Monday, December 18, 2017

Work in Progress

Oddly, given my title, this is a finished object, not a work in progress.  It is a little table, made by my husband to serve as a little tea-table in our cottage.  I can imagine it in use: we will have come home from a strenuous walk, and be enjoying the afternoon sunshine in our front room, mugs of tea to hand.

This little table and its drawer were made from recycled oak.  Many years ago, my husband made the bed we use now with both head and footboards.  More recently, he decided to update it and removed the footboards.  The wood was in good condition, and here it is, put to good use..

This is where I have got to with my swatch for the new Fair Isle waistcoat.  One of the issues in making up a colour scheme from an actual scene - woodlands in autumn - is that it becomes rather literally pictorial.  Yet these skeletal trees are there in Sheila McGregor's "Traditional Fair Isle Knitting,"  pictured there as the first motif on a scarf in yellow and scarlet.

I am trying to use up some of my Shetland Jumper-weight, rather than ordering more.  I happen to have some of this purple to hand, alongside a pile of green oddments.

I will lose the brown band altogether, but am liking the effect of the purples, which suggest shadowy twilight in deep woodland.  I'm thinking perhaps I will try a more decorative band instead of peerie patterns between the two conifer stripes.  It will probably look completely different in its next version.

Thursday, December 07, 2017


I'm taking my time planning my next Fair Isle waistcoat.  In Cumbria recently, for the literary festival, we noticed how the mixed woodland along the shore of Loweswater  featured a very pale lemon against a dull purple, a lovely combination.  But would it work as part of a colour scheme?

Against the rich dark green of the back, I can see a mixture of rusts and mustards.  But would it take the very bright yellow which I have actually got in stock?

As I said in an earlier post, my eye was caught by this jumper in a charity shop.  It might even have been wearable, except for those sleeves.  First, I ravelled it out, winding it on to the niddy-noddy which my husband produced some years ago, to skein it.  A soak and then a gentle spin - to try to relax some of the crimp.

Before washing...

And after...

By now, I am almost to the armholes on the back, but no further forward on the colours to be used for the fronts.  At some point, I would like to make use of a batch of mixed green oddments bought from a factory on Shetland in 2000.  Perhaps their moment has arrived?

Monday, December 04, 2017


Today I started a new job.  While I was working full-time I used to  dream about what retirement would be like. Whole empty days to devote to hobby projects - time to tackle long-distance footpaths, learn a language, cook more adventurous food... Sundays without the drudgery of sets of exercise books to mark, a chore which nothing made bearable.  Mondays without the inevitable battle through rush-hour traffic...

And, to some extent, this turns out to be true.  I certainly don't envy those women just slightly younger than me who are still waiting to qualify for their state pension in order to be able to retire at all.  Most of all, I enjoy being able to be outdoors when the weather is fine, making the most of the daylight in these short December days.

And yet, I find myself drawn to volunteering opportunities for what can only be called work.

The other day I was at the National Trust property in my village for a winter cleaning day, along with a small team of others.  My colleague, a retired banker, was hoovering the floor of the Great Hall so that I could apply polish to it in the old-fashioned way, on my hands and knees.

"I don't do this at home," he said, wonderingly.  "I pay a cleaner who comes in to do it for me."

"Yes," I replied, "that's because that is housework, whereas this is a leisure activity."  Now this is true, but it is also still hoovering.

A week ago we were at the local nature reserve having a cup of tea in the visitor centre.  Through the open door of the kitchen I could see a volunteer loading a  dish washer.  "I could do that, " I thought.

So today, I drove across country in blazing sunshine to spend the day clearing tables and loading the dishwasher at that same centre.  From the kitchen, as from the café, a panoramic view of the reservoir teeming with birdlife:  lapwings, cormorants, Brent geese... As a view from a workplace it can have few equals.

I drove home through the dusk, feeling tired but pleased to have been of some use.  Not such an easy feeling to come by in retirement.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Constable Country

Recently we had some visitors in our National Trust property who had been to Flatford Mill and had found it to be "Like Oxford Street."

On my birthday, I chose for us to go and have lunch in Dedham, which is about twenty miles north of here.  We pottered around a few shops, then drove on to Flatford Mill in the sunshine.

A mid-week afternoon was obviously the ideal time to visit.  A deep peace had settled over the scene.  This is Willy Lott's cottage, familiar from Constable's "The Hay Wain."

We had tea at the National Trust tearooms, watching a pair of swans with a well-grown cygnet cruising along the river.

Anything further from Oxford Street it is hard to imagine.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017


Over the years, my husband has made some remarkable birthday presents for me.  This was the first: a miniature chest, like a prentice piece, for a jewellery box.  This must have been about thirty years ago.

A box inlaid with veneers.  These were cut from the wood of an apple tree which did not survive the storm in '87.  It once grew in the garden of my old house.

Inside, a surprise

This time, this year, I knew that he had something on the go in his workshop, but I had no idea what it was.  He was very sneaky about obtaining the materials, and I did not guess what the project was.

And here it is!  This is a cutlery box for the set of Robert Welch cutlery which we bought when we retired.  This is American walnut - from a sustainable source  - and it is both simple and beautiful.  I love it!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Planning patterns

I've really enjoyed wearing these waistcoats during the warm October days we've been having.  I also enjoy seeing the two of them hanging together like this.  It's the colours rather than the patterns, I think.

As I try to explain to non-knitters how I planned the patterns, I can see their eyes glaze as the thought, "You must be mad" passes through. "Planning" is a rather grand term for how I actually did it.

My previous waistcoats have involved two colours only.  Here, I was going for the more traditional Fair Isle shading so I chose two background colours and two pattern colours for each one.  I was knitting a plain back, so that was one of the background colours sorted.  Trying out a little swatch helped me to check that there was sufficient contrast.

Choosing the highlight colour for the middle row was again a question of trial and error.  I went for less contrast on the brown version than on the blue.

Then, I needed my trusty Sheila McGregor book of "Traditional Fair Isle Patterns".  I had a basic formula in mind, so I looked only at the 17 row patterns for individual lozenges.  On the blue  I needed more patterns, so I used some 15 row patterns and placed them within the lozenge shape.  I invented some, especially where only part of the lozenge was in view.

To start off with, I printed off some knitters' graph paper and copied the patterns for the band on to it in pencil, so I had a complete chart to follow.  As I got more used to the rhythm I did not bother doing that and just worked the lozenges from the book.

Of course, making it up as you go along - always my preferred method - does have its drawbacks.  Lozenge patterns can be more open, like a grid, or more dense with pattern colour.  Ideally these would be placed carefully on the piece to ensure balance.  You can see the lack of pattern colour on a lozenge half way up one side quite easily on the reverse of this front which is blocking. 

I thought I might top this up with some duplicate stitch, but it is hidden from view at the side, so I did not bother.

Mid-front, though, you can see the imbalance of density in some lozenges.  If I were repeating the exercise I would try to correct this.  

As I said, most people, certainly most non-knitters, do not subject their clothing to this kind of scrutiny.

So, what's next?  In a charity shop last week, my eye was caught by this jumper, in two colours of green, both heathered with those lovely tweedy fibres.  I'm thinking of recovering the yarn and using the dark green as the starting point for my next project... 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Fair Isle design elements.

Remember this little chair, which we recently renovated?

We were startled and delighted to spot a set of these chairs being used as dining chairs in the film "Goodbye Christopher Robin".  If you get the chance to see it, it's quite a moving story, with some wonderful scenes - but nothing beat seeing those chairs.

So, here's a thing  - spot the difference.

This is my favourite motif from the waistcoat project.  Here it is in brown:

And here in blue:

I was just thinking over how it could be used for a complete design, offset on alternate rows, when I noticed something for the first time.  Shall I give you a clue?

You are looking at the accent colour, that's the green or the wine single central row.

I realised that on the brown design I used it replace the background colour, whereas on the blue version it replaces the pattern colour.  Why does this matter?  Well, because on the blue the spots of wine colour highlight the points of the grid, whereas on the brown this does not happen.  This would be even more obvious over a whole front.

You will have noticed also that on the brown design I used bright colours for the peerie patterns and used a different one each time.  On the blue I decided to stick to neutrals for those intervening bands, and to use the same chain design each time.  This gives an element of continuity to the pattern, which is already very busy.

Some of these are conscious decisions and others just happen, dependent on the yarn available.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Blue Museum Waistcoat

Well, it's taken a while, but this project is now officially done and dusted.  One of the ladies at my knitting group is given to making assumptions about my knitting - that I buy expensive yarn, that I am a quick knitter, that I am a perfectionist...  None of these is in fact true, but of course all things are relative.

This item probably cost less than ten pounds to knit.  I did order three balls of J&S 2ply jumper weight in a range of turquoises, but set one aside as greenish, a second as too light and used only half of the other ball.  The grey, as I said last time, cost three pounds and the other colours were oddments I already had.  Curiously, I opened a button tin I bought at a jumble sale some time ago and the first buttons which came to hand were the six I used here.

The darkest of the turquoises was an oddment.  The risk here was that it would not be quite enough to complete the project.  I reclaimed the length used in the swatch: still not enough.  Rummaging through my stock of oddments, I came across the single remaining ball of a deep turquoise, just the right shade, but a DK.  So then I resorted to unravelling the plies of the yarn to recover sufficient just to complete my project.  I don't think anyone would be able to tell.

I tried it out at work today: even with prompting no one was able to spot that all the lozenge patterns are different on this one.  This took some doing.  I used Sheila McGregor's "Traditional Fair Isle Patterns as my source, using the 17 row lozenges and then topping up with some 15 row patterns.  A couple I made up myself.  On one section I realised that I had transposed the pattern rows for two of the lozenges in the middle of the band.  But it did not seem to matter: this must have been how new patterns were invented.

I can now see clearly which patterns make the best use of the colour changes.  These would bear repeating over a whole jumper.  Maybe that will be my next move.

A couple of images from Marks Hall, the arboretum just to the north of our village.

Friday, October 06, 2017


Last spring, we took on a new allotment.  After putting in our potatoes, we still had half the plot available, so we planted courgettes, butternut squashes and pumpkins.  The potato crop was heavy this year, but the pumpkins outdid themselves.  On Sunday we delivered our five largest to Paycocke's, the National Trust house where we volunteer, to make a seasonal welcome.

Each one is as much as my husband can manage to lift.

As I put the finishing touches to the Blue Museum waistcoat, I am struck by the different qualities of apparently similar wool.  The base yarn for this is the pale grey, which I used for the back.

Some time ago, I spotted a bargain on e-bay.  I think I paid three pounds for this pack from the 60s, probably, given the styling.  That's enough tweed fabric to make a skirt, and twelve ounces of yarn for the jumper. Made by Pringle of Inverness.

The yarn is quite loosely spun  and sheds a bit.  But knitted up on 3mm needles it makes a beautiful fabric with lots of subtle marling.  And it marries in very well with J&S 2ply jumper weight.

I probably won't be making up a matching skirt.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


As on most holidays, food did figure quite largely, not least because we needed pit-stops during all the sight-seeing.

But one of the most important meals was breakfast.  In England the term "Continental Breakfast" has a somewhat dismal sound: a limp croissant, a roll, possibly some fruit.

But in our hotel in Austria, and even, it has to be said, on the sleeper train itself, breakfast was a substantial meal.

On offer were a range of cold meats and cheeses

Bircher muesli, yoghurt and fruit

Flavoured oils and essences

Sausages, scrambled eggs and bacon

Bread, rolls fresh croissants

Jams from the Tyrol, and
a whole Carpathian honeycomb.

Freshly made sponge cake dotted with plums - who eats this for breakfast?

I watched as an elderly German munched his way stolidly through plate after plate: a cooked breakfast, cold meats, two separate platefuls of bread and wedges of cheese.  He was eating for three - or possibly eating all his meals for the day at one sitting.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


We had several hours to kill in Cologne, on both the outward and return journeys.  Of course we were here last year, so we had explored the cathedral before.

We ate supper in the café just opposite the cathedral, as before.

On our way back, it was early morning so we began with a leisurely coffee in that same café.  If you ever have the chance to visit, the toilets at this café are a bargain at 50 cents.  I have never before seen Japanese tourists taking photographs inside a toilet.  Here the glass doors are transparent until you fasten the lock, when they become opaque.  It's all sparkling with cleanliness.

So, at ten, we were able to access the Roman Museum, which is conveniently close to both cathedral and railway station.  The story is that they were excavating for an air-raid shelter in 1941 when they uncovered this fantastic mosaic floor.

It has detailed images of wildlife.

Perhaps even ore surprising is this second floor.  What must the Germans have thought when this came to light in 1941?  Of course it is an ancient symbol, but even so.

The collection of Roman artefacts in this museum includes many intact glass vessels

pieces of sculpture

and jewellery.

It made for a really interesting visit.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Vienna 5

Our last day in Vienna!  I decided that I needed to at least see some shops, even if not actually buy anything, so we arranged a meet-back.  This is always fraught with difficulties as I usually just follow while my husband reads the map.  He headed off for the Hofburg complex.

I began with the Mozart House, in a street just behind the cathedral, where Mozart rented an apartment.  I learned a lot from the audio-guide.  The apartment had been the home of a skilled plasterer and some of his faux marble is still visible in what is assumed to have been the main bedroom.. Like living in a show home, I suppose.

Then my problems started.  I was on the trail of a yarn store in the Fleischmarkt, but I walked miles, often in the wrong direction, to get there.  There were plenty of unusual shops but no wool shop that I could see.

After lunching at the Café Mozart, we went to the Albertina, which we were surprised to find was both an art gallery and another palace with a highly decorated suite of rooms.

Upstairs now houses the private collection of the Batliners, including a room full of Picassos.  A really impressive collection.

After all this, we met again for tea.  Before our trip we had studied a guide book organised on the Top Ten principle, and had noted the Top Ten cakes to be sampled in Vienna.  Everywhere we went we found coffee-houses offering a pretty comprehensive range.  Many Viennese cakes are more like a layered dessert with different flavoured mousses on a sponge base layer and topped with a strongly flavoured jelly.  We sampled a fair few over the five days but we also walked miles to compensate.

Eventually it was time to return to our hotel for supper, collecting our suitcases before boarding the sleeper back to Cologne on our way home.  More on Cologne later.