Friday, January 28, 2011

Living off the Fat of the Land

So, if I was swatching in muted colours of J&S jumperweight, how is it possible that the finished hat looks like this?

On Saturday I went to the AGM of the Mid-Essex Spinners' and Weavers' Guild.  Someone brought in two large crates of yarn which she wanted to clear out.  I picked out a ball in this deep periwinkle blue, and another in cream, in roughly the same weight.  Another ball, this time a laceweight, in the same periwinkle - 50p, said the person on the sales table, for the three.  Working on the principle that it is better to use random harvests straight away, I made a swatch.  It was odd yarn, varying in thickness, but looking mostly like a 4 ply.  The cream was a little heavier, but that just seemed to add texture to the motifs.

Making up the pattern as I went along, I found it helpful to pull all the stitches off the needles a couple of times to try the piece around my head.  Then I thought a touch of red would lift the design, and I found instructions for the little braid.  It was new to me.  The main motifs are from Sheila Mcgregor's "Traditional Fair Isle Knitting", which I come back to every time.  I was pretty sure that it would be too tight after the main motif, but in fact it is an exact fit and the ribbing  provides a snug covering for the ears.

So what did I need a new hat for?  My husband and I are not overly keen on exercise, certainly not on sport, but we enjoy cycling and walking.  We have taken to including a cycle round some of the network of lanes which can be found in this part of Essex - traffic free, through rolling countryside, and providing that  glow of  well-being and self-righteousness which calls for a hearty lunch.

My husband, on his bike outside Great Tey church., a curious structure in which the tower dates from the12th  Century, one wing from the 13th and the other from the 14th.  On our first ride this year we were astonished to see a herd of twenty wild deer standing right in the middle of an open field very near to this church.  Essex is a very heavily populated county, its major roads often congested, yet the lanes are deeply rural still.

Arriving home from our rides, we have really enjoyed the  home-made soup we had left on the hob, ready to reheat.  I was shown how to make this by my younger sister five years ago, and since then we have eaten gallons of it.  Using one onion, two carrots, a potato, plus whatever else you have - some stalks of celery, a slice of swede - and a vegetable stock cube, it is also very thifty.  The secret is to sweat the diced vegetables in a tablespoonful of oil before adding the stock, then mash the soup with a potato masher after it has simmered for about thirty minutes.  Recently I have added a small amount of mixed lentils with the stock, which seems to add body to the mix.  It is always the same, but always different.

And this is a skein of laceweight cashmere, bought from Hip-knits on a sale day.  It was an insipid pale blue, so I have over-dyed it with a cold water dye.  Much improved, I feel.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


So many people seem to be able to design their own patterns - not just start and see how it works out, as has usually been my way if I am not using a published pattern.   I do find it hard to visualise on graph paper, for example, but adapting a basic shape by using different combinations of colours must be within my capacity.

Above is my stock of J& S jumper weight, all of it dating from before 1990 or thereabouts.  I remember sitting on a train travelling to Cumbria and using the shade card to select a batch of colours for a new project.   I was hoping to replicate the brown Kaffe Fassett Jagged Tooth waistcoat which I had knit for my mother.

I sent off the order full of enthusiasm, but was amazed by what was sent.  One of the blue tweed yarns had solid flecks of colour rather than the blended mix I was hoping for.  Some of the muted browns were muddy, not just muted.  There was something lifeless about them which I had not noted as a feature of my previous purchases from J&S.  Of course, it was also still fantastically cheap, so I was not unduly concerned, but I did not send for any more and abandoned the project. 

In 2000 we visited Orkney and Shetland on our honeymoon.  We certainly realised why tightly knit woollies were popular - and this was August.  We had each taken a thin jumper and a thicker, walking jumper but, on the first morning, we put both on topped with anoraks before we went to explore Jarlshof.  I bought only a few ounces of laceweight from J&S.

However, now I look at this box of yarn and think that there must be the wherewithal for a hat in here.  Some of the muted browns are a blend of brown with blue or brown with green, so perhaps the lighter shade could be picked out?

So, definitely light and dark stripes, but perhaps a different peerie pattern?  or vertical stripes?  There is always the danger that the finished item will say "tea cosy", rather than "hat."  Add to that the fact that I only wear a hat for practical purposes, since I look ten years older without my hair showing.  I'm clearly not there yet on the design issue.

This is what I have actually been knitting: some more scratch mittens in subtly larger sizes.

And a pair of socks in Regia by Kaffe Fassett.  Very cheering on a dark day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arts and Crafts

These are miniature scratch mittens which fit the tiny hands of the latest arrival.  The 10p coin is for scale.  The pattern was on a preemie site as I had no concept how small to aim for, although the baby is not unusually small, just new-born.

This is not all the knitting I have done since finishing my shawl, but it feels like it.  I am itching to start a big project, or possibly more than one, so that I have something challenging  and something soothing. 

Here is another Eleanor Cowl pre-blocking.  It certainly became quicker to knit on the second and third times, when the logic of the pattern became more evident.  I cast off before the last half-pattern on this one.

This is my husband's most ambitious project to date.  We use it as a sideboard, hence the drinks.  It was designed to echo the other significant piece of furniture in our dining-room, an Arts and Crafts sideboard.

We bought this some years ago as a dresser - the glazed top acts as a china cabinet in another room.  We understood it to have been in a conventWhich was closing down in a neighbouring village.  the convent building was in the Arts and Crafts style so the dresser may well have been in there since it opened.  It has no maker's mark, but shows the distinctive features one would expect of the period.

Below, the dresser , and above, my husband's work, with that distinctive curve.  The shape of the panels, the profile of the beading and the routing on the edge pieces all echo the original.

Below, the original metalwork handles, and, above, the handles I sourced in Homebase - a remarkable find.

The inside of the cabinet, showing its real purpose.  It is lined with green baize and contains some of my husband's collection of 78rpm records, alongside some more later LPs.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Thing of Beauty

These are my two finished Eleanor cowls from Knitty 2010 - to save you searching if you have come across from Jean's blog.  The top one is in Yarnsmith's Pure Alchemy, a hand-dyed yarn produced by Becky who belongs to the Mid-Essex Spinners and Weavers.  That sharp, acid green goes very well over navy or black, as I used it before for a Swallowtail Shawl. 

The pink one is in Jaeger merino 4ply and I increased the stitch count to allow one more pattern repeat.  I don't think that the fit of a cowl is crucial but it should not be too snug or it would be impossible to get on.

This is my new shawl blocking.

And here it is being worn.  Unfortunately, no willowy young person was available for the photoshoot.

This is the Aeolian Shawl from Knitty 2009, designed by Elisabeth Freeman and made in laceweight silk in a colourway called Riverrun.  I am very pleased with how this has turned out.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Cabin fever

This is my husband's largest piece of woodwork, and also one of the earliest examples we have.  He made it while still a bachelor, constructing one single bed, but buying the wood for the other half, so that it would make a very large double.  He was clearly someone who thought long-term. 

Now he is considering removing the foot-boards, which serve no structural purpose, but make changing the sheets an athletic enterprise. 

Behind the bed can be seen some more of our beams, including the broader one which excited the historic buildings people.  This beam is "jowled", which means that it shows evidence of having had a cross-piece jointed into it at one time. 

At last I have finished the Aeolian Shawl, seen here in its pre-blocked state.  I certainly take my hat off to the designer, Elisabeth Freeman, but also to those who have knitted it more than once and incorporated the beads, which I omitted.  The early parts went well, but the very deep edging was taking at least half an hour per row, and there were about fifty rows.  Simply casting off took several hours.  That said, it did take the edge off some long car journeys.  Listening on my new MP3 player to "The History of the World in 100 Objects," while knitting this, brought on a trance-like state.

Here it is being blocked.  The silk has less give in it than wool, but the transformation is still astonishing.  Below is the skein of yarn, purchased at the i-knit Weekender in September.

In the interests of full disclosure, these were the scarves I knitted for various unsuspecting family and friends this year.  This is Starlight Revue by Austermann, bought in  a fit of enthusiasm at Ally Pally this year.  It's a ladder yarn with a metallic thread, and in the right light it glistens in a jewel-like manner.  It does look festive on a plain black top, or I hope that is what the giftees felt. As a knitting experience it is not pleasant - big needles, scratchy, unrelenting yarn, no skill involved.

Finally, what looks like a sign of Spring.  Odd to think that this succulent decided to flower as temperatures dropped to their lowest levels.