Friday, February 24, 2017

Finished item

Remember this?

Late last year I began making a little tapestry panel, with a view to replacing my everyday bag.

Some years ago, I paid about seven pounds for this little bag at a craft centre in Maldon.  It had no label but was almost certainly put together in the Far East, perhaps repurposing a piece of existing embroidery.  I remember thinking that it was a lot to pay for an impulse buy, and that I might never actually use it.  In fact, it has been a constant companion, not least because it is made of fabric and tucks very comfortably under my arm, which many small bags won't do.

For the panel, I used a chart from Co Spinhoven's  "Charted Celtic Designs", a wonderful resource.  I had the canvas and the crewel yarn from previous charity shop purchases, although I had to top up the threads when I ran out of some crucial colours.

But then the panel was complete, so assembly of the finished item could begin.  So, two six-inch zips were needed.  I just happened to have some brown poplin fabric and some calico for the lining, but I needed dark brown cord.  By now I have spent way beyond the seven pounds of the original, even though I have many of the items in store already.

I imagine the original was part of a batch for export, and speed would have been of the essence.  Perhaps the maker sat at a sewing machine all day knocking out bag after bag.  Even so I take my hat off to her.  The accuracy of the stitching is admirable.  I examined my bag very carefully to reverse engineer the construction - it has a separate, lined section for credit cards.  Slowly I worked out the sequence needed.

With Storm Doris blowing over, I could put off the construction no longer.  Several hours of pinning, tacking and trimming later, I end up with this finished item. 

I'm very happy with it.  The dark brown poplin may seem like an odd choice, but it is lined throughout so it should be quite hard-wearing.  And it is almost up to the standard of the original.

Monday, February 20, 2017


To Cumbria, for a week's heavy-duty DIY at our other house. 

A few years after we acquired the house, we freshened the d├ęcor in the front room following the trends of the time: two-colour walls with a decorative border running around at dado height.  Borders like this were knee-deep at the time, along with fancy script, Latin text and stencilling.  Remember those?  It made the room brighter, but did nothing to address the real issue of rising damp.  Let alone the elephant in the room, which was the presence of this 60's tiled fireplace, fronted by a very ugly gas-fire. 

We generally ignored the room, using it as a place to dump our walking boots, but sitting in the other room.  But this was a shame, because the terrace faces due west and the front room is lit by sunlight in the late afternoon whereas the other room is not.  So, last autumn, we employed a builder to remove the fireplace, strip out the old plaster, treat the damp and re-plaster.  This left us with a blank canvas, the only issue being the gas meter in one corner..

Now, my husband likes to do a good job of work, once he gets started.  He has what seems to me to be a miraculous ability to see  how to resolve practical problems.  He also has skills in woodwork and an extensive range of tools.  After some weeks in his shed here at home constructing cabinets, we were ready to tackle the job in Cumbria.

While he reassembled his handiwork, I spent many hours sanding and painting.  Skirting was delivered and he set to constructing mitres.

Eventually, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Two coats of "Natural Calico" emulsion transformed the bare plaster walls.  I can't tell you what a perfect effect you can achieve on totally new plaster: acres of creamy white.

We straightened up - on to the top-coats.  I like the shine of white gloss and was working my way round the room. 

Suddenly, in anguished tones, my husband said: "Oh no!"  I turned around - and there, on the pristine, newly painted wall, was a piece of dynamic modern artwork.  "The tin slipped out of my hand," he said. 

Fortunately, my first reaction was to laugh, remembering, as long-term readers will, how I tipped a pot of bright blue paint over myself when painting the back gate.

But if you are looking for a good level of contrast, I can recommend Farrow and Ball's "Down Pipe" against Dulux "Natural Calico."

(Sorry about the out of focus finished picture, but you get the idea!)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Houlland 2

And, finally, I have finished Houlland.  It is one of those patterns which takes forever to start with, then finishes in a rush.

So, supposing you were wondering whether to knit Houlland or Uncia from "The Book of Haps."  How would you choose?  Well, Houlland is a traditional shape, so it is obviously much more wearable, in a kerchief sort of way, as a pop of colour at a neckline.  Uncia is a challenge to wear as the shape is unbalanced, although undoubtedly very beautiful.

As a piece of lace knitting, consider this:  there are literally three lace stitches used in Houlland: KO, K2 tog., and SSK.  That's it: three.  Essentially the fir trees are just made by combining yarn overs with a left or right leaning decrease. To knit Uncia, there are at least thirty different combinations of stitches, some of which you will never have tried before.  There are multiple charts and three different keys to what the symbols mean.  It is a major challenge.

But how did they feel to knit?  Houlland begins with a long strip of edging lace from which you pick up 315 stitches.  The early rows seem to take forever and it took me more than one go to even pick up the stitches.  Then, the pattern is so simple that it is easy to underestimate the importance of counting while setting the pattern. Being out one stitch, or mistaking a wrong-side for a right side row is all too easy at this stage. Unpicking those long rows takes some time.

Uncia, however, starts with a very narrow tail and builds out from there gradually, so the longest rows are at the end when you are more familiar with its ways.  Once past the start-up rows you have to read the chart religiously, and therefore you are far less likely to go badly wrong.  But it does take your full attention.

Most of the lace pieces which I have knit before have been a challenge to master at first, then settle into a satisfying rhythm, before the rather tedious slog of the final third where the pattern is only too familiar.  This was certainly not the case with Uncia, where the lace transitions every couple of inches, but it was true of Houlland to some extent.  When I finished Uncia, I would happily have knitted another, because of the challenge.

So, here's an odd thing.  I used a single 100gm skein of Filigran merino lace-weight, 600 metres in the skein.  The pattern suggested 100 gms of Shetland lace-weight, 800 metres in total.  As I worked up the body of the shawl, I began to have doubts as to whether I had enough yarn to complete the piece.  I had bought the Filigran in a closing down sale a couple of years ago, so no hope of just buying another skein.  Ravelry showed a knitter in Germany who had two skeins of the right shade for sale, but of a different dyelot.  I decided to continue hopefully.

Finishing last night, I weighed the remaining ball of yarn: there is just under 25gms left - that's a lot of lace-weight, but better than being a few metres short.  It is true that I bought a 3mm needle where the pattern used 3.5 mm, but still...  Mine must have used just under 500 metres.  Other knitters have had wildly varying results in terms of quantities used.

The finished, fully blocked piece is light, airy and delicate - as lace should be.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Scrubbing Out

Where I was brought up cleanliness was definitely next to godliness - or rather keeping a clean front step was important even though you were as poor as church mice.  Scrubbing out, on your hands and knees, with a scrubbing brush, was a part of the weekly round of household chores.  Now, I don't even own a scrubbing brush and give my floors a pretty cursory wipe down with an anti-bacterial cloth when they look like they need it.

My first paid job was at a local hotel during the summer holidays.  I was fifteen.  Generally we were put in pairs to clean the rooms, changing the beds and cleaning bathrooms as required.  There were stints of washing up pans at the sink or preparing salads en masse for wedding receptions.  But the worst thing was scrubbing out.  We started at 7.30 am by cleaning the bars and front hall, where the tiled entrance needed scrubbing.  But then there was the Gents' toilet.....  on a Sunday morning, after a busy Saturday evening....  Never again, I thought.

However, on Thursday I spent all day on my hands and knees scrubbing the parquet flooring of the coffee shop at the National Trust property where we volunteer.  We are in the period known as "The Winter Clean" - the property is closed to visitors until March.  A team of us gather and work methodically through each room in turn, removing cobwebs, cleaning windows, dusting objects and applying polish to furniture and floors.  This week we reached the coffee shop, where the floor needed serious attention.  I can tell you that scrubbing out uses muscles you had forgotten you had.

A pair of tan fingerless mitts, using patterns from Sheila McGregor's collection of Fair Isle designs.

And what may even be the last of that blue yarn, knitted on the journey to the Cotswolds last week.

So, what of Houlland?  Progress continues, although I'm now playing what is sometimes called "Yarn Chicken"  ie not at all sure that I have enough to finish the piece.  My yarn is laceweight and there was 100gms, but unfortunately the yardage is lower than that of the yarn used by Donna Smith, the designer.  Someone on Ravelry, in Germany, seems to have two skeins of the same shade available, but it is a different dye-lot.  I find it impossible to gauge how much of the piece remains to be knit since it is an outside-in construction.  We'll see.