Thursday, September 26, 2013


Reading Jean and Kristie's posts about their trip to Shetland sets me thinking.  Jamieson and Smith.  How much this name has meant to me over the years. 

I first came across their yarn in Whitby, in a wonderful shop called "The Shepherd's Purse".  They had the full spectrum of 2ply jumper weight hanging on a line across the shop - a glorious sight.  You could buy yarn there or you could order it by mail.  It took me a while to realise that it was possible to order direct from Lerwick.  I bought some bright tones of purples and used a cone of navy to make a cheery striped pullover.  This would have been about 1980.

Then I discovered Sasha Kagan.  Her designs used the 2ply jumper weight alongside touches of lurex and mohair.  Now, Sasha's designs tend to feature flowers and leaves, but in her first book - "The Sasha Kagan Seater Book" -  variety was key  - lots of dynamic movement in the placing of images.  I knitted two of the Ribbons cardigan, buying the yarn from the Art Needlework shop in Oxford.  This was by far the most successful colourway.

Then I knitted Pansies.  This had bands of white mohair and silver lurex.

For myself I knitted a very striking waistcoat with dachshunds running up and down on it.  It was backed with three colours of brown used alternately in a ribbed fabric.  I was very fond of it but eventually it no longer fitted.

This is the image from the book, as I sent my waistcoat to the collection of the Knitter's guild.

Making these projects made me see how inevitably a stock of spare yarn is built up.  When I knitted this Kaffe Fassett waistcoat for my younger sister, I bought in only a few new yarns.  Similarly when I reprised the design for my mother.  Using some blues in a brown mix gave it a lift.  I inherited this waistcoat when my mother no longer needed it.

This waistcoat from the mid-80s is very much of its time.  I had one myself which read "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose", which I was very pleased to find fitted the space without much fudging.  For my mother, who lived near the sea, I chose appropriate imagery .

Somewhere in the 90s I remember travelling north on the train with a J&S shadecard.  Their yarns were so cheap, and the colours so lovely, that it was a real pleasure to pick out a selection of new yarns.  However, when the yarn arrived it was different somehow - the blends a little muddy and the colours in some of them forming slubs rather than blended fibres.  It was many years before I used these yarns. 

In 2000, we visited Shetland and Orkney just after our wedding.  It was at a time when the woolcrop was not in big demand.  There was talk of wool being dumped in the sea:  we certainly saw someone in Cumbria burning wool in an old quarry.  Along the road we saw signs to independent designers and we pulled over to visit.  I bought scarves and gloves in wonderful colour combinations.  Gloves at £9 a pair - who could knit them for that ?  They made great presents.  However, J&S itself was a disappointment.  The yarns were there, but the patterns on offer were distinctly traditional.  So much has changed in the last thirteen years - so many new, young designers, like Kate Davies.   I can feel an urge upon me to call up the online shade card and order some yarn.


Friday, September 20, 2013

A bit of knitting

At last I have a finished object to show.  This one took a while, as I got to the edging and thought it rather heavy but couldn't think what to use instead.  So I just shortened the depth of it.

I bought the Drops magazine at a textile fair, and was surprised by how minimalist the patterns are.  Even quite detailed cabled designs will have sketchy instructions.  This is a shawl in a straightforward lace, or at least it's straightforward once the pattern is set up.

I used an acrylic called "Baby" in a 200 gm ball - the shawl took up almost all of it.  It had a really bouncy texture, but I steam pressed it to give it some drape and this produced a flatter, but more delicate finish. 

The finished shawl is going to the Wrapped in Care project in Minnesota.  I like the idea of Dee, the chaplain, offering the shawl to a mother in distress.  I hope it serves its purpose.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Sous le pont"...

Street markets in the south of France...  many varieties of tomatoes...

and of olives.. garlic...

Nougat from a huge block.... no wonder it was easy to put on the pounds while away.
We spent four nights in Avignon before moving on to Aix en Provence.  And of course we stood on the famous half-bridge.  For a spectacular tourist attraction a half bridge or a leaning tower wins every time over the same article in good repair.  Everywhere there is a sense of layered histories, of change over centuries, as witnessed by these overlapping arches on the small chapel on the bridge.
First, though we had visited the Palace of the Popes, a labyrinthine building full of huge audience chambers and dining halls. 
 Now, most of them are in plain white limestone, with a purity of finish appealing to modern taste. One imagines a life of contemplation in a space like this.
However, the two rooms still in a more original state suggest a taste for highly coloured wall paintings and for patterned floor tiles, with every surface decorated.  The pure white limestone seems to be an illusion.
We took a day trip to Arles on the local train.  Here there are very prominent Roman buildings, both an arena and a theatre.  The truly astonishing thing is that the arena, which speaks strongly of scenes from "Gladiator", one of my favourite films, is still in use for bull-fights, some of them to the death. 
This image shows part of the Roman theatre, an eighteenth century facade and a mediaeval chuch spire - with that white limestone in use throughout.

Apart from the brightly printed Provencal tablecloths, there was very little of textile interest, but these quilts, or "boutis" in the Marseillais style seem like good value.  That's eighty-nine euros for a full-size handquilted bedcover. Perhaps not hand made in France, then.


Sunday, September 08, 2013


One of the glories of Cumbria is the Solway coast.  I never tire of walking on its largely empty beaches, seeing its mood change in different weathers and, most of all, watching the dramatic sunsets.

This time, though, we witnessed on of those spectacles of nature which are absolutely thrilling to watch. 

We decided to drive up the coast and park at Wolsty Banks, then walk along the beach to Silloth.  On a lovely fine day this was an exhilarating walk.  Silloth itself is an odd survivor of a bygone age, its streets laid out to a grand plan.  Once it was a holiday destination, with a promenade; charabancs would take Sunday schools there on their annual outings.  Now it is somewhat diminished. In keeping with the seaside tradition, we bought a portion of chips to eat with our andwiches and followed this with an icecream before we set off to walk back down the coast.

The tide on the Solway is said to be faster than a galloping horse.  We watched the incoming water flood round an exposed sandbar.  On the sandbar a huge flock of oyster-catchers was gathering.  As we watched more and more squadrons of birds beat up along the coast to join those already on the ground.

Soon there were thousands of oyster-catchers all together on the sandbar.  At one end, a large flock of paler terns huddled together.

Suddenly we noticed flurries of birds beginning to rise.  Someone holding a mobile phone had decided to walk out on to the sandbar, disturbing the flock.  Soon many were in the air.  We wished they had been left in peace, but the spectacle was exciting to see.

All at once the great mass of birds rose, leaving the bar empty.

The terns formed a lighter flurry at the further end.

We enjoyed watching this so much that, later in the week, we worked out when the incoming tide would allow us to see it all again.


Thursday, September 05, 2013


 In Cumbria for a walking break, the weather uncharacteristically clement.  Some walks we take so frequently that no particular occasion stands out; others are overlayered with memories.  So, the walk to High Nook Tarn.  We did this first in the mid-90s, in a party including my mother and an old friend and her husband.  My mother, dressed in her tweed skirt and hiking boots, was still game for a hike even after her dementia had begun to reduce her capacities.

 Two of this group are now no longer with us, but every detail of that day remains: the steady climb up behind Jenkinson Place where we were staying, the stile at the top, the swooping track forming a terrace high above Loweswater, finding a complete dragonfly exoskeleton by the tarn, even what we had in the sandwiches...

Another time we chose the higher of two tracks near the start of the walk, and found ourselves on a sheeptrod several hundred feet above the broad main track.  It gave us some anxious moments, although the photographs we took were all but aerial in viewpoint.

The actual path forms a broad terrace high above Loweswater.  Here, Crummock can be seen just peeping over above Loweswater.

Taking the walk this time, we were surprised to find that the track has now become the route of ferocious mountain bikers, hammering along it in pairs and at intervals so that peaceful walking was impossible.  Doubtless they felt that walkers constantly created hazardous obstacles for them.

At the far end we saw evidence of the flash flooding which affected Loweswater some months ago - notice how the stream has flattened the vegetation around it.

On the knitting front, I received a reminder of the Wrapped in Care shawl programme which aims to provide comfort shawls for mothers.  Elizabeth Zimmerman was of the view that a large shawl is ideal holiday knitting, and I have to agree with her - minimal shaping and a repetitive pattern on very long rows.  I am using a Drops pattern, but am not sure that the edging matches the shawl so perhaps a change of some kind is in order.