Monday, March 30, 2015

New Venture

Last week we started out on a new activity: volunteering for the National Trust.

In our village there are two separate National Trust properties.  One, standing at the top of the hill is a huge tithe barn related to the ancient Cistercian Abbey.  When I first moved to the village this was in a terrible state of disrepair, but a trust was set up and a local building firm took on the massive task of renovating the whole thing.  Now it is owned by the National Trust and much used for craft fairs, weddings, real ale events and so on.

The second property is a wool merchant's house built in 1509 by one Thomas Paycocke.

 The building was presented as business premises to show off the woven wool for which the town was famous, and no expense was spared on the carved woodwork of the building.

As the centuries passed, so the house fell on hard times, being divided into three small cottages and the exterior plastered over.  Then, in the Arts and Crafts period, it was bought and a period of restoration began, using the expertise of a local woodcarver, Ernest Beckwith.  So now it is an astonishing display of carved wood within and without.

Last week my husband and I did our first half-day shifts as volunteers there.  My husband worked in  the garden, alongside a dedicated team of about a dozen established hands.  He was set on to dig over a vegetable patch, ready for it to be used for growing flowers for the house.

I was inside the house.  Earlier residents and visitors recorded how cold the house was to live in; this is still true today, particularly as the principal rooms are North-facing. It's too early to record what I made of the opportunity.  Will I master how to use a till and give change, or will I have forgotten even what little I learnt by the next time I am on shift? Only time will tell.


A little matinee jacket for the Pine Ridge Reservation.  This is a free pattern called Gidday Baby, published by an Australian pattern-writer promoting an Australian yarn.  It is knit from the top down, the advantage being that once the sleeves have been knitted on with dpns there are only two buttons to stitch on and it is finished, without any seaming to do.  I used a Stylewise acrylic with a small amount of Jaeger Langora for the contrast colour.  You can find the pattern on Ravelry.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Homage to Manet

On Friday to Norwich, to take in an exhibition at the Castle Museum entitled "Homage to Manet".  The gist of this seemed to be Manet's revolutionary ways of portraying contemporary women, and how this influenced others, not least female artists such as Dame Laura Knight, Vanessa Bell and Gwen John.

My eye was caught by this portrait of Virginia Woolf, who appears to be knitting.  It is not so clear in this reproduction where the blocks of colour seem to merge, but the piece of knitting is a deep pink.  Not dissimilar to the piece of knitting I had with me for knitting on the train.

Norwich looked better when we emerged into the sunlight, after the gloomy start on Friday.

We went to eat at Jamie's Italian, in the Royal Arcade.

This strange tree looks like late-lingering fruit, but in fact is hung with red pom-poms - quite striking in situ.

Another layette for the Pine Ridge reservation.  Pieces knit up quickly when they are so small, although the sleep sack took two long car journeys.

You ask about the pattern for the cardigan, Liz M.  This is an old Hayfield pattern for a traditional raglan cardigan.  On the leaflet it shows two sturdy infants, almost toddlers, sitting up wearing white cardigans with motifs of rabbits and trains.  Times change.  I may have mentioned before being taken aback when a young colleague brought in her five-week old daughter wearing denim jeans and a brown smock top - the baby, that is.  In this case we were advised to use dark colours as white shows the dirt so badly.

The hat is the simplest possible: Cast on 66 stitches in DK and knit in k2 p2 rib for four inches.  The decrease for the crown by k2tog each row.  This fits a grapefruit, and I am told it will fit a small new-born.

The booties are worth mentioning.  These are from a free pattern offered by Frankie's Knitted Stuff.  It is an ingenious piece of engineering, and looks cute.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Captain Cook's Waistcoat.

This week to an event I had booked almost a year ago - a talk at the Society of Antiquaries, which is housed in the same building as the Royal Academy, on Piccadilly.

In the courtyard, this huge artwork, called something like "Shiny Star and Wooden Star" - can't argue with that.  The artist seems to have had the surname Stellar, unless I am misremembering that.  It was certainly catching the eye in that courtyard.

So  - The Society of Antiquaries.  This is one of the oldest organisations related to the collecting of objects, and seems also to be in charge of Kelmscott Manor, home of William Morris.  The society had been left a substantial legacy to fund research scholarships related to historical dress.  In 2014 this was awarded to Alison Larkin, an embroidress from Hull, in order that she might research Captain Cook's waistcoat.

During Cook's second voyage, he was given a piece of bark cloth in Tahiti, cloth which he brought back for his wife.  While he was away on his third voyage, she began to make an embroidered waistcoat for him, in the fashion of the late 18th Century.  This waistcoat was never finished, presumably because he did not survive his third voyage. 

The research project involved Alison Larkin going to Australia to view the unfinished piece, then to New Zealand where there is a similar finished piece.  Once that was done, she embarked on the three hundred hours of work it took to create a finished garment, as close as possible to the intentions of the originl piece.

From the talk we learnt a great deal about 18th century methods: how buckram was stiffened with rabbit glue, how spangles differ from sequins, how the class system would have determined how much embroidery you could decently sport.  It was fascinating.

The finished item is currently on exhibit at Whitby, in a display of Polynesian textiles - since the ground is barkcloth rather than linen, or silk.

Charity knitting

A little cardigan and hat for Pine Ridge.

This is a sleep sack, apparently the dernier cri for babies these days.  One inserts the baby up to its armpits so that it is inside its blanket.  What exactly did the Sioux Indians dress their infants in when living on the Plains?  Might it have looked somewhat similar?


Monday, March 09, 2015


It has been positively balmy here over the last few days.  We do not have a conservatory but the step out on to the patio is in a very sheltered corner.  I enjoyed eating my sandwich lunch out there in early November last year, and it was possible to do that again on two days this last week  (Apologies to those of you still under a layer of snow.)

I have set aside the Skye cardigan temporarily.  It becomes tedious to work through a pattern where every row has to be read from the chart with no respite.  Instead, I have moved to a little charity knitting.

 Over the years I have enjoyed the stimulus of joining in a drive of one sort or another.  I remember one related to Greenberg, which had been razed to the ground by a tornado.  Whether their first need was for hand-knitted blankets I don't know, but the organiser was very enthusiastic and I enjoyed using up scrap yarn to knit squares.

Then there were the Innocent hats.  On the second year of this campaign, the company were donating 50 p per hat to Age Concern - it is much less now.  It was not hard to knit up fifty hats. 

I remember customising a few of them in various knitting techniques and being mightily entertained to get a rosette sent to me when the season ended.

I've knitted cat blankets for a rescue centre, and warm clothes for children in Outer Mongolia.

But somehow the demand for hand-knitted items has waned.  I am not sympathetic to Oxfam selling blankets at festivals for cash.  It probably makes sense to their business, but I like to think of someone actually making use of my work and getting the benefit of its warmth - and I'm not thinking of a festival-goer.

So when I saw a complete layette on one of the sub-groups on Ravelry, I was charmed.  The set had been made for the maternity ward on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  It's apparently very cold there and the people are very poor.  Simple baby jackets and hats will be just the contrast I need to the Celtic colourwork.  Dark colours are advised, as they do not show the dirt.  I have been enjoying using these vibrant saturated shades.  Actually making use of some of the many buttons I have saved over the years is another source of satisfaction.