Our brick collection

It has been busy, busy, busy at Seaview what with elections, visitors, – and a film crew! A certain film company read my blogs on our beach treasure collections¬†and our local seaside walk and thought we might fit into¬†the storyline they were working on. So one blissfully hot Sunday in May, we had an invasion …They snapped up our view ….photographer capturing the viewWhile we laid out our curious beachy¬†collections ….In preparation for this visit, I had tidied up our brick collection (as you do) ….Bricks outside our conservatoryAnd since I¬†mentioned our brick-collecting in Sanquhar in my last blogpost, I thought I would continue here with more of our brick story.

We started collecting ¬†bricks the first winter we were here. Over that icy first winter of 2010/11, our walks regularly took us to the spit (the sand mound between the river and the sea at Spittal Point). At this time the spit was a long protruding neck of sand running along the Tweed opposite Berwick.looking over to Berwick from the SpitThere were all sorts of treasures washed up on these shifting sands, midway between the river Tweed and the open North Sea.washed up treasures on the SpitAmong them were bricks …Finding bricks on the seashoreAccording to one local we spoke to, workmen demolishing buildings in Berwick’s Marygate to make way for the bus station (now in its turn demolished) threw the old bricks into the river Tweed. Gradually these bricks are being washed up onto the local beaches.

I say gradually because that first winter we found a lot of bricks. Then the sands of the spit shifted, moulded by storms and floods and wind and weather, and our brick-collecting almost stopped. For a long while we found very few bricks on the beach. Now I’m delighted to report the bricks are back again!

Back to that first winter: we would regularly carry a brick back each from the beach – if not two. What has really defined our brick-collecting is the writing on the bricks. They all tell a story.

Let’s take Niddrie as an example.The Niddrie brick works was on the south-east of Edinburgh. Founded in the 1920s to accommodate the expansion in house building, the brickworks were demolished in 1991. If you’ve ever visited the Fort Kinnaird retail park, you’ve visited the site of the Niddrie brickworks! I love Niddrie bricks – this one is warmly golden and we know they were solidly made because we often find them undamaged.Other bricks from other places. Glenboig, Castlecary and Boghead Glasgow all hail from areas round Glasgow. Backworth is a Durham brick, and like many brickworks adjoined the local colliery. A ready supply of fuel and waste from the mining often supplied the perfect materials for the brick making.

A couple of Castlecary bricks in this collection below indicate the variety of brick that might have been produced from a single brickworks.The Sandysike brick below comes from an area north of Carlisle. This is an area that has a history of brick making dating back to Roman times.Our interest in these local bricks has inspired enthusiasm in other family members. It’s not unusual for us to send a car back to the Westcountry laden with Dougall bricks. You betray your age here: the young fondly remember Father Ted, and I hark back to The Magic Roundabout. Either way, this has nothing to with the real history of the Dougall brickworks. They were made at Bonnybridge, north-east of Glasgow, from 1896 to 1967.In turn our Westcountry family has supplied us with some nice bricks. St Day hails from a Redruth brickworks. And I particularly like these old tiles designed to protect electricity cables which were also a gift from the Westcountry.Of particular¬†relevance to Berwick with its history as a long-time grain exporter are these granary bricks. The holes in the bricks¬†were designed to aerate the grain. I believe they were made at a Nuneaton brickworks, north of Coventry.Some are superior to others. Compare the glazed brick here (reminding me so much of Victorian jelly moulds!) with the rough-cast granary brick below. The added patina of green mound is from sitting in damp parts of our garden.I am deeply indebted to several knowledgeable and brick-loving websites for all the historic information which I have linked to, and I have listed my sources at the end of this blog. I guess those writers and researchers, like me, are fascinated by industrial archaeology and the ordinary stories of human labour and habitation tied up with brick manufacture.

For me the pleasure in bricks also lies in the tones, shapes and colours of all the different bricks and how they marry up with the flowers in our garden. Poppies and forget-me-nots self seed in the gaps.A collection of bricks sits around Gary, our classy garden gnome, and the planter, here full of spring flowers …And here, later in the season, featuring poppies ….The bricks come in handy about the house for all sorts of purposes.Actually, our present abundance of bricks makes me chuckle – when I lived in Devon I was always short of bricks! Some twenty years or so ago, I had a spell of making doorstops from half-bricks and would guard those few bricks I found jealously. You’ll recognise my language obsession here too. This doorstop is a¬†pleasing play on Francis Thompson’s poem, The Kingdom of God: “Turn but a stone and start a wing.”And here, from the same poem: ‘Tis your estrang√®d faces, That miss the many-splendored thing.”I don’t think these compressed lines from Dylan Thomas’s poem Fern Hill perhaps work so well here (I’ve used too many colours): “Now as I was young and easy […] Prince of the apple towns […] Time let me play and be golden […] in his mercy.”There are an odd few doorstops that are a bit wonky and without words.Nowadays I find myself more drawn to bricks than ever. They stand out on an ordinary walk round the countryside¬†… or a nearby village ….We were delighted to find this wonderful brick sculpture by Julia Hilton in the beautiful and mysterious boggy gardens at Paxton House. Her sculpture, aptly called Entrances,¬†is made of¬†old bricks from the Armadale brickworks.And a visit to the local builders’ merchant offers new unexpected delights!!As to that film crew – well, we’re still waiting to hear too ….

I have drawn on these excellent internet sources for historic information on brick making:

To Cumbrae and back through the Scottish borderlands

Last Monday we left our home near Berwick and drove over the country to the Scottish west coast, roughly on exactly the same longitude as our home in England. It has always fascinated me that we are so close, have so much in common … and yet are so different.To our delight, whilst English Berwick on the east coast was bitterly cold, Cumbrae, in Scotland on the west of the UK, was sky-blue – shorts and sandals weather! We waited for the ferry to take us from Largs to the Isle of Cumbrae.Our visit to the Isle of Cumbrae was prompted by my wish to visit West Kilbride and some very talented Scottish craftswomen there.¬† Stephen was tasked with finding us somewhere to stay in the locality … and he came up with the College of the Holy Spirit, which adjoins the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae.These establishments were designed by¬†William Butterfield in 1851, at the request of the 6th Earl of Glasgow,¬†George Frederick Boyle. Boyle was an enthusiast of the Oxford Movement, believing in the reinstatement of older Christian traditions.¬† He wanted the College to train priests for the Episcopal Church – perhaps like the men enjoying the College grounds in this old print below.Alas, Boyle, an enormously generous and devout man (he was also pouring money into the building of Perth Cathedral at this time) depended too much perhaps on divine providence – Dominus Providebit (God will provide) is the Boyle family motto – and went bankrupt in 1885.Luckily the College Chapel had been consecrated as Cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church United Diocese of Argyll & The Isles in 1876, so the Diocese was already responsible for these buildings.

The Cathedral Spire towers over the island, even when glimpsed from the hills above.We first glimpsed it through the trees. You get an idea of Butterfield’s original concept¬†from this drawing that appeared on the front of “Butterfield Revisited”, edited by Peter Howell and Andrew Saint, and published by the Victorian Society. The Cathedral stands proud, surrounded by manicured lawns, with a young avenue of lime trees.That’s not how it is now!¬† The Diocese may have funded the Cathedral buildings, but there was no money to pay for garden upkeep.

By a magical transformation, those uncared gardens have become wild and more beautiful than one could imagine. Trees have grown up everywhere – the lime avenue is enormous. Underneath the trees, are masses and masses of flowering ramsons (wild garlic).The fine lawn banks host bluebells as well as the ramsons.I do¬†so hope George Boyle¬†is not turning in his grave as he contemplates the changed garden!¬† He is indeed buried here – in the large flat tomb in the foreground of this picture. He must have loved this place very much. It is extraordinary to find such¬†buildings on such a tiny island. Butterfield’s vision of this small group of buildings is harmonious and elegant.¬† Here you have the windows of the Lady Chapel, the Cathedral and the Refectory – all varied in pattern and size, but united in stone and form. And look how very deftly Butterfield has highlighted the Cathedral window with the¬†descending dove of the Holy Spirit¬†above it.We stayed in the North College which had once housed the choristers. Our room was the upper left hand window, set amidst the tiles.¬† We had the place to ourselves¬†for the first couple of nights, and after that only another couple came and stayed at the other end of the building.¬†It was extraordinary!The rooms are called after Christian virtues.¬† Ours was Fortitude ……hmmm.Inside was all dark wood and heavy carving. The corridor …The fireplace in our bedroom …..¬†huge and cumbersome!The common room …What I didn’t like was the inside of the Cathedral.¬† It looks OK from here …But once you go up into the Chancel, you get tile madness!¬† I don’t care for the Victorian tones of green and brown anyhow, but, that to the side, it looks to me as though some student was told to see what variety of patterns they could come up to fill the space available. It’s truly tile pattern madness!Sometimes we joined Warden Amanda and Lay Chaplain Alastair for morning and evening prayers – quiet and peaceful, though the Scottish rite (just slightly different from the Anglican one we know) caught us out a bit¬†…Outside the calm inner sanctuary¬†lurked danger … In the evenings we explored Millport.¬† I don’t think the authorities¬†meant us to take this image away with us ….And we chuckled at this …..There are¬†lots of boarded up properties round Millport, looking just a little¬†bit sad and unloved … Masses of rabbits everywhere … (not an easy place to be a gardener, I guess) …Including several black ones (or was it the same one and¬†it just got¬†round a lot?) ¬†…After our evening walks,¬†we went¬†back to the College and lowered the ecclesiastical tone, sitting in the warm, evening sunshine with a bottle of wine …The road round Cumbrae is perfect for cyclists of all ages.¬† This looks like a 1960s group setting out to enjoy a bicycle ride en famille.You can hire all sorts of cycles …We hired two quite ordinary bikes to get round the island.¬† This was extremely brave of me since I haven’t been on a bike for well over 15 years.¬† It was a glorious ride, and despite much moaning on my part (the seat was horribly uncomfortable), it was a wonderful experience.Picnic lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the view of the islands of Bute and Arran (grey and lowering in the far distance).I don’t think I¬†have ever seen a war memorial as powerful as this. It is dedicated to the men and women of the British and Allied forces who have no known grave.After our bicycle tour of the island, we¬†spent a couple of days on the mainland about West Kilbride. I got to do the workshop that I have longed to do for so long with lovely Lorna of Chookiebirdie.¬† We spent an entire day sewing together …. Oh, just look at this sewing heaven!Lorna¬†was teaching me to make paisley botehs like these ones of hers.And I was so thrilled with what I made that I have only just stopped carrying it round with me!Another day I finally got to visit Old Maiden Aunt’s¬†yarn shop in West Kilbride –¬†somewhere else¬†I’ve longed to go to for ages! So many gorgeous colours.¬† And we got to peak into her dye studio too. As an amateur dyer, it’s fascinating for me¬†to see her professional systems – though perhaps the multi-coloured spatters behind the pots is the give away that Lilith herself might not call it that …I have to confess that I find yarn buying overwhelming.¬† I may have decided that I am going to make a green scarf, and need green wool, but when I see the yarns available, all my carefully thought out plans go awry.¬† This is what we came away with – all lovely stuff, but not a lot of green, and certainly not the grassy-greens I had in mind …At the Barony in West Kilbride we found an amazing exhibition of¬†Radical Craft.¬†Doesn’t this Landfill Tantrum by Pinkie MacLure just say all you really long to say about waste and rubbish and pollution?!!Who¬†could not love Rosemary McLeish’s What I Do When I Don’t Do The Ironing ?! Dedicated I think to all those who hate¬†this chore¬†…But the pi√®ces de r√©sistance for me were these two works paying homage (as it were) to Angus McPhee.¬† They were both made by Joanne B Kaar – the boots are copies of Angus McPhee’s orginal boots (those too fragile to be exhibited now) and she made the hats in the spirit of his work. I came upon¬†the story of Angus McPhee from Donnie Monro’s song, Weaver of Grass.¬†¬†As far as I can see the pop song world is dominated by mostly saccharine love songs, so ¬†it amazes and delights me to hear such a glorious song about a mentally ill man. Perhaps it is really¬†a love song in another guise …..

Time then to say goodbye to the little Isle of Cumbrae. The weather was changing as we headed back to Largs …On to sunny Sanquhar – another place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time because of their famous¬†knitting designs.¬† The little Tolbooth Museum there is a gem …Holding information¬†about and examples of¬†lots of historic¬†Sanquhar knitting patterns …..We were also interested in the displays there about the local brickworks.As it happens, we have a small collection of¬†lettered bricks.¬† This started with us finding them on our local beach at Spittal.¬† There is an¬†entire history of northern English and Scottish collieries and brickworks to be revealed from those names.¬† Luckily the lovely museum attendant at the Tolbooth Musuem knew just where to send us!And so we found ourselves quite unexpectedly rooting around the old Sanquhar brickworks.There were the sad remnants of the buildings ….And we found a brick or two …..Most poignantly, Clarks Little Ark, an animal rescue shelter at this site, have constructed a memorial wall of the old bricks for those dear ones they have lost.Finally our last stop in Sanquhar, the Euchanfoot B & B – and, yes – would you believe it! –¬†more bricks!¬† (along with a very comfortable room and delicious breakfast).Norma, our lovely hostess, explained that the collapsed old mill buildings which stood at the end of her garden were now just a pile of¬†local bricks.¬†¬†So there we were, brick-foraging again ….Time to go home – perhaps crawl would be a better description for¬†our heavily-brick-laden car. The weather got nastier and nastier as we travelled up through the Lowther hills …Still extraordinarily beautiful ….We had decided to travel back via the source of the River Tweed, high up in the Lowther Hills. There, masked in the mist and murk, we found this sign. From this point, a tiny stream and all the little tributaries that run into it flow eastwards to where it meets the sea on Spittal beach.This is an iconic spot to many (including us) because it is a great river. Appropriately there is a finely ornamented stone, incorporating words that speak off the Tweed: “it is one of Britain’s cleanest rivers …”Sadly, it was not a clean site.¬† The rubbish was disgusting and a terrible reflection on lazy, casual visitors. I have an uncomfortable idea that people feel they have license to behave so because Dumfries and Galloway council have not provided a litter bin ….Oh dear, what a negative way to end a great holiday!¬† So I won’t.¬† As we travelled through the Borders, the sun shone through the damp leaves, and we slowed down to enjoy the wonderful countryside …. and an antique Rolls Royce … Festina Lente!

Tape measure tidies

Some eighteen months ago I posted this picture on my Instagram feed. These are small felt tape measure¬†containers that my mother made.original-instagram-pic-october-2015Several people were kind enough to be interested in these little containers, and I was asked if I had a pattern.¬† Well, I didn’t, but now – over a year later – yes, I do!

I started by examining the oldest tape measure tidy quite carefully. It’s all made from felt with just a cardboard inner at the base and in the lid. All the stitching is buttonhole stitch (also known as blanket stitch), but it is a little bit fancier on the lid, with some woven threads to enhance the buttonhole stitch. It’s very old (with a few mothy marks on the bottom). I’ve had it as long as I can remember, and I really treasure it.examining-oldest-tmt-carefullystitches-joining-pieces-of-original-tmtinside-old-tmtdiscovering-cardboard-base-of-original-tmtI think my mother made the other two tape measure tidies much later in life for sale at her local church.¬† Although she’s used a different stitch (an Oversewing stitch), the decorations on the lid and the rest of the work are very similar to the old one. The only real difference I can identify (apart from the stitches) is that she has lined the cylinder with card.exmining-top-of-one-of-the-old-tmtsexamining-bottom-of-old-tmtsinside-other-tmtsTo make one of these tape measure tidies, you will need:

  • Thick cardboard to make your own templates
  • Thin cardboard for lining
  • Felt
  • Beads
  • Embroidery floss (I used three strands of DMC or Anchor embroidery cotton)
  • Fabric glue (I used Impex Hi-tac Fabric glue)

You first need to select your felt colours.selecting-the-felt-colourwayHere are the templates I worked with, devised from my mother’s old work.cardboard-templates-for-new-tmtsUse the templates shown above to cut:

  • one large rectangle (3 x 11.9cm) of felt for the outside of the cylindrical case
  • one smaller rectangle (2.7 x 11.6cm)¬†of felt for the inside of the cylindrical case
  • one smaller rectangle ¬†(2.7 x 11.6cm)of thin cardboard for the lining of the cylindrical case
  • three large rounds (3.8cm diameter)¬†of felt for the outer base of the cylinder and the top and bottom of the lid
  • one small round (3.5cm diameter) of felt for the inner base of the cylinder
  • two¬†small rounds (3.5cm diameter) of thin cardboard for the linings of the base of the cylinder and the lid

First assemble the pieces to make the cylinder and its base.cut-out-pieces-for-bottom-of-tmtGlue the inner cardboard to the outer felt. glue-cardboard-to-sides-of-feltAnd then glue the felt lining to the already glued pieces to make a felt-cardboard-felt sandwich.glueing-felt-innerBefore the glue dries, it is important to work this sandwich into a curved shape.bending-glueing-bottom-side-piece-before-glue-sets Then you can glue the round base pieces similarly (outer felt base, cardboard lining, inner felt) and leave both pieces to dry for an hour or so.glued-pieces-of-bottom-of-tmtWhen the glue has dried satisfactorily, overstitch the top of the cylinder sides with blanket stitch (or oversewing stitch if you prefer)buttonhole-stitch-along-topWhen you have completed working round the top of the cylinder, join the two ends together, still working in buttonhole stitch.joining-cylinder-with-buttonhole-stitchAnd work down the side of the cylinder, using what I believe is called Buttonhole Insertion stitch (you can see a rather more elaborate version of that stitch here)joining-cylinderUntil you have completely joined the sides of your tube together.completing-felt-cylinderThen you can join the felt base to the tube, again using Buttonhole Insertion stitch.joining-base-to-cylinderAnd working all the way round until you have joined bottom and sides completely.completing-joining-of-base-to-cylinderIt should look like this.completed-baseNow to make the lid.

In one of my early attempts (the purple and pale blue example below), I followed the same procedure as when making the sides and base. I made a felt-cardboard-felt sandwich of two larger rounds of felt and one smaller piece of cardboard (see measurements above). When the glue was dry, I stitched round the circumference and sewed the lid to the base.

Now to have some fun with decoration, I thought!¬† I glued on some leaves, let them dry, and then started to stitch. Big mistake!¬† Because, of course, the completed lid is really inflexible at this point making it¬†very tricky to sew.embroidering-completed-lidI did manage to sew some beads on … stitching-on-beads-to-complete-lidAnd add a little stitchery to the leaves. But it wasn’t at all easy – didn’t allow for anything really fancy.finishing-embroidery-on-completed-lidSo, what I recommend is that you embroider and decorate the top felt layer of the lid before you stick the lid parts together. I decided to work a Chain Stitch pinwheel on this lid.working-the-lid-pattern-in-chain-stitchchain-stitch-pattern-on-lid-completedThen I added some beads.adding-some-beads-to-lidcompleted-lid-embroideryAnd when that was completed, I stuck the three layers of felt – cardboard – felt together.glueing-lid-pieces-togetherWhen the glue was¬†dry,¬†I blanket-stitched round the circumference, and finally stitched the lid to the base.stitching-round-lid-edges-and-sewing-lid-onTo finish,¬†I¬†sewed on¬†a bead fastener, and made a buttonholed loop to hold the tidy shut. Et voil√†! My completed Tape Measure Tidy!buttonhole-stitch-loopNo, better than that, seven little Tape Measure Tidies!¬† My trials and experiments along with the three old ones my mother had made.seven-tape-measure-tidies-old-and-newShould you wish to make a Tape Measure Tidy of your own, I hope you’ll find this tutorial helpful.¬† If any bits are muddled, incomprehensible or downright wrong, please let me know ….

Mending

The penalty for having such a nice time before Christmas making all sorts of fun creative gifts was that a¬†large pile of mending didn’t get done!¬† Despite the exciting projects bubbling away in my mind with the start of a new year, I knew that I had to be strict with myself and clear the decks of some these mending chores before I started anything new. I know¬†I won’t be alone in needing clean, fresh space and a clear mind before starting new projects. It’s deeply important to how I approach a new idea that all the old bits and pieces associated with previous projects be put away.¬† Not so much the slate washed clean – more the¬†spare room¬†bed (AKA my Woolly Room) be emptied of clutter.

So to the mending then!¬†We are great menders here.¬† At the heart of it – far beyond the desire to help our planet (though that’s important too) – is the fact that we like our old things, and it makes us sad to get rid of them.¬† Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than with Stephen and his attitude to his clothes.¬† He loves his existing stock of check shirts with a passion …..err, no, I wouldn’t go that far.¬† But they are part and parcel of our lives, being¬†mostly hand-me-downs from a motley selection of family.¬† His very favourites came from his oldest daughter’s ex-boyfriend, and have never been superceded in affection.

So, though my heart sinks when I see his shirts with frayed collars and hole patches¬†on the elbow like this …stephens-shirts-needing-repairI know how very much it means to him, that with a little loving attention …old-repairs-need-new-attentionActually, particularly loving attention, and very hard work when they get as bad as this …collar-of-shirt-in-a-very-bad-wayThey can be carefully re-pieced ….machining-black-cat-repairIt’s worth it in the end … when¬†they are almost as good as new …black-cat-repair-on-shirtIronically enough, the more loving repair and attention¬†his shirts¬†get, the more precious they become, and the less likely it is that we will throw them out ever!repaired-shirtEven his trousers needed repair this time.¬† I minded this less, because although trouser repairs are hard work, the only damage to these jeans is where he caught the leg¬†on barbed wire¬†…trousers-requiring-repairA new patch carefully stitched on …careful-trouser-repairsAnd a¬†little loving sashiko work …sashiko-work-on-the-trousersI may criticise Stephen for hanging on to old friends for far too long, but truth to tell, I’m just as bad.¬† This chiffon leopard print scarf once belonged to my grandmother, so even though it was as¬†worn as this …worn-out-animal-print-scarfIt’s worth putting in the repairs (even though the fabric is perishing as I stitch)…repairing-the-animal-print-scarfFrom a distance you might say it¬†ended up¬†as good as new …animal-print-scarf-mendedI finally got round to sewing on the replacement buttons on my vintage alpaca coat …replacement-buttons-on-my-winter-coatThey don’t really look that special like that, but up close and personal you can see how very beautiful these buttons are.¬† They also belonged to my grandmother, and I have longed for ages to find a garment worthy of these beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons.¬† Aren’t they just gorgeous!!mother-of-pearl-buttonsSo that’s the clothes sorted.¬†¬†Now you might think that I could rest on my laurels, and turn my attention to a new project.¬† But no, there is more repair work to do!

This is an old wooden red lacquer tray – so worn that the picture has almost completely disappeared. Can you just make out a faint Japanese scene?¬†I broke it a couple of years ago …broken-red-lacquer-trayI must have picked it up carelessly, because the corner just crumbled off in my hand, the wood so friable that it just snapped.¬† Luckily, very easy to glue together, and the tray just looks a little bit shabbier.detail-of-broken-traySome repairs have hung around waiting for love and attention for a long time – because I really don’t want to do them.¬† The laundry basket was just such a case.detail-of-damaged-laundry-basketI won’t tell you in so many words how the damage occurred.¬† Let the picture speak for itself …naughty-ilsa-destroying-laundry-basketI hesitated to get started with¬†repairs because I wasn’t really sure how I was going to tackle it.¬† But once I started – with some of my homespun, hand-dyed yarn – it sort of fell into place. Binding round the edges …¬†starting-laundry-basket-repairsAnd then a little weaving to tie in the broken bits …repairing-the-laundry-basketI am so pleased with the end result!laundry-basket-repair-completedAnd so, I think, is Ilsa!ilsa-loves-the-laundry-basketAnother sort of¬†repair project that I have just completed was to make a cover for the old leather photograph album which housed the photographs of my father’s Australian childhood. Old leather powders and sheds which isn’t only unpleasant because it leaves brown dust everywhere, but causes further damage to the leather.¬† It was housed in an old plastic bag, but plastic can’t be good for leather, so I decided to make the very precious album its own special cover.

I cut up an old tablecloth that I found at a local charity shop and machined a cover together, and then decided to stitch a label on the cover.¬† First to print out a mirror image of the words I wanted to embroider …preparing-lettering-for-transferThen to iron the text on …transferring-lettering-with-the-ironNow the embroidery work …stitching-lettering-on-photo-album-caseIt looks OK …rehousing-the-old-photo-albumA very satisfactory result for a family treasure …newly-covered-photo-albumHmm …. that’s almost it.¬† But there’s one more chore that I made myself face with beginning of the new year.¬† I unravelled my blue homespun cardigan. You may have been one of the kindly folk who gave me advice on this knit – and if so, thank you so very much.¬† I thought I long and hard about what to do with it, and for quite a time, I really wasn’t sure.¬† frogging-my-blue-cardiganThen a new project bubbled up from my subconscious.¬† What about if I used the blue yarn for a blanket project like this little swatch here …..?! Oh, inspiration! Definitely time to frog!unwound-blue-yarn-and-a-new-project-perhapsWhew! That’s it, folks!¬† Am I glad to have finished this batch of repair and mend!¬† Wouldn’t it be easier to just chuck some of these damaged things out, and just buy new?¬† After all, a new laundry basket won’t break the bank …

I couldn’t do it.¬† I grew up with parents who had lived through the second world war, and they saved and scrimped every little thing.¬† Mending was core to their way of life. It’s definitely sunk deeply into my psyche.

Christmas makes

Part of the fun of Christmas for me is the making of¬†both gifts and Christmassy stuff.¬†It’s an excuse to¬†make all sorts of things.¬† In the lead up to December, we were busy with lots of such projects, but because they were presents,¬†I haven’t said much about them. Now – with Christmas well behind us¬†– this is the opportunity to show what we were busy with in those autumn months.

I started my GiveWrap making in September with lots of fabrics spread around, and some very intriguing printed pieces from my cousin Polly. When I’m working with Polly’s prints, I sort them first into colours, and themes.¬† These two predominantly blue GiveWraps mainly incorporate a mix of her human body prints.¬† Her images are¬†bold so I try to marry them up with fabric that has equally¬†strong images – thus, in the top example, there are striking¬†Japanese ladies from an old yukata, and some wonderful owly pieces too. The images in the lower givewrap are softer in colour and tone, and have accompanying softer fabrics.mixed-polly-katherine-blue-givewrapgivewrap-incorporating-pollys-blue-printsOther prints from Polly inspired work in different colourways. Her “little people” are all facing inwards here, dancing to the central tune, in a golden melange. It’s a particular favourite of both of us.gold-givewrap-incorporating-pollys-gold-peopleThis wine-coloured¬†GiveWrap is at heart a worn-out cushion cover of Polly’s. I covered up the holes with bits of new fabric, and built up the edges.givewrap-made-of-pollys-old-cushion-coverLater in the autumn, I made more GiveWraps. These blues, yellows and golds worked so well together that I got carried away and made two more similar GiveWraps.blue-and-gold-givewrap3-blue-and-gold-givewrapsAnother old cushion cover (this time an old green one of mine) got re-pieced here.¬† The holes and stains were removed and I added some strong contrasting purple.¬† Interestingly, this GiveWrap¬†attracted more interest and likes on Instagram than any other that I have made.green-and-purple-givewrapLastly, I made a small red silk GiveWrap with my mother in mind. This to my mind is the best of the lot! I loved it – was sad to part with it – but my mother loved it too. And when a recipient loves the gift that is best of best!glorious-red-silk-givewrapOff they went to new happy homes, bearing Christmas wishes and love!givewraps-ready-to-postApart from GiveWraps, there were practical things to make like the Christmas cake – here garlanded with our own gorgeous glossy holly.christmas-cakeWe also made jams and jellies.¬† Here’s Stephen concentrating intensely as he pots up his chilli¬†pepper jam.stephen-making-chilli-jamThe finished products – chilli pepper jam and spicy harvest jelly – don’t look bad for Christmas presents, do they?finished-jam-productI made two little Toft monsters this year as gifts.¬† The patterns come from Kerry Lord’s brilliant flip book of patterns, Imaginarium. A mix-and-match pattern book to enable the crochet creation of¬†just the monster you want.¬† small-green-ghost-toft-friendThe other little monster I made is quite different – but that’s the whole point of a book with so many pattern choices!small-toft-friend-for-stephenDifferent they may be, but they look like good friends, sitting here together.small-toft-friends-togetherYou may have read an earlier blog I wrote this autumn about our Seaview poppies … we collected as much seed as possible, and packaged it up to send off to friends and family, hoping to spread a little bit of poppy colour in other gardens.seaview-poppy-seed-packsI made hats too.¬† Some I forgot to photograph.¬† But one I did remember to photograph was this pink two-eared beanie for my daughter.¬† The pattern came from my beloved ancient (1977) Paton’s Woolcraft, and I knitted it using odd pink scraps from my stash.¬† The scraps included some Rowan Kidsilk Haze so together with the alpaca pompoms, it was a fluffy hat!pink-twin-earred-hat-for-helenJust¬†right for our beach walks …wearing-christmas-presents-on-the-beachMy son is fascinated (and most knowledgeable about) the periodic table.¬† So what better to give him than periodic¬†table pillowcases?! Stephen found the fabric on the internet, and I sewed them up.¬† Does he now dream of the elements of the periodic table? …. I must ask him …periodical-table-pillowcasesThere was the usual making as well.¬† You might say, the bread and butter making. Wonderful to have a man around who makes all our bread.homemade-breadStephen made some wonderful knits for Christmas presents.¬† He wrote in an earlier blog about the blanket he knitted on his knitting machine as a present for his youngest daughter.¬† That knit incorporated a knitted monogram of his daughter and her husband’s first initials: J and E.¬† My cousin admired it¬†especially because her two daughters share those particular initials.¬† So how about some cushions with your daughters’ initials on them as a Christmas present for my cousin! Here is the maker man himself with his wonderful knitted cushions.stephen-with-his-machine-knitted-cushionsHe made two scarves for other daughters.
Stephen here: Here is one of the scarves I knitted about to be cast off the machine. blue-christmas-scarfFor the technically mind it is knitted in 2-colour tuck stitch using every third needle with tension dial set at 10 (the largest possible stitch size) to give a lovely loose feel. The wool is Rowan baby merino silk double knit – in all I needed 100g of each colour. When washed carefully they came out beautifully soft, though somewhat narrower and longer than anticipated.

I also experimented with some Christmas designs. Here are two panels I knitted just for fun. The left hand one is of random snowflakes ( see¬†the end of our blog¬†Ellie’s Blanket¬†for ¬†more details of this design) and the second is¬†derived from¬†typical Scandinavian Christmas designs and¬†made using¬†their traditional colours.2-xmas-patterns-3Perhaps by next year I will have my own machine-knitted supply of Givewraps.

Katherine here: I’ve written so far about the pre-Christmas preparations.¬† But there was one project we made that involved all of us who were here over the Christmas period.

One of my most treasured Christmas decorations that comes out every year looking sadder and more worn is the crib my children made when small out of toilet rolls, tissue paper, and a bit of glitter and trim. There’s only one shepherd these days, and one king has gone AWOL.rather-sad-cribI put this picture on Instagram, and a helpful virtual friend of mine from Nice suggested it was missing a Ravi as well. You don’t know what a Ravi is?!¬†Well, a¬†character from the santons of Provence, the Ravi stands amazed at the events taking place, with his (or her) arms in the air. So we got to work, and we got delightfully carried away.¬† I made a Ravi, Stephen created a new king, and son James added a Cagador.¬†(James knows this character as a¬†Cagador having lived in¬†Spain, but it is elsewhere known as a Caganer.)¬†new-characters-for-our-cribWhen the Cagador turned round and revealed his true intent, the King and the Ravi turned away, a bit giggly and embarrassed.the-king-and-the-ravi-dissociate-themselves-from-the-cagadorBut they all came together to make a much happier crib scene …¬†all-sorts-of-things-came-to-the-cribSeveral other creatures and presents crept into the mix … but that’s life isn’t it? All can come to the manger …

Goodbye 2016!

So many ups and downs in 2016! It’s been a topsy turvy year – a year of sadness and upsets for my family and a deeply shocking year in global politics. I have travelled through the year with a pervading sense of loss.

But, in the last few days I’ve been indulging myself drawing up a #bestofnine2016 for my Instagram feed. I’ve looked through all the pictures I’ve posted online, and selected the nine pictures that most capture 2016¬†for me.¬† It has taken me quite a time to finally make a selection, but it was a good exercise because after that, I didn’t feel so bad. So many little ordinary happinesses and pleasures that I have taken for granted!¬† Here are my chosen nine:bestofnine2016Top left: That’s my dearest husband Stephen and our lovely cat, Poe, who passed away in her 20th year, this August. This photograph was taken on her last night of life, when we knew she was extremely ill and would have to visit the vet next day, probably to be put down.¬†She is curled up asleep, comfy and trusting, next to Stephen, on the sofa, as she regularly did. RIP Poe, faithful friend.stephen-and-poeTop middle: Lots of little pleasures here. My knitting, my nails – and my travel knitting bag! Those of you who¬†know me well¬†will know I almost always have my nails painted – and doesn’t this colour match the knitting so well! The Solace bag was a generous gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle¬†and symbolises to me the constant comfort of knitting, and the friendliness of the wonderful online community of knitters and makers.solace-bag-and-knittingTop right: This is our lovely local beach, just five minutes away from our home, and my very grown-up children, visiting from London, on a beautiful blustery day.¬†¬†Stephen and I¬†walk here several times a week, and watch the tides and waves and sands move, the holiday visitors with their families come and go.¬† To share this with my own family is the greatest of all pleasures.j-h-on-spittal-beachMiddle right: A golden GiveWrap, made with the Japanese and Indian silk scraps I was given for my birthday, and mixed up with some very¬†treasured pieces of old¬†clothing.¬† It’s been another year of GiveWrap making, sharing the ideas with my cousin Polly, and spreading the word about sustainable wraps.golden-givewrapBottom right: I wrote about the poppies that we grow here in a recent blogpost.¬†They are the best of our gardening in this wonderful place, right up on the north Northumbrian border, exposed to all the elements.¬† Lots of plants won’t grow here – it’s too salty, too windy, too cold.¬† But poppies flourish, and best of all, they self-seed.¬† They grow where they will, not just where I choose.¬† Don’t they adorn the view so very well …poppies in laneBottom middle: In the turmoil of family events earlier this year, two little cats, Eggy and Ilsa,¬†found themselves needing a new home – so they came to Seaview!¬† And look how these little smilers love it here!¬†These little London softies have become Northumbrian toughies.¬† They’re good at mousing, chasing the neighbours’ cats, exploring their territory, and finding the comfiest places in the house to sleep (usually some special fabrics I have carefully laid out).eggy-and-ilsaBottom left: Nothing says Seaview to me as much as the big skies with their endlessly-changing weather stories.¬† Through the winter months, we are privileged to watch the sunrise as it moves over the south-eastern horizon. So often it is explosively dramatic and exciting. Perhaps best of all, the sun doesn’t rise until a decent time (8.38 as I write on 31st December), so I don’t sleep through it … You never tire of these skies.seaview-sunriseMiddle right: On the 23rd June 2016, Great Britain voted in a referendum on their European Union membership – and we all now¬†know the result.¬† In the days leading up to this¬†referendum, those of us who hoped to stay in the European Union became increasingly worried about the result – as indeed there was good cause – and I was inspired to stitch my Love letter to Europe,¬†incorporating some lines from John Donne’s poem No man is an¬†island.¬† Embroidery isn’t really my thing, so this was a textile experiment for me.¬†It wasn’t, of course,¬†an earth-shaking contribution – really rather feeble – but it was very comforting to stitch at the time.¬† Now it hangs up our stairs, and it speaks to me of our continuing membership of Europe, even if we lose the membership of the European Union.love-letter-to-europeCentre: We saw this little 18th century ladies patch box on display at Traquair House – a very happy daytrip to a most interesting place to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So there are lots of things bound up in this picture for me: my very happy marriage to Stephen, the pleasures we have out and about exploring this beautiful part of the world, and above all else it speaks of¬†hope.¬† More than anything else in these unsettled times, the message of this little box comes back to me, and I find in it great, great comfort.¬† At some time in its history, it must have given hope to another person.¬† Now again, it is holding a hand out to¬†a dodgy future.patch-box-from-traquairGoodness knows what I will be writing at the end of 2017.¬† But hope isn’t a bad travelling companion.¬† So thank you for your company on the¬†journey through 2016, and may you all be sustained by hope in whatever comes your way through the next year.¬† Happy New Year!

Ellie’s Blanket

Guest Editor Stephen:

I was in my early thirties when I first got interested in machine knitting, and having obtained a machine, used it to knit garments mainly for my two youngest daughters. The only garment left from this time is this child’s lace top knitted in cotton:
1-childs-cotton-topWhen, we moved to Devon about 5 years after I had knitted this, I continued to use the machine, but focused on knitting whole panels which were sewn up into blankets. I am more interested in the patterning possibilities of the machine than constructing garments.

Here are two blankets from that time that we still use on our bed:
2-old-blanketsThe left-hand one is all my own work; the other was put together by Katherine from her hand-knitted and my machine-knitted samples and test swatches. When we tried to put this blanket on display at a craft show in Devon there was much debate about whether it should be included as some on the selection committee did not consider my pieces ‘craft’! Eventually it was displayed, thrown over a beam high up at the back of the room.

I also knitted a blanket in black and white for my stepson. It recently returned to us for repair and washing when he moved house.
3-black-white-blanketThese 3 panels show off some of the inspirational ideas I use for my design.
The top one is mathematically based on Sine Curves with alternating wavelengths. The all-black portions are where the waves overlap.
The middle one is based on stitches whose colour is chosen at random. The chances of a stitch being black gradually changes from 11/12 at the left to 1/12 on the right.
The bottom one is influenced by Op Art, in particular the work of the British artist Bridget Riley.

This photo is from the time I made this blanket and shows my holding the punchcard for the sine curves. Like all punchcards for this machine it has a width of 24 stitches, but can be as long as you like. The ends are clipped together and so it operates as a continuous loop.3a-stephen-with-punchcardIn September last year my daughter Ellie got married in Cornwall – and asked me if I could knit her a new blanket. There’s a challenge – but happy to oblige for this late wedding present. The themes I thought I would use were the sea and dogs – she and her husband Jak have a dog called Bailey who is somewhat spoiled.

Here are some of our collection of cones of wool, including some monofilament glitter to add to the mix, from which K put together a palette of colours for the blanket. The machine will knit fair isle¬†– ie two colours in one row. And I got designing –
4-cones-of-wool– and setting up the knitting machine. It is a similar model to the one I had all those years ago. When we moved to Northumberland 6 years ago I got rid of all my old equipment, but have since been re-acquiring it.

Just as Cornwall is bounded on the east and west by the sea, so my blanket is framed by patterns based on waves. Each wave pattern uses Sine Curves such as this which are stacked up, and given a sideways shift.6-sine-curve

Sine curve

Here is the punchcard for this design:
7-cornish-waves-1-punchcardwhich gives this when knitted up:
5-cornish-waves-1aIndeed, it gives an optical illusion when viewed from a certain angle, that the fabric is not flat but undulating:8-cornish-waves-1bThe second wave design is similar, but the stitches between the wave forms have been chosen at random, gradually tailing off until the next wave to given a broken effect, almost like breaking waves.9-cornish-waves-2aIn addition I broke up the pattern by having a completely random section across the panel after every third complete sine wave. That occurs at either end of this pattern’s punchcard:
10-cornish-waves-2-punchcardAgain, from the right angle, the fabric no longer appears flat:
11-cornish-waves-2bAnd so to dogs! This was a real labour of love as I have no great fondness for dogs and find it very difficult to be in a room with a dog. But I put together two dog-themed panels to go next to the waves.

The first used 4 different dog motifs from a book by Wendy Phillips, along with some doggy words:12-doggie-punchcardsI alternated each pair of dogs with one of the word motifs. I also had a common background, white, for the whole panel, and added the diagonal stripes to tie it all together.13-joined-dog-panelI particularly like the Dalmatian design. Notice how I have had to put the letters of the words stepping down so that I didn’t have a¬†single float for the row underneath the words¬†across the whole panel.

The other dog-themed panel is based on a print by one of my favourite artists, MC Escher:14-escher-dogsThis design has always fascinated me as to how it works with its tessellating dogs pointing in two different directions. It took me a long time, and many failed attempts, until I came up with this punchcard:
15-escher-dogs-punchcard-1And this is what results when it is knitted:16-escher-dog-knitThe central panel is specially for my daughter and her husband with a motif of their initials, J & E, intertwined. I placed this in tessellating hexagons, alternating with a star motif.17-hexagonThis is the punchcard I created:18-je-punchcardYou can see the initials quite clearly. You may notice that the hexagons on the punchcard are somewhat elongated. This is because, when designing patterns for the machine, you have to take into account the fact that each row is roughly half as high as the width of a stitch Рie to knit a square with a width of 100 stitches, you would have to knit 200 rows. An added complication.

Here is part of the end result:19-je-panel1What’s gone wrong here? In fact the punchcard snagged on the edge of the machine and jammed for about 16 rows until I noticed – hence the elongated legs on the star!

Now, with all five panels knitted, in total about 560,000 stitches, that is 5 panels of 140 stitches, each with 800 rows, they could be sewn up. Katherine did the bulk of this but I did one of the them:20-s-sewing3But our cats, Eggy and Ilsa, sometimes were not very helpful:21-je-eggyBut we managed, and then Katherine crocheted all around the edge several times to give a weighty edge to the blanket and¬†to tie all the colours together. I have¬†tried to do this, but somehow I just cannot master this task that she makes look so easy:22-k-crochetAgain, the cats thought they had a found a wonderfully warm place to sleep –¬†and things ground to a halt:23-cats-not-helpingBut eventually all was completed. Then Katherine very lightly washed the blanket using a machine wool wash to get any wax or oil out of the wools, and we hung it outside to dry:24-drying-in-windHere it is laid out on the lawn. You can clearly see all the designs, and Katherine’s crocheted edge tying it all together:25-whole-rug-on-lawnAnd so we sent it off to Cornwall to the happily married couple,¬† about 13 months after their wedding. Here is one happy recipient along with Bailey – Enjoy this blanket made for you all with love:26-happy-ellie

The technical stuff:

In case you are wondering how I construct my designs here is a brief explanation:

Once I have worked out my design, I write a computer program to convert it into the stich pattern I need. I do this using a program called BASIC, which I first learnt over 35 years ago. I use a freeware version of this program called Just Basic or JBASIC, which you can download at: http://www.justbasic.com

At present I am working on a Christmas-themed design called Blizzard. It consists of overlayered snowflakes, the size, orientation and position of each snowflake being chosen at random. Here is the program I wrote:27-programWhen I run this, it generates possible patterns to use. When I find one that is particularly interesting I can then print it out. It comes out like this, 24 stitches wide and repeating every 108 rows:28-printoutThis is then transcribed onto a piece of punchcard cut from a long roll, and punched out to give the following:
29-blizzard-punchcardBut what will the resulting knitted pattern look like? Watch this space!