Saturday, 25 October 2014

Although I've been quiet, I've been knitting!

Well, I haven't written this for a very long time. This has been because of a huge, lovely change in our circumstances: the arrival of our daughter! As you can imagine, we have had a total change of lifestyle and I am finding I have much less free time! Still, I did do some lovely baby knitting before she arrived:

I've just updated my Ravelry page on this tank top (Sirdar 4420). It's a good pattern, not too tricky and it looks good. It's nice and stretchy, too. The only drawbacks are the the shoulders are quite wide for a small baby and I found the decreasing for the V-neck quite tricky as the numbers of stitches weren't written out row by row - you're left to "continue", which I found rather hard! Nevertheless, the Jarol yarn is lovely and she has been wearing it over sleepsuits in the mornings so it's been getting plenty of wear - and washing!!

I also made this blanket, from the fantastic book by Nikki Van De Car, What To Knit When You're Expecting:

This was obviously a very easy knit. I did it in cheap Aran and it's knitted up really well and is getting lots of use. The patterned border makes it more interesting to knit but the stocking stitch part is also nice and quick. There's lots in the book I shall also make, and I see there's a toddler book, too.

Nikki blogs here:

Phew! I hope everyone's having a good weekend. It's lovely to be back!


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Reading in the garden. Time well spent...

I was excited to see a new novel by American novelist Anita Shreve. She's written more than fifteen novels and I think I've read them all. So, last week, I read The Lives of Stella Bain - mostly in the garden!

The novel is set in the aftermath of World War I, and Stella is a military nurse and driver who finds herself in London one evening, with no idea about how she got there, or what she is to do next. She throws herself at the mercy of an English couple, and they help her to investigate who she is and where she is from.

Once you get past the slightly unlikely extent of the help the English couple offer Stella, this novel is unusual and gripping. The Edwardian fascination with psychology clearly interests Shreve, as does the way the war affected the women involved. Like many of her books, The Lives of Stella Bain charts the journey of a lone woman in an unknown place. Shreve covers a lot of ground here in terms of Stella's past as well as her plans for the future. Like so many novels now, Shreve uses the present tense pretty much throughout, and somehow this suits Stella's character, as she can only really live in the present, knowing next to nothing of her past. This is a good read - interesting and unusual. It is a shame that this novel will probably be read by a predominantly female readership as it has male characters as well, and leaves readers with plenty to think about. However, if you've never read anything by Shreve, start with the superb novel, The Pilot's Wife!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

In which I basically wait until I can read Sadie Jones' 'Fallout' again

I stayed up late last night to finish Sadie Jones' fourth novel, Fallout. It's a fantastic read and I know I'm going to be evangelical about it for some time! It's set in the 1970s, chiefly in London, in the world of theatre start-ups. The novel is convincing about this world, where theatres are not the gilded globes seen to the audience in the plush seats, but the day-to-day grind of rehearsals, builders, management and ticket sales. Jones' characters are (nearly all) principled arts-lovers, whose work matters - and this virtuous stance leads to some of the best drama in the novel. I don't want to give too much away so I won't describe too much about the main characters. Suffice it to say, Jones writes so skilfully about her characters' actions, feelings and motivations that the prose is breathtaking at times. She captures particularly well that way in which a mood can sour or a glance can intrigue - tiny moments which have a huge reach in a person's life. It's also a very dense, substantial novel with well-drawn, believable characters around the main four: their parents, other theatre folk, a husband - so that Jones' world is fully and convincingly peopled. If you read Jones' first novel, Outcast, you might remember how very bleak it was (though excellent); this is not as bleak - there are moments of exhilaration and love - but Jones equally doesn't shy away from writing about disappointment, failure, or regret. Sadie Jones was on Women's Hour recently taking about this book and it has also been serialised on Radio 4, and it deserves to do extremely well.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Smug summer crochet

Now, I'm rather pleased with this. I wanted to make something in cotton, but I'm not a huge fan of garments in cotton yarn. Then I had a browse through Susan Cropper's book, Vintage Crochet, and saw patterns for those crochet pot covers with little bead things on them which keep insects from falling into your cup of tea... or wine glass! The pattern is by Emma Seddon and she edges them with vintage buttons, rather than beads, which I really like the look of. Mine has buttons from a charity shop so they're not at all expensive to make.
I used DK Sublime Egyptian Cotton, which comes in a 50g ball (115 yards). I should think I've used about half of it - there's quite a lot of crochet in there! Two possible problems: one is that the buttons don't move as easily as beads would long the yarn. This matters because you thread all of your buttons onto the yarn before you start the crochet, so you have to shunt them along rather a lot before you get to the final row when you actually incorporate them into the stitches. This is just a bit of a pain - the end result is worth it, but I did spend rather a long time moving buttons along. The other problem is that, although I religiously counted the buttons onto the yarn, and followed the pattern as closely as I could, I still ended up with two too few buttons for the number of scallops I had when it got to the last row. So, somewhere along the way, it's grown.... I counted the spokes in the first couple of rounds ... then felt a bit lazy and just left two scallops without buttons hanging from them, one on each side. And, for this, I'm fine with that!
I'm now beginning another one in blue. My first one was the "Tumbler Cover" and the blue one will be slightly larger, I think, and is called the "Milk Pitcher Cover". But really, both fit rather nicely over a wineglass:
So, should it ever be nice enough to sit outside, sipping wine - I'll be ready!

Monday, 12 May 2014

A Shoal Of Ganseys

Well, this weekend was brilliant. We went off up to the huge skies and heavy downpours of North Norfolk and I went to the Shoal of Ganseys exhibition at the Sheringham Mo museum. I wasn't sure what to expect as I'd never been to the museum before but I had a brilliant time. For a start, there was no one else in the museum at all! I'm not usually so antisocial that I only enjoy things when there's no one else there, but it did mean I could have a really leisurely browse and take all the (people-free) photos I wanted, without feeling rushed!

The main part of the museum, the ground floor gallery, is home to huge lifeboats - oh, and knitted bunting to honour the gansey exhibits:

The operations manager, Philip, told me about the history of the building and talked me through how they came by the exhibition: partly lent by the Moray Firth Gansey Project, then supplemented with their own local exhibits and patterns. The Moray Firth project looks excellent and you can find out about it here: .

In each huge lifeboat, jumpers are displayed from Scotland, Norfolk and the North of England. The majority of them are jumpers which are worn and holey, which adds to their charm. Then, upstairs, there's a tech point with links to the Moray Firth project and - gasp of excitement - a sample box with patterns from all around Britain knitted up for reference. I thought of Louise of @CaithnessCraftCollective as there was a Caithness sample, as well as this local one:


There's plenty about the history of the gansey, and the information boards go well beyond the basics. There was a really heathy and welcome focus on women's contributions to not only the knitting itself, but the sea-faring life of coastal towns, as well as photos of the 'herring girls' who knitted some of the jumpers, without patterns. I particularly liked the idea of the 'knitting sheath' - a kind of implement to make your knitting portable! It hooked to your belt and had a hole for the needles to sit in. I'm sure there'd be a market for these today! The bulk of the jumper could be pinned to your own belt so that it didn't hang, heavy, on the needles as you sat on the sea wall, or walked around the town:

There's a case of local patterns, too, as well as plenty of description of the different designs and what they symbolised: rib bars to suggest marriage and children; lightening and hail stones; diamonds.

I would heartily encourage anyone to go and see this: it's a fascinating, thought provoking exhibit with lots to see. It's on til the 10th September and you can find out more about it here:


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Another novel and some crochet plans...

I've just finished the fantastic novel in this picture, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder. I was given this by a friend for my birthday and I've been really looking forward to reading it. I've read Run and Bel Canto (her best known novel) already on the advice of the same friend, so I knew this would be a vivid read. Patchett has a gift for observation but also, here, for invention. The central character, Marina Singh, goes to the wilds of the Amazon to find out how a colleague, working for the same drug company, died. Patchett is always excellent at describing gestures and how they communicate feeling and mental state, as well as characters' own interior worlds. She does all that here, with the most incredible portrait of the Amazon and the tribe among which Singh finds herself. Patchett describes their appearance, customs and etiquette down to the most obscure and intimate details. Alongside this, the work of the researchers, doctors and scientists in the drug company in America and in the Amazon is convincingly described and thought-provoking too as Patchett considers women's fertility. This is a remarkable book. I did wonder if, being a non-scientist and, shamefully, pretty much a non-traveller, I'd enjoy this but I certainly did!

The other book is Jan Eaton's Ripple Stitch Patterns, one I'm browsing through because I want to crochet an outdoor, summer blanket. Having browsed some fab ones online, I'm thinking of using this book to make my own pattern. Has anyone got any tips for sites which show lovely crochet blankets? Always glad of inspiration!


Monday, 7 April 2014

Knitting + books - what more do you want?

Time to write about an excellent novel: Anna Hope's debut, Wake.

This is a beautifully written, moving novel about the lives and legacy of soldiers in World War One. London is preparing for the public, ceremonial funeral of The Unknown Soldier and Hope creates a convincing portrait of the city and its dance halls, government offices and homes after the destruction of the war. There is little sense of celebration: people are mourning the lost, or the un-returned, and the men who have come home from the war are scarred by their experiences. The novel has three protagonists: Ada, a mother whose son is missing; Hettie, a nightclub dancer; Evelyn, who distributes benefits to returning soldiers in a government office. Hope tells each of these stories and weaves between them episodes from soldiers' lives in France. I found the three stories interesting and lifelike - Hope's technique of writing the whole novel in the present tense means that each character's thought processes are minutely recorded so that their inner lives are superbly created. It is a slow-moving novel but I appreciated this: Hope writes in careful, thoughtful detail and there are moments of drama which are also well-managed. All in all, this is a very satisfying read: it's unsentimental (though moving), well-observed and unusual - even though so much writing has been inspired by World War One, this novel has, undoubtedly, something new to say.

And a completed piece of knitting in time for Handmade Monday!! I'm really pleased with this. I've written before about this pattern (from Knits To Give by Debbie Bliss - though it should more properly be called Knits To Keep) and the wool, which is just lovely. The cover is a good, snug fit and it was an easy pattern - it looks misleadingly like garter stitch, but it's a little more complicated than that. I need a reason to make another one - I guess there's always 'giving' ... !


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A Good Read, An Exhibition and a New Knit

It seems a while since I've blogged, so this is a February round up! The month began with a nice gift from Mum:

Then I went to the fantastic Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich. I just squeezed the visit in before it closed and I was so glad I'd made the effort. Because the link between the pieces was only that they were produced in, or inspired by, or found in East Anglia, there was a huge range of exhibits in a variety of media. There were fabrics, Anglo-Saxon objects, paintings, silks and sculpture. This made for a fascinating time wandering round and looking at everything. One slightly surprising detail: East Anglia was defined as just Norfolk and Suffolk! No Cambridgeshire?!

Norwich looked beautiful in the sun last week:

As a great fan of Elizabeth Jane Howard, I was pleased to spot this celebratory table in Norwich Waterstones:

At the moment, though, my reading time is being completely devoted to the wonderful Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This is a completely marvellous book and, as it has had masses of press coverage, I won't describe it fully. Nevertheless, the recommendation from (another great novelist) Hilary Mantel on the cover is well-deserved. Atkinson's writing is precise; the settings and situations seem very true to life (in World War II, for example) and the characterisation is superb. At the start, I tried to keep flicking back to the list of dates at the front to see which of Ursula's 'lives' I was reading. I wouldn't recommend trying to keep track of things in this way; I soon gave up and enjoyed the book much more because of it. Atkinson's use of motifs such as the fox and snow struck me as particularly ingenious: they are as much fun to spot, linking the episodes in the novel, for the reader as they are for the characters. This is a unique novel which would bear reading again and again - rather like Ursula's episodic, near-magical life.

Oh, and finally - before the the weather turns too hot, I've just got time to knit a new hot water bottle cover from Knits To Give by Debbie Bliss. More on this once it's done, but I'm enjoying doing it in luxurious merino Aran:

Hope everyone is enjoying the sun!


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

A Pot of Bulbs can only be improved with Crochet

Spring is here! Well, it is if you're in my kitchen next to the radiator:

These snowdrops are in a shallow, 7" diameter bowl, with compost and some bits of moss on the top. I crocheted the edging for the pot as follows:

Materials: a size 3mm hook and about a third of a ball of Sublime Egyptian Cotton DK in Shade 322.

To make: measure the circumference of your pot. Mine is 55cm. For this size pot, make 96 chain. Check your sizing by putting the chain, quite tightly, round the pot until it only just meets. Err on the tight side, because with crochet, it's relatively easy to add a bit on at the end if need be!

Then, do two rows of double crochet (dc) missing the first stitch each time. Then, for row 3, do one DC in second stitch from hook, then 3 chain (ch). After the 3ch, miss one stitch and do one dc into next stitch along. Continue this to the end of the row, ending units a couple of dcs next to each other if need be. Your 3chs will make the little loops and your dcs will be joining the loops to your rows of dc.

Turn so that you are working across the short end of the strip to make the button loop: make 3 chain then make a dc into the other corner to make a button loop like a bracket across the end of the strip. (If your strip is too short st this stage, you could do a quick row of dc across the short end first).

Sew button onto the other end to match button hole (If your strip is a little long, just sew the button a bit further up the end).




Tuesday, 21 January 2014

First FO of 2014, a Norfolk flat white and a brilliant novel

First Finished Object of 2014! This is a lovely little baby top from my Patons Learn To Knit book. It's suitable for a near-beginner, I'd say, as the cable-effect twists involve one stitch-twisting technique rather than a cable needle. Being baby-sized, too, it knitted up quite quickly. The only problem, really, was finding 4-ply wool which wasn't a sickly pastel colour. This is Jarol Heritage yarn and it's lovely - possibly a little too 'woolly' for the pattern, which specifies cotton, but it does look really nice. I've sent it off to friends with a new baby - I hope they like it!

Over Christmas, I read Grace McCleen's unique and fabulous novel, The Professor of Poetry. This is her second novel, apparently, but I hadn't even heard of her before (very remiss of me!). This novel has an unusual protagonist, as I noted in an earlier blog entry when I'd started the book - a single, female, middle-aged academic. Recovering from a serious illness, she returns to the university city of her youth and her old tutor, and waits for her Big Idea to arrive. She is well drawn, as is the tutor, but the real star of the novel, I felt, was the university city. I thought this was unmistakeably Oxford, though it isn't named. Very occasionally, I thought little details suggested perhaps Cambridge - but then the description of the Upper Reading Room at the Bodleian was so clear and realistic that I felt Oxford was the setting. I wish she had simply named the city; it didn't need to be mysterious and it would not have been to the detriment of the story in any way to have named it. Anyway, McCleen's description of the atmosphere of the city in all lights and weathers is just superb. Well worth reading - and I'm going to hunt down her first novel very soon.

And, finally - I like my café shots, as you know, so here is the rather nice newish Chapters café in the Books department of Norwich's finest department store, Jarrolds. Here, we had a delicious flat white while surrounded by books. Lovely.