Friday, December 12, 2014

Photo tourism




So where was I off to today?


Was I catching the Hogwarts' Express?

In fact, I was meeting an old friend at Peterborough, which is about midway between our homes.  I'd never been before, and I must say that I was impressed. 

Those of you who imagine these trips as a sequence of visual delights might bear in mind that on the journey out my train was cancelled.  No problem, as Peterborough featured on a number of routes. 

But on the way back the same thing: train cancelled and the alternative a stopping train, doubling the length of the journey, delivering me to London for the rush hour.  Then we were held at an intermediate station while the police rounded up someone who had decided to trespass on the line and run around to avoid arrest.  It took four hours to get home.

But in Peterborough the cathedral is an absolute gem.  The West Front is early 13th century; the only Gothic part of the building.


Elsewhere,  rank upon rank of Norman arches with delicate columns decorate the exterior.


The cathedral has housed the tomb of Katharine of Aragon, since her death at Kimbolton in 1536.


Everywhere, history is layered into the fabric of the building.


The centre of the city is a giant modern mall, but we had a choice of eateries: Carluccio's is housed in a former almshouse bearing this plaque. 


 Instead we chose Pizza Express, with this Arts and Crafts facade.


On the needles, or rather just off them, was a pair of fingerless mittens bearing  cabled owls, gifted in a secret Santa without being photographed.  Meanwhile. I am ploughing on with Signild, a cardigan by Elsebeth Lavold, in September's edition of "The Knitter".



 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Late Rembrandt


Last Friday to Trafalgar Square, to meet up with my younger sister and take in the Rembrandt exhibition.  Arriving early, my husband and I popped into the Portrait Gallery to look at Tudor portraits, and specifically the picture of Thomas Cromwell referred to by Hilary Mantel in "Wolf Hall."    After several failed attempts to get started on this novel, which I now think is a masterpiece, I made it past the confusing opening and enjoyed its wonderfully rich texture.  In the second volume, Mantel is much clearer as to exactly who is speaking at any particular point and this simple technique helps a lot. 

Standing in front of what is in fact a copy of the Holbein portrait, I related the story Mantel tells of how Cromwell felt it made him look like a murderer and said so to his son - who paused, then asked him "Did you not know?"  I recounted the story, then turned -  to find a total stranger standing at my shoulder, just where I had thought my husband to be!  So now I have turned into the sort of confused old person who rambles on to bystanders in galleries.


Trafalgar Square is completely transformed by the pedestrianisation of the section outside the National Gallery. There was a holiday atmosphere, buskers, bagpipers, mime artists and all.


Within, the Rembrandt exhibition was the usual victim of its own success.  Entering on a timed ticket we found the crowd already twenty deep.  Those telling self-portraits and the bigger pieces full of movement and energy were still impressive even with the overcrowding, but the tiny etchings were difficult to appreciate in this setting.  It appears that the gallery allow half an hour for each visit, and this is nowhere near enough. 

On the knitting front, I am making slow progress on the Pierowall pullover, largely because it is too complex to knit on while doing something else, such as watching tv.  This, on the other hand, has been ideal.  It is a seed stitch cowl, using two balls of Noro Silk Garden.  I used the first ball as it came, but used the second from the middle out.  This reversed the colour sequence.  Not all balls of Noro are identical, but these two were.


 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Challenge

 
Those of you who enjoy a challenge in your knitting will find all that you need in Liz Lovick's Pierowall pullover.  I bought mine from her Ravelry page, but it is also available on Etsy, apparently.  In her version, many different yarns are used for both the background and the pattern, swapping one shade on each round.  I have taken a much simpler approach in using only one colour for each.  This is a dark green merino paired with a speckled sock yarn which I am hoping will give an idea of carved stone.  I'm thinking of the Northumbrian crosses at Whithorn.


I'm knitting mine flat, not in the round.  This does mean that I have to knit purl rows, but the rows are half the length.  I'm knitting the back in ribbing which seems to give a good fit.


The real challenge comes in following the charts on motifs which are not symmetrical.  Unlike horizontal Fair Isle bands there are no easy rows here. I have to give it my full attention.  Still to come is the matter of continuing the pattern while decreasing for the armholes and neck.  I'm thinking that I will draw the line on to a copy of the chart.  We'll see.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Long weekend

Lest you should imagine it is all knitting, all the time here.... About a month ago my husband's stepmother fell and broke her leg.  At eighty-six, this is no small matter, but the current practice is to operate, insert a metal pin, and have the patient back on her feet the next day.  Fortunately all has gone well.


 As her immediate family, we have been much engaged in supporting her return to home - those of you who have been through it will know what this entails. The journey takes three and a half hours, which complicates matters - although I  am aware that for The Sock Lady in BC this would be a routine shopping trip.  Everything is relative.



As my birthday weekend approached, we planned to travel north, calling to visit the patient and do good works before continuing to our Cumbrian cottage.  We drove towards the Lakes in glorious sunshine, our first port of call Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house on Lake Windermere.  This has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth.  The light-filled white drawing room, with its elegant columns and panelled ceiling, simply takes the breath away.




We lunched on a duck salad and English Lakes ice-cream and visited the exhibition of Glasgow School artefacts - huge chargers with Celtic knotwork and cabuchons.  Female artists very well represented - the whole thing was a delight.



Among my birthday gifts was a voucher for lunch at a local coffee-shop where great-nieces  have part-time jobs.  We enjoyed a traditional roast beef dinner; the girls were fully stretched serving the huge crowd.  Those of you touching base in Australia (!!) thank you.


 
 It was a day of dramatic weather: "showers and sunny intervals" does not begin to describe a landscape in which, to the left, the skies are blue with white cotton clouds, to the centre is a huge dark storm cloud, while, over to the right, the sun bursts though again.  We drove on to Caldbeck, and the Wool Clip, where I bought the new book by Felicity Ford, "The Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook". This is lovely to look at and interesting to read. She is clearly an enthusiast; I wonder if she is offering workshops?


On Monday we set off to get some exercise on a favourite walk above Loweswater, enjoying the rich colours of the woodland.  More surprising was the colour of wet bracken in sunshine: glorious.  But the highlights of the day were the rainbows, arching across the valley, both ends visible.  Of course, we got wet, very wet, even eating our sandwiches in rain.  However, the rain had also meant that others were deterred.  For the first time we saw a red squirrel in the woodlands by the lake.



On our last day we went up the coast to Wolsty Banks and walked towards Silloth.  The weather could hardly have been more different: a low grey sky, and total calm, the sea air lowering the temperature.  First, we saw skeins of cormorants beating up the shore.  More heart-stopping were the huge flocks of much smaller birds - we think, dunlin, - settling on the sand bars and then rising with a sound as of hundreds of fans clicking, and wheeling in great smoky clouds.  We had a memorable walk.

As for knitting, Maureen Takoma asks about the patterns used in Jewels.  I took them all from page 99 of Sheila MacGregors's book on traditional Fair Isle knitting.  They are all thirteen row patterns, but are all different.  I chose to use plainer bands between to give some unity to the design.  It certainly holds the interest to use different patterns and colours.

My next project is already under way: Liz Lovick's Peirowall pullover.  I'm simplifying this hugely by using only two colours, and only knitting the front in pattern.  Even so it is a challenging knit.





Thursday, October 30, 2014

Jewels 2

Completed my waistcoat in 2ply jumper weight.  Even while this was still on the needles it felt like an old favourite jumper.  It is the third waistcoat in a row for me, but the others felt quite different, probably because of the yarn. 


You can see how the rust yarn looks.  As always with this kind of yarn, once it is knitted and blocked it looks as if it was always like that because the tweediness of the blend makes the yarns work together.

Something about this design reminds me of old Afghan rugs  -  maybe it's the colours or the similar but not identical patterns. This is the reverse:


I sifted through my button tin and found some which were brown with a marbling of blue, which seemed appropriate.



I am not a perfectionist and can usually live quite happily with little flaws in my knitting.  However, I'd forgotten how crucial it is to pick up the right number of stitches on the front bands.  What that number is may not be clear until the piece is complete, especially if you are making up the pattern as you go along.  So I found myself ravelling the bands back and doing them again.  They sit much more easily this time.


 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The last Lap

Thank you for the encouraging comments on the Jewels waistcoat.  If you are thinking of trying some Fair Isle my advice would be: just choose a background colour and assemble three or four contasting colours in the same weight of yarn. ( You could order a small selection from Jamieson and Smith in Lerwick - they have a website.)  Cast on twenty stitches of background colour and try out a few simple patterns.  If you use the tweedy, heathered yarns you often find that even unlikely combinations work well together.  Because Fair Isle only involves two colours per row, it is relatively easy to learn the repeats for each row eg 3 background, 3 contrast. 

On the Jewels waistcoat I am not attempting any shading or blending, so each section uses just two yarns.  Your sample piece will show you how many stitches you are achieving per inch.  That then shows you how many to cast on for your size - eg For a waistcoat measuring forty inches, each front will need to be about ten inches.  Say that you are getting eight stitches per inch  - that's just eight times ten = eighty.  Alternatively, you could let someone else do the maths, and just use a published Fair Isle waistcoat pattern, substituting your own yarn choices.

Some of you have spotted that blog time is more elastic than real time.  Of course I was not working on the waistcoat while on our cycling holiday, and we in fact returned some weeks ago.  It was such an interesting trip that I had enough material for several entries; this will probably be the last of them.


Leaving the Saline Royale, we took it steady back along the banks of the River Loue, looking for a shady spot to rest up.  My husband remarked that it was just the sort of  place for kingfishers, and we settled down to enjoy the shade.  We did see several quite sizeable fish hanging in the current, feeding on the weed.  After half an hour we got up to cycle on and, just at that moment, there was the flash of brilliant colour and we saw the kingfisher.


In Port Lesney we were staying at a rather quirky hotel - not the one where Raymond Blanc dines when back in the Franche Comte.  French breakfasts can be very elaborate affairs, featuring every combination of cheese and charcuterie.  Here we had oped for a lighter selection.  The chap in charge nevertheless brought us some little samples to try: pear jam, conserve made from peches a la vigne, and the most delicious heather honey, thick and fudgy.  Little lines of bee-hives can be seen all over the Jura.


The following day was our final day's cycling: across country to the valley of the Doubs and then following the river and the canal path all the way back to Besancon.  Mist was just clearing as we began the journey. Overhead we could hear the calling of buzzards which had been a constant feature throughout the trip.  In the fields, the last of the grazing herds of Montbelliard cattle, their cow-bells chiming.  We noted once again the predominance of walnut trees, just beginning to pour their crop down on to the roads, and everywhere orchards laden with fruit. 


Soon we were into more populated areas with much evidence of how the river was once used to power small factories, using weirs.  On the canal path we suddenly saw another kingfisher - and then a second one following it up the stream - something we have never seen before.


About ten kilometres out of Besancon it began to spot with rain - the first of our trip.  We put on anoraks and went on.  Just as we reached the only bistro on the route, the heavens opened.  We hurried inside.  This was certainly where the locals ate, with every table full of people on their lunch hours eating the plat du jour of pork chops in a curry sauce, followed by the ubiquitous creme brulee.   I ordered a friture and ate the most delicious fried sandre, apparently a river fish, with firm white flesh.  We missed the only downpour of our trip and were able to to cycle back into Besancon, through that tunnel under the Citadel Rock which we had been through on the boat trip of the first day.

Was this the perfect trip?  We certainly saw some very spectacular  and memorable scenery and felt justified in eating well after our exertions.  We were not knocked out by the cycling, because we had improved our fitness during the year, but it was on the strenuous side at times.  We enjoyed visiting such museums and galleries as there were, but in general the landscape we passed through was deeply rural.  And  we seemed always to miss the vide-greniers and foires de brocantes by a day or two, so I was not able to add to my collection of vintage textiles.  It's an area which is pretty much unvisited by the English., although popular with German motorcyclists.  The fact that I have placed an order for a rather snazzy new bicycle ( My present one was bought in the late 70s) kind of suggests that there may be more cycling to come.






 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jewels

My current work in progress is a Fair Isle waistcoat.  I'm using jewel colours of Jamieson and Smith's 2-ply jumper weight, set against a darker yarn.


 Some years ago a friend at a knitting group insisted that I take a very large cone of dark yarn home with me.  More recently I tried knitting a small swatch, and I was amazed.  Where the yarn looked dark brown, it was actually made up of one strand of turquoise and mauve and another of rust and dark brown, so that in sunlight it glows.  The cone was oiled for the machine so probably intended for machine knitting "Shetland" jumpers.  Now that I have washed it to remove the dressing it has a much nicer handle.


In about 1980 I first saw the 2ply jumper weight in a shop called "The Shepherd's Purse" in Whitby.  They seemed to have skeins of the full spectrum of colours, hanging on a line across the shop: it was wonderful.  I chose some yarn for a striped jumper, which I wore into the ground.  Of course, I had some leftovers.  Later, more was added to my stock as remnants from Kaffe Fassett and Sasha Kagan projects.  As I use these stored yarns in this project they seem to me like precious things, not simply oddments of yarn.  In sunlight, all their blended, tweedy colours shine..


I am using patterns from Sheila McGregor's book on traditional Fair Isle.  All of these have thirteen rows but each is subtly different.  I'm working up to placing the rust colour, which may or may not work.  The back will be plain stocking stitch, and is providing my travel knitting at present.