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!

 

 

 

 

A Paxton walk

The meteorologists warned us last week of horrible cold wet windy weather to come, so we seized the opportunity to get out on Friday. Thank goodness we did. We had a truly golden day.

It was cold – look how wrapped up I am! The first time this winter that I’ve had all my winter woollies out and on.We decided to park our car on the English side of the Union Chain Bridge, walk over the bridge to Scotland, up along the Tweed to Paxton House, through the grounds and onto Paxton village where we could get lunch at the newly-refurbished Cross Inn.  Then retrace our steps.  Not a big walk at all – more of an amble really.  mapThe Union Chain Bridge is one of our very favourite places in the locality – (you can read my paean to this fine bridge here.)beatiful-union-chain-bridge-bannerIt sits across the magnificent river Tweed, and for much of its way separates the countries of England and Scotland.walking-over-union-chain-bridge-to-scotlandSomebody had put/left/forgotten a little clown vase near the centre of the bridge.  An appeasement to the gods of the river?small-clown-vase-on-bridgeAt the far side, we followed a path to the river bank just below these enormous suspension cables.suspension-cables-of-union-chain-bridgeLooking back up from the path at the enormous stone pillars supporting the suspension cables, you can’t help but be impressed.looking-up-at-the-union-chain-bridgeThe walk along the river embankment was very muddy – it’s obviously a heavily-walked route. But no matter – so much to see, so much to enjoy.  How clear the water is!  Autumn leaves being carried along with the water.  Perhaps we will meet these same leaves again when walking on our local beach at Spittal where the Tweed meets the sea?water-so-clear-leaves-drifitng-down-streamThere were birds getting on with their own lives. We glimpsed a heron fishing through the trees.glimpse-of-a-heron-through-the-treesOur walk took us past small private and secretive doors …past-little-private-doorsThen, in the distance,  we caught our first glimpse of the rosy stone wall surrounding the Paxton estate …glimpse-of-paxtons-wall-up-the-riverNot far to go now …approaching-paxtons-groundsCloser, the door was a magical invitation to a private world …through-a-hole-in-the-wall-into-paxtons-groundsInside the estate, the walk was as golden as ever …a-golden-walkThere were fine trees – and a little teddy bear trail ….childrens-find-the-teddy-bear-game-in-evidenceLooking up we were able to catch a glimpse of Paxton House through the trees.  Paxton House was built in the 1760s to be a fine mansion looking out on the river Tweed – but alas, they have allowed the trees to grow so tall that there is almost no view of the Tweed from Paxton House any longer – such a pity.paxton-house-glimpsed-through-the-treesBefore long we reached Paxton’s fish and boat houses.paxtons-fish-house-and-boat-houseThey run boat trips from here – something we’ve never done, but definitely plan to do one day.boat-trips-run-from-paxtonNow it was time to climb up from the banks of the river Tweed and through the Paxton estate …walk-takes-us-up-hill-to-housePast the children’s play area – it looked a most imaginatively designed place for children to enjoy!wonderful-childrens-play-areaAnd a brief glimpse once more of Paxton House …finally-get-to-paxton-housePast their masonry treasures/leftovers/rejects sitting casually on the lawns …casual-masonry-piecesPast the apple trees so skilfully espaliered on the red brick wall of the walled garden …walled-garden-wallOver the Linn Burn … aaaah the tree colour!over-bridge-in-paxton-groundsAnd on to the main Paxton entrance gates, guarded by some fine stone lions (and a modern touch: matching grey wheelie bins).entrance-guarded-by-lions-wheelie-binsOur walk to Paxton village only took twenty minutes or so further, but still more of interest to see.  A stylish teal bench – in the middle of nowhere, should you need a rest.  No, I don’t think it’s a bus stop.teal-bench-in-the-middle-of-nowhereWe met an engineer working outside the old telephone exchange to connect somebody up to broadband and had an engrossing conversation, though I must confess much of the technicalities of multi-coloured cables passed me by.arriving-at-paxton-villageThen we turned down a long slicket at the backs of peoples’ houses …walk-down-slicket-to-paxton-villageMuch more fun when you can see the fronts!   These folk have got a rather nice mini- Paxton lion …mini-paxton-lion-outside-this-houseAnd look at these fuchsia cushions outside on the teal bench! – but, oh dear, it’s going to rain!!fetching-fuchsia-pink-cushionsAll right for us luckily – we got to the pub, the Cross Inn, before any showers started.paxtons-cross-innIt’s been pleasantly refurbished and looked welcoming – and indeed was so, with tasty food, and perhaps more importantly for Stephen, tasty beer.newly-refurbished-pub-is-welcoming-insideThen we retraced out steps. I much prefer circular walks, but our return walk was so different that it didn’t matter that we were going over the same ground. The light was completely different – and spectacular – on return.  No longer so gold and so friendly – more stark and much more exciting.

We approached Paxton House the proper way (as it were) on return. paxton-house-bannerBack along the fine avenue of trees …wlaking-back-through-paxton-groundsDown the leafy banks to the river Tweed …walking-through-fallen-leaves-down-to-the-tweedAt first, the Tweed glimpsed through the trees appeared with the gentleness of a John Nash painting upturned-boats-by-the-tweedBut then we veered downstream into the light …river-tweed-glimpsed-through-the-treesMirrored perfection …fantastic-light-walking-back-along-river-tweedDark clouds overhead, rain threatening … but a reassuringly golden sign that we were on the way home …reassuring-way-markerAnd some dappled green ambling …dappled-green-return-walkBefore we had the Union Chain Bridge once more in our sights …first-sight-of-the-bridge-on-our-return-walkDistinctly dark clouds hovering over the bridge now …dark-clouds-over-bridgeThe mighty stone supports of the suspension bridge …stephen-walking-over-the-bridgeBack over the bridge to England …walking-back-over-the-union-chain-bridge-to-englandWhere the bridge supports are cut into the soft local red rock. Back in England just before the rain!back-in-england

Old haunts, dear friends

Last week I was in Devon, visiting old and dear friends – people and places.

I lived and worked in Mid -Devon for over thirty years. My first husband was a keen sportsman, so I knew the sporting venues.  In later years and after a second marriage to a secondary school teacher, I got to know the local schools well as my children grew up. We were involved with the local churches, brownies, cubs, schools, the local community. So there are many, many places and people I know there.

I usually pay an autumn visit to Devon.  It suits me because our own garden isn’t so demanding at this time of year.  And I must also confess to a longing for trees! If you live by the sea, as we do, you may understand this yearning.  However, beautiful and refreshing the sea is, we need green.conker-tree-in-shobrooke-parkSo Shobrooke Park was probably top of my list of places to visit.  Few things give me as much contentment as a walk down its lime walk …lime-avenue-at-shobrooke-parkSo many memories come flooding back. My children when small making dens …making-houses-in-shobrooke-parkIt’s a wonderful historic park with several lakes … lakes-in-shobrooke-parkOne winter, it was so cold and snowy that we did the unforgiveable and let our small children play on the ice …walking-on-snowy-ice-at-shobrooke-parkAnd here is one of most beautiful settings for a cricket pitch, surely, in all Devon ….shobrooke-park-cricket-pitchMy first husband was an enthusiastic cricketer, so I was regularly involved in the making of cricket teas – quiches, cakes, sandwiches, pies – the cricketers were wonderfully fed!  I don’t think today’s partners slave as biddably as we did in the cricket pavilion then.shobrooke-park-cricket-clubroomIt’s all very superior nowadays – they even have proper nets!nets-at-shobrooke-park-cricket-clubBut somethings don’t change – isn’t this the grass roller I perched on in my 20s?pitch-roller-at-shobrooke-parkkatherine-as-a-young-mumWalking round Crediton, I passed our old home – why they’ve repainted the front door pale blue!western-villasPast the school where Stephen used to teach …qecc-boardTrees round the old buildings (which we could glimpse from our house) looking fine in the autumn light …old-qecc-and-treesOn the nearby green is the Millennium Cross …millennial-crossWhich I lovingly garlanded with a primrose wreath one Easter …primrose-wreath-on-millennial-crossNext a small detour to see the Chapel we used to look after …st-lawrence-glimpsed-from-the-gateThe sign we wrote is still there …old-st-lawrence-signThere’s some new-fangled QR reader sign now there as well!qr-sign-outside-st-lawrenceWe looked after the Chapel and its garden for twenty years, and over that time the garden really blossomed.  Here is the younger me, one springtime, weeding there.k-gardening-at-st-lawrenceIt was a fabulous place to garden – a small enclosed space …st-lawrence-gardenAnd the plants set against the warm Devon red stone of the mediaeval chapel wall …st-lawrence-with-our-house-in-backgroundWhy, in my mind’s eye, I can take myself back to this very same spot twenty-five years ago when Stephen and I were married here, bringing our two families of six children together …getting-married-at-st-lawrenceOn then to visit one of my oldest friends (literally). For a while Eileen was my neighbour, and, perhaps most preciously of all, she taught me to spin. What a debt I owe her! My spinning was never anything like as good as hers, but after all she was President of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.  And here she is, well into her nineties, inspecting my latest knit of my own homespun wool.showing-eileen-my-knittingThen lunch with some more of my dear Devon friends, the Shobrooke Ladies  – we all lived in that village when our children were small.  We have shared each other’s lives as our children have grown, settled, married, moved, our parents have passed on, grandchildren have appeared, and we have all finished our working lives, and moved on to retirement.  How special to catch up – it was just as though we still met up once a month to share the latest news in our lives!shobrooke-ladies-lunchingThen time to visit Topsham where I stayed with another dear friend, one of my old library colleagues.  Such a magical view out over the Exe Estuary from her home!sunset-on-the-exe-estuaryAnd a beautiful walk round the estuary the next day.  Topsham fascinates me with its similarities to Berwick-upon-Tweed where I now live.  Both are estuary towns, – and both have a fine collection of swans …swans-awakening-in-topshamLike Berwick, the buildings in Topsham reflect the pursuits of local business.  In Berwick there are red pantile roofs that merchants brought back as ballast from their business trips to Europe.  In Topsham, you can see the Dutch gables the merchants learned to build after their continental travels.  What struck me particularly is the wealth here in affluent Devon compared to the poverty of north Northumberland – these buildings are so well kept.  dutch-houses-in-topshamWe had a magical walk, along the estuary, turning off to see the fine display of cyclamen near the Goat Walk.walking-with-jenny-amid-cyclamensAre they not a delight?!wild-cyclamen Our walk took us further along the beautiful Exe estuary …information-board-at-exe-estuaryBack down woody lanes – I was drinking in the greenery all the way. What really struck me was that this was almost the first sighting of trees colouring that I saw.  What very late autumns we are getting …autumn-coloursAnd past the Shrubbery house where Stephen’s Aunt Barbara used to live.shurbbery-house-where-stephens-aunt-livedAnd back to Shobrooke village for my last night in Devon, and a glimpse of the beautiful red Devon hills from the cottage.devon-red-fields-glimpsed-from-devon-cottageA hug and a giggle with an old friend – indeed, we were flatmates together in London in the 1970s so we go way, way back – before I caught the train back to Northumberland …girls-gigglingSo why – I hear you asking – don’t you still live in this lovely county with these dear folk?!  Ah well, I have been seduced by a small Northumbrian cottage with the sunrise in its windows …dawn-reflected-on-our-seaview-cottageand our view of dawn over the North Sea!east-coast-dawn

Loving my clothes …

Social media is awash right now with discussions about what you wear – whether it’s Truly Myrtle talking about her Local Wardrobe or Fringe Association’s Slow Fashion October.  So, I guess it’s timely for me too to be looking at the clothes I wear right now.

First of all, I need to confess to loving my clothes deeply – ever since I was a very little girl.katherine-aged-3-and-halfIn the 1960s, in our tiny little London home, I would wake up early – and to my mother’s utter exasperation – take out my entire wardrobe and try it on.  In the end she was so fed up with the mess I created that she put locks on all the cupboards and drawers that contained my clothes.  I don’t remember my reaction …

I was lucky enough to have a large wardrobe of beautiful clothes, many of which were made by my mother. Tartan was absolutely the thing for young children to wear when we were young, and I am amused to see that while my sister and I are wearing identical dresses, I’ve been to the trouble to add a little extra necklace decoration.katherine-marian-in-tartanI can vividly remember having a major paddy aged 10 or 11 because I was fed up with the frilly girlie dresses my mother put me in.katherine-wearing-dress-made-by-her-motherBy 1971, in my mid teens, I was beginning to experiment with clothes (perhaps as a result of the paddy, my mother had given me a small clothing allowance). Here, we are at Hythe beach in Kent, and I’m all dressed up in a baby doll up outfit I’d recently bought for myself and a homemade cloche hat.1971-seaside-wearA later family holiday (1972) and this time we’re on Dartmoor and I can see that I’m experimenting with my clothes even more – those are tie-dye jeans, and a fantastic man’s corduroy jacket!1972-dartmoor-wearI went to university that year and there, free for parental inspection, I was definitely in full experimenting mode. I’ve had a perm, and I’m wearing an old fur stole (it was trendy to wear real fur in those days) and a camel coat, both hand-me downs from my grandmother.katherine-as-a-studentA few years working in London followed university, and they were sort of smart, sort of still hippyish.  This was the 1970s after all.  It was quite by chance that my sister and I are dressed so similarly in the picture below – we hadn’t discussed our clothes before going to this London wedding (of my current husband to an earlier wife – yes, I know!)katherin-marian-at-stephen-zitas-weddingBy complete contrast to London, the late 1970s found me living a more rural, truly hippyish existence in Devon – and you can see that in my clothes.hippy-mumThere were practical things to be done with gardening, chickens – and children – and I was much more of a scruff.katherine-as-a-young-mumThe odd times that I looked smart were for family events like this picture taken at my daughter’s christening. She’s wearing the family christening robe, and I’m wearing a dress I’ve made out of an old Japanese yukata.katherine-at-helens-christeningMy abiding memory of my clothes during this period while my children were young was this enveloping brown coat.  I’d bought it when at university and it was quite stylish then, but it lingered on and on and on – partly because we were very hard-up and partly because it was wonderful for carrying children as their muddy boots just brushed against muddy brown fabric.katherines-brown-coatI trained as an early years teacher when my children were small, and that meant respectable, practical clothes like this dress I was wearing when TEFL teaching (in those days, headteachers frowned at their staff wearing trousers – seems unbelievable now.)katherines-first-teaching-jobLater, I went to work in a library, so I dressed as befits a librarian!librarian-clothesBusier and with more money, I ceased to make clothes for myself.  I think the last garment I made was this coat. It was cut from my grandmother’s old curtains – yes, I kid you not – when I was very broke (proper Scarlett O’Hara stuff here), and it was indeed gorgeous, and much-admired but completely failed to keep out the cold.my-grandmothers-curtains-coatWhere am I going with all this, you may well ask?  Well, in this mini-tour of my clothing life, I’ve looked at all the different clothes I’ve required for my various occupations in so many places.  Now in retirement, in very northernmost Northumberland, you might think it would just be a case of jeans, thick woollies, wellies and a Barbour.

No thanks!

I do have some of those garments, and wear them on walks out and about – that’s for sure.  But I would hate to be restricted to wearing them all the time.

So, over the last few years I have been looking again at my wardrobe. I went back to dressmaking last summer, and wrote about my first attempts in my Batik dress blog post .  It wasn’t easy because I’m quite a different shape from the young woman I used to make clothes for.  And there is that indefinable je-ne-sais-quoi that restricts older women from freely wearing whatever they see on young people.

I’ve discovered that what suits me is to wear tunics or short dresses – I’m not very tall, and longer dresses dwarf me.  Shorter garments do me no favours: make me look round. Under my tunic, I almost invariably wear leggings or coloured tights – these are immensely comforting to one like me who has curious white legs.  Also I feel the cold.  I don’t wear jeans – at all, if I can help it.  I find them so uncomfortable and restricting – and dull!

So, with that in mind, I started sewing earlier this summer, using my grandmother’s old Simplicity pattern number 9141.  How the young Katherine would have laughed to see me making myself the same style of clothes that my mother and grandmother wore!Simplicity paper patternMy first experiment was with a gorgeous African veritable wax de luxe fabric which we bought on our spring trip to Paris. I wasn’t really thinking when I cut it out, and so have ended up with a long dart down the front which slightly spoils the fabulous pattern. african-fabric-dressDespite that flaw, it is a wonderful garment, and I have worn it a great deal – sometimes more wrapped up than others. I dithered about adding sleeves – after all there’s a certain reluctance for ladies of an older age to bare there arms, but I took heart from this Advanced Style post and went for bare arms.african-shift-dress-dressedupIt was followed by an enormously brave attempt to make myself a plain-coloured linen dress using the Merchant and Mills dress shirt pattern.  It’s brave because I don’t usually wear plain colours.  It did take me a long time to fit this dress satisfactorily.  I found the pattern too big for my frame, so had to trim quite a bit of width.  I do love it – another great success.  And I like the plain colour very much – my only caveat would be that I am an enormously messy person, and spills don’t show so much on pattern.turquoise-linen-dress-finishedMy next attempt was to make a copy of a dress I’d designed for myself years ago.  It was made from some gorgeously soft cotton that I bought in Habitat, and I have worn it and worn it, and shortened it, and worn and worn it again.  A really good old friend. habitat-pleated-dressI was a bit hesitant about this – still nervous about my seamstress skills.  So I bought a cheap and unremarkable fabric for the copy, and I think the dress I came up with is also unremarkable. two-pleated-dressesIt took endless patient pinning and re-pinning to get the seams right.  There are no darts in this dress – all the shaping comes from the seams, so it was essential to get them right.pinned-pleatsBut it does look very good when dressed up – and can you see the slight curve I gave the back for added interest?  I was very pleased with that.new-pleated-dressBy now (mid- August), I was beginning to feel a lot more confident.  On the spur of the moment I decided to make another tunic dress using my grandmother’s Simplicity pattern with this gorgeous fabric I’d found in Newcastle’s John Lewis. I didn’t worry about cutting this dress out.  I knew it would be OK!  And it was! grren-and-pink-tulip-dress-styledI’d taken on board the problems with a front seam spoiling the pattern, and just added a few tuck darts round the neck to cope with the extra fullness. So there is no centre front line to spoil the pattern. three-of-this-summers-handmade-dressesMy grandmother’s pattern fits me almost perfectly  – bar the bust darts. I have to lower the bust seam by about an inch which I find quite inexplicable.lowered-dart-on-my-grandmothers-patternBuoyed up with my success, I returned to a dress I had started at the very beginning of the summer. This is Grainline Studio’s Alder shirtdress.  It is cut from some fabric my husband bought me secretly on our Paris trip earlier this year – an enchanting Japanese doll fabric in several colourways.  I cut it out with great enthusiasm, and then realised I would have to do buttonholes – oh, no! So it got put to the side.

Come the end of the summer, with all this dressmaking experience under my belt (so to speak), I knew I could tackle buttonholes satisfactorily.  And I did indeed sew some very good buttonholes. This is another garment that I love wearing – I love the mix of fabrics (which was forced on me because there wasn’t enough of either fabric). And I love the pattern.  It also has a slightly curved back hem.alder-dressThis garment also dresses up well for colder days. Just what I needed on my recent London trip!togged-up-for-london-selfieIt feels such an achievement to have completed these different dresses. I’ve written about them speedily in this blog, but actually they took ages and ages of pinning and unpinning, trying on, measuring and repinning.  It may not really be what Karen Templer had in mind with her Slow Fashion October, but it is still a sort of slowness that has been reflective and patient and careful, quite different from the younger me who would throw garments together in an afternoon – and could carry them off however ill they fitted.

I’ve revisited Karen Templer’s Slow Fashion October since I started this blogpost, and she does indeed allow for a multiple of different interpretations for this slow project.  Perhaps the uniting factor running through this month is thoughtfulness. (I hesitate to use the word, Mindfulness because it is becoming tarnished with overuse) And with that thoughtfulness there is an accompanying pleasure – a delight in the simplicity and care of detail, a relish in getting garments that fit well and that are worn regularly and comfortably.  Well, my summer sewing projects certainly fit that bill.

And, if you were to listen to the Truly Myrtle podcast on Your Local Wardrobe that I referred to you at the beginning of this post, you would hear that she too is, like me, searching for the right clothes for the right place in her life right now! I can identify so much with her search for colour and fun in her clothing.

Perhaps best of all, I can now say that I have confident plans for more making ….. ideas for more garments … my mind is buzzing. handmade-dresses

Another London visit

Just over a week ago I was in London – busy, bustling, exciting, varied – so much to see, so much to do. I love visiting London, love the excitement, the endless small details of interest, the big statements of serious important world-changing matters in one of the largest cities in the world.

A visit away is always unsettling – even the kits feel it. Eggy seems to think that if I can take Northumbrian heather to London, I could take her too.eggy-in-my-suitcaseIt was nominally a visit to see family and friends.  To visit my nonagenarian mother (92!) in her Surrey nursing home …selfie-with-my-motherAnd sit in the autumn sun on the bench marking my father’s life …rhes-benchThis London trip was different because both my children have moved to areas of London that I don’t know at all, and for one who hates using the Underground like me travel round London is always a challenge!

My daughter’s bedsit was the easier visit because it’s at Mornington Crescent, within walking distance of King’s Cross station where I’d arrived. These tall houses remind me strongly of those at Earls Court where I used to live in the 1970s. helens-flatThe building on the right in the photograph above is the back of the amazing Carreras Cigarette Factory (now the London headquarters of Asos).front-of-asos-headquartersThis is just the sort of the thing I love about London – the serendipity of discovering fascinating buildings, and architectural detailing everywhere.  Black cats were part of the Carreras branding, and if you look carefully, you will see them right high up over the windows. I would love to see what it’s like inside.cats-all-over-the-asos-buildingHer little flatlet allows for window sill picnics …candlelit-window-picnicAnd there’s just space for Mum to tog up before gadding about London.togged-up-for-london-selfieThe highlight of my visit with Helen was a trip to the Victoria and Albert museum.  I used to visit regularly, but for one reason and another haven’t been for many years.  We are watching ITV’s Victoria which is a lot of fun even if I doubt some of the nineteenth century veracity.  A major theme is Albert’s struggle for some sort of role, and with this in mind, I was amused to see on the entrance façade that Victoria is very much in the senior position.  She – with orb and crown and sceptre – stands high over the entrance; Albert – a mere mortal – is far below over the main door.v-a-museumThe great delight again with a museum such as the Victoria and Albert museum is the serendipitous treats all around. Look at the marvels of the design of the original building here – that stucco, those arches, a rotunda above – coupled with a magnificent mediaeval altarpiece – and to crown it all a striking piece of modern glass.  v-a-at-its-bestSo much good to see that you don’t really know where to start.  I had it in mind to visit the glass gallery after reading LittleLollyTravels blogpost London Baby! some while ago. On the way to the glass we were seduced first by the tins …fancy-tinsWhat a particularly desirable biscuit tin this one is!literature-tinAnd then the metalwork … metalwork-from-castel-henrietteThis fantastically snakey green wrought iron piece is a window grille from Castel Henriette, designed by Hector Guimard.  Sadly, Castel Henriette has been demolished, but if you travel on the Paris Metro, you can see more of Guimard’s metal designs at some of the entrances.  What chance that this lovely piece ended up in the V & A?!!
castel-henrietteThe glass gallery – when found – was indeed a treat.  From the 1969 sculpture “Lollipop Isle”, designed by Oiva Toikka for Nuutajärvi glassworks …lollipop-glassTo the dawn of the twentieth century  with these exquisite German drinking glasses (I posted this picture on Instagram and everybody declared the crocus glass on the left to be their favourite – I wonder which is yours?) …german-wineglassesTo the nine earlyish Egyptian or perhaps Iraqi fragments of glass, dated to sometime in the 7th – 12th centuries (this case contains lots of fascinating treasures, generally Middle Eastern glass, of the same period) I am blown away by the pattern on these glass fragments …glass-fragmentsOnly a snapshot of what we saw, but there is really no way to justice to this remarkable museum.

My London travels then took me (very bravely by Underground – buses would have involved hours of travel) to Walthamstow where my son now lives.  His cottagey terraced house couldn’t be more of a contrast to the mansions of Mornington Crescent.walthamstow-terraced-house But nice detailing still mostly unspoilt (despite the conversions to modern windows), and I think William Morris would have approved.  Walthamstow is very much William Morris’s place. What a way to improve a car park!william-morris-wall-paintingHe grew up in Water House, and this fine building is now the William Morris museum.water-house-william-morris-museumMorris is intriguing because he defies fashion with an enduring appeal.  He was enormously popular in his lifetime, of course.  In my youth in the 1970s, he had a comeback, fitting in with the hippy vibe rather well.  And now, he seems to be all the rage again – check out this article on New York Fashion week!

So, all the patterns are very familiar – either I’ve had furnishings made of them sometime in my life, or known someone who did.  Part of the fun then in the museum was looking for old friends.

It was also intriguing to see how the designs were created. Here’s the Trellis design, both in its raw design state, and as a completed wallpaper print.  We know this 1862 print as Morris’ first design for wallpaper, but, in fact, it was Philip Webb who drew the birds.  Without them, Morris’ rose trellis would be somewhat lacking. I hadn’t realised how collaborative these designs were.trellis-wallpaperPleasing details in the museum included these oak drawers – beautiful smooth action, and look at those leather handles.  I’m sure William Morris would have liked these.drawers-in-morris-museumAnd I was glad to see the museum had fully exploited the fine patterns at its disposal with Morris prints decorating their very superior toilet facilities.william-morris-patterns-on-toilet-doorsmorris-in-the-toiletThe gardens of Water House are now a public park under the care of that rare species (nowadays) a park keeper.back-of-water-houseWe decided that it was the work experience student who was helping with the planting earlier this year and that is why some beds are surrounded with silvery grey foliage and others are not.something-wrong-with-the-plantingLike the visitor from Peru, I cannot praise this museum too highly – if you are in London, check it out!william-morris-galleryIn complete contrast to the sumptuousness of the V & A and the William Morris Gallery, I paid a visit to the Wellcome Institute to see their Bedlam exhibition.  I’ve been there several times before – it’s a most convenient gallery to visit if you have time spare while waiting for a train to leave King’s Cross railway station (just a little further up the Euston Road).  There is a fascinating permanent collection of medical curiosities from the past, and some most interesting modelling of modern problems like obesity.

But I was there to see an exhibition on Bedlam, the infamous London mental asylum founded in the 1700s.  Well – that was the starting point of the exhibition, but it continued to examine attitudes to mental health in the years up to the present, as well as focussing on art associated with mental health.

The exhibition was very crowded – lots of students making notes busily.  By chance I became separated from my friend. People swirling round me as I looked and looked for a familiar face in the crowd.  Suddenly, I realised how cleverly the exhibition was structured to give an impression of the helplessness of the inmates of an asylum. A deeply thought-provoking exhibition.bedlam-exhibitionSuch a brief visit – lots of interest, company, catching up with family and dear friends. I have now returned to the big skies of a very autumnal Northumberland …autumn-colours-in-the-gardenStill plenty to do in the garden …homely-choresThe farmer and seagulls are busy too …big-skies-and-harrowingWorking long and late into the night …farmers-working-late-into-the-nightHow incongruously different Northumberland seems from London!

Poppy paradise

Everybody in the northern hemisphere seems to be talking autumn – and with good reason: the nights are drawing in, the garden looks shaggy, and it now consists mostly of seedheads interspersed with just a few bright sparks of colour.Seaview autumn gardenBut before we give into autumn gracefully (and yes, it is very tempting – there is so much about autumn that I love), I want to look back on the poppies we have grown at Seaview this summer because they have been – as ever – a delight.

When we came here in late 2010, there was no garden so we had to dig all the flowerbeds (you can read about our gardening travails here).  And that first summer, we filled the newly-dug flowerbeds with poppy and cornflower seeds.riotous explosion of poppy colourAn explosive riot of colour!first summer poppy colourComplemented with heady nights …magical moonlit nightsAnd strange days of misty beauty …misty poppy morningsSo those are the parent plants of the seedlings we have had all over our garden this summer.  Seedlings spilling out into the lane …escapee poppies in laneSome brave little souls here …seedling poppies in laneIn the compost heap …compost heapGrowing beside the garden benches …greenhouse bench and poppiesAnd through them …rogue poppies growing in benchThey’ve tried to take over the vegetable patch …selfseeded poppies in veg bedThere were so many poppy seedlings in the veg patch earlier this year that I dug them up and moved them to a communal part of our Seaview holdings.  There they have really blossomed.poppies in new bedEach year, we add a couple of new packets of poppies.  Last year we sowed Ladybird poppy seeds, and they have seeded new generations.red cross poppiesThis year we added Papaver rhoeas “Mother of Pearl – not a lot of them grew, but those that did were a delight (for us as well as the hover flies).fancy poppy and insectsThere’s this  gorgeous red version too.different types of seedling poppiesHowever, it was definitely Papaver somniferum “Black Single” that stole the show this year.detail of black poppyWhat pleased me particularly was the spectrum of colours these seeds produced.  Not just that heady purple-black, but softer dark pinks too.black and pinker poppiesSome frilled white centres, and some frilled black.black and pink poppiesAnd when their petals fell into the cat water, it turned a deep dark brown – perhaps worth doing some dye tests with this next year …black poppy waterI love the mix of colours, of varieties as the self-seeding takes over …poppies and bricksRosy pinks here …mid pink poppiesCandyfloss whites, edged with delicate pink …white and pink poppyYou never know how each poppy bud is going to develop … will it be fancy frilled …frilled red poppyOr just plain very frilly indeed …frilly selfseeded poppies in compost heapA glorious mix of colours here!collection of seeded poppiesAnd just as we come to the end of the season, the poppies’ demise hastened by hot feisty winds …poppy petals in bird bathA last few Californian poppies start to bloom.californian poppiesTime now to draw in, to make lists, and study seed catalogues: to make plans for next year!

 

Goodbye Poe

Our dear companion, #happycat Poe, died on Wednesday.comfy PoeWe came downstairs on Tuesday morning to find that she had had a stroke.  Her head was twisted sharply to the left. She wouldn’t eat her food – even the most freshly cooked salmon couldn’t tempt her.Poe's strokeShe was still managing to walk around, but collapsed into short sleeps, exhausted by the effort.Poe asleep near the water bowlOn Tuesday night, we mossed her up.  She slept in one of her favourite places next to Stephen on the sofa.Poe next to StephenAnd the next day, we picked her up very gently from her flowery bed and took her to the vet.Poe asleep in flowerbedShe has been our excellent companion for over 19 years – she was a very very old lady.  You can may have read about her early life with us here, and some of you may remember also reading how worried we were earlier this year, when two younger cats came to live with us. Despite our misgivings, that was not a problem.  The three cats learned that they had to share human attention, whether in the morning …3 cats - all wanting attentionOr round the fire in the evening …K grooming cats in front of fireYou might even think Ilsa and Poe were friendly companions here … Sadly the picture also highlights Poe’s loss of weight against the plumper Ilsa.Walking with IlsaSometimes the new kits were a little bit mean … now kits, it’s not nice to mock poor Poe who just wants to get into the house …Yah boo sucks, PoeOur little Poe became markedly more absent-minded in these last days.  We would find her asleep in odd places…Poe with watering canBut she could surprise us too. After two year’s without catching any mice, she recently caught one, showed it to the very interested Ilsa, and then proceded to eat every little bit of it …Poe showing off her mouseOh, she did make us laugh!  She was so spoilt with little treats that she grew to expect them long before they were offered.expecting treatsAnd, on occasion, her love of icecream overwhelmed her.Poe with icecream cartonShe kept us company as we read …Poe watching me readingWorked in the conservatory …Poe sitting on Stephen's workOur dear friend, Poe, who ventured so bravely up to Northumberland with us – surveying her empire. Poe surveys her empireShe was immortalised for us in this wonderful painting by Flo Brooks.  #happycat Poe remains with us, in her place on the sofa.Flo's portrait of Poe