Monday, December 23, 2013

Stormy Weather

A brief visit to Cumbria this last week.  We made the most of our first day, the only really good walkable day, by walking along the woodlands on Loweswater shore and having lunch at the Kirkstile Inn, always a treat.

Keswick Oxfam  yielded up this haul: two 100gm balls of Soay yarn from a farm in Wales.  This has a lovely natural chocolate colour. 

And then, crewel wool by Renaissance Yarns.  Twenty-five metre skeins of lambswool dyed using natural dyes.  I just had to have them.

As the week went on, so the weather worsened. Roofs were being blown off and roads blocked.  We drove up the coast to enjoy the spectacle of the white horses in the Solway.

Another day we treated ourselves to lunch at the Pheasant Inn, Bassenthwaite.  We have often parked here on our way to the Sale Fell walk, but never had a meal.  This is their pheasant pie, and very tasty it was too, although I've never had beans served like chips in a little cup.

A merry Christmas to one and all.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Seasonal Knitting

Having recently finished a large project in muted shades of taupe and grey, I find myself strangely enlivened by this item.  It is a sock designed by Kate Davies called "First Footing".  Through the wonders of the internet, I was able to download this pattern as soon as it went to Ravelry. 

I'm using some odds and ends of 4ply yarns, as no-one has yet invented a means of downloading Shetland yarns.  Though, with the advent of 3D printers, that day cannot be far off.

I am convinced that knitting in bright colours has a cheering effect on the brain in these darkest days of the year.  Someone at the knitting group pointed me towards the mini Christmas stockings offered as a free pattern by Julie at Little Cotton Rabbits. 

That will be just the thing for the holiday - fiddly, colourful and producing a quick result.  I'm thinking, a little garland of these, perhaps in graded sizes using different weights of yarn....

Last Sunday, my husband set off with a packed lunch to do a day's hedge-planting at the local Nature Reserve, which has just been redeveloped. A little community involvement. While he was out, I went up to our allotment and was pleased to harvest parsnips and leeks, which have done well this year.  I made a large pan of vegetable soup, and a fruit cake.  All the while I was pondering the making of an angel costume, for a colleague's little girl.  I had the basic measurements and an idea of concept - Biblical not Christmas tree - but I still needed to concoct the pattern.  How deep are the armholes for a small girl?  How big would the neck opening need to be to go over her head?

In the end I measured out an outline on a piece of newspaper and then just went for it.

My husband returned, having planted a section of hedge and nursing a bad back.  He had been surprised to find that his fellow "Volunteers" included not only a party from the Sixth Form College racking up community service points, but also a group for whom "Community Service" meant paying their debt to society!


Friday, December 06, 2013

Farm Child

Some thirty-five years ago, I first knitted this jumper.  Intarsia was all the rage at the time, and this pattern from "Farmers' Weekly" was not at all unusual.  I made it in dark green with a red tractor for my nephew, who was under ten at the time.  Then, since it was October half-term and I had some time on my hands, I also knitted a bigger, matching jumper for his father, my brother-in-law.  I customised them by adding their names to their jumpers - each name was three letters long, so this was no big deal.

At the recent family gathering it emerged that the bigger of the two sweaters is still extant - after all this time!  Sadly, I have no picture of it.  However, "Farmers' Weekly have made the pattern available again.  My sister asked me to knit it for a small boy she knows.  My great-niece was able to tell me that their tractor would be a New Holland in this striking blue livery.

I'm quite pleased with how this has turned out, although I had forgotten what a pain intarsia actually is to do.  I don't remember this being a problem on the first round.  I have not included the name as I'm not sure that a child in 2013 would feel comfortable with that.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Crafted - technical

Although this is primarily a knitting blog, I rarely feel moved to get down to the technical aspects of the craft.  This time, though, I shared a photo of the throw on the Cables group on Ravelry, and there may be some interest in how it is done.

The beauty of this kind of project is that it is very forgiving: it does not have to fit anyone or be of a set size.  However, my throws go on the back of a sofa, for occasional use as  blankets, so they do need to be big enough to serve that purpose.  This comes down to nine strips, each about forty stitches wide and roughly forty-three inches long.

I used Aran yarn for these, but that covers a whole range of types of yarn in actual fact.  On my Cromarty throw, the cream stripes were knitted from a cone of Aran yarn.  I used this doubled to match the weight of the branded duck-egg blue yarn.  My preference is always to use up what I have to hand.  Because the throw will not be worn next to the skin, a budget Aran yarn in a 400 gm ball would be fine, but it should have at least some wool in it to give it warmth.  Each strip took about 100 gms of yarn, so you would need about two large balls.

So then, the pattern sources.  I'm a big fan of Alice Starmore and own several of her books: "Celtic Knitting", "Fishermen's Sweaters", "Sweaters for Men" and, more recently, "Aran Knitting".  Charts of the separate cables are found in all of these and can be simply repurposed.  This most recent throw uses only patterns from Barbara Walker's "Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns".   Sometimes I photocopied the chart so that I could carry the project along.

Choosing the patterns is the easy bit - at least to start with.  The chart will say how many stitches the pattern takes eg twenty-four.  The strip has three border stitches at each side, and I made my strips roughly forty stitches wide = So that's three border stitches, five reverse stocking stitch (purl), cable panel, five reverse stocking stitch and three border stitches again. 

Start by knitting three rows of moss stitch.  Because cable patterns pull in, cast on fewer stitches eg 36 and increase in the middle of the row to allow the cable more room.  When you have about 42 inches complete the strip with three rows of moss stitch.  Start these three rows by decreasing in the middle of the row to take out the extra which the cable needed.

As you choose the patterns for your nine strips you might want to look for designs which complement each other, or look broadly similar to give symmetry to your throw.  On my Cromarty throw I used the same pattern on all the cream strips.  On the Taupe throw I used different kinds of cables.  I can't tell you how to make an even number of repeats in the strip, because that was just luck,or fudging after the event, and in some cases I added extra edge stitches to add length.

Assembling the throw is just a matter of stitching the strips together.  I pressed some of them lightly, but that can flatten the cables.  Then I pinned the adjacent strips right sides together, starting by finding the centre of each one and pinning that together.  You can ease in a little length difference, but not too much.  I just used one of the yarns to sew it up and basically just overcast the two seams together.  This made a flat seam which is virtually invisible in the moss stitch border.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013



I've been working for some time now on a throw using cable patterns from Barbara Walker's "Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns".   In 2003, I dropped into the Oxfam shop in Penrith and snapped up a full pack of Rowan Cork for £4.99.  It's been waiting for the right project to come along.

 Last year I decided to reclaim the yarn from an aran jumper knitted for my husband, but about two sizes too big for him.  I used some of this on an earlier throw, but there was still plenty left.

My idea was to knit strips of random widths in a variety of neutral tones, but this turned out to be more of a challenge for me than I had imagined.  I actually prefer symmetry.  I bought 100gms of another greyish yarn, but was surprised to find that it read as a dull green against the grey and beige of the completed stripes.  I decided that this did not matter as it was such a muted tone, not really a colour.  I bought another ball to make a second stripe.

So, then, how to arrange the finished strips?  One of the Cork stripes was a little wider, and had a more complex pattern.  This would be the central strip, with the other Cork stripes forming the end pieces.  The green looked better next to beige, and there were four beige strips, so that organised itself.

As I was assembling the strips it became obvious that there was some variation in length, which could not be fixed by blocking.  I added some moss stitch or took away a motif in some cases.  This was the most fiddly part of the process.

Finally, I also reknitted the opening rows of some pieces where the moss stitch needed fewer stitches because the cables pull in so dramatically.  This was quick to do and made a huge difference to the neatness of the finish.
One last ingredient: sunshine!  With side lighting the sculptural qualities of the cables really come alive.  I love the complexity of the finished item and the muted tones of the yarns.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Last week to the wedding of my brother's daughter, at Brownsover Hall Hotel in Rugby.  As a family we are spread the length and breadth of England, so the wedding involved a gathering of the clan, a rare event these days. My niece looked lovely and all went according to plan.
Like many weddings these days, the ceremony celebrated an established partnership, rather than the beginning of a shared life together.  I always feel that this is a social change of some magnitude - and that it has happened quite quickly, within fifty years.  Oddly, the traditions built up around weddings have not kept pace with the realities of people's lives - the rituals seem to me to be even more formulaic than they once were.

Then, my other niece, daughter of my elder sister, invited me to join her for lunch in Buckden.  In this small Cambridgeshire village is Buckden Towers, once the seat of the Bishops of Lincoln.  Here, Henry the Eighth confined Catherine of Aragon in 1533.  Now, it is a retreat and study centre for priests.

After lunch, we visited an avid quilter and textile collector in the village.  We spent a very enjoyable afternoon inspecting a huge and varied collection.

Finally, I am assembling my Farrow and Ball throw.  The grey Rowan Cork has a velvety handle and a dense texture.  Apparently, it does felt rather easily, although I am not planning on washing this any time soon.  The last strips are just being knitted - there will be nine in all, and each is the length of a respectable scarf.  All of the patterns are taken directly from the Barbara Walker "Treasury".


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Inside Out

Much discussion recently on vintage Fair Isle garments.  My favourite winter cardigan was made by a now-defunct company called In Stitches, on a knitting machine.  I was lucky enough to find it in Oxfam in a pristine state, perhaps because the fastenings suggest a male garment, while the colourway, while not girly, is rather pretty.

I have worn it to the point where major repairs are needed to cuffs and elbows.  I'm thinking brown leather patches.

Secondly, a more recent purchase, again from a charity shop.  This is an oversized cardigan from In Stitches, which was brand new with tags.  The level of detail on this one is very appealing: picot edgings and little cables incorporated into the ribs and cuffs.  In the summer, when I bought it, I wondered whether it would be too big to wear comfortably, but the first cold snap made it seem snug and cosy.

Finally, a Per Una cardigan from the M&S Outlet store.  This has a pleasing denimy look to it, but the surprise is that the design is worked as a standard colourwork pattern - but the inside, stranded side is the right side in wear.  Interesting how this makes it more modern as a design.


Sunday, November 03, 2013

Pick up sticks

About this time last year we were shown how to warp up our rigid heddle looms at the meeting of the guild of Weavers, spinners and dyers.  Following on from that, I was able to weave quite convincing lengths of fabric.  It had got us started, but I felt that the two expert weavers who had led the session had more to teach us. 

At the last meeting we were given a quick rundown on how to use an extra loom stick to introduce simple surface texture.  Once we had grasped the principle, we were away.  About twenty people took the class and there were twenty very different outcomes, because the yarn combinations were so varied.  I had picked up a ball of tan acrylic on my way out of the house, thinking it was unlikely to be needed any time soon for another project, so I was surprised to see how it produced a successful fabric.

This image shows the heddle in place and, behind it, the loom stick picking up the warp to create the pattern.  Once the pattern row is woven, the stick is turned on its side and pushed back so that the heddle can be used in the normal way.  This is much easier than it sounds.Newspaper is used to separate the layers of warp on the loom.
It was my birthday this week, and we went to Norwich to have lunch at Jamie's Italian for a treat.  We also looked around the fifteenth century Dragon Hall - a merchant's trading hall which had been hidden within a row of houses for centuries.  Its position, between the river Wensum and a main trading street gave a good idea of how life was lived in those times.  We really enjoyed the exhibition.
One of my gifts was this fascinating book, recommended to me by the people at Gawthorpe.  On the cover, behind the main images, is the white quilt from Gawthorpe which I examined on my study visit.  Inside the book the writer, who had worked at Gawthorpe, analyses a large number of costume items, focusing on how the embroidery was carried out.  I don't think that I have ever seen this done in such detail before.  This, and the many quotations from eighteenth century sources, make it a delight.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Gawthorpe Hall

Some time ago I booked a study visit to the textile collection at Gawthorpe Hall, in Lancashire.  This is the second largest collection of embroidery in the country and was established by Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth, whose family owned the hall.  Now the hall is administered by the National Trust and the local council, but the textile collection is a separate enterprise.  I went on Wednesday of last week.  Rachel Terry, the Curator, and her team had already chosen relevant items for me to examine.  They were very helpful in suggesting further leads.

So what was it that made me embark on this trip - after all, I live in Essex and it is a five-hour journey there, involving four trains and a taxi.  Well, in 1991 my husband and I holidayed in Brittany, in a gite.  One day we drove to Vannes, a sea-port, to take the boat out to one of the islands in the gulf of Morbihan.  As we wandered through the town I spotted a brocante with some textile items for sale.  I had in mind one of those lace coifs traditional to the area.  However, these were eye-wateringly expensive.  A much larger item was bundled up on an outside table.  The shopkeeper seemed keen to sell it to me at a discount, but we were about to go on a boat-trip so I hesitated. 

What would you have done?

The reverse of a section of my coverlet

As we sat eating lunch at the harbour, I just knew that I had to have the item so I rushed back to the shop, bought it and parked it in the car.  That evening I unfolded it in the gite.  It was very large, and covered all over in very elaborate embroidery.  It was so large that it was difficult to take in, and the embroidery was white on white, so it needed close study.

Over the years I have gathered expert opinions on the piece.  It is a double bed size quilt, constructed without any wadding but with cording outlining the flower motifs.  It is very densely embroidered and of a very high standard of workmanship.  It is clearly an early piece - but how early?


This is a motif from the very edge: you can see the rows of backstitch forming channels for the cording outlining the flower. It is photographed larger than life-size.  Filling each segment are French knots and pulled thread work.  Now imagine this kind of embroidery all over a coverlet ninety inches square.

I visited Gawthorpe in order to examine other examples of corded quilting.  I was able to spend some time looking closely at a wonderful piece edged in heavy lace.  This was said to have been a panel for a quilted petticoat in the eighteenth century, reused as a table cover.  I was intrigued to see how much it had in common with my item, and how it differed.  I would like to thank Rachel and her team for all the help that they gave me.

Copyright:Gawthorpe Textile Collection.

After a fascinating afternoon examining the Gawthorpe items with a magnifying glass, it was back to the taxi and the four trains to get home again. 
My plan is to try replicating a very small motif from my item to understand the technique better.  I'll be planning a visit to the new study collection at Olympia to see what the V&A has in store.  And I will be taking my time, because the coverlet itself is not in a hurry.

Monday, October 07, 2013

On the Needles 1

As usual, I have a number of different projects on the needles at the same time.  Some are easy to continue while chatting, watching tv or riding in the car.  Some demand every bit of concentration and good light.

One of the projects is a throw, knitted in strips about forty stitches wide.  I'm using cable patterns from a Barbara Walker Treasury. 

Assembling a throw like this brings up a number of design decisions.  Many of these can be seen in my previous throws.

This one, from 2003, had a colour scheme based on the regency striped wallpaper of the room where it was to be used.  It has some reference to a strippy quilt though those were mostly done in red and white.  However, I also decided that complex patterns look best set against simpler textures, so I knitted the strips alternating a complex cable with a simpler texture.  Assembling the throw was quite challenging as the textural stitches threw the size of the blocks out. 

My next throw was intended as an experiment in Celtic and/or Viking knitting as I was visiting Sweden and had been much impressed by Elsebeth Lavold's Viking designs.  I certainly knitted some of this on the ferry to Gotland.  However, almost everything on this throw is drawn from Alice Starmore jumper patterns  Only the animals facing each other is my own idea. 
Again, a strip construction, alternating cream and blue, but this time using a plainer, simpler cable and ladder design for the cream strips.  

So then, here, Celtic designs on the cream strips and a range of cables on the taupe strips.  I had already bought the Barbara Walker Treasury, but Alice Starmore is still in evidence.  I gave this to my younger sister for a significant birthday.  Putting the more complex patterns on the cream stripes gives a lighter, prettier look to the whole thing.  Or perhaps that is just the sunlight?
The question is: Is contrast necessary for a successful effect?  Contrast of colour , or of textures?
The strips I have so far on this current project would fit nicely on the Farrow and Ball paint chart.  In fact, the grey is Rowan Cork, and the taupe the same as used in the throw above.

  Setting them side by side reveals that there is a subtle contrast there already - it's more muted but it is there. 

I have four strips already, so perhaps I should continue in the same two shades, resisting the urge to insert cream strips between? So, perhaps a wider central panel?  I'm wondering how much of each yarn I actually have left and whether this will force the design decision.