Monday, December 17, 2012

Spoiler alert

This is the little Trellis cardigan in Jeanie by Peter Pan ( pattern from Knitty)  This is a lofty cotton yarn of a chain construction, and it gives very crisp stitch definition, and a warm handle.  However, cotton does not stitch up easily, which may be why the pattern designer suggested grafting the shoulders.  The collar certainly sits very tidily.  I bought the spotted buttons at a boot fair at 60p for the card - they seemed appropriate for the toddler who will be wearing this.

Lynne commented on my tableware post.  One of my colleagues had a daughter who studied design.  For her dissertation she looked at trends indicated by wedding lists.  At first glance this seems rather trivial, but over time these lists must be revealing.  Do people have dinner services or casserole dishes nowadays?

In the early 70's I began to collect the Denby pattern, Romany.  This was because it was offered as breakfast sets on the pack of Alpen muesli.  Muesli and this design have a lot in common.  I have added pieces over the years and almost all of them are different, which I like but don't really understand, given that it is mass-produced.  I really like the rounded shapes, although it is very much of its time.

In the 80's my husband, a bachelor, was being gifted these very splendid table-mats by  his aunt, one per birthday.  These built into a grand set - they show prints of London scenes.

While browsing around a china shop, one of my oldest friends pointed out a set called Holyrood - even the name does it for me.  It was the exact complement to my husband's mats, so I began to collect it.  He often remarks on how lucky it is that my china just happened to match the mats.

Recently, we have felt the need for something less formal, lighter in style.  Doubtless, this follows a trend in the design world.  This is Azure, purportedly by Royal Worcester.

I have not succumbed to square plates or slate mats, but I think you could map some interesting social changes from these three sets.

Knitting:  I have finally sent off the collection of cowls.  The first two were knitted on a long circular needle, while the third was knitted as a scarf and then seamed, as the yarn was pooling over longer stretches.  Then there is a red scarf in an Aran yarn, and finally a neck warmer, knitted on a short circular, from Rowan Aran.  I think that the red scarf is the most successful of the lot.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Shiny Things

On the sideboard in our dining room there are two canteens of cutlery. Like many objects, these carry many symbolic meanings.  The one on the right is mine, bought in the mid-80s when it was still the style to entertain with good china.  I thought that this silver plated set of cutlery would be just the ticket.  Not that I gave many dinner parties, you understand, but if the occasion arose I would be ready.  There is no doubt that it is showing its age now, even with minimal usage.

The one on the left, however, belongs to my husband.  He inherited it from his maternal grandfather.  Amazingly, this very canteen of cutlery was given to my husband's grandfather, George Johnson, for his twenty-first, in - we think - 1926.

This picture shows him on that occasion, along with the canteen, bottom right, and his other presents: a walking-stick, a suitcase, and what is almost certainly a box of fish-knives.  Perhaps only the suitcase would qualify as present for a young man these days. 

It has to be said that neither of these two sets is really suitable for day-to-day use, and we have been using an assortment of stainless steel which will go in the dishwasher.  However, since we have retired we have taken to actually dining in our dining room, as opposed to eating on trays in front of the television.  So it seemed time to upgrade.

In Chipping Campden there is the specialist cutlery shop, Robert Welch.  He was a designer who started out in 1955 in the Guild of Handicraft building just around the corner from the present shop.  We have bought a carving set and some serving items from there before, but now we bought a whole set, in the Radford pattern which seems to be their standard line.  It is very shiny, and has a lovely handle.  We added some round-bowled soup spoons - these are no longer in vogue apparently.  And I just had to have this spoon - especially when told that this is the "Gourmet spoon".  Gourmand, more like, I'd have thought.  We'll be dining in style now.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Knitted Lace

Knitting has been absent from my posts recently, probably because I have been engaged on "Stealth projects", like many others.  I am still amazed to hear people announce on their blogs that they have fourteen gifts still to knit as December starts.  I don't even know that many people who would welcome a hand-knitted item.  Knitting for me is a stress-reliever, and this sounds like the exact opposite.

I have been knitting steadily on this little commission, for the daughter of a colleague.  It is the back of an Aran cardigan, knitted in Jeanie, an Aran weight cotton, as the recipient is allergic to wool.  The pattern, Trellis, is from Knitty, and is therefore free, for which I am grateful.  Just one or two points:  After the seed stitch border, no stitches are increased and the needle size stays the same.  Although the side "Cables" are in fact travelling twisted stitches, the diamond cables do pull in, so the hem is likely to frill in an unintended manner.  Just saying.

At the Loop lace knitting event, Franklin showed us a doiley knitted to a Niebling pattern.  The discussion touched on how such items might be displayed without covering every surface in a Victorian style.  Some years ago I bought this thing of beauty from a flea market in the Auvergne.  It was stitched to a round of backing paper which had become silvery-grey with age.  It cost me three Euros.  I have mounted it on blue card and used the simplest of clip frames to display it in our spare room.  I feel it has a graphic quality to it, which I love. 

On the opposite wall hangs a piece of bobbin lace made by my husband's aunt, Hilda Tye, from a paper chart which we bought in the lace centre in Puy en Velay on the same trip to France. 

Jean wrote on her blog of wanting to create something to remember the lace knitting class with Franklin.  I was very taken with his knitted samples, including a white strip sampler of lace patterns.  I am minded to make one of these, continuing the block knitted in the class and using the same cream yarn.  We'll see.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012


A long weekend away: the little town of Southwold lies about two hours away, on the Suffolk coast.  We had rented a little cottage, which was fortunate as the weather was rainy and stormy.   This photo shows the classic beach huts and the lowering sky; the wind was really bracing along the front, whipping up the sand.

Sunset on the Friday over the pier, rebuilt in 1987 in whimsical style.  The sea looks calm enough here, the low autumnal light mellowing everything in sight.

Gun Hill, so named because of the line-up of early 18th Century cannon.  The story has it that the Germans classified Southwold as a fortified town on account of these ancient weapons, leading to heavy bombardment during World War 2.

Saturday was forecast for rain later, so we drove down and across the river to Walberswick.  The church was deroofed during the reformation, but the tower still stands.  Setting out across the reed-beds, my husband, who knows his birds, immediately spotted a marsh harrier.

Sunday was brilliantly sunny, but with relentless high winds.  We headed to the flagship RSPB reserve at Minsmere.  Here, bird-watching takes on quasi religious dimensions.  Visitors wear special clothing and many are equipped with huge camera lenses and telescopes. 

We were amazed to see these waxwings serenely ignoring three people in camouflage jackets scanning them from close quarters.


Visitors to Minsmere treat the wildlife with total respect, with the result that deer do not remain alert and make their escape, but continue browsing.  Likewise this little squirrel, enjoying the berries at its leisure.

We very much enjoyed all the thought and care that had gone into the reserve, especially the bird-feeders right outside the tea-room windows, so that watching did not have to be interruped by lunch.
I'm not a bird-watcher yet, but maybe I could become one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Knitting Lace

Sunday found me sitting in the basement classroom of Loop, a knitting shop in Islington.  I knitted contentedly on the sample square while listening to Franklin Habit.  Next me was Jean Miles, whose daily blog-posts are a constant source of lively ideas and amusing reflection. 

The fact that this class lasted three hours,  delivered without a break, but at the end the students were not ready for it to end, is some testament to Franklin's ability to engage and inform. 

We learnt a huge amount about the distinct traditions of lace knitting - and also about Franklin's grandmother and her values.  We passed around some exquisite examples of lace knit by Franklin himself.

Here he models an example of vintage lace edging on a nightcap for a man,  worn with a lace stole channeling Jackie Kennedy, over beautifully tailored tweed.

In the group one participant identified herself as a beginner, while at the other end of the spectrum was Jean, whose Shetland lace knitting is legendary.  Franklin was undaunted.  His particular skill lay in steering back to his lesson plan, while allowing comments and questions.

We emerged into the bustle of Camden Passage and enjoyed lunch at "The Elk in the Woods", where the wallpaper certainly lived up to expectations.  How strange to sit across a lunch table from Jean, enjoying the warmth of her lovely smile.  Bloggers share so many details of their lives with the world, and yet we had never met before.

All too soon Jean hurried back for the next class, while I was free to browse the shop.  I could have bought many things, but chose these three balls of fine yarn, because the colours are so subtle.  Quite what they will turn into, I do not yet know.


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Goldengrove unleaving

Taking advantage of our new freedom, we caught the train north to Cumbria, just to see the leaves turning.  And we were not disappointed, though it has to be said that it was not warm.

We went to the Whinlatter forest park and from there walked up to the summit actually called Whinlatter.

Another day we walked up and round the Wythop valley, a place of remote farms and woodlands.  Imagine if this was your wash-house and you had to boil your sheets in this "Copper". 

Then we walked through Lanthwaite woods on a gloriously calm and clear day, round the foot of Crummock Water and to lunch at the Kirkstile Inn.

The staggering colours in these trees, lit up by the brightness of the sunshine.  We felt blessed.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Double, double...

I've discovered a new hobby: natural dyeing.  Spurred on by re-reading "Niccolo Rising" by Dorothy Dunnett, in which the dye-yards of Bruges, and the availablity of alum get more than a mention, I think to recreate the scene in my own kitchen.  Alum is still not readily available so I have to improvise.

I have a small stock of natural cream yarn, from the Falkland Islands by way of a charity shop.  I decide to dye small samples and a slightly larger skein of each for use.  As what remains to be seen.

First up is rhubarb leaf, of which we still have a fair quantity.  This is full of oxalic acid, so is poisonous, but needs no mordant for the wool to accept the dye.  This is my first attempt, and I am rather unimpressed by the muted greeny-yellow. However, it grows on me as I grasp that natural dyes tend to be muted.

Later, I excavate an old rhubarb plant to find masses of orange root, rotted from the centre.  Soaked and boiled, this produces a really strong orange.  It also seems more like cauldron boiling than just the leaf did.  I leave both kitchen doors open and stand well clear.

Next, I try strong coffee and tea, both of which produce robust results. 

Vinegar and salt were often used as mordants and prove useful with sloes, which give a lovely shade of pink.  Carrot tops yield  a strong lime green.

Rose-hips and beetroot, so brightly coloured themselves, produce only pallid tints.

Most interesting and informative, in a scientific sense, is red cabbage.  By itself it is as faint as beetroot, but adding vinegar makes it stronger.  However, adding baking-powder to the juice instead of vinegar produces quite a violent chemical reaction, turning the liquid to a jade green.  This dyes to rather a strong colour, although there were also some brown streaks there.  The fumes from this process seemed quite noxious and reminiscent of old-fashioned perm lotion - so probably ammonia?  This seems odd when red cabbage is surely just cabbage and baking powder must be an edible substance. 

As usual, much can be learned from the endeavours of others as published in their blogs.  Red cabbage even merited a scientific study as to whether it could be used as an indicator to determine acids and alkalis.

We'll see where this goes.  A trader in alum is visiting our Guild later in the month.  Whether I can assemble all the dye-stuffs again remains to be seen.

Tea, coffee, rhubarb root, tea, beetroot, rose-hip, carrot-tops, red cabbage green and pink, and sloes.


Monday, October 01, 2012


And so to Cartmel.  South of the Lake District, between the Furness peninsula and the M6, is the Cartmel peninsula.  This was at once very familiar and totally unknown to me, because for about twenty years my elder sister and her family farmed there.  So I would call in for tea as I drove North to stay with my parents in West Cumbria, but never spent any time exploring the immediate area.  This seems incomprehensible now, but it is so.  After all, I would have driven three hundred miles from Essex by that point, so sightseeing was not on my mind.

Now, though, we took a little holiday cottage in order to explore the southern lakes.  In fact, we spent the whole week in the peninsula itself.

Cartmel has an absolutely glorious priory dating from 1289.  The original founder fortuitously inserted a clause about it being really a parish church, so it was spared the ruination it might have had in the sixteenth century.  The first view of the great window certainly induces awe. 

Around the priory the village has the full complement of teashops, excellent restaurants and a shop specialising in the sticky toffee pudding.  What more can one ask?

We took walks out along the coast, where stretches of salt-marsh lead to Morecambe Bay.  Over Humphrey Head we realised that we were walking on limestone pavement, and that the flora was that special kind only seen on this terrain.

As we sat eating lunch my husband spotted egrets and a heron.  We saw peregrines feeding.

Passing through Flookburgh, we stopped to buy shrimp and flooks (a flat fish, like plaice) from the home of a fishing family who take their tractor out into the bay and cast their nets.  Everywhere there was a sense of a more ancient way of life still being lived. 

Another day we visited Holker Hall, a charming property still lived in by the Cavendish family.  Very interesting to see somewhere presented without the somewhat uniform manner of the National Trust, much as we love that organisation.  Holker burned down in the late Victorian period and was rebuilt within four years.  Everywhere there is evidence of the woodworking skills of the Simpsons of Kendal.

The gardens are magical, with many eye-catching features such as this fountain.

Another perfect day started with a trip on a steam railway.

From there we walked to Stott Park Bobbin Mill where we learned about the once thriving industry producing cotton spools for the textile indusry, using locally coppiced wood and water power.  It was fascinating to see the original techniques demonstrated, and to see how those wooden cotton reels were turned.

  From there we took a hike up Gummer's How, at the end of Windermere, where the views and the ascent are breath-taking.  Very evident here are the autumn colours of the bracken.

We were sorry to leave.