Friday, 29 April 2011

Love Story

For the past week my household has been in the grip of an enduring love story.  The excitement has lead one or other of us to rush out into the garden with a camera at each coo or whir of feathers.

The collared doves have returned for a second year, checking out the site of their last year’s nest to see if it is suitable for this year’s accommodation

My study window looks over the back garden and one rainy day in February 2010, I caught my first sight of the pair.  Not particularly bothered by the storm.

The nest they built in our grape vine was a rather rudimentary affair, just a rough platform of a few sticks really.  The young couple took shifts to sit, quite un-fazed by our comings and goings and all the attention from the family paparazzi

At my first sight of the baby I was amazed, it nearly filled the nest from its first day of life.

Nearly ready to leave

Resting after the first flight

It took about three days for the baby to fly confidently around the garden as he first made his way from nest to rowan tree, tree to fence and then took off into the air.  Once competent he flew around the garden with his parents.  We gradually saw less of the trio till by autumn we saw no more of them. 

Then a couple of weeks ago the garden was filled with their cu-coo-coos again.  On Easter Sunday morning they were perched together on the top of our open bedroom casement window.  Another favourite position is on the top of a drain pipe under the eaves of the house, Perhaps a position chosen for its sound enhancing properties.

No actual nest has been built yet but we have seen one dove staggering across the lawn carrying a long stick like a feathered tightrope walker and this morning flying up to the old nest site carrying a discarded plastic garden tie.

I have not been quick enough to capture this activity but this is one of the doves sat on our garage roof this morning, his feathers ruffled by the morning breeze



PS more knitting chat coming up, I have reason to sit today and knit while watching television

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

More inspiration

I have been doing a bit of  'wool gathering' lately.  That state of relaxation where you let your thoughts collect and ramble wherever they choose, linking new plans to old events.  And as I  lay in bed in that no-man's-land between sleep and wake fullness this morning my first thought was I had no idea what I would blog about today and the second was about wool gathering

It's not that I haven't been knitting fast enough over the last few days to contribute power to the national grid.  I am roaring up the straight bit of my caftan but for the time being I'm thinking you would not be too interested in 20cm of stocking stitch (although it is showing off the wonderful texture of the yarn nicely).  But JTH and I have also had a wonderful few days staying with my lovely brother and sister-in-law in Northamptonshire, walking in the sunshine, taking photographs of interesting places and chatting.  In particular SIL and I chatting about woolly stuff and I have been admiring what she has made, envying her books and raiding her stash.

The sharp eyed (and knowledgeable) among you will know this is not spun-ready-to-knit-yarn but roving.  More of this later...

When I take photographs of buildings I like to take shots from odd angles and close ups of some intricate brickwork or decoration.  For no particular reason - it just pleases me.  Rushton Triangular lodge is a gift.  The triangular theme is carried over in nearly every detail when seen from,


and in

Triangles and local russet toned bricks, made of clay richly infused with iron ore and etched by ivy (carefully removed by English Heritage) might inspire a new stitch pattern.

The photograph at the top of this post was not of sunlight on my bedroom wall as I lay gathering wool but from the bottom of the stone staircase at Kirby Hall.  It was built in the grandest style by a courtier of Queen Elizabeth I in the expectation that she would come to stay and further improved by another hopeful loyal subject.  Vain hopes, she never came and by the 19th c the great house was practically a ruin with a Shepherd and his family living in one wing while their sheep grazed in the great courtyard.

Rescued and restored (slightly) its only residents a population of peacocks it is a wonderful place to let the imagination run riot.  Peacock feathers such as these have inspired generations of crafters and artists, why not me too?

I don't know yet what beautiful organic shapes like this

and this

will lead to, photographed along the green road from Geddington to Brigstock - but surely no reason for leaving them out of my inspiration file.

And back to the roving.  When I blogged about spinning silk I mentioned needing to get a drop spindle.  My SIL has all my mother's old spinning equipment so I asked her if I could borrow one of the drop spindles. I didn't remember how much roving had come along with two spinning wheels, carders, drop spindles and other bits of spinning hard wear - absolutely loads of it.  The white (cheviot) and brown (jacob) is wound into coils as large as beer barrels.  My mother was 91 when she died and had been spinning well into her eighties- she must have thought she would be spinning for ever.

It seemed a good idea to have some of the wool roving to practice with before embarking on the silk.  Here it is - I am already seeing a connection between it and Triangular lodge...

SIL asked me if I would like to take one of the wheels home too.  Not yet I think, but one day I would love to learn how.



PS  for those lovely people who leave comments, please come back for another visit as I do try and respond before I put the next post up

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Much Loved Item

Do we all buy too many clothes?  Probably.  Despite my sewing and knitting efforts  I still love to trail my hand along the rows of tempting delights in department stores and little specialist shops.  And do I buy?  Yes, particularly on impulse.  I have certainly made hideous mistakes or bought a very pricey dress perfect for one single occasion which then hangs in my wardrobe in almost pristine condition for years.  I even have a box of them in the attic which I have labeled 'vintage' in the hope that they will become an investment

But I would never not buy on impulse as sometimes I find treasure.  I often don't know it's treasure for a while.  This is when I discover the snag, this Much Loved Item gets worn so much it takes on the personality of an old bear. And then I realise it is too late, I should have bought two when I had the chance.

There doesn't seem to be any hard and fast rule about this, the MLI can be a coat, a jersey or dress.  Sometimes I don't even know what it will become.  This brings me to my dressing-gown.  When you live in a cold house and have to get up to children in the night, you need a proper dressing-gown.  Something you can throw on, find the shouting child before he or she wakes the whole house and that will not get in the way as you attend to said child, keeping you warm all the while.

This is what I found I had more years ago than I care to think when I bought a knitted caftan with a hood from Monsoon.  Little wonder it was in the last dregs of the sale.  It was obvious when I got it home that despite its perfect soft grey colour and angora softness it was not something to wear out of the house even on a chilly winters evening.

But it made the perfect dressing gown, meeting my criteria perfectly and has even out grown the children.  But every good thing comes to an end and so it is with my favourite dressing-gown, and as I have now adopted the slovenly habit of lounging on the sofa in it on the odd evening I have to replace it.

I am going to make one this time.  I have the yarn (Rowan Tapestry) and a pattern for a caftan shaped jersey (Debbie Bliss) that I hope I can just make longer.  That bit I shall have to make up as I go along.

I have a little more than twice the yardage recommended in the pattern (which is really for Debbie Bliss Rialto) .  As I needed so much yarn I had to look for a cheaper option, the Tapestry was in the sale in January.  It is still a beautiful yarn in a delicious over ripe plum colour.  I see no point knitting something in very cheap poor quality yarn.  I put so much love time and energy into what I knit I want it to be a thing of loveliness when it is finished.

My plan is to knit up from the hem in the round until I have used all the yarn I have over and above the required amount for the jersey then follow the pattern, dividing at the armholes.  For once in my life I knitted a swatch, including trying out various sorts of hem.  This helped me to decide between a knitted hem, picking up the cast on row after knitting 32 rows straight or to knit a fairly narrow ribbed hem after casting on with long tail tubular cast on method.

The Knitted hem has it.

This is going to take a while to make - the long straight bit not very interesting but ideal for group knitting where I go on to automatic pilot.  But I only wear such warm wooliness in the winter so have plenty of time. I will keep you posted on progress.

I have have something in mind for the old dressing gown to do in retirement.  I will probably blog about that next week

Have a lovely weekend



Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Serendipity in Berwick Street

I have yet to find the woolly equivalent of shopping heaven.  Imagine if you will a street where you find the little crafty shops of Bath, your local wool shop and John Lewis wool department all in one side street with a shouty market (which sometimes smells of fish) at one end. This is Berwick Street Soho, not knitting nirvana but the next best thing. The nicest place in London for fabric surprises. 

This is The Cloth House

I often make my best stash finds when I am just browsing, no pressing need to find exactly the right thing, just a gentle stroll to see what is there, a preliminary recky.  On days like this I often return home with all sorts of exciting parcels.  It’s saunter-buy-gloat-stash in that order (make up later).

I really don’t like the expression ‘killing time’.  Time is precious, every second should be savoured and not wasted.  But I did arrive in Regent Street a little early to meet my dear friend a couple of weeks ago so time to slip up Great Marlborough Street and glance in Borovick’s. 

Ignore the animal prints, shiny PVC and day-glo tulle stacked up by the door (unless that is what you seek).  Inside there are treasures, cotton percale shirting, fine striped linen and, deep in the back of the shop, silk in many colours and weaves.  The plain silks (and the PVC) are permanent residents but there are always surprises.  On my last visit, just inside the door I found a jumble of bright silks, roll ends from some designer’s workshop and bought this.

 Not exactly a random purchase this time but certainly a random amount there was only 2.2 m left on the roll.  For a jacket with deep tucks, wide facings and a collar cut on the cross that dipped halfway down my back?  By piecing the collar (the pattern so crazy that the joins on the scraps of fabric disappeared) I had just enough. 

 A whole evening sat at my sewing machine, back to JTH is a bit rude so I don’t usually get a project done in one sitting.  But last Saturday when all the boys were out together I rather forgot the time.  I just sat and sewed, finishing off the hand sewing in the sun on Sunday morning (while the boys sipped alka seltzer)

The boys had been to the stag night, I will wear the jacket at the wedding.  

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Precious cargo

In early January I was very excited when Miranda asked me if I would help her with something she was making for her Mother the S-T-B-F-A's birthday.  M had spent nearly a year stitching a piece of tapestry that she wanted made into a cushion cover, this is where I, and a scrap of left over over chintz, came in.

During our planning stage M (winner of Mobius print design award) told me not to be shocked at her choice of backing fabric.  She said when I saw the tapestry I would wonder why she had chosen home counties floral to back such an edgy design but it had special significance to S-T-B-F-A and her.  It was the last scrap of fabric left over from M's granny's sofa cover.  Many years ago M's Granny had had a terrible fire at her house and a lot of her possessions that had reminders of childhood, growing up and visits to Granny were lost.  This scrap of fabric had lain in a chest at S-T-B-F-A's house for years.

When the packet from M arrived in the post, I saw what she meant!  I took a long look at the fabric and the embroidery and thought hard. It would have been fairly straight forward to make up a simple back for the cushion but more interesting to link them in some way.  The only link immediately apparent was a single shade of dark red, which I could use for the cording around the edge

The silver stitching behind the word LOVE gave me an idea.

I love dramatic linings and backings the fact that they are hidden a lot of the time adds to their allure.  Having cut out the main backing I chose one flower from the scraps and machine bound the edge in silver

Cut out the shape and stitched it, by the center only, over a similar flower on the backing itself

Then I posted it back to M.  I posted it on 12 January, by 17th it still had not arrived, nor 18th or, 25th.  On 3 Feb I checked with the post office to see if there was still  a backlog from Christmas (vain hope).  M and I both sent off lost parcel forms to Belfast (postal never-never land).  There was not enough space for all my pleas to the PO to have a very thorough look, so I wrote all around the margin of the form as well.  The PO sent me a nice letter and a book of first class stamps but no hope.

Then on 18 Feb M arrived home from work to find this on her door step

M gave her mother the birthday cushion at lunch very soon afterwards

S-T-B-F-A writes in a shepherd hut in her Cotswold garden  and this is where, after all its adventures the cushion resides.

I asked M if she would like me to stitch initials or a date on the back of the cushion, she asked for MLM 08.01.11.  I used M's own handwriting style by creating a transfer from photocopying and enlarging her note included in the original parcel

I didn't really give the initials a lot of thought, I don't know M's middle names, but later her mother explained it stands for Miranda Loves Mummy or Mummy Loves Miranda, secret code from M's childhood.

All's well that ends well



P.S.  S-T-B-F-A is a bit of a mouthful but after this I think I shall be able to refer to her as the Famous Author - bravo!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Spinning silk

Knitting and crochet blog week day 6 - something I aspire to.

One day while drifting through other people's blogs I was stopped in my tracks by a beautiful pair of bright silk gloves. Reading on I learned that they were knitted from unspun yarn, hand drawn from silk hankies.  I have never worked with 'raw yarn' before and not thought ever to learn to spin, until now.

The first step was to buy a bundle of 'silk hankies'

There are lots of sellers of the hankies on the Internet, I bought mine from a silk importer in Manchester.  Each hankie is made from a single silk cocoon, stretched out on a simple frame.  The bundles are made up of hankies piled on top of each other, I have no idea how many are in this bundle - lots. The individual hankies look like this:-

It is quite unnecessary to separate more than one off at a time, in fact if you do this they rapidly become impossible to handle, even with four.  But it pleases me to see the cobwebbyness of them strung out here on my washing line.

There are lots of little videos on YouTube explaining how to draw the hankies out into usable fibre.  The best I have seen is here.  Following the instructions on the video clip I produced my first piece of roving

I made this one just to see how the silk feels.  But I intend to dye the hankies in the pile before working with them any more.  I could go back to YouTube to find out how to do this but I have a better idea.  My cousin Sharon is a fabric artist, she hand paints and dyes silk velvet and habotai, in jewel-like colours making bags, scarves and jackets.

Sometime soon I am going visiting for a lesson.

Are you asking yourself what is aspirational about this?  After all I seem to have got it sussed.  Not at all, while it is entirely possible to knit straight from the roving (the puffy cloudy lengths coiled into nests above) I want to learn to spin.  I shall begin with a drop spindle.

Happy Saturday everyone

Friday, 1 April 2011

Spaghetti knitting

Knitting and crochet blog week day 5

And now for something completely different

I love experimenting with different materials for knitting.  On Tuesday I wondered aloud here about knitting with strips of silk and at my knitting group today Jenny said she had knitted with strips of plastic bags and Claire had knitted a bathmat with lengths of old towelling

My new kitchen has unvarnished oak work tops.  So I need something to protect the wood but I also want to use only natural materials in there.  It was then that the thought occurred to me, I could knit something out of spaghetti.  Its organic, flexible enough to knit when cooked and hardens up again when it dries - perfect.

Even well cooked the fiber was very prone to breaking, so I began a new strand for each row.  Sticking with the culinary theme I used chopsticks for needles

Everything got into a terrible tangle but that is spaghetti for you, however, by handling carefully I finished the square I needed for my pot stand.  It doesn't really matter about all the long ends, I can trim them and as the pasta dries they will stick together - so no sewing in the ends!

What fibers have you tried to knit with?