Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Braxted Park

Last week we went for a guided tour of an historic property under the scheme "Invitation to View".

Braxted Park is a late eighteenth century house set in its own extensive grounds, surrounded by a wall which is four and a half miles long.  The current owner gave us a talk about the history of the house and what it takes to raise the income to maintain such a property in the present day.

In the past the house had been owned by a series of people named Du Cane and, improbably, by a Mr Darcy.  More recently, the owner's grandfather had acquired the house to use as a base for entertaining clients and providing office and lab space for the electronics company, Plessey, which he had founded.

The current owner had set up a golf course and managed the property as a wedding venue.  Over a hundred weddings were held there last year. All this, simply to fund the maintenance of the house and grounds.

We were given a guided tour: a beautiful ballroom with Adam ceilings, an orangery used for civil ceremonies and everywhere garden settings suitable for the taking of photographs.

From there we walked down through the grounds to the ornamental lakes where there is a curious structure, like an ice-house, but not actually an ice-house.

Just over the edge of the parapet a goose rose from her nest revealing this huge clutch of eggs.

It was an interesting way to spend a Monday.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Bad timing

Some time last year I spotted a couple of bags of an oatmeal coloured yarn in a charity shop.  It was labelled as if it had possibly been a second of Rowan yarn - Scottish Tweed.  I couldn't pass it up although it was just a bit gingery.

I found a pattern in one of those collections of "Woman's Weekly" patterns.  I remember thinking that the design does nothing for the model.  Later I realised that the picture does not even show the saddle shoulder which is the design's main point of interest.

I knitted both fronts and the back up to the armholes and started on the sleeves.  Then I joined in a new ball and began to feel that it was of a slightly different thickness to the rest.  The project seemed doomed and it stalled.  The bag sat in the corner of the living room for a year.

Perhaps I should finish it and send it off to Knit for Peace, I thought.  I reminded myself of the pattern and resumed. 

After assembling the pieces, I had to make some decisions about the edgings as the original had a straight ribbed band which would not do.  Also, I needed to lose an inch or two, rather than adding any width - that's the cardigan, not me, at least on this occasion.  I decided to use a narrow I-cord edging for the front edges, incorporating buttonholes.  This would then wrap over to fasten.  For the collar sections I used short rows to create a ribbed band and finished it with I-cord.

I put the finishing touches to this lovely, all wool jacket, just as the April heat-wave hit - not ideal wear for this weather.  Still, it will keep, provided the moths do not get to it.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Confident sewing

Nancy commented recently on how I seem able to plunge straight in to sewing tasks.  There is no trick to this, other than fifty years of practice.

However, if you were thinking of starting out, I do have a few tips.  Buy a very basic sewing machine.  I learned to sew on my mother's hand cranked machine which did not even do reverse.  My current machine was bought in 1978 and can do reverse and even various types of zig-zag.  The key point is that the machine is not intimidating.

Then, practise on fabric which does not matter.  Good fabric can cost much more than a readymade garment and you have no guarantee that the end-product will be wearable.  Charity shops are a good source of reusable fabric - duvet covers, sheets, even full skirted dresses.  You can make all your learning mistakes on these.

Make something you can use and enjoy - something straightforward, needing no pattern.  So, cushion covers are a good bet.  The first garment I ever made for myself was a little gingham skirt. One seam, the top turned over to form a channel for elastic and there was a little skirt.  I hand-sewed it at school in the top juniors and I remember my mother being quite shocked because I had made it without being asked to learn any new skills.  But I did learn that you can make wearable clothes for yourself.

Buy only patterns you will want to use many times.  In the 60s there was a magazine called "Petticoat" which offered a basic pattern for a shift dress.  Each fortnight they showed you how to adapt the basic pattern to make a different style.  These were the days when talented young people were opening boutiques to market their own design mini-skirts.  Anything seemed possible.  My friend bought the pattern and we spent many happy hours pinning and cutting and sewing, all on my mother's ancient machine.  The point is that if you make the same pattern several times your confidence grows.

There's no harm in being ambitious.  Quite early on my friend and I made ourselves trouser suits.  My mother, our technical adviser, blenched when she saw the lovely wine-coloured corduroy that my friend planned to use.  Over the whole weekend we tailored the jackets, setting in sleeves and making bound buttonholes.  My friend knitted a white jumper to go with hers and looked stunning in it.  I wore mine twice, once on a trip to the local theatre.  I remember it being impossibly dressy, enhanced with marcasite buttons.  We learned a huge amount from the project, though I imagine that neither of us ever made anything that complicated again.

So, what can this be?

We have recently upgraded the bedroom furniture at our cottage, including a bedding box to be used as a support for open suitcases.  This is a pad to protect the top of the bedding box.  It is made of Donegal tweed with a layer of fleece blanket as wadding.  Comes into the category of useful rather than beautiful, perhaps.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

April in Cumbria

A post-Easter break in Cumbria, after a very busy Easter weekend volunteering.  In fact, of the ten days just before we left I worked  nine, culminating in Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.  The world and his wife were certainly out to tea on those days.  

Sample coffee-shop scenario:  Couple approach the counter with some urgency.  Must be looking for the toilets, I think.  But no: it is 2018.  He says,"Do you have almond milk?"  and looks quite put out when we don't.  I blame the supermarkets.

So, yes - baby lambs

Banks sparking with celandines

And snow...

at no great height, on one of our favourite walks, Sale Fell.  We were surprised to find that this snow did not melt but evaporated as the morning wore on.

The Skiddaw massif, and some of the strange ridge and furrow features highlighted by the snow.

Unusually for us, we ate lunch at one of the classic Lake District beauty spots, Ashness Bridge, along with a crowd of others.

We were very surprised to see a young woman actually in the water with a tripod set up, so determined to capture the ultimate image that she essentially spoilt the view for everyone else for a good half hour.

On our way north we went up the A1 and across the A66, a high level route which crosses the Pennines.  The road was closed just before Brough because of an earlier accident so we detoured via Kirby Stephen, a very pleasant little market town.

  "Must come here again," I said to my husband.  Be careful what you wish for.

On our return, we set off briskly with a seven hour drive ahead and were making good time as we passed Brough on our way up the A66.  Suddenly, the traffic came to a dead halt.  There had been an incident of some sort a few hundred yards ahead of us (we never did discover what it was).

I've always wondered what the term "atrocious weather conditions" actually means: now, I know.  We were there in that jam for about an hour and a half, while it blew a gale outside.  Eventually the traffic cops began to turn all the cars, on to the carriageway leading back towards Brough, leaving the very many heavy goods vehicles to wait for the road to be cleared. And so we got to see Kirkby Stephen again, rather sooner than we expected.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


Remember this?  Last summer we bought  two chairs at a local auction.  They are Ercol chairs in a style we now know to call "Mid-Century".

The frames were sound, but the covers had seen better days.  New cushions from the company itself are available - for over five hundred pounds per chair.

We decided to continue the duck-egg theme since these are for the renovated front room in our Cumbrian cottage.  I found the fabric on an e-bay shop site  - it's intended to look like wool tweed but should withstand some wear.

First, I removed the old covers and unpicked them to use as pattern pieces.  I saved the zips to use again.  I cut out the pieces.

Assembling the seat cushions was a simple matter: insert zip, assemble complete side panel strip, stitch panel to top and bottom in turn.  Prise open zip and turn through.

The process for the back cushion was more complex, as the piece for the back and the piece for the front were completely different shapes yet had to be sewn together.  This is to accommodate the 3-D shape of the back cushion.

It seemed like an impossible task - and yet, it worked.  I pinned  and tacked the pieces to be sure that they would fit.

The final manoeuvre was to stitch the small curved base in place between the front and the back.  Fortunately, this went without a hitch.

So this is what they look like now:

You'll notice that the smaller chair has a buttoned back, as in the originals.  It took some pondering and some useful you-tube videos before we worked out how this was done, but we managed it this morning.  It does distort the check pattern, so the other chair may remain as it is.  We'll see.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Climate change

On Friday last week we had lovely weather: blue sky, sunny, so warm that we ate our salad lunch out on the patio.  So warm, I was thinking of suncream.

We went up to Marks Hall, knowing that the weekend would be spent on duty at Paycocke's House.

We saw lots of primroses,


and ducks engaging in curious mating rituals, bobbing heads in unison under the water.  Spring was here at last.

I say "was" because on Saturday morning we woke to snow. The temperature had fallen by ten to fifteen degrees overnight.  In the house, the chill was intense.  Now we know why they needed all those layers of woollen clothing.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

When icicles hang by the wall....

As the thaw started so we saw some spectacular icicles on our kitchen roof.  It's all gone now of course, but on exposed country lanes the snow is still banked up at the edges where it had formed drifts.  Surprising how quickly the whole country can be shut down like this.

While the snow coverage was at its height we actually had a pair of fieldfares in the garden.  These are ground feeders and they floundered about in the snow.  This is a song thrush: a pair of these appeared for the first time in years.  We saw evidence that they had winkled out some snails.  Here, he - or she - is just sampling some of my home-baked bread.

This is the Odds and Ends hat, this week's effort, with bought faux fur pom-pom.  

And, finally, the collection of hats made from Milarrochy Tweed.