Friday, 30 December 2011

Smaller Items to Knit

Dad's arm rest tidy - it's pale blue, not grey
It's always been my 'thing' to take on larger projects, because I feel somehow that I should, that I enjoy knitting, but must make sure that I make something really worthwhile.  This strange approach is something to do with my obsession that time spent must be productive in some way and it often leads to disappointment.
I'm starting to learn that it's ok to just enjoy stuff and that not every piece of knitting has to be something to wear. 

Now I've learned that, I'm starting to find that smaller, quicker knits can be really useful too and that I actually finish them and they work.  The arm rest tidies knitted for my parents are already in use and much appreciated.  I used some aran from the stash, three strands knitted together to make a super chunky and Voila!  Such a worthwhile knit on so many levels :
- a gift
- a useful gift
- I enjoyed making them (I love cable knitting)
- they were quick
- they used up some stash
- they got  me into the notion of using more stash by knitting several strands at once

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas Reading

Christmas at Mum's
Over Christmas I have  been reading Charles Dickens' Christmas Stories, a little edition that includes :
A Christmas Carol
The Cricket on the Hearth
The Chimes
The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain
The Battle of Life

Lots of Victorian sentimentality, angelic women and bad men.  Lovely.

Other recent good reads have included

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A beautiful book about some very ugly times.  It's about the things people do to and for each other and how words can work for good or evil and it's about survival.

The Age of Elegance by Arthur Bryant
Written in 1954 with a very patriotic and rather rose-coloured view of life in early nineteenth century England and the English, it is very good on the battles with Napolean and gives rather amusing depictions of European royalty.  He describes the Prince Regent (future George IV) in 1814

'Though not yet fifty-two, he was enormously fat; his great backside, tightly swaddled in bright white inexpressibles, was one of the sights of Society'.

Bryant used huge numbers of contemporary sources and I enjoyed reading it for what were obviously first hand accounts by soldiers and politicians, but when it came to the 'editorial' kept reminding myself that his view of the world would not be mine.

The Making of Victorian England by G.Kitson-Clark
First published in 1962 this book uses a lot of words to explain that there was no cut-off point at which Britain suddenly entered The Victorian Era.  There was no fanfare or clap of thunder which meant that we were suddenly all Victorian.  A lot of the behaviours, practices, customs and injustices of the eighteenth century continued right up until the 1870s and beyond.  The book is very interesting on the development and influence of Dissenters and their rejection of the Church of England.  Also the development of political parties.  But it was hard going - why use two words when fourteen will do?

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas everyone.  Peace, Love and Joy.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Trying to get Christmassy

Home Made Christmas Wreath
I'm trying to get Christmassy, but have a heavy cold and had to have an emergency tooth extraction this week after breaking a tooth on a lamb chop.  The tooth put up a fight and there was quite a tussle in the dentist's chair, so I've got face ache.  Feeling a bit miserable and low on the energy I need to tackle the Christmassy things I wanted to do.   I am sitting over a heater, listening to IPlayer, finishing up my knitted presents and trying to decide which sort of medication to take next.
Before the cold and the tooth I was very Christmassy and after a visit from the TV aerial man (we were down to two channels) I picked up a bit of waste cable, rolled it and stuck things to it  to make a wreath.  We've had a lot of strong winds and I really didn't expect it to last, but it's still there and still intact.  So is my Christmas tree, in spite of the fact that the TV aerial man watching me put it together had severe doubts.  He kept offering advice and instruction as he worked.  He was right and I had to take it apart twice before the branches were in the right order.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Beaker Button, the new yarn shop which has opened up at Weyhill Fair near Andover had a box of old patterns for sale when I visited, the proceeds going to charity.  Apparently there had been some real treasures in there, but I was a bit late to get those.  I did get this wonderful little book on smocking which I have never seen before.  Late '40s maybe.  Certainly in a period of austerity as all pictures are black and white and if there had been a choice publishers and readers would certainly have wanted them in colour.

I have books on smocking which also cover Dorset buttons and I suppose there is some link between the crafts.  There are some wonderfully intricate patterns in this little pamphlet and I have often thought it would be fun to translate smocking patterns into knit, either by creating fairisle patterns from them, or by knitting a diaper pattern and embroidering it.  In fact I have a WIP which will do just that very thing if ever I can finish it.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

I caught the office cold

Bare trees in a wintry sun on Sidbury Hill
 I never catch the office cold.  This one I caught.  Feeling a bit bleak today.  Got so much to do for Christmas.  Sniff.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Beaker Button

A new shop called Beaker Button has opened up near me - at The Fairground Craft and Design Centre at Weyhill.  You get a lovely welcome and Jen who runs it stocks some very nice yarn, with more coming in all the time.  I went to get Christmas presents and shouldn't have been looking at wool shops at all, but hey-ho.  What can I say?  
Absolutely scrummy mossy green 4 ply
Also in stock are kits for making Dorset buttons and some cards of buttons already made up.  I have always been fascinated by this craft which once provided a livelihood for many in the west country who would proudly say when asked, 'I do buttony'.  Sadly, the advent of machine made buttons took away their livelihood and they fell on hard times. 

Jen does workshops and here is her website.

Another Dorset connection is that Weyhill is the site of the famous Weyhill fair where thousands upon thousands of sheep were brought by drovers from all over the South of England.  Itinerant workers would go as well, to sell their labour or their expertise and it was at one of the Weyhill fairs that the Dorset novelist Thomas Hardy had the future Mayor of Casterbridge sell his wife.

I haven't read The Mayor of Casterbridge.  Thomas Hardy always makes me a bit depressed and having got through Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'urbervilles, The Woodlanders  (the last two are extremely sad), I'd need to be feeling particularly bouyant to tackle the Mayor of Casterbridge.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Beginning to get a thing about fungi

Bracket fungus on a stump surrounded by stinging nettles

Whilst walking a footpath at the back of the local cricket pavilion a few weeks ago, I found this bracket fungus attached to a tree stump. 

It looks really tough and embedded in the wood.  It's curled up around the edges, like a dish shape so that it catches dead leaves and rainwater and I wonder if this is one of the ways it gets nutrients.  It has a weird kind of beauty and power.

I've poked about various websites and books and haven't been able to name it.  What is it with us humans that we have a real fascination with labelling things ?  I think maybe if I name it, then it might lose some of its power.  Am I going a bit strange?

Anyway, as I was poking about, I found this website with all sorts of interesting things in it.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

More Inspiration from Nature

Lichen on the farm gate
I like to get inspiration from nature.  I'm not a clever enough artist or designer to have any great success, but there is a buzz when it comes close.

Decided to have a go at a small ruffle
The gate is richer in browns and blue greys than appears in the first photo, so I chose a colour rich yarn for my first shot. 

The instructions attached to my swatch
Deeper ruffle

Lichen seen on Hawthorn - now there's a challenge

Friday, 9 December 2011

Inspiration on the ground

Clitoeybe ?
On a recent walk I saw this band of toadstools.  They get their nutrients from the decaying leaf litter.  I've had a look at my Mushroom and Toadstool book and think this may be something called Clitoeybe Candicans.  Not one for the cooking pot, I'm afraid. Looks innocent, but it's not. 

I was more interested in the way it marched across the fallen leaves.  The contrast of it's pale disks against the leaf litter.  And then there are the colours in the leaf litter itself - all sorts.  And the contrast of the bright green bramble.  Lots to ponder.

There's something fascinating about these things

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Spiders' Webs

My emblem
Photographed at the base of Sidbury Hill a few weeks ago.  It's much colder now and more difficult to find enough daylight to walk.  I'm resorting to walking in the dark where there are streetlights.  It's a bit restrictive and hopeless for photography.

Another view - I find these so captivating
Thoughts have turned to lighting the fire.  First we had to remove the Jackdaw's nest from the chimney.  There was a small forest up there and it was solidly blocked.  I think we wouldn't have minded so much if they had raised a family.  But they built it, then abandoned it.

Now that we have removed the blockage the chimney is drawing again at a terrific rate and the sitting room is very draughty once more.  A great gale whistles through the house and up the flue.  Such is cottage life.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Still Christmas Knitting

This is the inner pocket
I'm still managing to progress with a bit of Christmas knitting.  This week I've been focusing on an armchair tidy for Mum who, because she has very little mobility, tends to gather all her bits around her.  Lots of stuff goes down the side of the chair.  Regular excavation is required.

I'm now thinking of making one for Dad, but it would have to  be a darker colour.  This cream colour would not survive his mucky little mitts.

The outer pocket waiting to be sewn up - I do so love a bit of cable

This pattern was one I had cut out of a knitting magazine and was for some kind of super chunky.  One of the few things I don't have in my stash as I don't enjoy knitting with it.  I had some vintage chunky which I used double to get the right tension. 

The second photo is in bright sunshine and looks like a completely different colour than the first.  The first is a truer representation of the colour.  Interesting.
 I'm now getting obsessed with the different ways I could stashbust by doubling up yarns.  Hmmm
Food for thought.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Pig about town
Whilst I quite liked the pig, I felt he lacked something.  A collar and tie makes all the difference.  I think this is true of a lot of males.  You've never really seen 'em until you've seen 'em in a good suit.

Label attached to his foot

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Something for 3-6 year old
A little bit of knitting for a charity stall.  As long as I keep focussed and don't try anything too large, I actually do seem to be able to finish stuff.  This is in chunky of course, which I rarely use.  But I can see why people like it.  It grows fast. 

I always worry about the thumbs on children's gloves.  They always look out of place to me.  Too prominent.  I'm just hoping they mould to the wearer.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Christmas knitting

They look better with a foot in
Finally finished some Christmas Knitting - and it has turned out rather better than I expected (and better than these photos - I rushed them a bit).  These slippers are done in aran knitted double.  They are supposed to have a tassle at the front.  Since these are going to someone with three Yorkshire terriers I think that's tempting fate, so I crocheted some flowers and put a bead in the centre and it's all very, very firmly sewn down. 

I think I shall add some drinking chocolate sachets and other little goodies that might help with a warm and relaxing afternoon watching old films. and cuddling Yorkshire Terriers.  And before you think it, they are the same size, I've just realised that they look different in this photograph.  I'm going to have to start concentrating on the photography a bit more.
Slippers for idling on the sofa

Friday, 25 November 2011


November morning
A misty November morning and you would think that there wasn't a lot of colour to be had. 

The world starting to wake up

Look more closely, see what you can find - lots of inspiration here

And suddenly the world's awake


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Martin Down

Man made ditches stretching down the hillside
Martin Down, ten miles from Salisbury is a site with a long history, a bronze age enclosure and enormous ditches acting as boundary markers.  The scale of these ditches is remarkable - it would be a huge undertaking even today with modern machinery.  It was all dug by hand.  It's all grassed over now, but when it was first dug the great white stripes across the down as the chalk was exposed would have demonstrated the power and dominance of the people who created it.

It's now a nature reserve providing a downland home for all the creatures who specialise in that kind of habitat.  We went at the end of October, so not much in the way of flowers and butterflies to be seen.  Lots of sheep though.
A Derbyshire Gritstone
The Derbyshire Gritstone is one of the oldest British breeds of sheep originating in the Derbyshire Peak District in the mid eighteenth century and is well able to survive on the top of a hill in the south of England.   I have two little books called 'Know Your Sheep' by Jack Byard and they tell me that the wool of  the Gritstone is used for high quality hosiery, knitted outerwear and underwear.

An ancient burial mound
On top of the hill an ancient burial mound lay among yew and holly trees.  The ancient druidic trees.  Very fitting for such a site and very atmospheric.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sugar and Spice

Knitted skirt, jumper and cardigan for 2-4 years old
I should think this pattern from Sirdar's Sunshine series is late '50s.  Knitted in 4ply, the button bands on the cardigan and the cross band on the skirt are embroidered with flowers.  I can remember little girls who would have looked just right in this.  Their hair neatly brushed and their little white socks gleaming in their patent shoes.  I wasn't one of those.  Frequently mistaken for a boy, always untidy with unruly hair and chewed sleeves, one sock up, one sock always down, I was a source of desperation to my mother.  By the time I was ten I had the National Health specs - the brown ones with the wire earpieces (I refused to wear the pink ones).  I knew what my style was early on and everyone learned to live with it. 

When I was about five I paired up with one very neat little girl called Valerie for a fancy dress parade.  We were Jack and Jill.  She looked wonderful in her little flounced dress, pale yellow with white frills.  I was Jack and wore dark blue striped dungarees and a brown hat.  I held her hand and we walked out into the sunshine with the rest of the parade.  Someone in the crowd said,  'Oh look at that sweet little boy'.  We won first prize. 

Nowadays (about fifty years later) I love fashion and feminine clothes, but still look best in a pair of jeans and a check shirt.  I knew it all along.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Dog Roses

A Dog Rose in November

"Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;''

Rupert Brooke
The Old Vicarage, Grantchester

I love Dog Roses but they always seem to come into flower in those few weeks in June when we get high winds and slashing rain.  As soon as they appear their delicate petals are whipped away.  I found this hardy specimen on a walk in early November on the hills around Ashdown Copse.
On some wonderfully sunny walks in October on Sidbury Hill I saw masses of rose hips.  Must remember to come back in early summer to see the roses.

Rose hips in October
Some of the hips had split to disperse the seeds.

Just look at that sky

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Colours in late October

Rosebay Willow Herb
These pictures come from a walk in late October.  I like to record colours for use in knitting swatches.  This huge clump of Rosebay Willow Herb was turning to the most glorious colours. 

How the colours look close up
Rosebay in full flower tends to be associated these days with waste ground and bomb sites and so doesn't strike us as it did Culpepper in his herbal who believed it to be the most beautiful of all the willow herbs.  As it dies into winter it certainly is very beautiful.

Dogwood going through green to bronze to purple
And then, of course, there's the sky

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Bias Knitting

This bias knitted swatch was achieved by increasing at one end of a row and decreasing at the other.  This keeps the number of stitches constant but slants them diagonally.

I cast on 3 stitches and then knitting in garter stitch increased at each end of the row until the swatch was the width I needed.  Then I decreased 1 stitch from the right hand side and increased 1 stitch on the left hand side on alternate rows.  Then when the swatch was long enough I decresed a stitch at the end of every alternate row until there are no stitches left.  The colours were inspired by a satellite view of a Saudi Arabian desert.

Bias knitting would achieve the same kind of drape as any bias fabric and chevron stripes are created using the same principles.

I got my instructions for the swatch from a course I did with Locaine Mclean who runs a City and Guilds knit course.  But for her I would never have tried things like this.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A quiet corner

The Mortuary Chapel, Tidworth
I've been meaning to go and look at this little corner for some time and then the other day ended up on a footpath that went right by it as I climbed Furze Hill.  The chapel was built in the late 18th century using materials from the demolished medieval church of South Tidworth.  A place of worship is recorded there in the Domesday Book, but the grandees living in Tedworth House at the time considered that it spoilt their view and got permission from the Bishop of Winchester to demolish it.  The little mortuary chapel built from its rubble was then the only place of worship in South Tidworth.

I wonder what impact this would have had on the villagers.    I wonder if they were at all devout, attached to the old building and conscious that their families had worshipped there for generations.  Did this demolition strike at the heart of their community?  Or maybe, it was just another damp and leaky old building got out of the way and replaced by a much drier one on higher ground.  That was certainly the argument made by those who wanted it pulled down.

View showing the belfry

Some quite grand people - the estate owners - were buried beside this little chapel in the 19th century without much fuss.  And then there is a sad little corner for the children where the graves date between 1915 and 1918, two of them for children from the same family, aged 9 and 16 months.  Hard to think that with all the great suffering of  those years, small tragedies were still being played out far from the trenches.

Children's graves from the years of the First World War

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Exhausting week

Marilyn - trying to look as if she knows nothing about it

Very exhausting week last week.  We could hear something moving about in the walls and under the floorboards.  Always in the early hours of  the morning.  Fearing the worst I got the pest control man out.  He turned out to be about twelve years old with a mobile phone that rang constantly.  He was extremely laid back.  He only became animated when he saw our bird feeders.  Clearly he does not like bird feeders.  I made him go in the attic because he was annoying me.  He rummaged about a bit, then went away. 

'The Man Who Can', came home from work with a circular saw and we started taking up floorboards.  Finally caught a mouse.  The noise it had been making over the past week, I thought at least a small pony had been running about in there.  I discovered it had stashed about two boxes worth of cat biscuits in The Man Who Can's boots.  Of course, if we didn't have the cat, we wouldn't have the mice.  She brings them in and lets them go.

Needless to say I have been emptying and scrubbing cupboards ever since.  But things are no longer scrabbling in our woodwork and the upside is we found some rather nice wooden floorboards that we didn't know were there.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Perhaps I shouldn't have started

Part way towards smocking
You know how it is when you think perhaps you shouldn't have started.  I'm making what I hope will be a Christmas gift (I'm not prepared to admit what it's supposed to be yet).  Got carried away and didn't read the pattern properly before I started.  It has smocking on it and this smocking is achieved by Tw2R and Tw2L. 

The second one takes some getting used to.  (and I don't think I'm doing it right), A couple of hours of this and my fingers are really stiff.  And then when you have done all that you have to stitch all the diamonds into place so that it really looks like smocking.  Oh deary me.

K into front of second st on left-hand needle, then P into front of first st, slipping both sts off needle together

P into back of second st on left-hand needle, then K into front of first st, slipping both sts off needle together