Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for April, 2011

The geranium police

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Did you know, it’s the law that if you live in a cottage, in England, you have to grow red geraniums in the summer?  In real clay pots.

Not really, but if I was Queen, it might be. 

However, these lovely plants which I have grown for many summers are not geraniums.  No, they are pelargoniums. Geraniums (hardy, also known as Cranesbill) are the perennials that romp about in a very showy-offy way right now in my garden:

Geranium 'Rozanne'

Cransbill Geranium (Geranium endressii)

Margery Fish, a famous gardener said:  If in doubt – plant a geranium.

…like Margery (I hope) I wish ‘they’ would stop messin’ about with plant names.  Her garden at East Lambrook in Somerset, not far from here, is really beautiful.  I also once had a penstemon Margery Fish, but no longer;  if I could face the so-called garden centre again, or thought there was any chance of them having this plant rather than a tent exhibition, I’d rush off and get one now.

(Who are ‘they’, by the way?  The same committee that fiddles about with the Radio 4 timetable, uses spellings such as ‘lite’, and closes rural cheese-makers due to health and safety concerns, no doubt.  Hmmm.  Do you think I might need this forthcoming holiday…?)

So I use the word geranium for both the hardy sort and the show-off pot-plant sort.  I had an aunt called Florence, after whom my eldest daughter is named, my father’s sister, and an amazing woman.  She was a stalwart of the Co-operative movement, very clever, a chain-smoker, cat-lover and gardener.  She used to say:  never walk down the garden path without pulling out some weeds.  My father, who hero-worshipped Florence, always used to quote this and indeed I can remember her saying it me, in the back garden of their home in Oxford.  She also grew geraniums of the leaf-scented tender sort, and she over-wintered them in what I remember (but I may be wrong) as a sort of lean-to greenhouse or porch.  Once inside, the scent of the leaves was overpowering.  I think she took cuttings each summer and then also kept the leggy originals going by bringing them in during winter. 

I almost never walk down the paths or borders of my garden without picking out a weed or five and every time I do, I think of Aunty Florence.  And my father.  Since I do this in my own garden several times every day, aside from ‘real’ weeding, and sometimes, from force of habit, in other peoples’ gardens, these two people are often summoned to mind.

Yesterday, in one of the little tradition that populate our lives, I planted out my red geraniums in their clay pots and spent a happy half-hour arranging them to best effect.  This year, I have slightly fewer as I tend to over-order and then become a geranium-watering slave from May through to October.  But I have them in chimney pots, on the summerhouse steps and generally dotted about.  I don’t ‘do’ red as a rule, in flowers, knitting or dresses, but when it comes to geraniums and dressing-up style shoes, the rule is:  they must be red.  It’s the law.

Planning

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

With a little holiday coming up, I love the planning element.  Aside from the plans regarding where to visit, what to do, and so on, there is the deep pleasure associated with planning the holiday reading, the knitting and the other small treats that make holidays more than a visit away.

I’m planning to re-read Women and Ghosts by Alison Lurie:

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I really enjoy short stories and Alison Lurie is a favourite author.  It’s been about 10 years since I last read this collection of odd little ghost stories.  Her writing is something I have enjoyed over many years.  Having first read her novels when I was a student, they still captivate me, not something that all the literature of one’s extreme youth can continue to do in one’s, um, mature years.

I’m also planning to read When We Were Orphans:

book cover of   When We Were Orphans   by  Kazuo Ishiguro

I have owned this copy for a while now but never managed to fit in the time to read it.  I like his style, adored The Remains of the Day (book, film and film location, Powderham Castle).

And also three plays by W Somerset Maugham, including The Letter. 

A shot of the poster for the 1940 film of the The Letter, which starred Bette Davis and is a sublime film.  I have a very old copy of three Maugham plays, that I must have bought from the old book shop in Wellingborough when I was at school.  I really enjoy reading plays, especially as Maugham was so good at dialogue but in play format, everything is much more economical and sharply focused.  Aside from his stage directions to the actors, everything is up to me:  of course, Lesley in the play is Bette in my imagination, how could she be anyone else?

I’m planning knitting, too.  The toe-up socks are going well, with several pattern changes, such as ways to increase after the seamless cast-on.  I cannot make it neat with knit-into-front-and-back increases, so I am using make one increases.  I have re-shaped the toe and also now got the tension about right – maybe still a little loose, but it’s alright.  And the lace hearts are placed correctly and assembling in a nice line up the front.  I still, despite a lot of work (mainly un-doing and re-doing) have not reached a heel…I’m nervous.

So I plan to finish these, with my own needles.  Miss Millington kindly lent me two beautiful short fixed-cable Knit Pros, owing to me owning eleventy-hundred sets of DPNs and masses of very, very long fixed cable needles, but no short ones other than in big gauges.  Oh, hardship, but I had to buy some pairs of 40cm Addi lace-tip circs in 2mm, 2.5mm and 2.75mm gauges.  Can’t wait, they are on their way to their new home as I type.  Then I am knitting them again, as bed socks, adding beads to the front, a new cuff, with a lace turn down and retaining a lace motif.  These will be in Kidsilk Haze, two shades held together on, I think, 2.5mm needles.  I think I will use Majestic and Blushes…or Dewberry.

I am also going to knit a lace scarf, the design for which is half-formed.  Kidsilk Haze or Pure Wool 4 ply options, so one can have a luxury or a (slightly) more practical version.  Both will be beaded.

Finally, DVDs.  I almost never watch television, in the spring and summer especially.  The sitting room becomes an extended corridor between the dining room, kitchen and garden.  But I like films, so we’ll be taking some DVDs we haven’t yet watched.

First, not really a film but a set of the BBC TV series, first aired in 1994.  I loved it and I don’t think it was ever repeated.  The TV series was an adaptation of a 1959 novel by John Hadfield, bring forth this question:  why haven’t I read that?  I’m going to order it now.  We’ve been saving the 2-disc set for the right time and a holiday on the Isle of Wight is that time.  If you like gentle, very English, evocative and tongue-in-cheek escapism, I do recommend this film to you.  I also wanted to live there, own his suitcase and wear twin-sets.  Who doesn’t?

Plus, we’re taking Cinema Paradiso to re-watch.  Of course, one can’t knit and watch a film with sub-titles so it’s almost like being at the pictures.  There are always tears, even the music can set me off.

In other news, I went to the garden centre for love-in-the-mist.  The garden centre.  Not so much emphasis on ‘garden’.  Twelve (12!) coaches were in attendance, with one departing and another arriving.  Getting into the building was like a Royal receiving line, so stately and slow was the shuffling forward.  Finally, you peel off as the coach parties practically break into a sprint for the loos.  If you want a new kitchen, an AGA, a conservatory, a new bedroom groaning with mirrors and fitted like a courtesan’s corset, this is your place.  Gas BBQ, madam?  An entire suite of Gothic-styled wooden garden furniture?  Mmmm yes please!  Or maybe some scented candles, Joules polo shirts, coal, logs, cards, plastic flowers, cakes, Ye Olde Somersetshire Cydrrr…in plastic casks…No?  Just seeds?  The Garden Centre shrugs its shoulders as if to say:  well, there is no pleasing you, is there? (over its shoulders, are draped some tartan picnic rugs, by the way). 

Yes, I got the seeds.  I think there might be a brief window of opportunity to buy gardening-related products between the current spring-time/Easter/Royal wedding ferment and late August when the entire place is transformed into Santa’s Grotto.

Losing days…

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Do you ever lose entire days?  I don’t mean as in wasting a day by indolence or being poorly.  As in, spend them in a sort of suspended animation, occupied by a trace-like activity, such as reading, knitting or gardening?

Easter has passed in this way, for me.  In fact, the entire school Easter holidays have.  Lily goes back to school today, albeit for only three days, until the next long weekend of Royal wedding and May Day bank holiday fever grips the nation. (Does it also amuse you that the bank holidays are so neatly and ironically juxtaposed?  Friday:  a day off to celebrate the marriage of our future King;  Monday, May Day, traditionally a festival to springtime but also the workers’ holidays, adopted by the political left?  I think it’s hilarious).

Yesterday for example, I ‘lost’ an entire day in the garden.  It was hot, quiet and still and what I intended to be a couple of hours turned into a whole day of proper gardening:  not pottering.  One moment it was 10 o’clock, then suddenly it was lunchtime and Mark had made a lovely picnic to eat in the summerhouse, then back to work and in a heart beat, it was 6 and suddenly, I was tired.  But happy.

Results are hard to see, however, so dominant is the rampant, garden-romping element here at Court Cottage.  All the geraniums are in flower, as are the cornflowers and the stars of Clematis Montana Elizabeth are twinkling away in the dark fir tree it has adopted as a new climbing frame.

How lovely is this promise?

Within the space of one, hot April day, giving us this:

I love the architecture of corn-flowers.  Which reminds me:  why have I not sown any Love-in-the-Mist seeds here?  I always have them!  hello garden centre…!

Time travel to the Isle of Wight

Monday, April 25th, 2011

I am very, very excited because I am going to the Isle of Wight!

I imagine it will look like this:

Taking a walk along the pier

only in colour.

And I will wear clothes like this:

and also like this:

These images by the way are from the website of one of my favourite dress shops in the Whole World, Deadly is the Female in Frome.  Go there!  Fall in love!

You see, in my head, I live in a Mad Men crossed with Roman Holiday sort of world, where dresses are lovely, waists are nipped, gloves are worn, not just for gardening.  I am a very 21st century girl too and adore my gadgets, iPods, iPhone, Sky+, t’internet and all that.  But I like to pick and choose nice bits from an earlier era.  As in:  I’d like a 1950s open-top British sports car but I adored, say, epidurals when having the babies…see how it works? 

And I have often heard that the Isle of Wight is like stepping back in time, to a Britain of 40 years ago or more.  I’ve dreamed of a little holiday there and this week, I’m finally going!  (You see, also, how very easily pleased I am.  Isle of Wight, toe-up socks, cycling, site-seeing and wine.  How low-maintenance am I?!)

We are going to stay in a lovely converted barn near Cowes, taking the bikes and alternating between cycling (I hear also that it is Hilly…) and site-seeing.  So this enables me to alternate between cycling Lycra and my version of 1950s holiday wear.

My friend and all her family plus dogs are staying here to care for my dogs, keep the girls company, and have a break here in Somerset.  We are going on a ferry, from Lymington – even more exciting!  and I plan to eat ices, get a few freckles, earn my huge suppers by lots of cycling, walk on beaches, pick up shells (put them back, eco-friendly), read, knit and relax.  Relax, by the way, for me is the exact opposite of lie down in the sun.  I simply can’t bear that sort of thing, it makes me feel all jumpy.  Relax for me means plan lots of interesting things and keep moving.

Look!  Here we are, Mark and I, setting off!

But not until Friday.

Life-Lines (and books)

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

I have knitted the sock and lower foot section of my toe-up socks several times now and finally, I am happy:

Here you see my little foot, posing like mad in order to show off a neat toe-up toe (it took me about 6 goes plus a change of technique to even approach the neatness of Miss Millington’s) and I have added a lacy heart detail that will run up the front of the socks to the ribbed cuff.  However, this sock had no negative ease, my tension being off and the lace panel further adding ‘ease’, so again, I frogged and have now cast on and completed the toe, for the 7th time.  I have ‘flattened’ the toe line too, more to match the slope of my own foot – one of the many beauties of toe-up socks:  tailor-made.

Now I’m going to run a life line through this, because if I go wrong with the lace motif or need, again, to adjust the stitch count, I need not lose my current toe.  Later, before I short-row shape the heel, I will run another life-line, as a) Miss M told me to and I am very obedient;  and b) I have turned and short-row shaped many a heel on toe-down  socks, but only once, on a teeny practice sock, on toe-up socks, so my ability to get that right first time is in doubt.  Or indeed, rummage the information out of my brain – it was at least 4 days ago now.

I woke up early, this Easter Sunday and lay in bed thinking about socks, which led me to think:  life-lines (as in don’t forget to run one before the hearts start);  which in turn led me to turn the words over in my head. 

Life lines. 

The knitting sort are like little magic touch-stones.  If you run one, chances are, you won’t need it.  If you don’t…

I have used life-lines to save my knitting from being impounded in airports (I mourn the needles, but I had about a kilo of Kidsilk Haze knitting to save).  But mainly I use them as insurance.  Clever knitters: one length of spare yarn and a darning needle = sanity saved.

But you know how it is, early in the morning, happy day ahead, maybe it’s too early (5.15 am it was) to knit in bed, Mr C-S still being happily asleep?  I turned on the radio, very soft.  And it occurred to me that this radio was one of my life-lines.  Radio 4 on the BBC (and in the night, The World Service on the BBC) is like a line on a map, or a length of spare yarn, that has run through my life for as long as I have been able to hear.  Oh, I have had my Radio 1 years!  Don’t be too sad for me.  But even as a teenager, I found I couldn’t revise for my O and A levels to music, or silence.  Soft speech radio was my background noise of choice.  I am even now, sitting in my tiny yarn-room, where the computer also lives, transported back to my childhood bedroom, stomach-down on the slightly dusty-smelling carpet, elbows red and sore from being propped up over a Geography folder as I lay on the floor and tried to make facts about guano in South America lodge in my brain. 

In the background, outside No 65, The Pyghtle, Wellingborough, summer is passing me by.  The curtains – yellow and grey flowers – are partly shut, but the window is open and I can hear mowers, the sort you physically push, and the boy next door, whom I adored, kicking his football and making crowd-noises worthy of Anfield, all on his own.  But in my right ear, the afternoon play, Woman’s Hour (then, it was on in the afternoons), programmes about migrating birds, The Archers, Farming Today, The News, bizarre, obscure and long-running quiz programmes, such as Round Britain Quiz, in which I couldn’t understand the questions, let alone answer them.  When I wasn’t revising, I listened to Radio 1, Radio Luxembourg at night, my LPs – Oh, I sound and feel like a relic!

And, I still have two radios like this!

Go to fullsize image

But Radio 4 had woven its way into my head and into my life.  Here it has remained, though I have ditched The Archers, more or less, on the grounds that I simply cannot listen to Ruth saying:  ‘oh, but Daaaaaay-vyyyd…’ one more time.  If I was on Desert Island Discs (see, I even mark my Radio 4 affair with a reference to a Radio 4 iconic programme), I’d ask for a compilation of Radio 4 ‘sounds’:  Sailing By, which is played at the end of the day;  the old early morning music, ditched by a trendy Radio 4 Controller a couple of years ago;  The Archers music;  the ‘pips’;  and someone reading the Shipping Forecast.  I defy you to stay awake through that chant.

I’m going to take family, beloved pets and friends as ‘read’:  they are, of course, life-lines.  But I’m interested in the others.  For me, Radio 4.  Also, books.  The sense of panic having embarked on a long journey and finding the only book you have is about to run out – or even worse, is on the table at home – is as bad as the ‘where’s my purse?’ jolt to the stomach.

Knitting.  Seems almost to be a given, really but it is a real life-line.  I have knitted in happy, sad, empty, busy, lonely, anxious and waiting times.  Furthermore, I am not alone.  When I worked for 2 years on the shop floor of John Lewis in their yarn department, in Bristol, as a Rowan Yarns Design Consultant, I was honoured to meet many knitters each day I worked, and witnessed the powerful relationship these folk – mainly women – had with knitting.   Yes, mainly my customers wanted some yarn and a pattern, like we all do.  But from time to time, you’d glimpse a brief insight into a woman’s life, as she scanned the books, touched the yarns, sat at my little table and thought. 

For many, like me, knitting was a constant current.  Then, something might happen and it became crucial.  A baby is coming, she needs a very special blanket.  A hospital trip is awaited, and following that a long recovery:  the knitting needs planning as carefully as the book list.  Once, a woman and her two young but grown-up daughters, looking helplessly at me, while their mother told me her husband had died the day before and she wanted to crochet a shawl, to wear at his funeral.  So hand in hand, we walked round the little table and stood in front of the yarn.  We chose a pattern, we considered colours, she chose the yarn and they left.  While we chose, she talked, a little, about her husband.  I told the more composed daughter that if by any chance the crocheted shawl didn’t get done, to bring the book and the yarn back.  But the last thing on earth that woman needed to hear was someone saying:  really?  do you honestly think you’re going to get that shawl done, or wear it?  That didn’t really matter, at the time.  I totally understood and I know you do, too.

What else?  Life-lines are not going to include things such as jewels and cars, are they?  It’s far more likely to be a very worn garden trowel and fork set, if we’re honest isn’t it?  Or a set of tea-towels worn so thin it’s lace, but your mum gave them to you when you married.  Or certain pieces of music.  What are your life-lines?

In other news, Nick Horby’s Juliet, Naked is finished.  I had to read it very fast, as if it was a medicine to be swallowed or a sticking plaster removed, or I’d have lost my nerve.

Juliet, Naked

It has become a new benchmark here at Crowther-SmithTowers.  This morning, I was talking about another book which we had both read, with my daughter, Florence.  Florence said:  I love it, but you hated it.  I said, well, I didn’t hate it.  For example, I didn’t hate it as much as I hated Juliet, Naked.  To which she replied:  that’s like saying OK I’ve got pneumonia, but I’m not really ill, I haven’t got the Plague. 

This book, by the way, is our current book club read.  Our club is fledgling and I think it may fail to thrive.  Everyone in it is lovely.  But the club was formed in order to encourage (at her request) one of our number to read.  Not read more.  Just read.  At all.  So far we have read three books, one chosen by me, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day which roused feelings across the entire emotional range from boring to dull.  But not actual dislike, really.  Hurtfully.  No, I’m not over it yet.

I think the problem is that we have so far chosen books that we may like, even love, but which we are selecting with this particular member in mind.  Thinking:  this will entertain her, this will tempt her to read past page 4 (so far, that is as far as she has got).  Consequently, I think we are all reading books that she ought perhaps to have read, but which are way short of books that we’d really love to explore, discover, share and hopefully enjoy.  I read a lot and I want to read more books that I might not usually read, and be challenged. 

I know that two club members have given up on Juliet, Naked.  I have finished mine, I think two others may do so.  I doubt the girl for whom we formed the club will bother, she just doesn’t have the time or inclination to read, in a very sweet and good natured way.  Some of our members just come for the wine and read the synopsis on Wiki.  Maybe.

I just didn’t get along with J, N.  It’s so blokey.  There are countless references to lavatories (though only one use of that word as far as I can tell, ‘toilet’ being the word of choice throughout…)  There are intermittent vulgar outbursts.  Story?  So implausible it’s just plain daft (not a problem for me in some fiction, but it has to be beautiful or moving in some way other than repelling).  However, the chief problem is that there isn’t a single character with whom I could associate, like, not loathe if I was stuck in a lift with them.  I just plain didn’t care what happened to anyone.

One of the main characters is a woman.  She is painted as marginally less pitiful than her (ex) boyfriend, yet she is still a single dimensional female.  That she remains in single-D, despite becoming the repository for a great many badly cliched so-called female characteristics, such as passive-aggressive feminism, intellectually rut-bound, sexually vaguely miserable, and still, in the end, utterly unable to resist the dual tug of maternal instinct and a big strong man.  Oy.  The other women have small roles, one is a lesbian, I assume because this is an opportunity for some gags about gay culture in a grim northern setting.  Juliet, the muse in effect, so she may in fact be the central character, turns out to be a stupid, pointless woman.  I think Nick Hornby views all the women in the book in this way, but reserves most of his bile, voiced through the rock-star, for Juliet, because she never actually appears.

The men are simply terrible.  I can’t decide if the author hates women or men the most.  The real main character is a man, an aged American former rock-star.  The other male ‘lead’ is a weird fan of the reclusive rock-star, and, improbably, the long-term boyfriend of the main woman character. 

Fewer lists prevail than in the other Nick Hornby book I once read, High Fidelity, thankfully.  Books constructed on lists, recipes, knitting patterns, email dialogue, post-it notes or maps are not my cup of tea, not least because I think it’s a lazy way of creating a frame or filling up pages.  But I disliked that book, and I disliked this one too.

All that said, I do think there is a quality in Nick’s writing that is admirable.  It’s clever and witty, I smiled once before recalling myself.  I haven’t Wiki-ed him (but I might once I post this) but if he’s once been a Fleet Street sub-editor on The Mirror (love The Mirror!) I’d not be surprised.  Or a gag writer.  Whole elements of the plot, in J, N for example, feel like they were constructed backwards for the purpose of delivering a one-liner at the end.  Even the rock-star’s name:  Tucker, rhymes with….See?  

I think I’d like his writing more if it was non-fiction.  But, I suspect it would be about lists of music tracks, so maybe not.  Actually, to be really fair, the main problem is that I want more in a book than Juliet, Naked could ever give.  So, I’m looking for layers that aren’t there, probably.  Hopefully. 

I am now happily reading Brooklyn:

Toe-Up Socks Rock!

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

The little things in life make me happy.  Also the shoes and handbags, but anyway…

Yesterday, a friend of mine kindly came to Court Cottage and she showed me how to knit toe-up socks in the round on 2 fixed cable needles.  And, she brought me a lovely gift – a skein of beautiful hand-dyed sock yarn of the most exceptional  quality to make my socks with!

Sarah – the tutor and friend – is a former colleague of mine whom I met through knitting, when we both worked for Rowan Yarns.  We bonded on a lengthy train journey from Bristol to Yorkshire, over knitting, cup-cakes and picnics.  You just know.  Anyway, she succeeded in teaching me this awesome skill, and it seriously calls this question to mind:  what on earth am I going to do with my vast collection of DPNs now I am 2 fixed cable needle convert?

We made tiny socks:

and as luck would have it, another friend and all her beautiful children also came by for afternoon tea, so we cast off our socks and got baby Claudia to model them.

I was – and still am – smiling to myself at this amazing new way to knit socks.  Now, I am going to start on the yarn that Sarah gave me and knit myself a pair.  I am also going to attempt to add a lace panel to the front/top of the socks, and this will be easier than on 4-needle top-down socks, because you have a top and a bottom, all ready set up.  Who knew?!

It’s lucky that Sarah understands completely how disproportionately happy this has made me. 

Other happiness inducing stuff includes how lovely the garden is looking, albeit rather wild and un-tamed, with blue and white bells romping about as if they owned the place:

 

 I do toil over the garden but it never comes out manicured, partly because there is too much of it to be that fussy and also, I let the plants have their head.  I am in charge – but only just.  Once, we lived in a big old house in Burnham-on-Sea and the lady next door was Mrs Moore.  She was small, sprightly and a very good gardener.  Our short back gardens faced north, and the houses were very tall, so much of the time, the gardens were is deep shade.  However, we both managed as best we could.  Mrs Moore is no longer with us, but I always remember her very fondly.  Her gardening gloves were worn into holes making them semi-fingerless and when not gardening, she divided her time between reading The Telegraph, walking briskly into the town to shop and look at the sea, and placing many small bets on the horses – she was an excellent gambler and often won.

Mrs Moore claimed that the gardening world is divided into two camps:  those who hoe, and those who do not.  If you hoe, she said, you never get all the free plants that will self-seed and sucker or layer themselves.  She is right.  I do hoe, but not often and usually only in the vegetable garden.  I hand-weed, mainly.  Hence the semi-wild nature of the garden.  But, I do gain hundreds of free plants, most of which I pot up and give away or maybe I’ll let them happily do their own thing as they multiply, like these Viola Labrodorica:

Once you have one of these, you will never be without them!  They are even more promiscuous than the Hellebore.  I let them self-seed into the gravel paths and paving-cracks, along with their English cousins. 

In the hot gravel centre of the garden where the big magnolia lives, the white metal work seat around it, geranium, lavender, sea-holly, nasturtiums and primroses have taken hold and I give them a fair bit of rope because it is fun to sit there and see what has come up now.

yellow tulips and cardoon

 
At the moment I am also loving the last of the tulips shown here with the softy grey green of the emerging cardoon leaves.  This cardoon will soon tower over this border and attract hundreds of bees to its vast purple thistle-y flowers. 
Finally, I am also happy with the lanterns I bought back when the weather was very cold and it was dark by tea-time, and I wanted to dream of summer.  Now they are up for real, and if they look mildly eccentric, I do not care as no-one can really see them.  And at night, after they soak up all the sunlight, they slowly change the colours they glow with, yellow, white, pink, red, purple and green.  It really is like magic!
 

Toe-Up Socks, witches and gardening

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Great excitement grips Crowther-Smith Towers because I am anticipating a visit tomorrow from a friend of mine one of whose many talents is the ability to knit socks from the toe-up – and she is going to teach me.   I literally cannot wait!  I love knitting socks, despite suffering badly from Second Sock Syndrome.  Ditto Mitten Syndrome, but less badly affected.   I have always wanted to knit them from the toe up, so I can try them on as I go and wiggle my feet about in alluring poses.  I know, it’s hard to ‘allure’ if the sock is still pierced by four double pointed needles, but I will still try.

Once, some years ago, I went on a course to learn how to knit socks from the toe up.  I know I could have looked on You Tube but sometimes you need a real person to show you.  Well, the lady who taught us was a scream.  She unpacked a book, opening it at the toe-up page, and said:  I have no idea how to knit toe-up socks, I have no idea why anyone would want to, and I have never done it, so we will learn together.  And we solemnly proceeded to try to follow the book together.  At roughly ten minute intervals she left us to go and smoke a cigarette in the garden outside, whereupon we would all giggle like naughty children and pull faces at each other until she came back in.  One by one, we stopped the fruitless sock-knitting and just got our own knitting out, until in the end, it was just a happy knitting club type affair.  On that day, I was taught (by another participant) how to knit Continental style;  I didn’t practice enough but I can still do it for knit rows, so knitting in the round Continental style is an obvious tactic…

I’ve also been gardening in a lazy sort of way.  It’s very hot.  Well, it is for April, which I love but it does slow one down.  Do you know, every house ought to have a Rowan tree, as they are said to protect the residents from evil witches (we need not worry about the non-evil sort, they are fine).  I always planted one in the garden of every house I lived in when we used to move often.  When we moved here, eight years ago, I was happy that there was a Rowan already in situ.  So, all I had to do, was decorate it:

This tree is at the back of the cottage in a part of the garden that is not very sunny, but by hanging beads and mirrors from it, when the sunlight does hit this lawn, little spots of glitter leap about on the grass and the walls of the cottage.  In fact, I got this idea from my cousin who had an elaborately but randomly decorated tree in her back garden in Bristol.  I came home and decorated a tree myself and when we moved, I took most of the ornaments with me.

The beads were once red, silver and pink, now all faded by many winters and summers.  It’s not tasteful, but I love it and feel it adds to the mystical charm of the old tree.  It’s also my habit to hang stones that I find with a hole running right through them from strings in the garden, plus one on the front door and one in the kitchen.  I do not know why, except that I must once have heard that such stones were lucky.  I wonder (Wikki? No I shan’t bother) what the fable behind this is?  I’m not going to look it up, and indeed, I’m not really superstitious.  In fact, I laugh in the face of a lone magpie, ha! 

Finally, the Book Club read:  Juliet Naked, by Nick Hornby.  I simply cannot tell you how much I hate it.  It opens with a scene in a disused public lavatory (except that the author repeatedly refers to ‘toilets’).  I feel – call me old-fashioned – that to open in this way is not really a promising start.  I wish to be entertained, enlightened, transported, even shocked.  But not just repelled.  After much moaning from me about how poor Miss Pettigrew was dismissed by my club, and vowing to give Juliet, Naked a fair trial, I feel compelled to go on.  But I really do not want to.

Apple-Blossom Dachshunds

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The boys love the warm weather, they lie in the sun and once it cools off a little, they play on the lawn.  Just now, the big old apple trees are shedding blossom like a confetti salesman at a Royal wedding, thus making the lawn look like it’s got a sprinkling of snow in spring time:

Apple blossom dachshunds

 

Arthur is younger and also much fitter than Rupert, but I notice that Rupert is generally happier and moves easier if it’s warm and dry than when it’s cold and damp.  Last evening as it cooled down, he was very playful:

The fur where he had the surgery recently has almost grown back now and you can’t see the scars on his back anymore, just sort of long dents. 

Meanwhile, Arthur has cornered the ‘cute’ market:

New Forest Madness (and knitting crisis)

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

My husband gave me the most original Christmas present last year, and I have just cashed it in.  It was dinner, bed and breakfast at an Inn in the New Forest…plus, the next day, joint entry into a 56 mile road bike race.  Yay!

As it turns out, this was a good gift because we had to train for it, which we did every week more or less, and also, I’d never have entered a Sportive (that is what they are called) otherwise.  At the time, and periodically in between then and now, I did think that on the whole, I’d rather have had theatre tickets or a new dress, but I did enjoy it.  Mainly.

There was a major problem, however.  In fact three.  First, the Inn was simply awful.  So awful, it was funny.  I’m not going to name it, but if you are keen to avoid a desperate experience, email me and I’ll let you know where it is!  It wasn’t retro-chic, so 2005 now, of course.  It wasn’t the achingly cool retro-geek that is so 2012. It was in fact, retro-bleak:  unknowingly, but unswervingly terrible in every way.  They didn’t put a foot right.

Here is the carpet:

along with the only seating offered in this room, not counting the bed and the loo.  Seriously, just a lone, mutant stool.

What is better than sticky carpet?  Correct, sticky carpet in the bathroom!  But, as Mark said, once you’re in bed and your eyes are closed, you can’t see the peach walls or feel the sinister foot-sucking stickiness of the red and every other colour in the world carpet.  His philosophical approach was, I decided, by far the best way to proceed, and anyway, I had a 56 mile cycle ride to worry about, so there was no point in wasting any energy on moaning.  But I cannot resist sharing with you the view from our room:

Peering through the bizarre plume of grass and dried flower thingy, the road is 10 feet from our room, and boy is that road busy.

And I was, as ever, armed with enough Kidsilk Haze to almost cover the patchwork bed cover:

Thus bringing me to the second problem:  I actually forgot the right knitting needles.  Oy.  However, I did have a roll of crochet hooks.  Now, crochet and I have a difficult relationship.  It’s my fault, I do not blame the crochet in any way.  I am just too focused on knitting, so that when I do pick up a hook and try to crochet, it takes me ages to make my hands do my head’s bidding, because I try and knit, the yarn feels like it’s getting away from me and my clawed right hand (this seems to be the only way I can crochet, by forming my right hand into an attractive claw-like shape) starts to ache.  I have been on courses, and had a breakthrough when I once spent a day with Dr Donna, pattern-checker to the confused and awesome crocheter, who against all the odds did manage to teach me to do it.  Thanks to Dr Donna, I did once make a lovely and very opulent crocheted boa.  But I don’t do it enough for it to feel natural.  Still, when you’re faced with crocheting or nothing and your staying at the Inn of Doom, needs must, so I crocheted and lo, the crochet was good.  I am now making a crocheted flower scarf in softly toning shades of Kidsilk Haze, and I will post some photos once it’s progressed a bit more.  I will say this – it’s ever so fast!

Problem number three.  The cycling.  Mainly the cycling was good, great even, in parts.  We finished and we were very happy with our time, of just over 4 hours and that included two brief planned stops for gels/water/snacks;  and two unplanned stops, one for my chain to be re-introduced to my bike and one in which my bike and I parted company, half way up an epic hill, when the two riders in front both got off (one on purpose, one by accident) and I was just unable to get past them.  I am a seasoned faller, and I know enough to aim for soft ground, so I steered right into a small dry ditch filled with dead leaves and bracken, thus getting no injuries other than my knees, now a lovely range of hues that match the Inn carpet…

At the top of this evil little hill, was a cottage.  In the cottage garden stood an elderly couple, who watched all the (2,000) riders attempt the hill.  My, it must be better than dinner and a show for them!  If a rider made it without falling, they clapped and said things like:  jolly good, well done you!  in Brief Encounter clipped English.  If, as many did, the rider elected not to even attempt the hill but just got off before s/he fell off and shoved the bike up, they smiled and sorrowfully, almost rebukingly, shook their heads and said things like:  oh well, better safe than sorry.  If, as in our pile up, fallers limped up cursing quietly, they laughed!  in a very good-natured way, but still, it’s hard to chuckle back when you think your knee might be facing backwards.  Mark unearthed me from the ditch, and shoved both bikes up the hill, plonked me down on their little grass verge and I checked my wounds.  When I got up to go and brushed myself down the gentleman said:  oh look, you’ve dropped something.  To which his wife, with a cheery laugh said:  no!  it’s just a load of bracken, silly!

The New Forest more than made up for this little upset and I can’t believe I’ve never been there before because it’s simply beautiful, the weather was marvellous and the cycling, Evil Hill aside, was amazing.  So thank you Mark, you were right and I was (partly) wrong.  Just let me choose the Inn next time.

Here is Mark, looking like a semi-pro rider:

And a parting shot from the Inn:  the welcome – er – tray…?

Dusty cotton-wool ball, anyone?

Luxury Lace Workshop at Court Cottage – 2 places left

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

On 28 May, I am holding the next Court Cottage workshop, and we will be knitting luxury lace.  However, it will be the sort of lace that doesn’t require you to embark on a lengthy course of therapy in order to become Zen-like enough to see it through.  I’m not a lazy knitter.  I like knitting too much to be lazy and anyway, ‘lazy’ could mean not minding if it’s gone wrong, which I do.  However, I hate feeling dominated by my knitting (or anything, really), I don’t like to feel it is challenging to point of not really wanting to get it out of the bag.  I like a special point in between very, very relaxed, and nervous.  There is nervous anticipation (that’s just about alright) and then there is the unacceptable nervous, the one that takes you to the point of thinking:  I could maybe pay someone to knit this…?

Not this, this is too easy and far too enjoyable:

This is a close-up of a modern lace design I did, called Star Crossed Scarf;  we won’t be knitting this on the day but if you think this looks difficult, let me assure you, it is easy.  It is a trick of stitches and yarn choices, that once mastered – and for this part, I will be with you – is very satisfying indeed.  I expect 30 minutes or so of tongue-poking, fiddly ‘I’ll never get this’ followed by a penny dropping moment, a brief ‘told you so dance’ (that’s me, not you, it’s OK) and then a happy day follows on, avec cake.

I’m currently working on the two designs for this course.  One is a beaded, easy-lace scarf in Kidsilk Haze.  That is almost done.  I think the second option may be Kidsilk Haze along with another Rowan yarn, with beads as an option…I’ll let you know and post pics in due course.

Anyway, there are two spaces left on this course, which is a day of easy (once we get it all established), relaxed knitting, in a jumbly knitting room, also populated by my birds (artistic, not real) and a whole lot of other knitting!  Plus cakes, cookies and home-made lunch.  We may also be blessed by some sunshine…

To book a place, go to the Workshops section at the top of the page.

Photo-Shoot Preview

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

We did a shoot for some of the kits which I hope to have on this site in the next few weeks.

Some of the shots are really lovely, especially this:

 This is Joseph. one of our models, modelling The Wilkins Scarf – and also Arthur.  Arthur came on the location shoot as our stylist.

 

And here he is again, passing on a few tips to Thomas.

Birds

Monday, April 11th, 2011
 

These birds have settled in Court Cottage:

Tree and Birds Wall Sticker

This is a new frieze for one of the walls in the workshop (AKA dining) room.

As have these, in the summer-house:

Dove Paper Garland

And these:

Small White Doves

And finally, this beauty:

Grey Gesso Dove

Owing to the residency of Medlar, the evil cat:

(Medlar, taking a break from writing his manefesto)

…I no longer feed the garden birds from bird-feeders, but instead throw food onto the garage roof, where so far at least, he has not managed to extend his evil empire.

I want to make some knitted birds and I want to embellish them with natural feathers, browns, creams, black, grey.  I need them to be about 5 – 7 cm long, stiff-ish and not fluffy.  Any sources you know of please?

Light

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

I love the light, warm days and long light, cool evenings.  I want to fill the garden and the summerhouse and the hall and dining room, with lights, too.

So I have acquired this:

Pearl Light Heart

And this:

NEW - Maroq Light Garland - PRE-ORDER NOW!

And this:

Crystal Light Garland

And this:

Candle Lanterns

None of this is expensive, and most of it will last me for years.  And the light will give us all a lot of happiness, summer or winter!

Next:  birds!

Happiness…

Sunday, April 10th, 2011
 

….happiness, the greatest gift that I possess.  Now, who on earth sang that old song?  I can hear his slightly estuary-English nasal voice, and I could Google the song – but I want to dredge it up from my memory, via the transistor radio in our kitchen when I was small.

It’s true that sunny days and warmth and blue skies make everyone happier, I think.  I’m also happy for a number of other reasons.  Such as:

yellow tulips in the garden

 

And this:

magnolia in front garden of Court Cottage

 

I love magnolia trees.  This one is tall and has been literally covered in blossoms, creamy-pink, thick, waxy petals – oh my, to have a complexion like that!  It is now in blousy end-of-the-season melt down and the petals, big as oval tea plates are either blown wide open and just about hanging on, or else all over the garden like huge snow flakes:

magnolia and its many petals

 

In the front garden of the house we first bought when Florence was very small and we had just moved to Somerset, I planted a Magnolia Stellata.  The smaller growing tree, with starry flowers, pure and white, much more delicate that the candle-plumes on the one I have here, now.  I loved that little tree and I also loved that house.  It was huge, far too big for our small family, for Lily did not arrive for seven years after Florence.  When we sold that house, after about eight years, for all sorts of ‘head ruling heart’ reasons – and I now don’t regret it, but I did at the time, very much so – the magnolia was still very small and didn’t yield much in the way of blossoms.

I was literally unable to walk or drive down that road, past that house for a very long time after we moved out.  It was too painful.  Then a few years later I was able to, and indeed, would stand and stare, rudely I suppose, up at its Victorian bulk.  It was a shock, many years later to see that the magnolia was now a proper tree, and covered in starry, spikey blossoms.  It so thrilled me.  I hope the current occupants love it, I think they must.

I have a space in the garden here for one more tree.  Dilemma:  a magnolia stellata to replace the one I left behind?  Or a plum tree?  I also long for one of those.

This decision-making is making me happy today.

So is the fact that yesterday’s workshop went well and the knitters were lovely as was the cake that Lily made.  The post-workshop baked goodies are stashed away, and we have Victoria sponge, cookies and brownie.  Three kinds of cake to go towards our five-a-day?

I am also happy with this jumble of pretty luxury mittens:

mitten jumble - makes a change from Eton Mess...

 

A knitting get-together with a friend who is going to teach me to make toe-up socks has been arranged and that is happy-making, as is this sleepy dog:

Sleeping Rupert

Reading Lists

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

I’m always reading.  Most of my friends are always reading too.  One of my favourite sources of books is Persephone, www.persephonebooks.co.uk.

Shop photo

The books themselves, in dove grey editions with with beautiful end-papers, are things of joy before you even open them.  What is so delightful is that Persephone under the clever guidance of Nicola Beauman, re-prints novels, poetry, short stories and other books, including cookery books, that are otherwise only available if you are lucky enough to stumble upon them in a junk shop or book-barn. 

I love authors such as Monica Dickens, who wrote dozens of novels as well as the quite well-known ‘One Pair of Hands’ series, and ‘Folly Foot’.  I have loved Dorothy Whipple’s novels for many years, likewise, Elizabeth Taylor’s (not the late actress).  Through Persephone, I have found many more.  I still haunt old book shops and search for out-of-print copies of authors whose words transport me back to the 1930s or the 1950s until 2011 fades away and I’m wearing a tea-dress and living in a vicarage…

That is not to say that the books are ‘light’.  They are never published without a sound reason.  First, the quality of the writers that Persephone chooses is the light that shines through the very impressive catalogue of titles.  Second, each is chosen – I feel this at least – because aside from being a ‘good read’, it has something else to say to us.

One of the best examples of this is ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day’, by Winnifred Watson.

Author of Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, Winnifred Watson

 

The book also has gorgeous end-paper, a 1938 linen print:

End-paper for Miss Pettigrew

 

Miss Pettigrew is a sweetly gently fairy-tale, set only in 24 hours and telling, in a clever and intelligent way, so much more about the two principle characters, than we could ever really know from observing them over just one (albeit very eventful) day.  It has glamour and wit. I enjoy being transported to night-clubs and tasting their cocktails, for I certainly couldn’t muster the energy or dresses to do so in real life, and anyway, no such palaces of pleasure now exist.  Or at least not in Puriton…

It is also, however, a bitter tale.  It tells us, if we care to look, about the lives of women and their utter dependence, in this book, in these lives, in that era at least, upon others and especially on men.  Miss Pettigrew is mal-nourished, so poor has she become.  Despite her genteel manners and sharp intelligence, she is actually afraid.  She is grindingly, but quietly, poor.  She could in fact, starve.  Unless she gets this last-ditch job.  The other woman, Miss LaFosse, is beautiful, richly kept, sweet of nature, despite being a canny, crafty creature who also depends for her living, on the men who keep her.  And in return for this keep, they wish her to belong to them and do their bidding.  Like Miss P, she is also afraid.  She literally fears for her life, at the hands of her lover, who is menacing and mean. 

They find each other.  In a way, they save each other. It’s a fairy-tale and it has a happy, deliciously improbable, ending.  The sting in its tail, for me, is that each finds love and happiness, but remains dependent on men for their new-found safety and security.  Nicer men, granted.  Men of whom we approve.  Yet, I often wish that Miss P and Miss LaF could have set themselves up and lived a different life together as help-meets and friends.  Still, that would really have been too fanciful, even for this yarn.  And quite out of its historical context.

Other Persephone titles tell us a similar story – that of the position of women in the time that the book was set and written.  But I feel that none does it quite as skillfully as Miss P.  Its skill lies in the layering.  Read it and love its light-hearted, actually funny in places, scenes and its heart-warming romance and friendship.  Or, read that but also delve a little into its clever, clear-sighted heart, where we see women for what so many were and maybe sometimes still are:  not really free, not empowered.

I write this because this was our book club read this month.  We met last night and I had chosen this book.  To my amazement, almost no-one actually liked it.  Much.  Damned at times with faint praise, at others less of the ‘praise’, poor Miss Pettigrew was branded:  easy, light, repetitive, even boring at times, improbable (that I might grant), childish, shallow, dull.  Shoulders were shrugged, hands were spread, in the fashion of well, it’s alright, for what it is…I suppose.

My little heart broke and also filled with pity for Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse.  I was very surprised and unprepared for this.  I also felt that ‘mother in the play-ground’ rage in my heart that you feel when you see your own child pushed over.  What did I see that – as far as I could tell – no-one else there saw?  I’d honestly rather they said:  we hated it, provided this assertion was supported by some reason (as one did, in fact!), than see Miss P’s covers quietly closed after a brief skim-read and never recalled to anyone’s mind again.

I have learned a lesson.  Lessons.  One, it’s really not personal.  Two, I read different books, in different way and for different reasons.  I may be a mature woman, a mother, a wife, a maker, an author (of knitting books only, but still) but I am that out-dated creature:  a feminist.  Or am I a post-feminist?  Oh, it really doesn’t matter.  Let me sum it up thus:  I like to wear dresses, knit lace and bake cakes, but I will always be ready with my plackards, to board the coach to London and march, for, with, because of, other women. As indeed I have done, many years ago.

Next we are reading Nick Hornby, a book I have never heard of, ‘Juliet Naked’.  I am going to read it, but my heart sank as I once read a book by him, whose title now escapes me, but it was set as far as I can recall, in a record shop and seemed to be mainly constructed from lists of records.  I did think it dull and laddish.  Still, maybe I will be pleasantly surprised.  Also, it will be good for me to read a man’s words as I almost always read women authors.  What I will do is this:  I will give it a chance, and be open to it.  I will think about it.

These are my current reads:

This includes the biography of Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford, which I’m re-reading.  It is fantastic, what a writer and subject.  History, written with the craft of a mistress at her art, about a mistress, at her art, with the snap and fizz of a old-fashioned bodice-ripper! My reading pile also includes The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor, a favourite author of mine but I am struggling with this, for some reason I can’t quite understand.

Running and shiny happy knitting

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

I had a lovely run  today.  Even as I type this, it strikes me as improbable that it is me who had that run.  For years I wanted to be able to run and now I do run.  When I say ‘run’ it’s more of a furtive shuffle.  At my advanced age, I try and preserve as much energy as I can, so I have perfected a style that involves keeping my feet fairly close to the ground.  I do not worry about dignity.  Having caught sight of myself on the odd unwelcome and unexpected occasions, such as running past a shop window, I was startled to see a red-faced old lady with a determined, if manic expression on her face where I should have been…

This is what Burnham looked like on my run today:

The view from the path in Burnham-on-Sea on my morning run...

 

I run about twice a week.  I was running more but last year, I made the mistake of entering a half-marathon, in Burnham-on-Sea.  I was so appalled by this experience that I kind of stopped running for a bit but now the bitter memories are fading.  It was my first half-marathon and I chose it because it’s flat and local.  I prepared, I trained, I tapered – oh yeah, I know all the theory.  On the day, it blew a gale, the rain was coming in sideways off the Bristol Channel and therefore, sensibly, all the newbies and rubbish runners and back-of-the-pack shufflers just thought:  sod the entry fee, it’s worth fifteen quid to stay in bed;  so they didn’t show up, thus making my chances of not being last even slimmer.  My music packed in in the first half mile and I therefore ran the entire race mentally (but not actually, due to extreme lack of breath) singing all I could think of at the time:  Methodist hymns.  I know, don’t even ask.

As I rounded the half-way mark, and moved from ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ to ‘Fight the Good Fight’, I realised that the gale was now going to be directly in my face for the last 6.5 miles.  Time to a) cry, b) remind myself that this is FUN, and c) pray that some good runners have got injured so I might be allowed to overtake at least one other person.  Anyway, I made it, I never wish to repeat it and indeed, felt like punching the man with the megaphone at the end when I realised I had to run all the way round the rugby pitch again…luckily for him, I had no strength, co-ordination or breath left.

Now I’m running about 12 miles a week in one short and one long run.  A friend once said:  I’d like to try running but I think it must be horrid as everyone I ever see doing it looks so miserable.  So on days like this, when the (almost) 4 miles came easy, the sun was out and the sea front looked gorgeous, I try and assume a pleasant expression if I see anyone.  This probably just startles them, but it passes for a smile…

When I run, I tend to dwell on negatives such as:  my knee is hurting;  my tummy is hurting;  what is the matter with my left foot?  So I force my mind to a higher plane:  knitting.  I mentally cast-on, create new stitches, experiment with yarns.  It’s amazing how fast the time passes when you’re thinking about making a tight cuff for a puffed sleeve.   Today, I was thinking about mittens.  Here are the Frost Flower Mitts, all done in Mist and grey Shimmer:

And here is another Frost Flower Mitt, in Dewberry and Silver (I cannot and will not resist my Glitter Gene):

I also thought, on my run, about my own knitting haven:

my knitting haven

Fair Exchange

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

One of the things I love best about knitting is that it forms its own community, with a happy cross-border relationship to fabric, patchwork, embroidery etc.  And passing on the craft (which I always think sounds rather magical:  the craft of magic, the craft of knitting – well, there is a good deal of casting and weaving involved in both, I suppose), is part of the community.

When a friend of mine said her daughter wanted to learn to knit, that the daughter lived in my village and that she’d like me to teach her, I was very happy to do so.  Problem:  the daughter, (not, if I have given you that impression, a child, but a grown woman with her own business) refused to have lessons and not to pay.  I on the other hand, only teach many friends and friends-of-friends to knit, or anything that I can do if they want to know, for nothing. 

Solution:  my new student has her own beauty salon.  I, for all my utter addiction to beads, sequins, glitter, pretty shoes etc, have never really ventured into the world of beauty treatments.  I gaze, enviously, at gel-nails and think:  would they survive turning out the compost heap?  Sadly, no, comes the faint reply.  I’m so clumsy, I might not even manage to do up my buttons if my nails were longer than 5mm…

So I thought of the idea of bartering.  I teach knitting and in return, I get to choose some treatments.  The brochure is mystifying.  And very, very alluring.  I can have hot stone treatments, I can have arm and hand massages, I can have a luxury pedicure.  I just know I am going to love this.

And it neatly resolves the payment issue.  My pupil is a star, today she learned to make bobbles and (just like me) is now eager to get onto a real project – and that’s after only 2 lessons.  I am very proud of her.  And very much looking forward to having a few treats of my own, in her salon.

Fair exchange, I think.

Permission to knit

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I’m back in the dining room, even though the story boards are on their way to London to my editor (nervous moment).  The reason for this is that I have a workshop on Saturday, knitting luxury mittens and I want to re-knit one of the designs to add beads, as an extra option for my knitters.  And, last weekend, we shot the first lot of images for the website kits, so I now need to fully write and edit these before the first 10 items go off to be properly checked.

As a result of the story boarding, I also have far more ideas than could be used in even two new books, so I want to start knitting for some of these too.  Oddly, the more ideas I have and commit to paper or needles as a sketch or a swatch, the more that seem to come.  The only times I have been without ideas have been when I have been in the final knitting stages for other books, notably Lacy Knits, when I wondered if I’d ever have an original design idea again.  Lo and behold, the very week the last piece of lace was done, the ideas came back. 

Another pleasing result has been that this last 2 weeks has really forced me to commit to being a knitter, a designer and a teacher.  As opposed to someone lucky enough to have produced some books and spend a lot of time knitting, but who had a ‘real’ job, too.  Guess what?  knitting is my real job!  I have finally given myself permission to knit, if needs be, most days, all day, or at least do knitting related activities such as pattern writing, drawing and testing.

Along the way, this week, I also wanted to knit a hat.  This is the result, despite swatching and doing the maths:

When good yarn goes bad...

 

By the way, just look at that rowing-out!  the  result of speed knitting on a fixed cable needle in the round at 11 o’clock at night?  Hope so.

Also, Mark isn’t happy about being ‘blogged’ but luckily the hat is a great disguise.

So, I felted it.  Result:  further disaster, a hat so bucket-like and ugly, it defied belief.  It wasn’t just a bad-looking hat.  It was, after felting, disturbingly ugly, morbidly lumpy, with a surly air of resentment about it.  It glowered and sulked and upset the other knitting and the models.  So, I cut it up and it became the base and centre of a rather lovely corsage.  Finally, a good outcome, all of which goes to prove my long-held theory (often held onto in the face of pretty formidable evidence to the contrary) that even mistakes are justified in the end.

Story Boards – it’s almost over

Monday, April 4th, 2011

The fever is passing.  Two boards – two book projections – will be posted off today.  I have loved it.  Days of seclusion, me, the dogs, the fire, locked away in the dining room (AKA the workroom and workshop room).

To pass the time, I have been listening to audio books.  Currently I’m listening to An Equal Music by Vikram Seth.  I loved this book when I read it and I’m enjoying it just as much as an audio book.  Its mood matches the sense of time-suspended that being engaged in such an intensive process conjours up in me.

As a contrast, I also listened to On Royalty written and read by Jeremy Paxman.  I very much enjoyed his dry commentary and easy-access approach to what amounts to a fair bit of history. 

Finally, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winnifred Watson, a lovely, gentle fairy-story, re-published by Persephone Books, who have published many of my favourite books.  It’s my nomination for our Book Club read this week and since I have been knitting non-stop for days and will be doing so all this week too, I can’t read it again myself, so listening to it is a good option. 

The sharp black and cream sample for one of the boards, shown above, is a small homage to Miss Pettigrew…

Lace Stricken

Friday, April 1st, 2011

I love that title!  I so was – am in fact – stricken with lace-fever.  That is the title of Lacy Knits German edition, I just got my copies today:

Furthermore, it’s a beautiful hard-back edition. 

It does feel odd – and very good – to think it’s been translated and that somewhere, some German knitters might be casting on one of my designs…