Saturday, 6 February 2016

Vintage Shetland

I don't know how other bloggers manage to write about things on the day they happen.  I can't write posts fast enough, and they  always seem to lag behind events.  So here I am writing this, and I want to write about something that happened today, but I haven't written about yesterday yet.  So today will have to wait until tomorrow....

Yesterday.  Susan Crawford visited the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection with her husband Gavin to do some final research for The Vintage Shetland Project.   (I pre-ordered a copy of the book before Christmas, and she tells me that I should get it in April.)   She hadn't visited the collection before - it was wonderful to show it to someone so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about knitting history.   We showed her some of the Shetland lace, and I got out some lace patterns from the 1940s and 1950s - here are a few of them.

Bestway 2548
Bestway 2548 claims to be 'designed in the Shetland Isles', but is in pineapple stitch, which I have not heard of before.  It looks a pretty stitch - I might knit a swatch to try it.

Bestway 2559
On the other hand Bestway 2559 does not claim any link with the Shetlands at all, although it uses feather-and-fan,  a very well-known Shetland lace stitch.  (And we have a Shetland scarf in the collection similar to the one shown in the pattern.)

These two Bestway patterns date from the early 1950s.   We looked at two Copley's patterns from the 1940s that use Shetland lace stitches, or very similar ones.  Lacy knitwear was popular in the 1940s when clothes rationing meant that women wanted to knit jumpers using a minimal amount of yarn.  Copley's 1440 uses only 3 ounces of wool (although it is so see-through that you would definitely need to wear a vest under it, I think).

Copley's 1440

Although it doesn't mention any Shetland inspiration for the design, at least Copley's 1440 uses Shetland wool.  The jumpers in Copley's 1271 are knitted in cotton bouclé (4 ounces, or approx. 100g., for each), so quite remote from any Shetland original.

Copley's 1271
(The woman on the bottom left is wearing a completely ridiculous hat.   She looks like she's got a flue brush on her head.   I don't know why that's the comparison that comes to mind, or how I know what a flue brush looks like, but I feel strongly that that is what my mother would have said, and she would have used one back then in the 1940s.  To brush flues, of course.)      

So we had a great afternoon with Susan and Gavin showing them things from the collection.  And talking a lot.  I'm sure Susan would have been quite happy for us to leave her locked in with the collection overnight, but eventually she had to go home.  They have a farm to run and animals to feed.  And she has a book to finish!  (I am so looking forward to getting my copy in April.)  

Friday, 5 February 2016

Yesterday at Spun

Yesterday being Thursday, I went to my local yarn shop, Spun, for the regular knit-and-natter session.  Lydia has a display of winter knits in the window, including two sweaters from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  I showed both of them in December at the Guild branch meeting on picture knits (see here).

They work well in the display, because the backs of both are interesting as well as the fronts - the bird tracks across the back of the robin sweater, and 'ICY' on the polar bear one.

(Though I don't really understand why anyone should want to have 'ICY' written across their back.)

Several people at Spun had already signed up to the Mystery Knit ALong that's being run by Sarah Alderson and Ann Kingstone, and were choosing two colours of 4-ply yarn for it in the shop.

The Knit Along is a pair of fingerless mitts - you'll find it on Ravelry if you search for a pattern called On the Other Hand.  There will be three stages, with two choices at each stage, one designed by Ann and one by Sarah, so there are 8 different combinations altogether.  (Or 16 if you make the thumb cuff and the hand cuff different, though personally I wouldn't.  Or 16 x 16 if you knit each mitt independently, though personally I think that would be daft.)

The description of the pattern on Ravelry includes the tags:  cables, corrugated ribbing, slipped stitches, stranded, twisted stitches  -  none of which are an essential part of a fingerless mitts pattern.  So it's going to be complicated.

I signed up for the Knit Along when I got home.  I'm already knitting a scarf in 4-ply in a dark teal colour, and will have some left over, so that's one of my colours.  Not entirely sure yet about the other.  The first instalment of the pattern was due to be released at 11 this morning - haven't looked yet.  Very exciting!

Monday, 1 February 2016


Last week we were staying at Auchinleck House in Ayrshire, a historic country house restored by the Landmark Trust.  I suppose it's quite small by stately home standards, but it housed 13 of us (+ dog) very comfortably.

We deliberately chose last week because Monday was Burns Night - 25th January - so we had our Burns Night supper in grand Scottish surroundings.

As is traditional, we had haggis, tatties, neeps and whisky sauce, followed by cranachan.  The haggis was piped in (though with an accordion rather than bagpipes) and Burns' poem Address to a Haggis was read while one of the party ceremoniously cut the haggis open.   Between courses, we recited Tam O' Shanter, taking turns to read a few verses each - not easy for the English, like me, who need a translation for lines like:
...ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark,
And linket at it in her sark!
After dinner we had more poems - William McGonagall as well as Burns.  And a certain amount of whisky was drunk.

The weather was fairly miserable the whole week - wet and windy, with occasional short sunny spells when the wind blew the clouds away.  But it was quite mild, so could have been much worse.  We went to Ayr and to Alloway, Burns' birthplace.  There you can visit the 'Robert Burns Birthplace Museum'; the Brig o' Doon; the old ruined church of Alloway, which features in Tam O' Shanter; the monument erected in memory of Burns; and the cottage where he was born.  (And for people who like that sort of thing, e.g. John, there are two exciting mort-safes inside the old church - used to protect newly-buried bodies from the anatomists.)

Until we went to Alloway, I hadn't known that Burns was so revered so early - he died in 1796, and the tradition of Burns suppers to remember him started only five years later.  The huge Burns monument in Alloway dates from 1820, and just below the monument is a collection of life-size stone sculptures of characters from the poem Tam O' Shanter, which were created in 1828.


Tam O' Shanter is, of course, wearing the 'guid blue bonnet' mentioned in the poem - and a pair of knitted leggings, too.  I wondered when tam o' shanter became applied to a particular style of head-gear. Again, it was surprisingly early: in the 1830s, Tam O' Shanter bonnets were advertised in Scottish newspapers as a type of headgear - specifically for men at that time.

Back to Auchinleck.  Because of the weather, and the fact that it was getting dark by 4 in the afternoon, we spent a lot of time in the house. That was no hardship - it allowed us to enjoy the house and the company of friends.  The house was built for the father of James Boswell, the friend and biographer of Samuel Johnson.  The Landmark Trust has put a collection of books relating to Johnson and Boswell in the library - another grand but very comfortable room, with open fires at each end, and a pleasant place to sit and read (or knit).  

I don't think I have ever looked at a copy of Johnson's Dictionary before, so I decided  to see what he says about knitting.   He defines 'to knit' as 'to weave without a loom', so I don't think he was a knitter.  But the entry for 'knitting needle' is interesting - Johnson's was the first English dictionary to use quotations to illustrate the use of words.  For knitting needle, he gives: "He gave her a cuff on the ear, she would prick him with her knitting needle."  It makes you wonder what the rest of this scene of domestic discord involved.  The Oxford English Dictionary (which adopted the idea of using quotations) uses the same quote, and dates it to 1712.  

And I did some knitting, by the fire in the library or at the dining table after dinner.  I mentioned in my last post that I need to practise Swedish twined knitting for a workshop in a few months' time.  Last week I had a go, and knitted a little sampler of different stitches.

It's turned out very well, I think.  Amazingly, it's very like the illustrations in the book!  I was using two strands of the putty-coloured yarn (apart from the casting on where I used a bit of another colour).  The inside is also very neat - you can see how the two strands of yarn are twisted over each other. .    

I do need to practise some more, but I'm really pleased that I've managed to produce something that looks like it's supposed to.

It was a very good week altogether - awful weather, but a beautiful and comfortable place to stay, and good company.


Saturday, 23 January 2016

Twisted Stitches

On Thursday, we had the first Huddersfield KCG branch meeting of 2016.  The plan for the year is to tour the world in knitting, and we began the tour with a workshop on Bavarian Twisted Stitch patterns.  Marie had devised several small projects for us to try, from fairly simple to quite complicated - the end result of each is a phone case.

I had already knitted something using Bavarian Twisted Stitches, it turned out - the Baht 'At mittens from Ann Kingstone's Born and Bred book.   So I decided I should try the most complicated project - which was a bit daft.  I should know by now that in a workshop I'm not usually at my best - I'm not as careful as I should be, I make mistakes.  I should choose something simple. But I've done some more work since the workshop (corrected a couple of mistakes) and now I'm making better progress.

I did at least make the sensible decision not to attempt Judy's magic cast on - I've done it before, but I can't remember how to do it, and it would have taken most of the evening by itself.  So the bottom of the case is open, and I'll need to sew it up to finish it.

My stitches aren't as neat as they should be (having to correct mistakes doesn't help), but they are getting better, and twisting the stitches does have a remarkably neatening effect anyway.   Many of the Bavarian Twisted Stitch motifs have evocative names like "Clover Leaf" or "Ear of Wheat", but this one is apparently called "Large Chain with Twisted Bands".  So far I've done one pattern repeat, and I think it's looking good.

Next month's meeting is on British Ganseys, and further ahead I am doing a workshop on Swedish twined knitting.  At the time this was planned, I knew almost nothing about Swedish twined knitting, but some progress has been made - a friend has lent me a book on it, and I'm going to start practising.      

Thursday, 21 January 2016

A Really Long Sampler

One of the more unusual items we have in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection is an enormously long sampler of knitting stitches, in a pink synthetic yarn.  There are about 950 stitch patterns in it, and it was knitted over several decades from the 1940s on.  Gladys, the knitter, intended to get to 1000 stitch patterns, but sadly she had to give up knitting due to arthritis and so never reached her goal.  After she died, her family gave the sampler to the  Guild, along with the 17 spiral-bound Woolworths notebooks that Gladys used to record the patterns.

When the sampler came to the Guild, it still had the needles and final ball of yarn attached.  It has since been cast off and washed (not easy!).  It was brought to the Guild weekend in Sheringham two weeks ago - now mounted on a garden hose reel and trolley, so that it can be easily unrolled and re-rolled - a very clever idea, that makes it much more manageable.    

The sampler on its hose reel

The sampler as Gladys left it

I had slip stitch patterns on my mind at the time, because of the slip stitch workshop I did at Sheringham, so on looking through one of Gladys's notebooks, I noticed a slip-stitch pattern.  

None of the patterns in the note-books are named, as far as I know, but I recognised this one: it's slip-stitch honeycomb, which I used for the cushion I made last year,  It's odd that Gladys didn't record the names - the numbers are not very memorable by themselves. Did she remember all the names, so that she didn't need to write them down?  The information from her family is that she invented some of the patterns, and some of them are marked M.U. in the notebooks, which could be 'Made Up' - you would think that she might have named the new patterns as well.

All a bit mysterious - but fascinating.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Seascape Scarf

I said in my last post that I finished knitting a scarf at Sheringham. Here it is.

The pattern is the Spiral Staircase shawl by LizAnn Petch - a free pattern on Ravelry. On the smooth edge, you increase one stitch on every row, which creates a pretty edge, and the curve that you see in the finished scarf.

On the other edge, you cast off ten or so stitches at regular intervals, which controls the width of the scarf/shawl.  I wanted it to be a scarf, not a shawl, so I cast off a few more stitches in each step as I went along, so that the width doesn't increase as much as it does in the pattern.

The yarn is Louisa Harding's Amitola  (again - I finished Xandy Peters' Petal Cowl in the same yarn in December).  It's colourway 106, which is called Seascape. The North Sea, not the Mediterranean, evidently - the colours are quite muted.  And it didn't occur to me until I got to Sheringham that it was very appropriate to be knitting in a yarn called Seascape at the seaside.   Here's a view of the sea at Sheringham, on Sunday morning when the sun was shining:

The pale browny-grey colour in the scarf, between the two dark grey stripes, seems to me very characteristic of the North Sea.

The self-striping yarn works very well with the pattern - I like the way that the stripes curve across the width of the scarf.  I used one ball of Amitola, and the finished scarf goes right round my neck, with the two ends hanging in front.  It looks very good - you see diagonal stripes of the different colours of the yarn, and the zigzags around the edge.  (Yes, a photo would be a good idea.  But I'm trying to find a suitable pin to fasten the two ends together, rather than tying them, or just leaving them to hang - I might get a photo taken when I've found one.)   It's very soft and warm, too.   And I think I'm getting better at knitting garter stitch - I don't find it easy to keep the stitches even (stocking stitch is much easier) but this is better than previous attempts.

P.S. One of the blogs I follow is Orange Swan's The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done. Many of her posts review knitting magazines, and her comments on the designs are very perceptive, caustic when they need to be, and often very funny.  Sometimes I find myself laughing out loud, e.g at "Call me hidebound, but my rule is never to make any knitted garment that sleeps more than two" as a comment on a hugely voluminous top.   Worth reading.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Knitting in Sheringham

I have just been to Sheringham, on the north Norfolk coast, for a knitting weekend.  It was mainly for the Leighton Buzzard branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, but was open to other Guild members too.  There were 26 of us altogether, and we took over Sheringham Youth Hostel.  There were some talks and workshops, and in between we did a lot of talking and a lot of knitting.  The hostel staff provided breakfast and dinner, and it was a really good weekend - thanks very much to Brigitte for organising it.  

The theme of Saturday morning was knitting in World War 1, with talks from Rita Taylor and from Lesley Lougher of Sheringham Museum.  Lesley talked about an exhibition this summer on Queen Mary's Needlework Guild, and the activities of local women during the war.

In the afternoon, there was a programme of workshops.  Back in 2011, I did a workshop with Mary Graham on knitting with wire, and she led another in Sheringham, so it was a good opportunity to have another go.  She provided wire, needles and beads, and I knew from my previous attempt that in a couple of hours it is possible to knit something interesting. Here's what I produced in Sheringham:

Being wire you can change its shape quite a lot, so I bent it into a flatter, swirly shape and wore it as brooch for the rest of the day.  I was very pleased with my effort, though it's very crude compared to the pieces that Mary knits.  She knits things that resemble seed pods and other organic shapes, and are clearly intended to look like that, rather than happening entirely accidentally like mine - her knitting is much more even than I can achieve in wire, too.  But I'm happy with my strange little 3-d shape.

In the second workshop session of the afternoon, I repeated the workshop on slip-stitch patterns that I did at the Knitaway weekend in Blackpool last October.  It was good to see people successfully knitting very neat samples of linen stitch - or in one case a blanket square in 3-in-1 stitch, in 2 colours.

The Youth Hostel in Sheringham is only about half a mile from the sea, and we had three days of no rain - even some sun on Sunday morning.  (I think the first time I've experienced two days in succession without rain since November.)  So I walked through the town to the shore a couple of times.

Sheringham is a nice little town - "twixt sea and pine" apparently, though I didn't spot any pine trees.  It's now at the end of the railway line from Norwich, but before the Beeching cuts, the line continued and the station was the other side of the main street, beyond a level crossing.

It must have been highly inconvenient to have the traffic held up whenever there was a train, and so when the line was terminated at Sheringham, the station was moved.  But the old station is still there, and is now the start of a heritage line to Holt.

Much more attractive than the new station, which has no buildings at all - just a sort of bus shelter.  There aren't even any seats, just sloping ledges to rest on.   (I'm not feeling very warm towards the operators of the Sheringham-Norwich line, because the train I should have got on my way home was cancelled, and the next one was late, so I was very late getting home.)

You can walk miles along the coast from Sheringham, in either direction, but I didn't have time for a long walk. But you should at least see the sea when you are at the seaside.

I started knitting a small scarf last week, to have something portable and straightforward to work on during the weekend, and I finished it on Saturday.  I've wet-blocked it - I'll write about it when it's dry.