Monday, October 17, 2016

Knitting Uncia

I seem to have gained a number of followers recently.  Welcome!

I've knitted some lace in my time.  Above, the Star Leaves shawl in that glowing autumnal yarn.

The Swallowtail shawl, in a lovely lace-weight yarn.

A Drops design that I knit for a charity some years ago.

These all follow that basic triangular construction of knitting a little garter tab and picking up along its edge to begin at the back neck.  The increases therefore come at the predictable places: edges and centre back.

But equally predictable is the lace.  With these, once the basic pattern is established, the repeats become obvious from the knitting itself.  Like in  traditional Fair Isle, the numerical sequences have a balance and a rhythm.

Of course, I learned a few things in knitting these.  The Swallowtail uses nupps in its Lily of the valley border, and I had not met those before.  The Star Leaves shawl has a section of textured knitting before the leaf section began, which was a puzzle to work out.  But, in general, knitting lace, especially on a large shawl, is so repetitive that boredom is a risk to completion.  One loses interest before it is finished. 

And you can certainly watch television while knitting, although perhaps not read sub-titles.

However, Uncia is different .  For a start, there are eight large charts, with the style of openwork constantly changing.  Very few of the manoeuvres are completely new, but several of the symbols are unfamiliar.  There is a key of course, on each page, and a further explanation of what these mean on two different pages.

Then there are the increases.  Because the design is based on the idea of stonework rising in columns, the increases are hidden very cleverly within the ribs.  Looking at the finished fabric they are almost invisible.  But that also makes them unpredictable on the pattern. 

So you sit with the chart, card pinned across above the row one is working, and, reading the row like a line of text, knit the row.  By now - I am on Row 350 of 400 - I can mostly predict what to do, and the wrongside rows have become readable from the knitting rather than the chart.

With knitting this complex it would have helped a lot to have a close-up picture of the section to be knit, rather than the series of very beautiful images of the designer, Lucy Hague, wearing it.  Then you could see what you were aiming at.

But, as I reach the final chart, I can see that it is also the sort of knitting where you don't want it to be finished.  I'll be thinking carefully what my next project will be, to avoid a sense of anti-climax.  Lucy Hague has a series of Celtic knotwork shawls, but I'm thinking perhaps Houlland from the "Book of Haps".

Monday, October 03, 2016


It's some time since knitting featured here - but that does not mean that no knitting has been happening. 

While on holiday, we had the sort of train journeys which lend themselves to long stints of knitting.  I took the sleeves of the cardigan I am knitting from the Rowan yarn I found in that charity shop in Cockermouth earlier in the summer.  I've now decided that the colourway is Oatmeal, rather than Porridge which is a creamier, lighter colour.  And it feels a bit like oatmeal to knit - bumpy and slow.  It certainly reminds me how much toil is involved in knitting a full-size adult garment.  I like to knit both sleeves together, so that the rate of increase matches, and both will be ready at the same time.  But it is the kind of project likely to be put down and not picked up again for some time.

We did see quite a number of yarn stores while away, and several other people knitting on trains.  I bought one ball of a Regia sock yarn, in a colourway I have not seen in the UK.

Before we went away, I put in an order for Kate Davies' book of Haps, and the yarn for the one design out of it that I could imagine actually knitting: Uncia. I thought it was time to take on a challenge in my knitting again.

For a while - almost two years in fact, I have been knitting for charity, using long-stored yarn and balls of acrylic bought in specially.  Most recently I've been on mittens for the elementary school in Rapid City.  It's easy and mindless to turn out pairs of these.  The idea that they might actually be worn by someone who would be cold otherwise is a strong incentive.

Likewise all those iterations of the Gidday Baby pattern for the Pine Ridge reservation.  I never seemed to tire of variations of that, but recently the birth-rate seems to have slowed, so there was a natural break there.

So then, Uncia.  This pattern, by Lucy Hague, is about as far from mindless and repetitive as it is possible to get.  I can usually knit while watching tv, travelling, talking, even reading on a Kindle.  But not this one.  This one requires really good eyesight, strong lighting and total concentration. 

Apparently it was designed after visiting a series of Gothic cathedrals, including Cologne and Mont St Michel.  Now, we were outside Cologne cathedral for several hours recently.  The façade is extraordinarily beautiful, in shades of grey and black.

  As the evening sun lights it up, the stone shows all its honeyed tones.  Imagine translating those arches into cable and lace: this is what the designer did.

I am now almost through chart C - there are five more to go.  The Gothic arches are already clearly visible, and the knitting has taken on a certain rhythm.  There are four hundred rows in all, as it fans out into more traditional lace; I'm about to do row 238.

I seem to have gained a Follower - is it you, Outlaws, or have you been there for some time?

Friday, September 30, 2016


From Freiberg, we took the train to Lindau, on the Bodensee (Lake Constance).  The weather was forecast to be rainy, but this turned out to mean rain overnight and fine, if cloudy, days.

Two examples of German food: white sausages with mustard and a giant pretzel and mushrooms with a giant dumpling.  Not things one would encounter at home, but perfectly tasty for lunch.

Lindau is an ancient town on an island, now linked by causeway, but with regular ferries running to other towns along the shores of this vast lake.

We took the ferry to Friedrichshaven, where there is a Zeppelin Museum, and an airport offering flights in airships.  This would not suit me at all, but it has been a long-standing dream for my husband so he had booked a flight.  It all looked a bit precarious as the huge ship bounced about on its rope tether, before taking off.

Another day we went over to Bregenz, which is actually in Austria, and up the mountain in a cable car.  This should have been an exciting experience, but in fact felt like an overcrowded tube train, so many people were packed in.  At the top there is a wildlife park of mountain animals: wild boar, ibex, moufflon and deer.

Monday, September 26, 2016


Four more hours on the train took us down the Rhine valley to Freiberg, an old university city in the Black Forest.  We did see a few cuckoo clocks but of the famous gateau there was not a kirsch-soaked cherry to be seen.

We saw many painted facades

interesting carvings

detailed mosaics

and the little channels of fresh water for which the town is famous.  On these hot days we saw children paddling in these to keep cool.

Freiberg has its own splendid cathedral.  We climbed up the spiral stairway up to a room high above the square, just below the belfry.  Then it was up an even narrower stairway inside one of the openwork spires - terrifying.

Freiberg suffered heavy damage in WW2, and its cathedral was seriously impaired.  Perhaps they removed the medieval guild windows to save them?  Here the boot-makers' and the bakers' windows.

Finally, this striking image of St George and the dragon.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Where are we now?

Just back from a little break.  So where can this be?  We travelled by Eurostar and high speed train.

We had never been to this country before.  Despite some intensive practice on Duolingo, I found my fifty year old O level was not even up to the details on menus, let alone the longer words on museum displays.

We did not actually try the Currywurst, but we certainly ate a range of other types of sausage, some of it what we would have called luncheon meat - which, I suppose, made it eminently suitable for the lunches when we ate it.

We had one night in Cologne en route, and had already decided that the cathedral was all we could manage.  It did not disappoint.

Flying buttresses and Gothic arches.  It was only completed in the nineteenth century, but to the original design.  Miraculously, it survived World War Two with only some windows lost.

The exterior is clearly being renovated piece by piece.

This piece of scaffolding, high up on one of the spires, seems to defy gravity.

Many of the figures have been restored.  But the real wonder was to hear the great bells reverberate thrillingly across the whole square.

We watched the play of light on the stonework of the façade as we ate our supper at a pavement café opposite.  (Bacon, egg and Rosti, since you ask.)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Swallows and Amazons

About this time last year, we stayed at a cottage near Ambleside.  On the bookshelf was a copy of Arthur Ransome's "Secret Water", a later title in the "Swallows and Amazons" sequence, but which got me reading all the others, cycling out to the Shotley peninsula, reading Jennifer Jones's homage and generally following a trail.

This year a film has been released, so of course we had to see it. It's rare, these days to see a film aimed at children without animation or obvious CGI, so that was the first oddity.  Press coverage seems to have been obsessed by the change of name, from Titty to Tatty.  Given that the actress playing the part was a very sweet little girl, and not an adolescent, this name change was hugely irrelevant and as nothing to all the other changes, which were legion.

Maybe we do now suspect that Ransome himself may have done more than research folk tales and escape his failed marriage in revolutionary Russia, but was it really necessary to start the film with a direct rip-off from John Buchan?  Every key moment in the story was then hi-jacked by this spy-story, not just using it to add motivation to the burglary of the houseboat.

But then, the costumes.  They may have used vintage fair isle pullovers or had them custom knit for the boys.  But did the girls really need to wear bits of old tray-cloths made up into blouses and dresses?  The scale of the embroidery patterns cannot have been intended for children's clothes.

So, having bothered to establish "period" in this way, why bodge it with the updating of attitudes?  The Swallows all form a crew for their boat in which naval discipline is established by rank, and they all obey the captain with very little demur. But not in this film, where they argue and question his decisions.  The eating of "pemmican" (corned beef) in the book is all part of their extended role-play as explorers; Ransome goes into lots of detail about how they cook it in various ways or eat it straight if time is short.  In the film, they are shown losing a picnic hamper of more interesting food and turning to corned beef as a last resort.  The film makers appear never to have been camping for days on end, or indeed, hungry after a hike.

As for the Amazons, it is hard to say which decade these two girls belong in, but it certainly isn't the late Twenties.  The supremely over-confident Nancy of the book has been transformed into a troubled teen, searching for a father figure.

We did marvel at how Derwentwater, clearly identifiable from a view of Catbells in the background, could appear so deserted.  Why are there no other boats on the lake at all?  And how did they manage this?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Gosforth Show

Gosforth is a small village in west Cumbria, usually seen briefly by those passing through on their way to climb Scafell from Wasdale Head.  It is worth a detour because of the very fine Viking cross in the churchyard.  But that was not the purpose of my visit this time. 

Every year Gosforth, like many other small communities, hosts an agricultural show.  When we were children, at school in a neighbouring village, the whole school had a half-holiday in order to "go to t'show."  Now, the show is held in August, presumably to maximise the chances of fine weather.  Some irony there, I feel.

My eldest cousin has been associated with this show for over fifty years, faithfully entering her baking and craft items in the Industrial sections and now presiding over this part of the event.  Most of the others taking part have similarly been part of this rural community all their lives.  Each year they bake scones and gingerbread, make lemon curd and rum butter, pick out six eggs from their laying hens in order to compete against each other in the many classes.  And they bake constantly, not in a Post-Modern reaction to the ills of the world, but to fuel the relentless toil on the land.  Just the names on the silver trophies for the most points in each section is like a roll-call of the farming wives of the past, women whose baking was legendary, or who could knit a pullover out of ravelled out yarn, or make a pegged mat out of old serge suits. 

Some years ago sociologists from Newcastle University conducted a research project into Gosforth and its people.  A defining characteristic of conversations at social gatherings, particularly of women, seemed to be "Claiming Kin" ie tracing who was whose second cousin twice removed. Hours could be spent on this activity.  "Ah, but who was she afore she were wed?"   Within minutes of arriving at the show tent I found myself engaged in this activity .

My role at this year's event was to judge the knitting.  Now, I did have some qualms about this when my cousin asked me to do it.  Personally, I like to see knitting as a collaborative activity where we can all be inspired by each other's work, and can enjoy learning new skills. I don't enter competitions myself.  However, my cousin convinced me that I had the one essential qualification: I live "Down South", and am therefore not part of that close community.  To that extent, I would be an objective judge.  Weeks before the event, I was sent the schedule of classes: a scarf, an item to be donated to the Special Care Baby Unit, a knitted plate with four knitted cakes, an item in four-ply or finer, and an item in DK or heavier.  No judging criteria, of course.

At the event each item is ticketed, the name of the entrant hidden on the reverse.  Each judge is accompanied by two Stewards, there to ensure fair play, and to record the judgements, writing out the coloured cards for First, Second and Third.  Apparently, the ladies on the committee horse-trade, so that stewards are allocated to crafts which they will not enter themselves.  We began.  A class of scarves, in which at least five were made of that ruffle yarn which produces a wearable scarf, but is hardly recognisable as knitting.  So, how to decide between an airy cobweb lace stole in feather and fan and a bright lace triangle in a more modern idiom?  In the end, I went for the one which displayed a wider range of knitting skills. 

But then, the plate of cakes - how to decide between two very similar efforts?  Later, it was revealed that these were both the work of the same knitter, so it hardly mattered. 

By pure chance I gave first prize in the baby section to my cousin's exquisite little lace matinee coat, not least because it was small enough to fit a new-born.  And so we went on.

Now, all this sounds like a civilised way to spend a morning, weighing up the finer points of craft work.  But that is not what will be memorable about the event.

The day before, it began to rain.  Nothing very spectacular, but enough to dampen the ground.  On the day of the show it set in with a vengeance, dumping huge quantities of water out of the sky, and keeping it up for several hours.  Gusts of wind threw the rain over anyone venturing out of a tent.  Underfoot, vehicles rapidly churned the grass into a quagmire, ankle-deep.  An impressive amount of tractor power was in attendance at the show; soon, it was being deployed to rescue cars stuck in the mud.  The Grand Parade of cattle was cancelled.  The cattle tent itself was blown over.

We waded back to our car, soaked to the skin despite anoraks and waterproof trousers.  I've rarely been so wet. My second-best trainers have been through the washing machine but still have a distinctive swampy smell.

Gosforth Show 2016 - one to remember.

And, for the Show Committee, work will soon start on organising the 2017 event.