Monday, August 25, 2014


A few nights away, in Galloway.  For many years we have looked across the Solway Firth to the opposite shore, the Scottish shore.  Once we went as far as Dumfries and Sweetheart Abbey beyond on a daytrip.  Now we had booked three nights in Kirkcudbright, further into Galloway.

What did we expect?  I had rather feared it might be a mirror image of West Cumbria - sadly diminished communities with the industrial heart ripped out of them.  But I could not have been more wrong.

For a start, the shoreline.  On our side low sand dunes give way to endless open beaches where the views open up for miles.  Not so on the Scottish shore, which has rocky cliffs and small sheltered bays, ideal for fossicking in rockpools.

Then the towns.  We drove out from Kirkcudbright to Gatehouse of Fleet, Wigtown and Whithorn.  While the first of these was originally a planned town with a large cotton mill, the main impression now is of very wide streets lined with four-square, double-fronted Georgian houses.  In West Cumbria the main housing stock is of two bedroomed cottages, one room wide, pebble-dashed and sandstone edged.  Here the earlier single storey cottages have given way to more substantial town houses.

On this outing our first stop was Gatehouse of Fleet, where, right in the car-park, was a kilt-maker in her shop.  It was an auspicious start to the day.  On the counter she had a lady's kilt which she was making.  Eight metres of tartan, each pleat, incredibly, stitched by hand.  Also in train was a slim-waisted kilt for someone about to be best man at a wedding.  It was fascinating.  Of course, a bag of her off-cuts, sold for patchwork, somehow left with me, although tartan does not move me as tweed
often does.

After a brief stop at Wigtown with its many bookshops, we drove on to Whithorn where we had lunch.  Last year we heard of this place for the first time.  A team of archaeologists working on the vicus attached to the fort at Maryport had unearthed an early Christian burial ground.  One of the theories as to its location was that it lined up with the Isle of Whithorn, virtually in sight across the Solway.  We were intrigued to see what this might be.

Whithorn is a very ancient settlement.  In the fourth century St Ninian established a chapel here, where the Priory later stood.  But who knew that there was a whole school of cross carving here in the Northumbrian tradition?  I was astonished to see so many fine examples of celtic knotwork,
like the pages of the Bain handbooks brought to life.  I have knitted some of these myself.

So then, it was on to St Ninian's Cave:  a lovely woodland walk down to a windy cove where the sunlight glistened.  We found it magical, but it did not impress a couple of children nearby who declared it boring on the grounds that the cave did not feature pirates or treasure.

And, finally, on to the Isle of Whithorn where there is a harbour, a headland and a very moving memorial to the crew of a trawler, lost with all hands not that long ago. 

Out on this headland stand the remains of St Ninian's Chapel.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Summer Isles waistcoat.

At last the waistcoat is complete.  In fact, in the best crafters' tradition, it went right to the wire.  I actually set off to meet friends in London wearing the long-sleeved Tshirt, but with the front band of the waistcoat still to do.  Quite what the other passengers thought as I ran in the last ends and put on the item I will never know.

I am really pleased with how this turned out.  The Fair Isle pattern is from Sheila McGgegor's book of traditional patterns, but I made up the rest as I went along.

The blue yarn is a hand-dyed skein from Susan Heath, using a base yarn described as 4-ply from Sue Blacker.  But it must be a heavy 4-ply as the grey yarn is an acrylic Aran weight,  and the two knit together very well. 

I decided early on to have a plain ribbed back but this did not stop me trying several alternatives: the front pattern done as a texture with purl stitches, the grid from the front done as intarsia...  but in the end I stuck it out and used plain rib.  A seven-hour car trip helped.  Of course, rib and Fair Isle have quite different qualities, but it took me a longish while to realise that the number of stitches at the shoulder was going to be so different that I would need to reknit the fronts from the armhole, increasing the rate of decrease - or decreasing every third row.

I had tried a simple garter and rib edging, but had used the same needle size, so there was some fluting.  To resolve this I unpicked a row above the edging , picked up the stitches and knit the edging back out on a smaller needle.  This was definitely worth doing.  I had put a three stitch moss stitch band along the front edges, but this looked very feeble.  I decided to treat this as a kind of facing, and picked up stitches around the front edge to make the same sort of edge as the lower edge.  Around the armholes I used an applied i-cord, just to neaten and stabilise the edge.

In my button box I have some decorative Norwegian Pewter hooks and eyes, bought on holiday there in the early 1990s.  These should work on this project.

I did wonder about adding a tiny amount of an accent colour - acid green, perhaps - but in the end I was too timid.  I did learn a great deal from the project - or was reminded of things.  One of these is that heat and acrylic do not mix.  I did press the fronts using a damp cloth to settle the stitches, which worked well.  Pressing the shoulder seam with the iron catching the rib of the back resulted in my having to rip out a section and reknit it with new yarn to restore the texture.

So it might now be obvious why it took me so long to finish - but why do I want to cast on for another straight away?  I have this dark grey, like a deep olive green, and some variegated orange....

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Blue Streak...

One of the downsides of the second home is the double dose of diy and basic maintenance needed.  (I realise that this kind of thing is now referred to as "a first world problem")


This is the "After" picture - I didn't think to take a snap of the "Before" - but picture the sort of faded and peeling look much in vogue for furniture nowadays, and then some.

We last painted the back gate and yard in 2003, a year remarkable for even more hot, sunny days than this one. So it was now more than time for a new coat of paint.  We soon realised that the door of the shed needed more than cosmetic treatment. Once my husband put his mind to it, we very quickly had a brand new door, made from scratch. 

I, meanwhile, was rubbing down, applying primer, layering on undercoat...everything going smoothly, apart from an ache in my left hand from holding the paint tin.  I looked forward to putting on the final coat: exterior gloss in "Cobalt" - a particularly vibrant shade of blue.

 Outside the back gate there is a drying green, where our neighbours on that side can hang out their washing.  Just outside our gate is a wheelie bin, not belonging to us.  But it was just the right height for my paint tin - or so I thought.  One moment I am setting the full tin of cobalt on the lid of the bin, taking the first brushful and turning away; the next, I am standing in a puddle of blue, my left leg from ankle to knee drenched in blue.  How could this have happened? 

What does it tell you about me that I painted the whole of the outside of the gate using paint from the puddle before I attempted to clean the blue paint off myself?  In fact, the only casualties from this incident  were my training shoes, which were blue before and even bluer afterwards - but kinda stiff.  Brush cleaner removed most of the mess from my hiking trousers, leaving only a faint blue streak, like a kind of go faster stripe.