Monday, 15 September 2014

Madame Defarge - The Literary Knitter

OK, this month's literary knitter has appeared on this blog before, but it was four years ago and I didn't actually read the book then, but I have now just finished it. However, I feel I can get away with mentioning her again, as she is the classic literary knitter - Madame Defarge from Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities.

Madame Defarge and her knitting are central to the plot of the book, and in evidence of this the word 'knit' appears 68 times in the story, and three chapters have the word knitting in their title. 

For those who don't know Madame Defarge sit in her husband's wine shop knitting, always knitting, it eventually transpires that she is keeping a knitted record of all those who have betrayed 'the people'
"Jacques," returned Defarge, drawing himself up, "if madame my wife undertook to keep the register in her memory alone, she would not lose a word of it—not a syllable of it. Knitted, in her own stitches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as the sun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge."
Coded knitting - ingenious! Although, I certainly wouldn't want to get onto her wrong side, she is ruthless to her enemies and unremitting in carrying out what she sees as her duty. Later in the book she and her cronies sit knitting as the guillotine dispatches her victims.

Madame Defarge is not the only knitter in the book, many of the women in Saint Antoine (the Paris parish where the Defarge's live) are shown knitting in the book, although they knit from desperation
All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but, the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking; the hands moved for the jaws and the digestive apparatus: if the bony fingers had been still, the stomachs would have been more famine-pinched. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Practical sewing and baby knitting

In the past most of my dress making (especially when I'm making dresses) has been smart items for specific occasions. While these are lovely, there is a limit to the number of occasions on which they can be worn. Increasingly I've been making myself more practical everyday items, and been getting great pleasure out of wearing them. For example the tracksuit I made two years ago which I love, and the cycling top I made last year which I wear almost daily on my morning cycle to work. So for September I've decided to undertake some very practical sewing. I need some new t-shirts and tops for the weekends, so this is where I'm going to start my month of practical sewing. 

I've hunted through my fabric stash to dig out all the stretch fabric I have (the top three), and in another successful charity shop trawl with T I picked up three tops (the bottom three). All three are in good condition but could benefit from some up-cycling. 

On the knitting front, the unrelenting baby machine which is my place of work is gearing up and there will soon be several new arrival ready for knitted gifts. I had some cotton left over from my last project, and used this to whip up a baby cardigan.

The pattern is a free one I found on ravelry; simple, well designed and a delight to knit. Finished off with a couple of buttons from my stash.

I've cast on another project since finishing this, but its for the baby of a friend who has been known to read this blog, so I'm going to have to keep in under wraps for the time being - which is a great shame as I'm very excited about it.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

FO: Oh la la, nautical sweater

I've finished a knitting project, and its all for myself!

This pattern was a bit of a experiment for me to see if I could overcome by aversion to knitting with cotton. I've knitted a couple of items in cotton in the past, and not loved either knitting with it or the garments that I've made from them - I find they don't hold their shape.

In July Winnies' were having a sale on their Drop's cotton yarns, and I decided to give cotton one last go. I pick the pattern (Seberg Sweater) and decided to go with Drop's cotton viscose - it has both a beautiful shine and a lovely feel. 

My favourite thing about this top is the collar, I love the stripes and the drapes, which works very well in the cotton viscose. The project was a fairly easy and quick, and would have been quicker still if I hadn't set it up wrong. It's top down knitted in the round, but I managed to get myself muddled, and knit my two sleeves next to each other. Leading to ripping and associated cursing!

So, did the project convert me to knitting in cotton? Well possibly. The yarn does split easily when knitting, and that is a bit annoying. However, the finished fabric is very nice; soft, smooth and with a nice drape. I've only worn it once, so I can't comment on how well it holds it shape and how well it washes. If it holds its shape and washes well, then I probably would make something in this yarn again. In fact I already am making something, as I'm knitting a baby cardi with the left overs from this jumper.

Sorry about the quality of the photos today, my regular photographer is away and I'm having to manage as well as I can by myself!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Animal magic

After finishing my sock yarn blanket in June I felt I needed a quick and fun knitting project. I'd seen Vanessa Mooncie's Animal Hats Book last year and loved the pattern, and I have two little cousins in New Zealand who I thought might just like them. And, although I knitted these hats during some of the hottest summer days Ireland has seen for a few years, they are in the middle of their winter. Plus, the plan also gave me an excuse to head out to Winnies Craft Cafe to pick up what I needed. 

After a lot of thought I decided on knitting the sly fox and the cheeky monkey - I just couldn't resist them! The patterns use bulky wool, making them fast to knit, and they are fairly easy to make, even though there are quite a few small little piece to make and sew together.

Cute or what? These were just so much fun to make and so quick. The patterns are given in two sizes (child and adult) and I made the child size, but I was quite worried when I'd finish them that they looked rather big. There wasn't much that I could do at that point, so I packed them up and sent them off to New Zealand. I didn't need to worry - it turns out they fit (perhaps with a little bit of growth room) and have been keeping two little heads warm on their way to school.

Animal magic! 

I loved making these hats and I'm delighted they are enjoying their new home. I also suspect I'll be heading back to this book to make some more hats in the future. Which is fair warning to any of you who might be expecting a Christmas gift from me this year!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Silence may not be golden but my new outfit is

I can't believe it has been over three weeks since I've blogged. Not really sure why, I've been knitting, sewing, baking and picking up gems in charity shops so I've had plenty to blog about - maybe I've been too busy? What ever the reason I'm back now, but where to start?

Well starting from where I left off, I'm going back to a Saturday in July when I meet my friend T for coffee. After we had finished some delicious sausage sandwiches, I tentatively suggest a visit to the near by charity shops. Tentative not because I thought she wouldn't want to go, but I'm not always good company when shopping (I get bored easily and then become a grouch) and I didn't know what kind of a shopper she was. Thankfully, it turned out we were well suited as shopping buddies, and we both picked up some great finds.

My favourite find was an amazing gold with black lace overlay skirt. It was too small at the waist, but a quick squint inside showed there was plenty of fabric turned in by the zip which could be let out. I'm very good at picking one exciting top or skirt and then never wearing it because I can't find anything to match it with. But it was my lucky day and I managed to pick up a top in another charity shop to go with the skirt.

A quick unpick of the zip allowed me to ease out of a bit of fabric and in no time the zip was back in and I could fit in the skirt.

I really need to learn to look happier in these photos, but I am delighted with my new outfit. Do you know what the best thing is about the skirt (aside from it being gold)? 

Well, you can do this ...

It certainly was a successful trip, and I'm delighted to say I'm meeting T for coffee again this Saturday :) 

Monday, 21 July 2014

A new piece of furniture

About 10 months ago we moved into our new house. We were very in that we were able to buy all the furniture with the house, so we didn't have to buy loads of furniture at one. Some of the furniture is, um ... dated is probably the kindest word, were as other pieces are lovely especially the 1930s (ish) bedroom suite. 

We've not done much to the house since we moved in, the whole place could do with redecorating, but it needs rewiring as well, and that has to come first! It doesn't seem to make much sense to buy furniture until we've redecorated and decided what we want to do with the rooms, but I have been keeping an eye out for an interesting items in second hand shops, and last Saturday something caught my eye in Oxfam.

I really liked the shape, but as I got closer I wondered what exactly it was - some kind of hall stand? The wings on the side said umbrella stand to me.

 But then I lifted the lid and boom it hit me

It's a sewing box (with optional umbrella stand)! Well, unsurprisingly I couldn't resist, and I am now the proud owner of a new sewing box.

Inside the lid is a maker's mark for 'A Morco Product'

Sadly, my little Morco lady has some damage but the picture on the right shows what she should look like. It seems Morco specialised in sewing boxes and a quick google search turned up lots of different styles, although non quite like mine. I couldn't find out anything on the makers which was disappointing, but I'm going to say it's mid-twentieth century. My hunt on-line does seems to indicate that the pink lining is much more common than the shape. I have to say I'm not made on the pink, and I am considering replacing it, especially in the drawer where it is really coming away.

But it is not just the lining which is raising questions. There is also the questions of what I'm going to put it the wings??? Very long knitting needles perhaps? 

Monday, 7 July 2014

On many things

Three Men in a Boat -  This Old Thing  -  dyeing  -  I capture the Castle 
  -  changes to literary knitter of the month  -  new shoes

I've been listening to the audio book of Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat and he starts each chapter with a summary of what is going to be covered, as this post is going to cover a couple of different things I thought I might adopt the same policy today.

Has anyone else been watching Channel 4's new show This old thing? Any thoughts? I've been really enjoying the show, but it seems that the reviewers have not been. I find Dawn O'Porter an engaging presenter, and some of the clothes and ideas in the programme are good. One of the sections of the programme takes a neglected vintage item from a viewer's wardrobe, and revamps it to give it a new lease of life. In the first episode O'Porter's team update a white cotton dress with some dye.

To be honest I'm not mad on the speckled effect on the skirt, but the programme did inspire me to dig through my wardrobe and see if I had anything in need of a lift?

In the end I found two candidates lurking in the wardrobe. A Betty Jackson top which I loved when I first bought it but which I haven't worn for ages, and a hand knitted vintage vest, which again hasn't been out of the wardrobe for a while. A quick trip to the shops to pick up some dye and I was ready to go.

Now in true Jerome K Jerome style I'm going to digress. When ever I dye things I am always reminded of the passage at the start of I Capture the Castle where Cassandra, Rose and Topaz are dyeing;

When I came down from the attic yesterday, I found that Rose and Topaz had dyed everything they could lay hands on, including the dishcloth and the roller towel. Once I had dipped my handkerchief into the big tin bath of green dye, I got fascinated too - it really makes one feel rather godlike to turn things a different colour. I did both my nightgowns and then we all did Topaz's sheets, which was such an undertaking that it exhausted our lust.
As I've not come across a literary knitter for this month, perhaps I will expand out to literary crafters more generally?

Anyway, back to the dyeing and after 45 minutes I had two newly vibrant tops.

And, this is entirely unrelated but I want to show them off, I've got some new shoes

Sorry, totally no point to the shoes being included in this post, but they are so pretty :)