Friday, September 19, 2014

Staying Together. . .

On top of the Scottish hills near Glencoe in 2010

I woke up this morning to the same relief I felt in 1995 when Quebec voted (very narrowly) to stay in Canada.  The vote wasn't as close in Scotland (45% voted for independence) but all week it was impossible to know which way it would go.  I have a strong love for Scotland and the Scots (Glencoe was where I met the Liverpud and so was ultimately responsible for my having moved to the UK) and I really didn't want to see it leave the union. However the referendum has fueled an increased interest in politics (always good) and it will be fascinating to see how events unfold as various debates over how separate areas of the UK can gain more control over local policies get underway

Knitting - apart from yarnbombing - isn't often seen as political but I couldn't help but grin at the latest issue of The Knitter.  I have a subscription to this magazine and I really love it as it always seeks out really interesting and challenging designs.  Take a look at this UK intarsia dress that was on the front cover, called Britannia and designed by Belinda Harris-Reid.   Topical coincidence?

I find the actual design of the dress a bit too loose and awkward for my tastes but I'm definitely motivated to use the chart to knit perhaps a sweater or a cushion in celebration of last night's vote. Maybe in Shetland wool? (Shetland by the way voted No).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Walking in Rogue Herries Territory Part One. . .

I've spent a good part of the summer slowly reading my way through the Herries Chronicles by Hugh Walpole (I'm currently on Volume Three, The Fortress).  These sagas were written in the 1930s and they chronicle two hundred years in the lives of various branches of the Herries family starting from the 18th century.  Most of the tales are set in the Lake District in the Borrowdale Valley and the hills and fells around Keswick, and along with the dramatic story, I'm just loving Walpole's passionate descriptions of the area. He is fantastic at describing the landscape, vividly capturing it in all its varied seasons, amidst the incredible changes of light and the indomitable weather.  If Sir Walter Scott had tackled the Forsythe Saga, you might get an approximation of what Walpole has accomplished in this series which is so much fun to read. 

My immense enjoyment of these books is only enhanced by my growing familiarity with the places in which they are set, so I was more than happy to accompany the Liverpud on a recent weekend to Keswick to do a recce for one of his upcoming walks.  We started in Braithwaite with our main climbing objective being Causey Pike, that little pimple - or nobble as they call it -  that you can see on the top of the mountain at the left.

Starting our ascent up Rowling End, you can see straight down the beautiful valley.  The colours of the heather and other fall foliage is really remarkable and absolutely lovely at this time of year.

Still climbing up and we came across this lonely tree.  No others at all on the mountainside.

From the top of Rowling End, you can see the last bit of the route up to Causey Pike.

Right near the top you need to do a little scrambling. Normally this terrifies me, but it's fairly straightforward and there are lots of little routes to choose from, so it wasn't too bad especially as the weather was sunny and dry.

I knew the views would be stunning.  I can't capture the full 360 degree experience in photos, but it's amazing. There are mountain ranges all around you as far as the eye can see;  you feel a tiny speck among all the grandeur but also on top of the world.

We then walked along a lovely ridge path enjoying the views.  We had woolly company too.

Our way back to Braithwaite took us through a lovely valley towards Barrow which was our last climb of the day.

And to the right you can glimpse the route we took at the beginning - see the lonely tree? There's something so brave and stoic about it. 

We didn't come across any mad Cumbrians, gypsies, witches or scar-faced riders on our walk, all of which populate Walpole's novels, but I suspect the landscape that he loved and feared hasn't changed a bit.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Martin Storey's Mystery Afghan: It's Finally Finished!. . .

After five months, eighty squares, an endless cable trim, a crochet border around each square and then another row of crochet to seam each square together, and what seemed like thousands of ends to weave in. . . 

. . . and here finally is my finished afghan in all its wonky glory. 

The wool is almost 95% British starting with two variegated yarns from Jillybeans as the inspiration, and then trying to pick out complimentary colours from my stash, mostly using Titus, and Alpaca yarns from John Arbon,  all of which are lovely to knit with. I think there's a bit of Rowan 4ply wool in there too.  Since several of Martin Storey's square designs used texture as a key element (which didn't show up in the variegated yarns), I tweaked most squares by using colour to make the pattern pop and cobbled a few square designs of my own from stitch dictionaries. And as I was using 4ply, I had to knit almost double the squares; this has clearly been the biggest knitting project I've ever completed.

I wasn't sure at first if all the squares would go together but I am loving the final look despite my somewhat lopsided crochet  (I tried to block all the squares to the same size but there were slight variations).  And even though I was using 4ply, the blanket is surprisingly warm - perfect for cosy autumn nights watching movies on the couch.

So then I was quite chuffed about finishing and looking forward to tackling some other projects, but first I took some photos and went to post them on ravelry. And wouldn't you know, THIS was just announced:

It's Kaffe Fassett.  It's colourwork.  Resistance is futile.  Fortunately, there is an option to do a small or an oblong cushion as well as an afghan.  I will definitely do the cushion while cheering the afghan knitters from the sidelines.  Now the only question is - do I use more 4ply from my stash (yes, I still have tons).  Surely it couldn't take that long to do a cushion in 4ply. . .

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Best Stash-Busting Project Ever. . .

Here's what I've been storing in my new Persephone bag:

I've been sorting through my stash and putting aside all these odd balls of wool - remnants from previous projects; the extra skeins where I bought too much for a pattern; skeins (mostly variegated) that I liked at the time but am now shaking my head over, and just any bits that I really don't have a clue what to do with.  Into the bag they've gone, along with a 4mm crochet hook and my latest project.

It started with a skein of purple/yellow/green DK that looked just horrible when knitted up.  But it was nice wool, so I decided to make just one large granny square and maybe turn it into a cushion cover. This type of simple crochet works up so quickly that the ball was suddenly all used up and I wanted to keep on going.  So I did . . . using up all my scraps and pieces.

I'm just loving the look of all these random colours, filled with happy reminders of successful projects.   The crochet is so forgiving too - I have mostly used DK weight but thrown in the odd aran and even chunky yarn too.  It looks huge in this picture, but I'm nowhere near done yet - the plan is to make it big enough to cover a queen size bed.  Yes, I have enough stash to do it.  So far, I've mostly been using leftovers, but I think as the rows get longer, I'll break into some full skeins of stash.

This has been such a joy to create although it's getting quite heavy now.  I haven't forgotten about my knitted Rowan blanket though; I've nearly finished attaching the trim then it's just a thousand ends to weave in and the backing to sew up and attach.  The light is at the end of the tunnel.  Oh, and I'm still working on my Lush cardigan. . . and a new autumn shawl. . . there's just not enough of the summer left!

Monday, August 25, 2014

In Praise (yet again) of Persephone Books. . .

As the summer draws to a close, we're very busy doing all sorts of projects to spruce the house up. I have guests coming in a month from Canada (hooray!) and so we're painting the spare room, finally getting around to hanging up pictures that have been leaning against walls for ages, weeding the garden, and generally GETTING THINGS DONE!

It's been over two years, but I'm finally starting to get all my books sorted.  It's taken me some time to convince the Liverpud that books (and bookcases) do furnish a room, and then to persuade him to take me to IKEA where the crowds and parking always fill him with dread. 

At any rate, on our last trip, I picked up two smaller Billy bookcases and got the accompanying glass doors, purely to house my beloved Persephones.  Possibly the most beautiful books in the world, they deserve no less.  I've been collecting them for over ten years now and have yet to read one that I haven't enjoyed. 

The birth of Persephone Books coincided more or less with the time that I started working in publishing. Back then, imprints often produced really lovely tote bags for marketing purposes but these started to decline in size and quality.  So I was absolutely delighted when Persephone announced they had one for sale.  Isn't it lovely?  It's big and roomy with a solid bottom and strong handles.

But the best part (and really, would we expect less of Persephone?) is the lining, based on the endpapers for one of their books - The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens.  Gorgeous!  It's the perfect book and knitting bag and I've got the perfect project to go into it.

Along with the bag, I ordered their latest book - Wilfred and Eileen by Jonathan Smith which I've just finished reading as part of my ongoing (albeit slow) challenge to tackle numerous books on and about the First World War during the next four years.

Aren't the endpapers stunning?  It's from a 1913 fabric called Maud, designed by Vanessa Bell.

It's a very interesting novel to compare and read alongside Persephone's first ever book - William: An Englishman by Cicely Hamilton.  Each features a couple falling in love and marrying during the First World War and focuses on their idealisms and naivete, and the inevitable loss of innocence and future plans that the conflict brings.  The characters and outcomes are very different though - written as they are, almost sixty years apart - but Smith's novel was based on an actual couple and their experiences and through their letters, he has been able to capture details and ambience from the period. It's another worthy offering from Persephone and a very moving story.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Festival of Quilts 2014. . .

I travelled to Birmingham last weekend to visit the Festival of Quilts and the show was an incredible riot of colour, creativity and inspiration.  I've only ever completed one quilt, which is really more a wall hanging, though I do have half a quilt sewn up somewhere in a bag that I really should dig out.  I'd definitely like to improve my sewing and quilting skills and this may have been the kickstart that I needed.

Though there were some extraordinarily detailed patterns such as the one below. . .

. . . many of the quilts had rather simple templates; it's their creators' talent for matching colours and patterns that brings such vibrancy and energy to these works of art.  These quilts were all hanging in the stall of Birmingham's own The Cotton Patch which was an explosion of colourful fabric.

I did do a bit of shopping but was really there to see the juried quilts on display.  Again, here is a simple pattern but the colour choices really make it pop.  This is The Colour of the Square by Petra Niermann.

Guantanamo by Louise Donovan was also striking, but again, simple stripes and simple stitching done to great effect.

And here are a couple of others that I really liked:

Sew Large by Sandy Snowden was part of the Contemporary Quilt category.

Mosaic from Aquileia by Rossana Romani was really clever.

And I just loved Paris by Anna-Karin Andermo

The Visitors by Susan Chapman was filled with interesting textured stitching.

This was the winner of the Miniature Quilts Best in Show: A Hundred Acres by Roberta La Poidevin.  It's about the size of a tablet. 

And if you want to feel really inadequate, look at this gorgeous quilt by the Young Quilter Award winner in the 12-16 year old category!  This is Unwanted Guest by Millie Ayers.

This was perhaps my favourite quilt among the hundreds on display: WWI Centenary by Janet Bevan.  I love the ghostly detail. 

There were also exhibits by professional artists that I admired very much but they requested that there be no photography. Ann Johnston's quilts inspired by the Sierra Nevadas were breathtaking - they looked like photographs.  You can see some of her work here

One of my favourite booths was The Eternal Maker - they had such an interesting collection of fabrics, many from Japan and I loved their bunting.

And here is some of what I bought: beautiful buttons, really funky, interchangeable zippers from Japan, some Kaffe Fassett fat quarter packs (how could I resist?) and some lovely Donegal tweed to back my knitted "quilt" afghan should I ever finish it.  I will, I will. . .

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Right to Roam: A Classic Walk on Kinder Scout. . .

In the rambling world, there are certain walks that achieve an iconic status; walks that one simply must do. Kinder Scout is one of these and I have to say that it lives up to its reputation.  It is one of the prettiest walks I've done - from start to finish - and though these photos are from the Liverpud's recce, I had no qualms about wanting to do the exact same walk the following week with the walking group.  I'd do it again today. And tomorrow.  Come along and see why. 

We started from the small village of Hayfield, just on the edge of the Peak District National Park, working our way up the Snake Pass.

Very quickly you emerge onto beautiful moorland.

With very friendly sheep.

A short downhill path takes you to a trail that skirts the side of Kinder Reservoir built in the early 20th century.

Then it was up to the start of the William Clough path.  Now I thought that it was named after someone prominent, but a "clough" is a steep ravine or valley. We were also treading in walker history.  On April 24th, 1932, nearly 500 people took this route up to Kinder Scout to protest for the rights of common people to have access to open countryside. This became known as the Mass Trespass and five of them were arrested and served jail sentences. It started a larger movement among ramblers however, and eventually led to the acts of Parliament that created the amazing network of access footpaths that exists all over the U.K.  The National Trust now owns and conserves this land.  This is halfway up William Clough looking back.  Isn't it stunning?

At the top there's just one last climb and then you are up on Kinder Scout, a very flat plateau with amazing views along its edge.

At this point the path joins the Pennine Way. You can see it continuing on as you look back from the top.  And just in that hazy distance behind the hills is Manchester.

Continuing along the edge towards Kinder Downfall, you get views of the reservoir again and lots of rocks moulded into odd shapes by the rain and the wind.

Kinder Downfall is supposed to be the largest waterfall in the Peak District, but alas with all the sunny weather this summer it was completely dry.  On the left is the edge that the water would have run over; on the right is the riverbed which at least was easy to cross over.

This is where the waterfall would have been.  It just means I have to do the walk again (yea!) to see it in its full glory.

Our next point of interest is Kinder Low.  This is truly a bizarre landscape on the top of a hill. It reminds one of a beach scene (the white trig point looks like a lighthouse to me) or a moonscape.  I love it!  So unexpected and so beautiful in its bleakness.

And then it was downhill on good paving stones, back to Hayfield through green fields with more peaks in the distance.

The heather is just starting to bloom. Stunning.

For variation and decent paths, this is a ten mile walk that won't over-tax if you are in decent shape. One warning - it can get really windy on the top of Kinder Scout so in rainy weather, while you might get a waterfall, it could also be quite a miserable trek.  No weather problems however when we did the walk with the group last Sunday (also a sunny, breezy summer's day, also with a dry waterfall). Several in the group had never done this particular walk, even after decades of rambling and their delight was infectious; it's why the Liverpud loves leading walks, why I like helping him out with the recces, and all the reward we need.