Monday, January 23, 2017

Real Books

As I may have mentioned earlier, I have been an avid reader all my life.  Recently, a number of innovations have given me particular pleasure.

I was not an early adopter of the Kindle, but I am committed to mine now.  A friend will mention a book title in an email or a blog post, and, in an instant, I can buy that work and it will arrive, as if by magic, on my machine - no hunting in bookshops, no ordering up in libraries - instant gratification. 

Once, I would stock up with paperbacks on offer and read my way through them.  Then they would pile up.  But not now, as the Kindle stores them all invisibly.  Of course, one can no longer pass them on to others, but how often did that happen anyway?  I used to cart mine off to Oxfam.

The other day, I had left my reading specs behind.  Just by going up one font size on the Kindle I was able to manage perfectly well.

I recently finished reading Juliet Barker's biography of the Brontes, all 850 pages of it, and a very worthwhile read it was.  I decided to move on to her book on Wordsworth, a similar tour de force.  But not available on Kindle, oddly.  However, here's the next wonder of modern life: for 0.01p I bought a second-hand copy on-line.  Even with £2.80 postage, that is a huge bargain.  It duly arrived, and its bookmark reveals that it had been bought at Dove Cottage originally.

But now:  This is a hard-back book, as long as the one on the Brontes.  That one slipped invisibly into my Kindle, which maintained its heft as a slim volume weighing almost nothing.  The Wordsworth biography is a solid brick of a book weighing, amazing, but true, three and a half pounds.  It accompanies me around the house like a small pet.  And the print size - non-adjustable, of course - is very small, going to minute for the extensive quotations from the works.  I certainly can't imagine reading this book outside the house.

Of course, in a real-life bookshop one is led to titles  and authors previously unknown.  The front cover - indeed the title - can be very persuasive, in a way which does not happen with the Kindle.  Books with a visual element are wasted on it.  I continue to buy knitting books as books.

This is my progress so far on Houlland.  It's not been the easiest of starts, even after I managed the pick up.  I think you could call the pattern deceptively simple, as it has been only to easy to slip out of line (Twice) or even mistake a wrong side for a right side row (once).  The yarn I'm using, Filigree Lace, is a merino single and rather unforgiving to unpick.  I think I have the measure of the pattern now, but we'll see.

Finally a fingerless mitt, knitted while waiting for good enough daylight to unpick a couple of rows of Houlland.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Remember this?  It's the edging lace for Houlland, a hap shawl from "The Book of Haps".  I completed the 64 peaks of the lace and then got stuck.  The next instruction was to pick up 315 stitches along the flat edge, right side facing.

I did this, fairly successfully, but then I noticed that the right side now had quite a solid ugly ridge, while the wrong side looked much better.  Clearly I had picked up the wrong row somehow.  I tried again, but got stuck.  There was no consistent row to pick up and there were several shifts in the line, probably caused by me making small errors as I knitted the lace and not noticing.  I put it down after several attempts and gave it up as a bad job.

Recently I mentioned this on Jean in Edinburgh's blog and a knitter from Holland quoted the designer's advice on the matter - the designer, Donna Smith, lives in Shetland. This is how the knitting community works these days.

Now I have not only got the stitches picked up, but I've also realised something else.  I don't care for knitting on circular needles.  Stitches are hard to count against the cables and there is an awkward shift between the cable and the needle section.  But Donna Smith advises using sixteen inch needles.  Shetland knitters traditionally would have used wires ie long, thin, double pointed needles for whatever they were knitting.  So yesterday I bought a pair of long 3mm needles and the relief is palpable. 

So we emerge from the enforced break of the holidays.  Many years ago I remember a friend at college stating that she believed she could exist perfectly happily in isolation with Radio 4, some tapestry and a well-stocked library.  At eighteen, I have to say that I was doubtful about this - it seemed to leave out a few essentials.

However, with the gym closed and our usual activities on hold it has felt a little like that here.  I've been reading Juliet Barker's biography of the whole Bronte family, which runs to some 850 pages.  Just at the right time, up came Sally Wainwright's  brilliant film, "To Walk Invisible", on the same topic.  And then, the serial of "Northanger Abbey" available on catchup in two omnibus instalments...

A little tapestry to work while listening.  The extra crewel wool finally arrived and I was able to complete the design. Now I am just working the background stitches, which is much less fun.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Finlaggan mittens

Ten pairs of mittens now for Knit for Peace.  I'm trying to use up some of the vast hoard of oddments which I have in stock.

This is my latest effort.  I have subscribed to Kate Davies' "Inspired by Islay" Club, the notion being that each week a pattern is released.  I don't see myself knitting kilt hose, but the chart for the cable is very appealing.  Why not make use of it, I thought.

I used a 4ply wool yarn from Natural Yarns, and a 3.25 needle.  I knit them flat, and just placed the cable by increasing 1 stitch in 4 on the panel in a set-up row.  I used that simple rib edging I have used before on the Celtic waistcoats - two rows garter, two rows rib and two rows garter.  It makes a neat edge.

I put in a thumb gusset and completed the thumb on dpns.  At the top of the cable I closed it off by slipping stitches and passing them over.  This gives a finished look to it.

These feel very warm and are a snug fit. 

I will be trying to give my thumbs a rest over the Christmas break.  Luckily the tapestry yarn has arrived to finish the little Celtic panel.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A good read...

One of the many delights of being retired is the freedom to enjoy reading in that immersive fashion which just doesn't work when you read a page or two each night before dropping off.

As a child, I read a lot.  This was partly because electricity had yet to reach us, so we had gas-light, but no television.  We did not read in bed as the lighting there was in the form of Kelley lamps - small oil lamps which gave just enough light to undress by.  It sounds like another century, as indeed it was - the twentieth century.

In the top juniors I discovered the works of Rosemary Sutcliff, which I wolfed down.  My elder sister, never an avid reader herself, was already at the grammar school in town, from which it was possible to access the Town Library at lunchtimes.  I remember reading "Dawn Wind" in an evening.  My sister protested because changing my books every day seemed a bit excessive to her. She had a point.

Now, of course, I just switch on my Kindle and there the whole of Sutcliff's oeuvre is waiting to be downloaded.  "Warrior Scarlet", "The Eagle of the Ninth", "Frontier Wolf", "Outcast", "The Mark of the Horse Lord" - the list goes on and on.  Those familiar themes of the central character, maimed or disabled in some way, as she was herself, trying to make his way in the world.  And the astonishing way in which she uses details of the Roman world as though she had lived that life.  Everywhere detailed descriptions of landscape, trees, plants and the changing of the seasons.

Just one or two of them, perhaps for younger children, seem overburdened with period detail for the sake of it, but mostly she creates a fully realised world.

I had not read her adult fiction.  Here she is more likely to adopt a female perspective, as in "Lady in Waiting", telling the story of Walter Ralegh from his wife's viewpoint.  Or "The Rider of the White Horse" about the English Civil War and Thomas Fairfax.

Sutcliff's memoir of her own childhood, and the agonising story of her early, doomed love affair, "The Blue Remembered Hills" gave some insight into her studies of loneliness and endurance.

If you have not read any Rosemary Sutcliff, or not for some time, you have a feast in store.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Celtic stranded and Fair Isle

Some more pairs of fingerless mitts.  I'm trying to use up a batch of Jaeger yarn I have had in my stash for many years - it just seems to keep multiplying.  The camera does not seem to want to pick up on the contrast between the deep turquoise main and the pale mauve contrast here.

Two of these have Celtic patterns taken from Co Spinhoven's "Charted Celtic designs" and the other is a classic Fair Isle from Sheila McGregor. 

Knitting Fair Isle patterns like this one follows a totally predictable rhythm which is very easy to learn and satisfying to knit.  eg k3 main, k3 contrast.

Celtic patterns tend not to do this.  They have asymmetric qualities, so the chart has to be to hand.  Longer floats are required.  But they do often achieve a three dimensional effect, even with such a simple repeat as this one.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Newfoundland mitts

I'm currently in a charity knitting phase, after the challenge of Uncia.  I thought a batch of fingerless mitts might be of use, so these will be going to Knit for Peace.  I prefer full mittens, if it is cold enough to make mittens necessary, but fingerless seem to be the style du jour.

I have made a few pairs of Newfoundland Mittens in my time, using the free pattern published by Creative Whimsy, or sort of.  I love them.  The pattern consists of knitting two rows of the main colour and then four rows of the contrast - four stitches contrast, slip two main stitches and repeat.  This creates a honeycomb web effect which looks far more complex than it is, since you are only really using one colour per row.

It's a great pattern for using up adds and ends.  I knit my first pair with double knitting as the main colour and sock yarn used double as the contrast.  It was ideal for using up the ends left over from socks. 

You may have noticed that there are two variants of the pattern  As with many things in knitting this is a very simple change.  After the four rows of contrast there are two rows of main colour.  If you purl the first of these two rows you get a row of colour change bumps. 

If you knit both rows the effect of the web of  main colour is more dominant.  I prefer this effect, which is why I have knit it more often.

I've also used small oddment of J&S 2-ply jumper weight and other tweedy bits knit double, changing the yarn for each 4-row repeat.  It is possible to achieve quite a painterly effect by doing this.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Making it up as you go along...

You may remember this piece of needlepoint, started a little while back.  It is intended as a panel for a little bag for daily use.

I began with a small hoard of crewel yarn, and thought myself very clever swapping in strands to create this ombre effect as the design reaches its centre.  Of course I took no notes, but left some of each shade for use as I worked the second half. 

Then, seven rows from the finish line, I ran out of a couple of key colours.  This was vintage yarn, bought in Oxfam, obviously the leftovers from someone else's project.  And it was very fine for crewel yarn.  A little internet searching brought me to an online supplier of the same yarn, so I am hopeful that I will be able to finish.  However, ordering some pale skeins for the background, along with the deep rusts need for the design itself has run up quite a little bill.  not such a cheap project after all.

This is one of a pair of fingerless mitts knitted recently, and made up as I went along.  In fact, the Newfoundland mitts gave me the basic stitch count - 42, increasing to 48 after the rib.  So then all I had to do was place the cables, taking care to reverse them for the other hand,  and do the increases for the thumb gusset at an appropriate rate.  I used the cable pattern from the stalled oatmeal cardigan, so I didn't even need a stitch directory.   The only modification I made on the second mitt was to decrease the cable stitches before casting off to tighten the finger edge.

However, on this version, I chose to place an elaborate motif on the back of the mitten.  I could have planned it on graph paper but that is never my style.  Instead, I saw how it went, and it almost worked.  On the second mitt I am placing the motif more centrally, but starting it earlier, before the thumb gusset, so that it will finish neatly before the cast-off edge.  Then I will probably ravel out mitt 1 and work it to match.   I m only able to visualise things while actually working them through.

This is Colchester Castle where there is an astounding collection of Roman artefacts, including complete glass vessels from that period.  We fitted in a visit while completing our Christmas shopping.  Most interesting was the jewellery known as the Fenwick hoard, brought to light in 2014 when a department store was excavating for an extension.  The items include long-service military arm bands as well as rings and ear-rings in the latest fashion.  It was all thought to have been buried by a couple just prior to Boudicca's visitation.  I have just read Rosemary Sutcliffe's "Song for a Dark Queen", a horrifying read.  These items certainly give personality to that ancient massacre.