Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy Christmas

Last Christmas we were surprised to receive a voucher for an "Experience" from my elder sister and her family.  We normally enjoy a hamper of smoked fish and meats which they have sent us for many years.  So this "Experience" came out of the blue.

The Shard

We checked the weather forecast anxiously: we were booked to enjoy lunch on a Thames cruise followed by the View from the Shard.  High winds, or worse, fog, would have spoiled the day.

Tower of London

We travelled in to Tower Bridge, where we met my younger sister and her husband who had been given the same voucher.  It was overcast, but not worse than you might expect in March.

London Eye

We embarked on the lunch cruise, down the river past all the redeveloped warehouses and wharves, then back up through Tower Bridge and up-river as far as Westminster.

All the while we were being served a  really delicious lunch of chicken breast, dauphinoise potatoes and plenty of fresh vegetables.

Once off the boat, we had to decide whether to cross by Tower Bridge, or by the plainer London Bridge, which is the one we chose.  Then we were whisked up to floor 68 of the Shard and climbed the stair to the viewing platform on floor 69. 

It is a strangely moving experience to see the city laid out before you like this, its railway routes exposed.  Those curious pockets of historic buildings marooned among all the spanking new developments of the last twenty years.

We climbed three more flights to floor 72 which is open to the elements.  It was quite a windy day and up here it felt like being in a forest, a sensation enhanced by the astroturf underfoot and the fake evergreens along the inner walls.

Tower of London from the Shard

It was a memorable day out, and a great Christmas present.

Friday, March 10, 2017


I've finished this asymmetrical scarf in Drops alpaca. This is Nurmilintu.

It features alternate bands of garter stitch and a simple lace.

I'm very pleased with how blocking has straightened this out and opened up the lace.

Snowdrops in full bloom at Mark's Hall arboretum.

And a heron looking hopeful on the banks of one of the man-made lakes.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Works in progress

First daffodil, almost ready to bloom.
With the weather variable, I am still spending time on my indoor hobbies - the allotment must wait for now.

Around my living-room I seem to have accumulated a number of works in progress, some only at the development stage and others in active progress.  I like to be able to move from one type of handwork to another, not least to rest my thumbs.

So, actively on the needles, is this asymmetrical scarf in Drops Alpaca.  You knit a long tail and then begin bands of simple lace alternating with deep bands of garter stitch.  I'm not sure how big it was meant to be - the designer seems to have just knit until one skein was used up.

At a much earlier stage is Lindisfarne by Lucy Hague.  This is also knitting, but pretty far removed from those garter bands.  The design hinges on 1-7 increases from which all the Celtic cables grow, but also includes some other tricky manoeuvres on dpns.  I won't be knitting an entire throw, but wanted to see how the technique worked.  There is an even more challenging square which I would like to try.

In the bag are two partially worked fingerless mitts in crochet.  I'm basically using up tiny ends of yarn on these, but also trying to develop some new skills, as my crochet is at beginner level.

Finishing the Celtic needlework bag spurred me on to consider some more pieces.  Someone at my knitting group, who likes to make small items for her grand-daughters, commented that my bag looked more like jewellery and that she could see herself making neck-purses.  Well, I just happen to have some small scraps of canvas handy, and I like a challenge...  This is another design from Co Spinhoven's "Charted Celtic Designs."  Then , how about wrist-bands, or cuffs, from the narrow strips?

The last one in plain sight in my living-room looks less promising.  These are scraps of fabric hand-woven by me in two different combinations: plain purple and purple warp with a variegated weft.  I'm thinking that these oddments might be sufficient to construct a small bag on similar lines to the one I have just finished, with the calico lining providing some stability to the hand-woven outer.  This one might just be tidied away instead.   And soon it will be spring...

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.