That darn Noonday Demon!

In the fourth century AD, Christian monasteries sprang up in the deserts near Alexandria in Egypt. In these harsh conditions monks struggled to live ascetic lives of prayer and deprivation in the belief that this would secure them eternal life.  One can easily imagine how these monks might lose heart and be distracted from godly prayer – particularly in the sleepy postprandial times of the midday lull. One monk, Evagrius Ponticus, wrote about the tiresome demon behind these temptations of listlessness and lassitude, calling it the Noonday Demon.

Over the last few months, I too have struggled with this darned Noonday Demon – though in my case, it has broken all the rules, and will not stick to the stipulated noonday hours of ten to two …

I did complete my doodle stitchery as I wrote in my blog post last month. But otherwise I seem to be just flitting from project to project, unable to find the energy or drive to complete anything in particular …

At the beginning of the summer I started another Judi Dench tapestry, this time replacing the greens with blue tones …It came on a couple of train trips with me, and then I lost interest and it got put to the side …So I thought I would try some spinning … I got out my best most glorious colours …And yes, I did find the spinning very comforting and pleasurable, and got quite a bit done.  But I lost interest when I saw what how the dark tones submerge the brighter colours in the finished spun yarn …A pile of my most beautiful fabrics came out one weekend when Stephen was away …I did a little machining …Played with some other fabrics …But it just didn’t grab me.  So I put it all away – and the only being happy with the whole event was the cat …I know! I declared to myself. I’ll go back to my first proper knitting love!  I’ll do some Kaffe Fassett knitting! And I was indeed very happy with this blue/green/purple strip of knitting – but then unruly thoughts niggled at me  … Was this planned knit really going to be useful … Kaffe Fassett knits are so cosy with all that stranded knitting at the back.  Do I really want to wear that sort of cardi any more …It got put to the side, ending up next to the wastepaper basket – oh dear, what indignity!I got books of inspiration out …I was sent fabulous fabric scraps by generous friends … but nothing seemed to spark my creative wires …I did complete one other piece – oh yeay! I was asked to stitch a Berwick Worm for the Tweed 1000 celebrations …This is a community stitchery being worked to commemorate the Battle of Carham of 1018. That almost unknown battle resulted in  the Scottish/English border being set as it is now, adjoining the River Tweed, rather than near Edinburgh. The pieces being worked are all linked with the history of the area.

There are many stories of Worms in the area – probably the best known is the Lambton Worm of County Durham.  The Durham locals have a song about their worm which you can hear here beautifully sung by a famous County Durham boy, Bryan Ferry. It’s a great worm story!

The worm got fat an’ grewed an’ grewed,
An’ grewed an aaful size;
He’d greet big teeth, a greet big gob,
An greet big goggly eyes …

I was so very chuffed to be allocated the Berwick Worm.  I got out my fabrics, and started stitching …Sadly, I have to say my heart wasn’t really in it. Although I think he’s quite a pleasing worm and I’m not in any way ashamed of my contribution, I didn’t find it quite as unputdownable as the best projects are …The one other long-term stitching project that I have toyed with this summer is an old friend which I started last year when I first learned about Alabama Chanin’s embroidered clothes.  I wanted to make a garment for myself but decided to start with a sample piece – and here it is at the beginning of the summer …I have picked it up recently and enjoyed adding quite a lot more different stitches to the background …I’m not alone to struggle with this problem. Others call it different names – for Ann Wood, for example, it’s Natsubate.  Some know it as Accidie.  Myself, I like the personalization of that imp, the darned Noonday Demon.

Perhaps it’s just this very long hot dry summer that we’re experiencing in the UK right now.  And I only need for the heavens to open to right my energies? With the political temperature soaring all over the world, it seems more than a trifle shaming to be so concerned with the pace of my creativity.

It’s just the small things though, isn’t it, that are really important?

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to rest.

Wendell Berry: Sabbaths 1999, VII

Ever in hope I have started a new knitting project! There is nothing like a knitting shawl for comforting ease of project and I have several very long car journeys later this summer when I will need some knitting.  I had to undo a shawl that I didn’t think was quite right for me to reclaim this beautiful Old Maiden Aunt yarn.  ( It’s a beautiful 4ply baby alpaca, silk and cashmere combo called ghillie ghu.) I’m hoping to knit it up as a Karie Westermann Bibliotheca shawl.Wish me luck – I so wish to find a project that will be absorb me!

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Spinning a cat hair comforter …

Two funny little cats, Eggy and Ilsa, came to live with us some 18 months ago …Unlike any other kits I have had (and I’ve had quite a few in my time) they need constant grooming. This isn’t surprising really as they are half Persian and half Exotic Shorthair, inheriting from their Persian father a gloriously luscious outer coat and a dense, soft undercoat. Left unchecked, this undercoat matts badly – so they need the regular grooming to keep their coats shiny and silky.

It occurred to me last summer that I might well be able to spin this undercoat. Why I had quantities of it available! The very cream tones are from Ilsa (on the right above) and the darker colours are from Eggy (on the left).But it’s not exactly a long staple, being just a couple of inches at most.  Sometimes there are guard hairs too, but mostly what I was getting from grooming sessions was the soft grey you can see by my fingertips below.I decided the best thing was to blend it with some of the Cornish alpaca I still had spare. This is a beautiful creamy lustrous fibre (once washed – it was almost grey with dirt and dust when I first acquired it), but similar in texture to the cat hair, so I expected the fibres to blend well. On with the alpaca to the carders then …Followed by the rather grubby cat hair (this I didn’t wash – full explanation to follow) …It carded very well together …Giving a beautiful silver grey rolag …Actually there were lots of tones in the rolags, reflecting the different colours of the cat hair.  I rather like this variation, being true to the original cats …What did the kits think of my work?  Were they at all interested in this processing of their hair?  After all it must smell of them … And they were about much of the time as I was busy carding and spinning …Ah yes! Look at Ilsa in seventh heaven padding away at my rolags!  Can you see the little bits of alpaca fluff floating up and catching in her whiskers? And Eggy keeping a sharp eye behind?!Eggy had her heavenly moments with the rolags too.  This looks like pure cat bliss to me too …Happy summer days …Why I was even tempted to card straight from source (as it were) …!Time to start spinning my rolags …With my not-so-helpful kitty companions … I spun the mixed cat hair and alpaca fiber very fine with lots of twist to hold the cat hair and fluffy alpaca in place.  Any relaxation of the twist and the yarn easily broke …Then the cat hair/alpaca strand was plyed with pure alpaca …Giving me a yarn that was 25% cat and 75% alpaca … (pure white alpaca in picture here to show the colour difference) …Time to get knitting! I wanted a very simple pattern, so adapted my knit from this Viewfinder cowl in Alexa Ludeman and Emily Wessel’s Road Trip. I’ve knit it before as a cowl, but this time wanted to knit a comforter ….. Are you familiar with the term?!  Well, it is the best word – in my opinion – for a shawl or scarf.  Time to consult our wonderful 1891 Webster’s! A knit woolen tippet, long and narrow. Just so – thank you, Mr Webster.  Only I would add: something to offer the physical warmth of succour … a woolly hug, perhaps … You see this comforter was planned as a gift for my daughter whose cats these really are.  They no longer live with her, but with the unwashed (now you see why the cat hair wasn’t washed!) comforter, she could wrap herself in comforting almost pure cat … So effective was it (and so pleasant to knit), that – having plenty of yarn still – I knit another comforter …You can see the catty variations in the spin quite clearly …And laid out you can see how the lacey stitchwork has distorted the rectangular comforter into something quite shaped with pointy ends …I decided to dye the second comforter, mixing up a vibrant fuchsia colour from my Easyfix AllinOne Dye powders …Such a pleasing result!Was I influenced at all by the colours of the season ….?You can see quite clearly the distorting effect of the lacey stitches as the comforter dries …The resulting knit matted a little bit in the process – but that’s not a bad thing as it stops the comforter shedding cat hair so much …And boy, is it cosy and comforting to wear!(Not mine for long as it’s off to give comfort with its predecessor …)

Glasgow weekend

Last weekend we had a very kind offer of cat-sitting so leapt at the opportunity to head off to unexplored places.  As it was snowy and icy, we decided the best thing was to travel by train, and settled on Glasgow, a city that we’d only visited briefly on a day visit last summer.

The streets in Glasgow had been gritted and cleared of snow, but not so the pavements which were icy and treacherous …But walking up to the glorious Kelvingrove Museum in bright sunshine, that didn’t seem to matter …How the sunshine transformed the great hall …Opened in 1901, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is such an extraordinary statement of ostentatious Glasgow prosperity – with an organ, no less, in that Great Hall! It was comfortably busy and bustling when we visited – lots of children, visitors of all nationalities, people waiting for the organ recital (which was splendid, and I wish I could play it for you here) …I love the detailed craftsmanship on show in the museum itself – aren’t these brass door handles very fine?Just as much as I love the modern jostling with the old. The hanging heads are part of an installation by Sophy Cave of Event Communications …I wish all museums were as upfront about their display policies …There was lots and lots of tempting things to see, but what I most wanted to look at was:This is a very big year for Charles Rennie Mackintosh admirers because it is the 150th anniversary of his birth – and lots of big events are being planned, including a major exhibition at the Kelvingrove Museum itself opening in March, and the re-opening of his refurbished Willow Tearooms.

Another exhibition planned – much smaller but of considerable interest to me and my friends – is the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers National Exhibition in July at Strathclyde University. This will celebrate its presence in Glasgow on this particular centenary with an exhibition of Guild members handmade jewellery in the style of Mackintosh. “Jewellery can be of any textile nature, for example, they could be spun, dyed, felted, knitted, crocheted, tatted, woven, braided – whatever shows the creativity of the entrant.”

What an exciting challenge!

So here I was to look at the exhibits in a particular way: to see how I could re-interpret Mackintosh’s work in a piece of jewellery.

I had to be careful first of all not to be led astray by some of the gorgeous exhibits by other Glaswegians. We were both immediately struck by this very beautiful wall panel from the Argyle Street tearooms, dated 1898-99. But this was in fact made by George Walton & Co. A pity – this is truly inspirational!And this fine washstand with those characteristic Mackintosh long lines (look at the side panels) is in fact by John Ednie c.1900.  We spent ages looking at it because according to the information tab it was made of oak, glass, metal, marble, ceramic and leather.  Blowed if we could see any leather!  Must be inside the drawers, we decided …So where was the Mackintosh in all this gorgeousness?  There was a chair, of course – and very intriguingly displayed next to others of the period.  It’s the centrepiece here – designed for the Ingram tea rooms …And it was in the Chinese Room from the Ingram Street tearooms, designed by Mackintosh in 1911 that I found my best inspiration …Two things particularly struck me – first the little pagoda light … And secondly this Chinese key panel which was carved over the doorway of Mackintosh tearoom … those square curls … Lots to think about – I’ll keep you posted …Intriguingly we found upstairs among the historic Scottish exhibits pattern work very similar to that of Mackintosh and his Glasgow style compatriots. Look at these curved axe-heads and the long lines of this bronze dagger.  They are part of the Gavel Moss hoard found at Lochwinnoch and dated 2000-1400 BC …This Thistle brooch is 10th century Viking work, but could happily sit downstairs with Mackintosh and his fellow Glasgow artists of the 19th/20th century …The snow plough was out gritting the streets of Glasgow on Saturday night – which made us chuckle – no sign of snow on the streets anywhere! But we laughed a little less on the Sunday as we set out on an icy grey snowy walk up to St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. It was cold – and there was more snow …We were well wrapped up …I was wearing all my handmade, homespun, woolly knits (even sporting my handknitted felted handbag), so I was toasty! But Stephen disdains my lovingly-knit creations, saying they’re too scratchy.  Well, who looks most cosy here?!Lots of fascinating items covering the breadth of religious faith and worship in the St Mungo museum, but I was struck by two pictures – and intrigued by my reason for liking these two very different pictures.

This 1992 Aboriginal painting titled Kangaroo Wild Cabbage, Ceremonial Spear, Possum and Bush Carrot Dreaming is by Paddy Japaljarri Stewart, Paddy Japaljarri Sims, Bessie Nakamarri Sims and Pansy Nakamarra Stewart, Warlpirri People, Yuendumu. It tells the story of the Dreamtime travels of some of their many spiritual ancestors. I struggle a bit to understand this picture as such – this is all so different to my culture, I guess.  But what I really love are the colours and the patterns …And it is pattern which draws me to this picture too. It’s called The Sabbath Candles and is by Dora Holzhandler. What a pattern fest – pattern everywhere!By now the snow was coming down hard – a beautiful snow globe view of Glasgow Cathedral and over to the Necropolis …But we had a colourful treat for the end of our Glasgow trip – just time to drop into my favourite shop here: Paperchase!  Now if this colourfest isn’t sustaining in the snowy grey, I don’t know what it is.  And – on that note – time to go home …

 

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 pièces de résistance 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.Time to go home now – 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!

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 – ie 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!