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.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Midwinter Spring...

To Cumbria for half-term, my one day a week tuition meaning we are still following school terms.

February 14th - what could one expect?  A low sky? Drizzle?  But instead we were blessed by the first of two glorious days, not of winter sunshine, but of the real thing - full-on blue skies, high wispy cloud, and just a bit of haze to take the edge off the views.

Last year we climbed Dodd for the first time, and now it looks like entering our regular rotation of walks.  We climbed up through woodlands already alive with birdsong, on paths which are so well maintained that you don't have to pick your way.  Opposite, the flank of Skiddaw still bore streaks of snow; the summit of Lower Man intermittently wreathed in cloud.

We emerged from the woodland; suddenly, there was the view - right down Derwentwater to Lodore, the lake glistening in the haze. 

A little higher, and the view to the west opened up: Bassenthwaite, with all the land down to the Solway beyond.

By now a brisk wind had got up, as often on even a small top.  We ate lunch sitting on a rock and then made our way down the terraced paths to the Sawmill tearoom at the bottom.  Three miles, but, like last time, it took three hours as it is quite a stiff climb.

And so to Sunday: another clear, bright day.  We took out our bikes and headed up the coast.  Once, you had to compete with boy racers testing their engines on the coastal road to Silloth, but now a very useful track has been laid, for cycling and walking, and it is much used.  We were able to take our time, stopping to survey the foreshore which was alive with birdlife: redshanks, oystercatchers, curlew, their wavering, trilling calls unmistakable.

A little further and we saw stonechats sunning themselves, perched out atop exposed stalks.

We went on through Allonby and up to Beckfoot, where we ate lunch sitting on the beach - in February.

The last day of good weather saw us taking the route above Loweswater, leading to High Nook Tarn.  On our way we crossed a sheltered field in which many birds were foraging.  first we saw a songthrush, now increasingly rare for us.  But then we saw both redwings and fieldfares, which are winter thrushes.  Two bullfinches were perched in a bush and I was delighted to spot a treecreeper.  I am not a birder, but it is good to be able to name the species, just as we are increasingly able to identify individual hilltops in the Lakes.

Work continues on my latest project: the Skye cardigan.  The chart for this is available free on
Ravelry, where it was used on the front of socks.  Here, I am using a maroon Shetland
heathered with ginger and rust, paired with the Katia Ole sock yarn in a pinkish colourway.
The challenge here was to find a way of mirroring the chart for the two fronts.  What do you know?  It turns out that holding the chart up to a mirror, and taking a photo of it in the mirror, gives a good enough image to use for the second front.


Sunday, February 08, 2015


I've been having issues uploading pictures - still not resolved.  Warning: heavy knitting content.

Over the Christmas break I found myself knitting the sleeves of Signild for the second time after picking up the stitches around the arm hole.  There is a tutorial on how to do this posted by  Bygumbygolly - I've no idea why this is the name of the site.  It does make it very clear, with masses of pictures, exactly what to do.  The writer explains that it is all based on Barbara Walker's "Knitting from the Top down", so of course I had to order that too.

 Essentially, you work out how many stitches are going to be needed for the widest part of the sleeve across the upper arm.  Then you pick up that many stitches around the armhole using a shortish circular.   You knit across the top third of the stitches for the top of the sleeve. Then you begin to work short rows across the upper part of the sleeve head, picking up one stitch each row and wrapping and turning.  It is all much clearer with pictures.

A website I am devoted to is Ravelry, and it never ceases to amaze me when I talk to keen knitters who have never heard of it.  What I love most about it is the world wide reach of its membership.  When I posted images of the Whithorn Celtic pullover on Ravelry, the first comment I received was from someone in the Falkland Islands, and the second from someone in a hill-station in India.  Knitting as an international language?

More recently, I've been working on some cowls.  The first was this very useful moss-stitch cowl in a Noro yarn  This is very snug when wrapped around twice close to the face, and the silk yarn makes it bearable against the skin.  The subtle colour shifts of Noro make this a special item.

Next, was this mustard cowl using a lace and bobble stitch from another stitch directory.   I have been struck by how mustard and a number of different acid greens have been to the fore in recent seasons.  This one picks up the mustardy flecks in my tweed Lavenham jacket.

Finally, this purple cowl, using a complex stitch pattern from Barbara Walker's "Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns".  This is a Drops yarn, Nepal, a mix of wool and alpaca.  I'm pleased with the stitch definition and colour.  This year, I found myself stuck for a Secret Santa gift at the last minute.  I'm thinking that this might go in my bottom drawer for just such an event.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


This is Signild by Elsebeth Lavold, which has also reached completion over the Christmas break.
I have admired the work of Lavold for some time: all those wonderful designs in "Viking Knits" - but I've never actually knitted one.  This one appeared in the September issue of "The Knitter", and I loved the Celtic, or Viking, knotwork.  This is an exceptionally simple design, with the simplest ribs and the button bands knitted as  the edge stitches of the fronts.  A beginner could knit it.
I used a yarn I have had for some time, but have not found  a pattern to suit .  I bought it on a cone from Coldharbour Mills, which specialised in remaindered yarns.  It was unbranded, but not cheap, and the smooth handle suggests that it is a high-end Merino.  However, it knits at somewhere between a DK and an Aran, so I ended up making the largest size, to be sure that it would fit.
Then there were the sleeve heads.  The shoulders are slightly dropped, with a shallow sleeve head.  I tried simply sewing these in, in the usual manner, but was not happy with the result.  The yarn is very smooth and reveals any flaws.  Eventually I decided to knit the sleeves again, using a top-down method, picking up stitches around the armhole.  Someone has very helpfully provided a free tutorial on this technique on their web-site.  It gives a much better result.
Maureen asked about the edging used on the Fair Isle pullover.  This is a really simple combination of garter stitch and single rib, which gives a neat effect. 
Knit two rows
K.1 P1 two rows
Knit two rows
I first used this on my Summer Isles waistcoat, where I was making up the pattern as I went along.  Because the bottom ribs were curling and flaring I took them off and reknitted then upside down,.  This had the effect of making the cast -off edge the same at the bottom of the waitcoat as on the front edgings, almost like a braid.

I used it again on the Windfalls waistcoat, but not on Jewels as it is knitted in Shetland style wool, and I just used single rib for that.