black pepper but is a lovely creamy soup.

Finally, that rare thing: a new taste.  This is sorrel soup, using sorrel grown from seed on our plot.  It has a distinctly sharp taste, lemony, but not actually lemon.  I had never tasted it before, but it is delicious.

Last Sunday, I whiled away the afternoon picking out debris from a raw Norfolk Horn fleece, in preparation for spinning.  It is to be handwoven and will end up on display in this spectacular medieval barn in Coggeshall.  The barn was the grange for the Cistercian monastery and the fleece is to be turned into a replica habit - Cistercians wore white habits.

Finally, two very fine farm carts from the National Trust collection, now housed in the barn.  I was prompted to reread Adam Thorpe's book "Ulverton", in which, inter alia, he mourns the passing of the farm cart as a symbol of the historic relationship of man to the land he farmed.