Monday 28 February 2011

World Book Day

It's World Book Day this week, and I shall be one of the 20,000 UK distributors of free books. I shall have 48 copies of Toast by Nigel Slater (the chef) to give away.  I enjoyed the BBC film of the book at Christmas and wanted to read the book as well, so when I saw that it was one of the books on the World Book Day list, I chose that one to give away.

I shall be distributing the books in Spun, the yarn shop in the Byram Arcade in Huddersfield, on Saturday March 5th, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. I have already contacted the members of the Huddersfield Ravelry group and other people I think would like to have a copy, but if I haven't contacted you and you would like one and you can get to Spun on Saturday, then please come along.  Preferably let me know first (by a comment on this post) so that I can save you a copy.

There's an interesting piece by Nigel Slater in The Observer about what he felt about having a film made of his autobiography, and how unsettling it was to have Helena Bonham-Carter play his stepmother.  You'll find it here.

Happy reading!

Sunday 27 February 2011

Weekend in London

Last weekend we were visiting friends in London. We went by train and I got quite a lot of knitting done, going there and back, and on the train from our friends' house into central London over the weekend. I was working on the scarf I am making in Kid Silk Haze for a birthday present - I started on the second ball (of two) over the weekend, so it is going well.

We had a very cultural weekend, visiting museums and art galleries, as well as two cemeteries. (J likes cemeteries a lot, though it was a very cold weekend and walking slowly round a cemetery is really not a good way to keep warm.)

We visited the museum in the Foundling Hospital, set up in the 18th century to take in abandoned babies. There are many other things of interest in the museum,  but the main attraction just now is the Threads of Feeling exhibition (running until March 6th).  When a child was taken into the Hospital,  it was given a new name, but the hospital wanted to provide for the possibility that the mother might one day be able to look after her child and come back to reclaim it. (In reality, that very rarely happened.)   So the Hospital recorded what the child was dressed in, and sometimes pinned to the record a sample of the cloth - or sometimes the mother attached a knot of ribbons, or some other token, to distinguish her child. The fabric samples are apparently very important as the best surviving evidence for the type of cloth that ordinary poor people wore at that time, but mainly when you see the exhibition you think of the people involved, and how hard it must have been for the mothers to give up their children. It is very touching to see the records and the scraps of cloth. (A good article on the exhibition was published in The Guardian.)

The same day, we also went to the Wellcome Collection, which is a free museum containing an extremely  diverse collection of objects to do with  medicine, anatomy and more or less anything to do with being human, I'd say. Or to quote the web site "it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future".  It is very peculiar.

And (on another day) we were going to visit Westminster Abbey but were put off by the long queue, and the fact that photography is not allowed. Why not? I can understand that lots of people taking flash photographs would be annoying for other visitors, but why is photography without flash banned? They say in mitigation that "Postcards showing the interior of the Abbey are available to buy in the Abbey shop", but in fact there is only a small selection.

So instead we went to see our new Supreme Court, just across the road.  (The building isn't new - it's been recycled from the former Middlesex Guildhall, a neo-gothic, early 20th century building, but the institution is.) Entry is free and the staff were all very friendly. There was a case in progress, and we picked up an information sheet about it - it was an incomprehensible matter to do with tax. Slightly disappointing that it wasn't some important human rights matter, but it was still impressive to see the court in action and gratifying that any member of the public can see knotty points of law being worked out in accordance with our constitution. (Even though we haven't got one.)

From there we went to the Courtauld Institute Gallery, which has a wonderful collection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings, amongst others.  As usual, we all picked the ones we'd like to take home with us. I chose a Monet of the river at Argenteuil, all orange and blue, and a Cezanne of trees near his family home in the South of France.  The leaves are painted with short parallel brush strokes, which give a really lively effect of a breeze blowing through the branches.  I was going to buy a postcard of it, but its character is completely lost on such a small scale. I was also taken by some William Nicholson linocuts, and the shop had a print of one of them.  I bought that, in lieu of the original Monet and Cezanne.  Easier to live with, probably. 

And we took the bus several times - a splendid way to see London, especially from the front of the top deck.   Altogether we had a great weekend, and it was really good to spend time with our friends.   

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Deja Vu

I have been reading Knitting Fashions of the 1940s by Jane Waller, borrowed from the library. It was published in 2006, but has patterns (more than 50) adapted from sources published in the 1940s - pattern leaflets, and magazines such as Stitchcraft and Woman and Home.   The modern versions are mostly knitted in 4-ply, and are very close to the originals apart from being larger, to fit modern women, and longer.


I particularly like one jumper in the book called Ribs are Smart, which I imagine is the original name.  I like the way that the construction of the jumper grows out of the diagonal rib stitch pattern. Jane Waller's version keeps the squared-off shoulders, though I suspect that the original model is wearing shoulder pads, so that her jumper looks more extreme.  According to Waller, the pattern appeared in a Needlecraft & Needlewoman leaflet that she dates to 1942-4. 

When I saw this jumper, it seemed familiar, and I eventually realised that I had seen a similar jumper in another library book, The Sasha Kagan Sweater Book, published in 1984.

The sleeves of Sasha Kagan's jumper are long, but I think it must be based on the same original.  Kagan dates the original to the 1930s, but given the square shoulders, I think 40s is more likely.  Hers is knitted in 2-ply jumper weight Shetland. 

Isn't it wonderful that a pattern can inspire later designers 40 and 60 years later, and that it can look good with minimal alteration so long after its original time?   It's sad though that we don't know the original designer who wrote the 1940s pattern.  Back then, pattern designers were anonymous - possibly it was someone on the staff of Needlewoman & Needlecraft, and producing a timeless, inspiring design was just part of the job.

Friday 11 February 2011

Wearing tweed

This has been a busy week, including two days at the Knitting & Crochet Guild store, working on sorting out the magazines, and more work on them at home. The main store is currently more or less empty - most of the items that were not water damaged by the burst pipe just after Christmas have been moved out, so that the building can be dried out. But that is nearly done.  The dehumidifiers are about to be removed and the contents will be moved back shortly - there's a lot of work still to be done. So no blog posts this week. I know that lots of people work full-time and still manage to write their blogs - I just don't know how, that's all.

But I have also managed to finish my Old Moor jumper. It had its first outing on Tuesday at Knit Night. I'm very pleased with it - it fits well and the tweedy yarn looks good in the herringbone stitch and the stocking stitch too.  I like the way the neckline is shaped and finished off - the edging is just a few rows of garter stitch, but it all looks very tailored and neat.  I worked the shoulder seams using short row shaping and Russian grafting, of course - practise what you preach.  And I am very proud of the neatness of the armhole seams.  Those were the only seams I had to sew, as I knitted the body and sleeves in the round.    

I made some changes to the pattern that I didn't mention before.  It is supposed to have a V-neck  at the back as well as the front, but I don't like having a draught down the back of my neck so I filled it in.  Also, the yarn is not soft enough to wear next to the skin, so  I will be wearing another layer underneath (except for modelling purposes) and a V at the back would make that difficult.

Another change is that I reduced the diameter of the cuff, because I wanted it to be close-fitting.  The herringbone stitch is not at all stretchy, so it is now quite a tight fit over my hand.  The pattern has a looser cuff and then a wider sleeve, but I have staged the sleeve increases evenly so that the sleeve is a closer fit overall - I thought that a loose cuff and sleeve would just be very annoying.

I have started another project to replace this.  It is a lacy scarf in Kid Silk Haze, for a friend who is 60 in April. She asked for a sort of plum/damson/berry red colour, so I am using Liqueur - a lovely rich dark red.  And now I shan't say any more about it until after her birthday.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Spring is on the way

It was beautifully sunny this morning (though now it is windy and raining) so I went out to do some tidying up around the garden. It is still cold, but the first snowdrops have opened so I feel that spring is just around the corner.

There are several clumps of snowdrops in the garden, but this one by the front door gets more sun than the others and it flowers first.  I don't think the snowdrops really like the conditions I can give them - I planted them years ago and they don't increase much, but they come up faithfully every year.

In fact, the snowdrops are not the first flowers of the year in my garden. I have a little arabis plant that has been flowering for weeks now. But the flowers are small and unobtrusive, and don't seem such a hopeful sign as the snowdrops.

Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi

There are some crocuses in bud, too that will be opening soon.  But I planted lots more that I can't find any sign of. Either something has eaten them or I can't remember where I put them, I suppose.

Wednesday 2 February 2011


I have had another attempt to find a stitch pattern for Rowan silk-wool DK yarn.  I am thinking of knitting a cardigan in the 6 balls of yarn that I bought last year, as I described in a previous post.

I have been trying out lace patterns that will fit well with the raglan increases in a top-down cardigan.  The stitch pattern in the centre of the swatch is the Vertical Lace Trellis from Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns.  I increased one stitch at each end of the centre panel on every right-side row, and the extra stitches are incorporated neatly into the lace pattern. 

I have done the side panels in plain stocking stitch, because I am still experimenting with needle sizes and tension for this yarn  It is allegedly DK yarn, and the recommended needle size is 4 mm, supposedly giving a tension of 22 stitches and 30 rows to 10 cm, which is of course perfectly standard for DK yarn.  However, I have used 5.5mm needles for this swatch, and the tension over the stocking stitch is about 18 stitches and 22 rows to 10 cm.  The resulting fabric looks fine to me - not too loose.  So the yarn seems to me to be behaving a lot  more like Aran weight than DK.

 In comparison with the  Felted Tweed DK that I am using for my Old Moor jumper, the Silk-Wool looks much thicker.  Felted Tweed has 2 strands of yarn, quite loosely wound around each other  (there are probably some technical terms to use here that I don't know)  whereas the Silk-Wool has 4 strands of yarn and is more tightly wound, and the yarn looks and feels much denser.   
Such huge disparities in yarns that claim to be the same weight make it potentially very difficult to substitute a different yarn for the one that a pattern is written for. I guess the lesson is not to go by what the ball-band says, but look at the yarn itself and how it feels. In my case, I don't have a pattern, except for Barbara Walker's general guidelines in her book Knitting from the Top.  So all I have to do is find an appropriate gauge for this yarn, and a good stitch pattern for what I want to achieve.  I think I have done both of those with this swatch.   
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