Sunday, January 14, 2018

Midwinter spring?

Almost a month without posting - what have I been doing?  Not huge amounts of knitting, that's for sure.

I have been doing a good deal of head-scratching related to the green waistcoat.  The trouble is that I am likely to be influenced by the last thing that has caught my eye.  In this case, there's a dose of Marie Wallin in the mix, specifically using a combination of multi-coloured peerie stripes and a block of a monochrome pattern.  Not that I have any of her designs, of course, but just the concept.

I felt that the swatch, rendered as a full garment would look a bit stripy from across a room, as the colours are so different.  I also think this version will look like conifer woodlands in their serried ranks.  There's a touch of Alice Starmore's Oregon here, although that is multi-coloured.

So - a walk in our local arboretum, and we find catkins fully out and waving in the January sun. A bit premature, I feel.

Geese grazing near the walled garden.

And Hamamelis , but curiously, no scent.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Work in Progress

Oddly, given my title, this is a finished object, not a work in progress.  It is a little table, made by my husband to serve as a little tea-table in our cottage.  I can imagine it in use: we will have come home from a strenuous walk, and be enjoying the afternoon sunshine in our front room, mugs of tea to hand.

This little table and its drawer were made from recycled oak.  Many years ago, my husband made the bed we use now with both head and footboards.  More recently, he decided to update it and removed the footboards.  The wood was in good condition, and here it is, put to good use..

This is where I have got to with my swatch for the new Fair Isle waistcoat.  One of the issues in making up a colour scheme from an actual scene - woodlands in autumn - is that it becomes rather literally pictorial.  Yet these skeletal trees are there in Sheila McGregor's "Traditional Fair Isle Knitting,"  pictured there as the first motif on a scarf in yellow and scarlet.

I am trying to use up some of my Shetland Jumper-weight, rather than ordering more.  I happen to have some of this purple to hand, alongside a pile of green oddments.

I will lose the brown band altogether, but am liking the effect of the purples, which suggest shadowy twilight in deep woodland.  I'm thinking perhaps I will try a more decorative band instead of peerie patterns between the two conifer stripes.  It will probably look completely different in its next version.

Thursday, December 07, 2017


I'm taking my time planning my next Fair Isle waistcoat.  In Cumbria recently, for the literary festival, we noticed how the mixed woodland along the shore of Loweswater  featured a very pale lemon against a dull purple, a lovely combination.  But would it work as part of a colour scheme?

Against the rich dark green of the back, I can see a mixture of rusts and mustards.  But would it take the very bright yellow which I have actually got in stock?

As I said in an earlier post, my eye was caught by this jumper in a charity shop.  It might even have been wearable, except for those sleeves.  First, I ravelled it out, winding it on to the niddy-noddy which my husband produced some years ago, to skein it.  A soak and then a gentle spin - to try to relax some of the crimp.

Before washing...

And after...

By now, I am almost to the armholes on the back, but no further forward on the colours to be used for the fronts.  At some point, I would like to make use of a batch of mixed green oddments bought from a factory on Shetland in 2000.  Perhaps their moment has arrived?

Monday, December 04, 2017


Today I started a new job.  While I was working full-time I used to  dream about what retirement would be like. Whole empty days to devote to hobby projects - time to tackle long-distance footpaths, learn a language, cook more adventurous food... Sundays without the drudgery of sets of exercise books to mark, a chore which nothing made bearable.  Mondays without the inevitable battle through rush-hour traffic...

And, to some extent, this turns out to be true.  I certainly don't envy those women just slightly younger than me who are still waiting to qualify for their state pension in order to be able to retire at all.  Most of all, I enjoy being able to be outdoors when the weather is fine, making the most of the daylight in these short December days.

And yet, I find myself drawn to volunteering opportunities for what can only be called work.

The other day I was at the National Trust property in my village for a winter cleaning day, along with a small team of others.  My colleague, a retired banker, was hoovering the floor of the Great Hall so that I could apply polish to it in the old-fashioned way, on my hands and knees.

"I don't do this at home," he said, wonderingly.  "I pay a cleaner who comes in to do it for me."

"Yes," I replied, "that's because that is housework, whereas this is a leisure activity."  Now this is true, but it is also still hoovering.

A week ago we were at the local nature reserve having a cup of tea in the visitor centre.  Through the open door of the kitchen I could see a volunteer loading a  dish washer.  "I could do that, " I thought.

So today, I drove across country in blazing sunshine to spend the day clearing tables and loading the dishwasher at that same centre.  From the kitchen, as from the cafĂ©, a panoramic view of the reservoir teeming with birdlife:  lapwings, cormorants, Brent geese... As a view from a workplace it can have few equals.

I drove home through the dusk, feeling tired but pleased to have been of some use.  Not such an easy feeling to come by in retirement.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Constable Country

Recently we had some visitors in our National Trust property who had been to Flatford Mill and had found it to be "Like Oxford Street."

On my birthday, I chose for us to go and have lunch in Dedham, which is about twenty miles north of here.  We pottered around a few shops, then drove on to Flatford Mill in the sunshine.

A mid-week afternoon was obviously the ideal time to visit.  A deep peace had settled over the scene.  This is Willy Lott's cottage, familiar from Constable's "The Hay Wain."

We had tea at the National Trust tearooms, watching a pair of swans with a well-grown cygnet cruising along the river.

Anything further from Oxford Street it is hard to imagine.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017


Over the years, my husband has made some remarkable birthday presents for me.  This was the first: a miniature chest, like a prentice piece, for a jewellery box.  This must have been about thirty years ago.

A box inlaid with veneers.  These were cut from the wood of an apple tree which did not survive the storm in '87.  It once grew in the garden of my old house.

Inside, a surprise

This time, this year, I knew that he had something on the go in his workshop, but I had no idea what it was.  He was very sneaky about obtaining the materials, and I did not guess what the project was.

And here it is!  This is a cutlery box for the set of Robert Welch cutlery which we bought when we retired.  This is American walnut - from a sustainable source  - and it is both simple and beautiful.  I love it!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Planning patterns

I've really enjoyed wearing these waistcoats during the warm October days we've been having.  I also enjoy seeing the two of them hanging together like this.  It's the colours rather than the patterns, I think.

As I try to explain to non-knitters how I planned the patterns, I can see their eyes glaze as the thought, "You must be mad" passes through. "Planning" is a rather grand term for how I actually did it.

My previous waistcoats have involved two colours only.  Here, I was going for the more traditional Fair Isle shading so I chose two background colours and two pattern colours for each one.  I was knitting a plain back, so that was one of the background colours sorted.  Trying out a little swatch helped me to check that there was sufficient contrast.

Choosing the highlight colour for the middle row was again a question of trial and error.  I went for less contrast on the brown version than on the blue.

Then, I needed my trusty Sheila McGregor book of "Traditional Fair Isle Patterns".  I had a basic formula in mind, so I looked only at the 17 row patterns for individual lozenges.  On the blue  I needed more patterns, so I used some 15 row patterns and placed them within the lozenge shape.  I invented some, especially where only part of the lozenge was in view.

To start off with, I printed off some knitters' graph paper and copied the patterns for the band on to it in pencil, so I had a complete chart to follow.  As I got more used to the rhythm I did not bother doing that and just worked the lozenges from the book.

Of course, making it up as you go along - always my preferred method - does have its drawbacks.  Lozenge patterns can be more open, like a grid, or more dense with pattern colour.  Ideally these would be placed carefully on the piece to ensure balance.  You can see the lack of pattern colour on a lozenge half way up one side quite easily on the reverse of this front which is blocking. 

I thought I might top this up with some duplicate stitch, but it is hidden from view at the side, so I did not bother.

Mid-front, though, you can see the imbalance of density in some lozenges.  If I were repeating the exercise I would try to correct this.  

As I said, most people, certainly most non-knitters, do not subject their clothing to this kind of scrutiny.

So, what's next?  In a charity shop last week, my eye was caught by this jumper, in two colours of green, both heathered with those lovely tweedy fibres.  I'm thinking of recovering the yarn and using the dark green as the starting point for my next project...