Tuesday, 7 July 2015

So, I accidentally bought four knitting books ...

... well, I guess only three were an accident - the first one I meant to buy.

Last month the boyfriend's sister in New Zealand sent me a link to a blog post by her local library to mark knitting in public day, which reviewed some of the knitting books they had in their collection. (For those who are interested the post is here). I was really impressed with the range of books they had, and was especially taken with Nikol Lohr's Literary Knits.

Given that I collected literary figures who knit, what could be better suited to me than a book of knitting patterns inspired by characters in literature. I was tempted just by the premise but as soon as I saw there was an Anne of Green Gables puffed sleeved tops I was sold. I loved Anne of Green Gables.

As it was my birthday last month, I decided to treat myself to a copy. However, when I went to buy it on Amazon it wasn't enough on its own for free postage - so I decided to treat myself to another book. But which one, there were two on my waiting list?

Jane Austen Knits would fit in nicely with the literary knitter theme, but Coronation Knits had been waiting longer, plus it has a pattern for a jumper with a lion and a unicorn and who doesn't need one of those.

Decision making is not my strong point so I decided to go with both, but, before I could get to the check out I made the fateful error of looking in the 'People who bought this also bought' section and I saw this.

Knitting and history, possible too of my favourite things, and Tudor history as well. The fourteen patterns in the book are inspired by fourteen Tudor ladies from Elizabeth Woodville through to Elizabeth the First. The patterns are amazing, in detail, design and construction. 

This dark and seductive temptress is Catherine Howard; a pattern fit for a Queen - if a short lived one. I think this my favourite of the designs in the book, although it was a hard choice. The book itself is beautiful, more like an art book than a knitting book - with gorgeous photographs and the beautifully styled knitwear.  

All four books have made there way into my collection, and despite a little bit of buyer remorse when I first clicked on the check out button, I didn't regret it once the parcel arrived. My only problem now is that I can't decide which pattern from which book to knit first.

Just to finish off the post, here is a pic of for me the Anne of Green Gables and her Gilbert.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Book Review: Vintage Knits for Modern Babies

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing the shelves in my local library, when I came across this little book, Vintage Knits for Modern Babies by Hadley Fierlinger.

I was immediately drawn to the little rabbit in the top corner, the pattern Nana's Bunnies in the book. The Nana in question knitted these little cuties for all her grandchildren, and when they were old enough she then taught the grand kids to knit the bunnies themselves.

The reason the bunny caught my eye was his similarity to this happy chappy.

This is Stripey, won in a fete in France by the boyfriend many years ago. A firm favourite with the boy, I thought some other little kids could do with a special little bunny friend of their own.

The pattern for the bunnies is super simple, uses up only tiny amounts of 4ply and, as the pattern says, can be knitted up in an evening. I've churned out a handful of them already, and they are now a firm favourite on my baby knitting list.

As I had the book out on loan I thought I might as well try some of the other patterns as well, they are mostly for DK weight yarn and I decided to use up the two skeins of Malabrigo Silky Merino, I 'borrowed' a couple of months back. The result is some very luxurious baby knits.

The purple hat is Modern Baby Bonnet and the red Vintage Pixie Cap. Both patterns were really clear and very easy to follow. My only issue with the patterns was with attaching the bands at the bottom. The patterns for both give instruction to knit a separate band, and then sew it on. This seemed a bit of a fiddle to me, so instead I picked up stitches along where the bands was to go, cast on a couple of extra stitches to accommodate the buttonhole, and knitted six rows of rib. It seems to have worked out fine, and saved me much dreaded sewing up!

As you can see I had enough left over for a matching pairs of baby slipper for each hat, using the Ruby Slippers pattern. No changes to this one, as it didn't need any. Also, there was so much yarn left that I was able to whip up (well I've nearly finished the second) these hats - using the Layette Cap pattern as a guide. I changed the pattern to be knit in the round, and did the first in stocking stitch rather than garter.

All in all, I love this book. It is beautifully laid out, with gorgeous pictures which makes me want to knit all of the patterns. The premise of a modern twist on vintage designs always appeals to me, and these are simple and well designed. I'd be very tempted to buy the book, but as it seems that I am the only person who has borrowed this book in three years, I could just consider the library as an extension of my own collection! Now I just need to wait for my expectant friends to have their babies, and hope that at least some of them have girls.

In other news now the builders have finally finished digging holes in my garden and generally making a mess, I'm starting to get things back in shape and growing again ... one pot and two plants at a time.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Mid summer reflections

Yesterday was mid summer's day, St John's Day or the summer solstice; the longest day and half way though the year. So it seems a good time to do some reflecting. I feel like I have been neglecting the blog of recent weeks, not because I've had nothing to blog about, in some ways I think it might be because I have too much going on.

To sum up:

We've moved back into our house, and all the work is complete (YAY!), but as we have had the whole house re-wired there is A LOT of decorating to be done (BOO!). We have I've decided that it would be sensible to start decorating with one of the smallest rooms in the house which, by total chance, is my sewing room. I've spent most of the last weekend stripping paint in preparation.

Our name made it to the top of the allotment waiting list at the end of last year, and we got our keys on 1st February. Getting the new plot into shape has taken up a fair bit of time, however, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labours with a bumper crop of strawberries, shortly to be followed by peas and beans.

Having been separated from my sewing machine for three months we have finally been reunited, and I have made possible one of the most amazing outfits ever - a gold and silver cycling outfit for a friend's birthday gift. I'm not going to include a photo now, as it's so amazing it deserves its on post. I've also done a good bit of knitting.

So, as you can see, no shortage of material to blog about, so perhaps a shortage of time to write the posts is my problem. However, from today I'm going to be doing my best to fit in a bit more blogging.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Vintage Suits

A couple of recent charity shops finds to share with you today. I picked these up a month or so ago, but have totally failed to photograph them.

I love the colour of this suit, and the shape of the jacket, which is the main reason I bought it. It is a lightweight woollen suit, made by Pendleton Woollen Mills in Portland Oregon.

Not a brand I'd come across before, but a little digging on the Internet and I'd found out that the mill were first founded in 1863 and was originally known for making native American style blankets. From 1912 they moved into making woollen fabrics for suiting and other clothing for men, and after the Second World War they moved into ladies clothing. A bit of research into the label suggests that my suit dates from the late 1960s or 1970s. Pendleton labels for ladies clothes are always white (men's are blue), and the wool mark symbol was added in the mid-1960s, so mine must come from after then. This site has a range of examples of labels, and mine is very like their one from the 1970s.

My second vintage suit is a very different one, a vintage swimming suit and a fabulous one at that!

This is possibly the most amazing swimming suit I have ever seen. The fabric, the shape, everything. Given the fabric, I'm going to suggest this one is also a 1960/70s number, and the label makes it clear where it was made, the Republic of Ireland.

I couldn't find out so much about sunbeam as a company, but I did find a website celebrating vintage Irish pop culture and lifestyle, which has a sunbeam beachwear advert from a 1966 magazine.

I think my swimwear falls in to the 'bright extrovert colours that zing, zing, zing!', although I can't find any indication if I have insisted on 'bri-nylon'.  If this advert has whetted you appetite then you can seen an entire brochure for Sunbeam swimwear from 1971 here, with photos taken around Derrynane House in co Kerry. There are several delights to choose from, but my personal favourite is this one, a girl has to look 'stunning while sunning'.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Literary Crafter: Lady Julia De Guest

I'm nearly at the end of a mammoth audio book session listening to the entire Chronicles of Barchester. (Read by Timothy West and fantastic listening.) In the last of the books I came across a Literary Crafter, but one who could be in trouble.

 In a letter to her "young friend" John Eames about his proposed visit, Lady Julia De Guest writes;

Go to Blackie's in Regent Street, and bring me down all the colours in wool that I ordered. I said you would call. And tell them at Dolland's the last spectacles don't suit at all, and I won't keep them ... So let me know when you're coming, and pray don't forget to call at Blackie's.
Later in the book when John is down at his mother's home in the coutry, prior to visiting Lady Julia at the cottage, he thinks;
It was at any rate incumbent upon him to call upon Lady Julia the next morning, because of his commission. The Berlin wool might remain in his portmanteau till his portmanteau should go with him to the cottage; but he would take the spectacles at once.
What is young John Eames thinking? That the wool is not important? Surely, nothing should come between a lady and her wool? John Eames may be one of Anthony Trollope's heroes, but he sure ain't one of mine any more!

For those who are interested Berlin wool work is 'a style of embroidery similar to today's needlepoint,  This kind of work created is very durable and creates long-lived pieces of embroidery that could be used as furniture covers, cushions, bags, or even on clothing'. Patterns for this style of wool work were, unsurprisingly, first published in Berlin. 

1840s example of Berlin wool work

Monday, 11 May 2015

Commuter Knitting

As previously mention I've been out of my house for a while now. For the last four weeks this has meant that I have been joining the ranks of the commuters, with a 50 minute commute each way by rail. As unappealing as this sounded at first, I discovered there was a silver lining - 50 minutes of ring- fenced knitting time! What with the commute, and with having quite a lot of time on my hands in the evening, I've been knitting like a demon for the last six weeks.

After finishing this little baby cardigan, I used the ends of some half balls from my stash raiding exploits to whip up two little baby hats.

The pattern is a free one I found on Raverly (its available here), unfortunately the blue and pink in the larger hat don't have enough contrast and the fair-isle design gets a bit lost. I think the smaller hat with the brighter contrast shades works better, and it was a great project to use up ends of balls.

I then moved on to some more raided yarn, this time some beautiful blue Malabrigo lace and made the Ishbel shawl.

I'm really please with this knit. The yarn is a beautiful colour and so very soft. I had good intentions when I started this project of giving the finished shawl to the person I 'borrowed' the yarn from. However, now its finished I'm not sure I can bring myself to part with it. Sorry C, but there is half of the skein left so I might knit you something yet ... or not ;-)

Somewhere in the middle of these two projects, I also finished my marathon Monmouth Cap making session, and then moved on to my final commuting project.

This simple little tee, is made from some beautiful cotton and possum wool blend yarn. Yes, possum wool, a very lovely gift from the boyfriend's sister who is in New Zealand. I had to undertake quite a trawl on Raverly to find a suitable project, which I liked and which didn't need too much yarn. I was a little under on the yardage for this project, and as a result made some modifications - including shortening the sleeves. But, why bother with this pattern? well its all in the back.

Quite literally in this case, as the drop stitch pattern on the back is design to reflect the shape of the spine. I think its really clever and very effective. The yarn was lovely to knit with (even though cotton is not my favourite) and the pattern was simple and ideal for train knitting. The only issue I have with the finished top is that it is just bordering on being too short in length. Even worse I know this is kinda my own fault, as I knew at the start I didn't have quite enough yarn. I seem to be an eternal optimist when it comes to my knitting and sewing projects and always think I can get them made out of slightly less yarn/fabric than the pattern suggests. On occasions this has been the case, but I'm not sure this is a good thing as it just encourages me to do that same with another project and it isn't always successful. However, I got away with it this time (just) so I probably won't learn anything from this project either :)

As well as being an optimist when it comes to my knitting projects, I'm also a huge nerd when it comes to Ravelry. Being an archivist in my work life, I like nothing better then sorting and cataloguing my stash on Ravelry, I have gone as far as to offered to sort and catalogue my friend's stashes, although no ones taken me up on the offer as yet. I've recently discovered that I can get an overview of how much yarn I've used in all my projects, and can break this down by year.  Here is what I have been up to this year.

I find it really fascinating to compare the yardage in different projects, for example my Ishbel shawl used almost the same length of wool as Christopher's felted slippers, but they are very different projects and types of yarn. Anyway, so far in 2015 I've knitted 4,581 meters, which seems quite a lot! Of these 2,246 meters, or 49%, have been knitted in the six weeks since I moved out of my house. I don't think I've ever had such an intensively productive period of knitting, except possibly in the run up to xmas when I'm knitting to a deadline. It also probably not going to continue any longer, as I've just moved back into my house, where everything is covered in dust and there is a mountain of cleaning, tidying and redecorating to be done!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

'Wake and call me early, mother dear, ... for I'm to be Queen of the May'

Last Friday was May day, and although she didn't wake and call me early, my mother dear did text me in the morning to remind me to wash my face in the dew on May morning.  This may seem an odd reminder to some readers, but it's something I've been doing for as long as I can remember. Why? I hear you ask, well let me explain.

The folk law around May Day is varied, but one old tradition is that the dew on May Day morning has magical properties and will keep your complexion young and fresh for the following year. Some traditions are more specific and suggest the dew must be used at or before sunrise, or must be collected from a specific plant. For example one rhyme says that the maid who rises early on May morning 'and washes in dew from the hawthorn tree, Will ever after handsome be'. Suggesting hawthorns must be very powerful if dew from them will make you beautiful for ever, not just for the year.

Apparently the belief that the dew had to be collected at sunrise could cause problems; the puritan Philip Stubbes, writing in 1583, recording that of girls who spent the May Day eve in the woods "scarcely the third part of them returned home again undefiled".  (Yikes, this tradition seems more dangerous than I realised.) However, the practice was still going strong nearly a century later when Samuel Pepys noted that his wife went to Woolwich on May Day eve to collect May dew the next morning "which Mrs Turner hath taught her is the only thing in the world to wash her face with".[1]

It seems that the power of May Day dew is not just an English tradition, in Dr Gerard Boate's The Natural History of Ireland published in 1652 he records that;
The English women, and the gentlewomen of Ireland ... did use in the beginning of summer to gather good store of dew, to keep it by them all the year after for several good uses both of physick and otherwise, wherein by experience they have learnt it to be very beneficial.[2]
Thankfully, I returned unmolested from my excursion to wash my face in the May Day dew, but as there was no handy hawthorne tree I had to make do with dew from the grass, and I can't honestly say I was up at sunrise. Hopefully, the dew will have retain enough magic to keep my complexion clear for another year, until next May Day.

For those who are interested the quote in the title is from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's The May Queen, which starts like this:

You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
Tomorrow 'ill be the the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day;
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.