Friday, February 23, 2018


In 2014 we went on a trip into Galloway which is just around the corner, as it were, into southern Scotland.  You drive north east to Carlisle, on to Gretna Green and you are across the border.  Whereas on our side of the Solway Firth  red sandstone forms the characteristic building material - indeed our own terraced cottage is built of it - it is a different matter on the Scottish side.

                                         We drove down to Kirkcudbright and on from there to Whithorn, a very early Christian settlement.  At Whithorn there is a ruined abbey with a museum.  In the museum is a truly breath-taking collection of early carved crosses.  These have round heads with incised circles and the shafts are decorated with interlaced Celtic knotwork.

This is all the more remarkable because the nature of the local stone is very resistant to carving of any sort.  The name of that local stone: Greywacke - great name for a rock, no?  Essentially it is a type of grey sandstone, a sedimentary rock of the Lower Paleozoic, but it has embedded in it all kinds of fragments, of subtly different colours.

One of the colours in Kate Davies' new line of yarn, Birkin, put me in mind of the stone colours in Greywacke, especially when it has a little acid yellow lichen in its weathering.

This is the thinking behind my second hat design.  I also wanted to see how well the tweedy yarn behaved when cabled - would it have enough definition?

I began by making some simple cable crossings on my sample piece.  But I wanted to echo the incised circles of the Whithorn crosses without going into full-on Celtic knotwork.  So I brought the two cables together, in the simplest way possible. I pondered on adding bobbles to the centres and decided against.

Obviously the definition of the patterning is not as crisp as it would be in a smoother yarn, but I am still pleased with the result.  Soaking the cabled strip before blocking made the mohair content bloom, which again adds a kind of misty softness.

I had thought to go for a tweedy texture for the crown of the hat and tried reverse stocking stitch at first, but I prefer the contrast of the smooth surface with the patterning of the cabled strip.

This is a light hat but I could see it becoming a favourite.  It's less of a statement hat than a Fair Isle can be, but it is making a statement nevertheless.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Designing hats

Some of you may have come on over here from Ravelry.  This is my first entry for the hat design competition to promote Kate Davies' yarn Milarrochy Tweed.  I was really pleased with how this turned out, not least because this is only the second time I have charted and knitted a crown design like this.

Now, you might recognise the pattern on the main part of the hat if you have seen my brown Museum waistcoat from last year.  The point of the design is to use the classic OXO configuration but to use five different lozenge patterns.  This increases the interest, for the knitter as well as the wearer, but it does require a bit more concentration since there are five separate patterns to keep track of in each row.  Having it all charted out makes this possible, so I drew it all out on knitters' graph paper.

So now, this raises interesting questions.  If this is a design competition what sources would be valid to use without breaching copyright? If you collect traditional patterns together and chart them out, does that give you the copyright on those patterns, or only on the charts?  This is particularly relevant with stitch directories where surely the compiler cannot claim ownership of those combinations of knit and purl.

Once I had finished knitting, I gave it a bath and then chose a saucepan with the same large circumference as my own head to block it on.  This stretched out the crown very nicely, but it did look very odd while it was drying.

Julie (See Comments), you will be relieved to know that after a quick wash and brush up we were able to go out for a late but civilised lunch last Friday.  My husband commented on how the whole adventure made the contrast even more enjoyable.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Allotment tales

A brilliantly sunny day, and we are due to go out for lunch.  One of the pleasures of life, for my husband, is to get smartened up and to enjoy eating in style.  I'm happy to share in this, although if it is sunny I prefer to be outdoors.

So it came about that we nipped up to the allotment to continue some of the repairs to winter storm damage and generally poddle about in the sunshine before setting off for our meal out.  We finished in good time, loaded the car and headed for the exit.  Then it all went pear-shaped.

It has been quite a wet time here recently and the ground at the allotments is not well-drained.  This includes the little roadway, no more than a few yards, leading from the parking place to the gate.  Somehow I misjudged the speed or the line or something.  The car slid, the wheels spun: I could make no progress.  My husband tried.  We shifted a few feet.  We enlisted the help of another allotment holder.  We pushed: nothing.  After about half an hour of this, covered in pocks of mud thrown up by the spinning wheels, we called it a day and walked back to the village centre.

My husband went straight to the council office to take advice.  Yes, they did know of someone with a tractor.  Yes, he would ring us back.  So we found ourselves back at the plot in our other car.  Through the gate came an elderly gentleman on an absolutely pristine grey Ferguson tractor, clearly his pride and joy.  He backed into position, produced a brand-new orange tow-rope and hooked it to the back of our stricken vehicle.  Within seconds he had towed us clear of the morass - and all without a speck of mud hitting his vehicle or his rope.  I expect he went home and hosed down the tyres.  We were very grateful to him.

In about 1950 my father started farming on his own account, taking over a hill-farm "Lock, stock and barrel" from his uncle.  This included a working horse, but soon this was replaced by a small grey Fergie tractor, the double of the one that came to our rescue.  This must have revolutionised his working life as the Ferguson featured a hydraulic lifting system for attaching implements, such as ploughs, harrows and haymaking tools.  It was a wonderful machine - and still is.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Evergreen details

Thank you for your comments.  The waistcoat came out better than expected and I seem to have mastered how to shape the front edge so that I don't have to adjust it when picking up the front bands.

You ask about I-cord buttonholes.  Warning:  If you are a visual learner You-Tube is your friend.  Like many things, it is easy to do but quite complex to explain clearly.

  On the armholes I simply applied the I-cord to the edge, by casting on three stitches and knitting them.  I lifted one edge stitch on to  the left-hand needle and transferred the three stitches back on to it.  I then knit two and knit two together through the back loop, thus attaching the I-cord to the edge.  And so on, until I had gone right round the armhole, just changing colour for the front.  The effect of this is that it looks as if the cord encloses the edge completely.

For the buttonhole band, I began by picking up stitches right along the front edge, this time pulling the working yarn though each stitch.  Then I purled back along the row.  Now I was ready to do the I-cord.  So I cast on three using the backward loop method and transferred them to the left hand needle where the picked up stitches already were.  I knitted two and knitted two
together through the back loop, so using up one stitch of the picked up stitches and effectively casting off in I-cord.

I had already worked out that if the buttonholes were two stitches wide, I needed to work 13 stitches between them to ensure even spacing.  At the start of the I-cord, I worked two stitches, then the first buttonhole.  I just lifted the next stitch over its neighbour and repeated this to cast off two on the picked up stitches.  Then I worked two rounds of I-cord without attaching it before starting to attach it again.  This leaves a gap between the I-cord and the cast off stitches which makes a very neat buttonhole.

I assure you that it is really easy and actually much quicker than knitting buttonhole bands in rib.

I was very pleased to be able to use up a few of the antique buttons I bought from a boot fair some years ago.  These are dark mother of pearl with a stem glued to the back.  They seem to complement the design without distracting from it.

Today is the fifteenth of February.  I ate my lunch on the bench on our patio, in brilliant sunshine.  Yesterday a gale was blowing and it was what we Cumbrians call "pickling" or "starvation".  But today was a different season altogether.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Two finished objects

Like most knitters, I have a few unfinished objects lurking in cupboards.  There's that oatmeal cardigan from last year, still half done.  It would have been just the ticket in the raw cold weather we are experiencing at the moment.  But it stalled when I realised that the two lots of yarn I had to have in the charity shop may have been the same colour but were different in other ways.  Not sure it is worth resurrecting.

Here we have a shawl/ scarf which I have knitted before, but in a lime green.  This is Afetos, knitted in Jaeger Alpaca.  It is a lovely blue-grey but the project stalled somewhere in the last big band of garter stitch.  It's finished now, though, and on the lookout for a good home.

And here is the Evergreen waistcoat.  This has been on the needles a while but not because it was resting.

Remember charity shop jumper - £8.99 -  from which I sourced most of the yarn.  The dark green stripe, in bright sunlight, has that wonderful tweedy richness.  Now it is the back of the waistcoat, dull in lamplight and lovely in the sun.

The fronts went through some transitions before arriving at this finished state.  I find it easier to visualise things when I see them in place, so if they look wrong I have to rip back and reknit.

On previous waistcoats I have felt that ribbed armhole edgings added unhelpful width on the shoulders.  This time I finished the armholes with an I-cord edging, just to neaten them.  So then, on the fronts, I wanted to use I-cord buttonholes, so I picked up and knit the stitches and then cast off with I-cord including the buttonholes in the cast-off.

I'm very pleased with how this has turned out.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chancery Lane

To London, to have lunch with my younger sister at Brasserie Blanc, in Chancery Lane. Or, in my husband's case, memory lane, as this was the area where he spent a year reading for the Bar, more years ago than he cares to recall.

We filled in some time by going off Fleet Street to visit the Temple Church, first established in the twelfth century.  This is an area of London in which time appears to have stood still - ancient quadrangles and courts, free of traffic.  Of course, this is an illusion as there was bomb damage during World War 2, but the buildings were restored.

This is the monument to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke.  We came across him not only in Pembroke Castle where you might expect, but also in Cartmel Priory in south Cumbria, at the other end of the country.

A current exhibition focuses on the stories of the very many members of the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple who were killed in the First World War.  It's very moving.

After a delicious lunch, we strolled back up Chancery Lane to Lincoln's Inn Fields where we visited the Sir John Soane Museum.  This was given to the nation in 1824 and is a group of three houses adapted to accommodate the collections of Sir John Soane who was the leading architect of his day.  It is certainly unique.  His Picture Room contains works by Hogarth and Turner with paintings hung on a system allowing them to be shown in rotation.  It is a collection which inspires amazement, more than anything else.

And this is a Little Owl, basking in the sunshine.   We have seen him there many times, but this is the first time he has been caught on camera.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Not hard to see where the name of my new waistcoat comes from.  you will notice a difference from the early sample below.  Off-setting the little trees but keeping the rows distinct led to a rather bitty design which was not doing it for me.  Curiously, tessellating the pattern gives it the movement it lacked and makes an all-over fabric, instead of rows.  I like this much better.

Now, I am not happy with the first pattern section above the rib.  this is the rib colour used as pattern on the main background colour and the level of contrast is not sharp enough.  I will cut one strand at the top of the section and unpick it before reknitting the rib.

At my knitting group a lady arrived with a large carrier bag containing the pieces of a heavy knitted cardigan which she had set aside in despair some five years before.  When she was trying to sew it up she realised that one front had one repeat too many before the armhole shaping, so was two inches longer than the other one.  Personally, I would have just pulled it back and reknit it, but someone suggested that it could be cut and grafted.  I was the one nearest, so I showed her what to do.  The following week I showed her how to graft the two sets of live stitches together, a sequence which does require some concentration if you have never done it before.  In the general conversation of the group it was quite difficult.  But she did manage to complete the garment, so I suppose it was a success.

At my new job at the local nature reserve we serve a mix of older couples out for lunch, carers with their charges and dedicated birdwatchers.  These are easy to spot because they always carry lots of kit: tripods, cameras, binoculars, telescopes.  And they dress differently.  But also, they are exclusively male, sometimes single and often in little groups of two or three.  They are not fussy eaters: bacon rolls, baked potatoes and cups of tea are all they need.

However, there is another type of customer altogether.  These are female and have selective dietary requirements.  We had already established that one was "Non-dairy".  She and her friend approached the counter again, eyeing up the cakes.  

"Is that one really sweet?" said the friend, pointing to  flapjack with caramel icing and covered in nuts and seeds.  The fact that it was actually labelled "Caramel Heaven" was apparently not a big enough clue.  She chose a large slice of Victoria sponge instead.

So, to meet the needs of these two, food need to be non-dairy, non-gluten, low calorie and look like a slice of Victoria sponge with buttercream through the middle.  Not a big ask then.