Wednesday 31 October 2012


For the last couple of weeks, Sainsbury's supermarket has been selling "carving pumpkins" for Hallowe'en  - not with the rest of the vegetables, but with all the other Hallowe'en paraphernalia.  They were remarkably cheap, so I asked if they were suitable for cooking as well as for carving into lanterns, and was told that they were perfectly edible, but had been selected because they were a regular shape and even colour. 

So I bought one, and have cooked several meals from it:
  • 20% went into a North African Pumpkin and Chick pea dish from Claudia Roden's Tamarind and Saffron.  Pumpkin with chickpeas sounds a little bland, but it was actually very tasty.  (4 portions)
  • 20% made a pumpkin risotto, based on the recipe from Valentina Harris's Risotto! Risotto!      I left out the pancetta, because we hadn't got any, and it was fine without.  (2 portions)
  • With the rest, I made two batches of the delicious Pumpkin and Sage soup  from Susan Crawford's blog.  (approx. 8 portions).
Three recipes new to me, all very successful.  I have not cooked much with pumpkin before, except pumpkin pie.  That's OK, but in spite of all the sugar and spices you put in, it still tastes vegetable to me.  These savoury dishes are a much better use of it, I think.  

And the pumpkin which made all these dishes cost me £1.50 - remarkably cheap.  I'm sure that's less than the usual price when it's not Hallowe'en.  Jane Grigson, whom I trust completely on cooking matters, says in her Vegetable Book that whole pumpkins will keep for months, so I bought three more to keep for later.    Nice for us, though I don't see how anyone can grow pumpkins and make money, when the supermarkets sell them for only £1.50.

Monday 29 October 2012

A Small Treasure

I said a while ago (here) that sorting publications at Lee Mills had progressed to the point where all the many boxes of "Patterns Unsorted" had now been through at least the first stage of sorting.  Although that was a good thing, a downside is that we are much less likely to come across unexpected treasures.  A box labelled "Patterns Unsorted" often contained a complete mix of all kinds of papers - magazines, patterns torn out of magazines, newspapers cuttings, etc. -  as well as pattern leaflets. And occasionally, something really special.   Now we have been through all those boxes once, so we more or less know what we have, and there won't be any more surprises.

But there are still a few treasures that have been forgotten.  Last week, one of the other volunteers was looking through a bundle of letters and found a  postcard, inside the letter from the donor.   It's a birthday greetings card and was sent to a girl called Mildred by her "Auntie and Uncle" in 1933.  Presumably, Mildred liked to knit. Or wear stripy jumpers.   (The original photo was black and white, or rather sepia, and was coloured by hand, so the lurid yellow, green and orange colour scheme may be just the colourist's imagination.)  And she must have kept the card, probably for a long time - it was eventually bought by the donor at a fair some 70 years later.  

I know that Montse Stanley collected postcards with a knitting theme.  (Her collection of all kinds of objects related to knitting is housed at the University of Southampton, while the publications in her collection are a component of the Knitting Reference Library at Winchester School of Art - I visited the Knitting Reference Library while I was in Winchester for the In the Loop conference in September, but I have not seen the rest of her collection.)   In an article in The Knitter, Linda Newington (librarian of the Knitting Reference Library)  explains that Montse's  husband Thomas Stanley had a postcard business, and she started her own collection through going to postcard fairs with him.   But as far as I know, this one is the only postcard in the Guild's collections.  We shall certainly treasure it. 

Friday 26 October 2012


One of the things we were looking at for the display of picture sweaters at Yorkshire Wool Week was a child's sweater with Postman Pat in his van on the front.  Some of the items in the collection have a pattern with them, or a note of the pattern that was used or who designed it, but not this one.  Then yesterday I was sorting a box of Wendy patterns at Lee Mills, saw the pattern and recognised it.  I found another pattern, too, that was obviously designed to go with it, to knit Postman Pat himself and his black-and-white cat - both patterns were designed by Joy Gammon. 

Although it was satisfying to be able to reunite the sweater with its pattern, I am not actually very fond of Postman Pat. We once drove all the way through France, from Boulogne to Provence, with only a cassette tape of Postman Pat stories to entertain our daughter, who was then about four. After a while, we realised that the tape was faulty and had the same two stories on both sides. (It took a while to realise, because all Postman Pat stories sound pretty much the same - people talk about the weather and say "Cheerio!" a lot.)  That sort of thing rots your brain.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Cherry Brandy Sweater

Before we went to Istanbul, I looked out some picture sweater patterns at Lee Mills for the display at Armley Mills.   I think my favourites (because they are often a bit peculiar, not because I want to wear them) are the patterns that promoted various products.  When picture sweaters were popular, a lot of advertisers seized the opportunity to design their own  - like the Stergene elephant sweater and the British Coal "Only a real coal fire will do" sweater that I wrote about here.  

Sometimes the sweater was only tenuously associated with the product - there is nothing on the elephant sweater to remind you of Stergene or even of washing clothes.  But sometimes, the sweater was essentially an ad for the product - it's a neat trick if you can persuade people to advertise your product for free (and even knit the ad, at their own expense).   Here's another promotional sweater, for De Kuyper Cherry Brandy, designed by Wendy Wools. The design on the front of the sweater is the label from the front of a Cherry Brandy bottle, and the stand-up collar has the words "EXTRA FINE" knitted into it, echoing the label around the shoulder of the bottle.  Essentially the sweater is meant to look like the bottle.  It looks quite opulent, with its rich colour scheme of green, black, red and white with gold lurex.


According to a magazine cutting that I found with the pattern, it wasn't originally planned that it would be published.  The sweater first appeared in a TV ad (still viewable on YouTube, see below), and the company subsequently were "inundated with enquiries for the pattern".  I wonder how many people actually knitted it and wore it?   It does seem to me a bit odd to want to wear such a blatant ad for an alcoholic drink.  Did the knitters who asked for the pattern think it was a cool design, or were they committed cherry brandy drinkers?   

Monday 22 October 2012

Yorkshire Wool Week

This week has been Yorkshire Wool Week  at Armley Mills Industrial Museum in Leeds, organised by the Baa Ram Ewe yarn shop.  I went to the closing event today - a class given by Amy Singer of Knitty on designing a lace shawl.  She was teaching what she calls "plug-and-play"  techniques that you can use to turn any rectangular or square lacy stitch pattern into a triangular shawl.  It was a lot of fun, and I now have a test swatch of my chosen lace pattern and a tiny knitted triangle which in time will grow into a much larger knitted triangle, i.e. a shawl. 

We all got enough yarn to make a sizeable shawl.  The original plan was that it should be Titus, a new wool and alpaca yarn developed for Baa Ram Ewe, and reviewed in Knitter's Review  earlier this month.  But the review was so favourable that the shop has run out of Titus, so instead we got 4 balls of  Excellana, a British wool yarn that comes in a range of lovely vintagey colours.  Mine is eau de nil, a very 30s colour (or "Nile Green" as it says on the ball-band, which isn't half so evocative).  And we get the Titus yarn as well, when they get some more in stock.  Lucky us!

At Lee Mills, we had put together a display of some of  the Knitting and Crochet Guild's collections for Yorkshire Wool Week.  Now that the collections are better sorted and recorded, it's possible to choose a theme and find a suitable selection of items.  This one was of picture sweaters (mainly from the 1980s).   When Verity of Baa Ram Ewe came to visit Lee Mills and discuss what should be in the display,  she saw some picture sweaters and thought they were completely charming. ("Bonkers" was the word she actually used.)

I took some photographs of the display before I packed up the sweaters to bring back.  Judging by the reactions of the people at this morning's class,  they created a lot of interest - especially one with a picture of the Ribblehead viaduct, with train.  That was one of four by Sandra Inskip with Yorkshire landscapes in natural grey sheep colours, all beautifully knitted.

Another sweater with salmon (?) leaping up a waterfall and integrated mittens in the shape of a fish's head also attracted a lot of attention (in a "What on earth?!" kind of way).   The mittens are enormous - it must be intended for a large man.  It was paired in the display with a beautifully-made cardigan with a landscape all round the body as well as on the sleeves, involving different textures as well as a whole range of subtle colours.   If picture sweaters are at all acceptable, that one is my favourite.

There were some rather more ordinary landscape sweaters, too, and two wonderful creations with a tiger and a polar bear.   (I'm sure I have seen someone wearing a polar bear sweater recently.  Hopefully, it was in a spirit of irony.) 


 And there was also a panel of children's picture sweaters. If a child is small enough, you can put it into any clothes you like, so these may not be a product of 1980s - more the effect of adults thinking that children in picture sweaters are really cute.

The handiwork in some of these sweaters is admirable.  I still don't think that you should wear a knitted picture of the Ribblehead viaduct across your chest.  Of course, it was different in the 1980s - we didn't have any taste then.  

Saturday 20 October 2012

Fish Sandwiches by the Golden Horn

Last week we were on holiday in Istanbul again - after two days there on our Turkish tour in May, we wanted to go back for a longer visit.  We went with a couple of friends and had a wonderful time.  The weather was perfect - warm and sunny, but not too hot. We went back to the Topkapı Palace and to the harem, and had a longer visit to the Archaeology museum.  (We only had an hour to spend there one lunchtime when we were in Istanbul in May, and then had to run to meet the rest of our party.)  We went to the Süleymaniye Mosque, and the church of St Saviour in Chora which has wonderful Byzantine frescoes and  mosaics, and several other museums and mosques.  And we walked miles, along the Golden Horn and through the little streets around the Grand Bazaar, and lots of other places. We had some good food too - the fish sandwich (balık ekmek) from a boat next to the Galata Bridge was a highlight.   Here are a small selection from the many photos taken while we were there. 

Aya Sofya from the roof terrace of the hotel
A momentarily quiet courtyard in the Harem

The Blue Mosque from the Hippodrome

Inside the Süleymaniye Mosque
Sponges for sale in the Spice Bazaar

Fire precautions at the Mosaic museum

Sandwich makers by the Galata Bridge

Monday 8 October 2012

Wool Re-Fashioned

We went to Salts Mills at Saltaire yesterday (our nearest World Heritage Site), mainly to shop.  There is an antiques place there, which often has some interesting things.  Yesterday,  I bought knitting patterns (3 for £1!  A bargain!) - two Patons & Baldwins from the 1950s and a Jaeger pattern, from around 1960, I would guess.  I don't usually look for old knitting patterns because most of the ones I find are already in the Lee Mills collection, but the two P&B ones are an addition, as far as I know. The Jaeger one may not be in the collection either - we haven't sorted the Jaeger patterns yet.  (I was going to say that it has quite an interesting collar construction, but that sounds completely dotty.  (It has, though.))  And really, if I spend long enough in a place that sells moderately-priced, interesting things, I feel that I ought to buy something.

Also at Salts Mill just now is an interesting exhibition that I hadn't heard about, Wool Re-Fashioned.  It is an exhibition of 12 garments from the Yorkshire Fashion Archive, dating from the 1940s onwards, along with re-workings of the old designs by students of the School of Design at Leeds University.  It's fascinating to see the constructions details of the archive garments, some of which are quite complex, and then how the students kept some of the details, changed others, selected new materials and colors, and finally produced something quite different from the original but still recognisably related to it.  (None of the garments are knitted, but I can be quite broad-minded.)

The Yorkshire Fashion Archive at Leeds university seems to be relatively new, and this seems to be the first exhibition based on the archive.  You can find more details, including some video clips, on the web site. The exhibition runs until 11th November, and entry to it (and the rest of the Mill) is free. Worth a visit.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Health Vests

I recently wrote an article on Twilley's Health Vest cotton, for the current issue of Slipknot (the magazine of the Knitting and Crochet Guild).  You can find a version of the article here, on the blog of  Thomas B Ramsden, the company that owns Twilley's.  Health Vest cotton was a thick cotton yarn used to knit string vests (of course) and a few other things - one of the patterns is for the Horse Cooler I wrote about here.     In writing the article, I suggested that the Health Vest cotton patterns were issued in the early 1960s, judging by the women's hairstyles.  (Yes, regrettably, there were patterns for string vests for women.)  I have just found an ad from 1962, showing that I was right. 

From Pins & Needles, September 1962

You could get a leaflet on the virtues of Health Vests, and a free pattern for the vest illustrated, worn by Bill Brown, the Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper.  (But you still wouldn't want to wear one, would you?)  

Wednesday 3 October 2012

A Knitted Card

Friends have sent us a card (bought in the Lake District, I think) with a piece of knitting glued to it.  The yarn is Herdwick, in the natural grey colour.  Herdwick wool is not much used for garments because it is not very soft, but the sheep are hardy and able to survive on the Lakeland fells.   And it makes a nice card.  I wonder if the knitting was originally done on longer needles and transferred to these little ones to make the card?   They are about 2mm diameter, I guess, so it is only the length that is out of the ordinary.  You can easily knit on 2mm needles of standard length, but knitting on such short needles would surely be very fiddly.  
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