Thursday, 28 November 2013

Daytripping: Harrogate and the Knitting and Stitching Show. . .

There is nothing I like more on a Saturday then getting together with some knitter friends and travelling by train to a knitting show.  We got to the station really early, we got lattes and muffins, we grabbed table seats on the train, we got out our knitting out and before you know it, we were in Leeds changing for the short ride to Harrogate (and the journey is beautiful - you follow canals through and past Manchester and then you're travelling through the Yorkshire Dales and the sun on the mist that was hovering ever so slightly over the countryside was just magical).

I wish the day had had twice as many hours in it because even though we arrived in Harrogate just after 10am, we could easily have spent two days there - one at the Knitting and Stitching Show and one just exploring the town which, like Bath, has lots of independent stores and I'm sure some lovely walks not too far out of town. 

But our primary purpose was the show.  Last year I went to Ally Pally in London and while this is a smaller version, there's still tons to see.  We wisely decided to do the marketplace first then grab some fresh air and break for lunch outside the venue, go for a short walk and come back for the exhibits.  I've never been to Harrogate before and I wish I'd taken more photos because it's a beautiful town set on a hill with lovely architecture. There just wasn't enough time to fully appreciate it.  Here's the older facade of the very modern building that was the site of the show. 

Harrogate is also the site of the world famous Bettys Tearoom but there was no chance of getting a cuppa as the line-up was out the door and down the street.  We did manage to get to Baa Ram Ewe though, which is just as lovely a shop as its sister one in Leeds.

This show is very different from Yarndale or Woolfest; there are less indie stalls, no animals, and the focus is spread out among all the textile arts ( a quilter can seriously get into trouble with all the gorgeous fabrics on sale).  And there are also many beautiful and interesting exhibits of craft artistry from clothing to home furnishings to art itself.

We met artist Sally Spinks who takes postcards of famous paintings and using some fairly small needles, knits articles of clothing to cover their bare bits, but not out of prudishness; her exhibit is called Random Acts of Kindness and you can see some of her work here.  And we saw Sophie Digard scarves (which really need to be seen in person - the painstaking detail is incredible) - at the Selvedge booth.

But let's face it - there was always going to be some woolly purchases too.  Being in Yorkshire, I had to get some of my favourite yarn - Baa Ram Ewe's Titus -  and before it sold out, I managed to nab two skeins of their special Christmas one-off colourway Wesley Bob.  It's a lovely deep red and would be perfect for some Xmas stockings.

Being in Harrogate, I also needed a local souvenir (don't we always?) and The Knitting Goddess who I first encountered at Yarndale was thankfully on hand.  This skein of sock yarn is called Love Lies Bleeding and it's gorgeous!

I do like to support the local wool industry and buy British when I can, but we all couldn't resist the Latvian mitten stand.  Aren't these kits great?  And only £10!  We each bought a different pattern and plan to have a get-together in the new year and start them all at the same time.  The pattern also gives some background into the history of Latvian knitting.

The other purchase I'm really excited about was found in a booth showcasing the history of detailed crewel work.  I bought three bags of Appleton tapestry wool.  No, of course I have no idea what I'm going to do with it, but having so many colours at my disposal just makes me happy. The fantasist in me says I'm going to learn how to crochet and make myself a scarf a la Sophie. Or learn how to do crewel work.  Or use them in some fabulous fair isle yoked sweater. But I'll probably just sit and look at them for a long while.   

Harrogate was such a fun day out.  We'll definitely be there next year - hopefully for the whole weekend.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Daytripping: Birmingham. . .

I can't say that Birmingham is the most picturesque of English cities; there's a lot of gray concrete on view. But I had a full day to explore the streets and there was one new exciting building that I definitely wanted to visit.  

This is the new ten floor Central Library which opened just a few weeks ago, designed by Francine Houben. I love the boldness and the muted colours - distinctive but not too jarring with the tones of the surrounding buildings.

Here's a peek inside looking up at the escalators.

The stacks of books radiate spoke-like allowing for desks and computers to be placed all around the windows maximizing the natural light and the views.

Up on the seventh floor is "The Secret Garden".  It was a rainy day when I visited but I'm sure it would be a lovely place in the summer to sit and read a book or just enjoy the foliage.

Lots of construction work going on below but some lovely mosaic patterns on the square.

There's also a viewing spot on the ninth floor along with the Shakespeare Memorial Room which architecturally is rather splendid to peek into, but rather useless from a user's perspective.  If I were designing a Shakespeare room, I'd have plenty of editions of his works and books about him to browse through, maybe a listening area to hear great recordings of his plays or a screen with headphones to watch filmed performances. I gather this room is mostly used to host various receptions but there isn't even a table and chairs so it's not very functional for the average patron.

Speaking of Shakespeare, down on the lower level there was a lovely paper sculpture paying tribute to A Midsummer Night's Dream (sorry, I forgot to jot down the artist's name and can't find it on the library website).

Amidst all the concrete are a few notable older buildings.  I spent some time in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which has a nice collection of Pre-Raphaelite art (Edward Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham and has a room dedicated to him) and pieces of the recently discovered Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard on display.

This is the cathedral which is located in a lovely tree-lined square.

And there is some good shopping in the city which is getting ready for its Christmas markets.  This is one of the older streets leading down to New Street, the main pedestrian shopping area. 

Which in turn leads to the Bullring shopping plaza and the juxtaposition of this rather lovely old church . . .

. . . which faces on to the iconic Selfridges building. 

I enjoyed wandering around Birmingham but a day was definitely enough to get a feel for the city even though I'm sure there are lots of interesting neighbourhoods that a local could direct me to. But from a daytripping perspective, I prefer cities with a bit more historical appeal such as Bath, York, Leeds or Manchester.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Lest We Forget. . .

All Remembrance days feel sombre but with the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War just a few months away, there seems an extra poignancy this year.  The commemorations, the televised dramas and the new books are already starting to appear with dozens of exhibitions on the horizon. It will be a very interesting time to be in the U.K. over the next five years.

I've always been fascinated by WW1 and its literary representation ever since high school when I read All Quiet on the Western Front, A Farewell to Arms and Timothy Findley's powerful novel The Wars. In university it was reading Mrs. Dalloway and Testament of Youth that set me on a path investigating women writers of the period. I wasn't surprised that such a cataclysmic event provided the fodder for so many fictional works, only that I had heard of so few of them, even though the women were in many cases major writers - Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, May Sinclair, Rose Macauley - just to name a few. I became very interested in the suffragettes' responses to the war (and made a side detour into their obsession with the Brontes). I found First World War drama - both written around the period and contemporary plays taking the war as its subject - deeply moving and challenging as they grappled with portraying the "theatre of war" on the stage.  Only a few years ago, I was embarked on a PhD program where I hoped to look at the political and fictional writing of Vera Brittain and Storm Jameson - both women were very deeply affected by the First World War but had strong divergent views on the Second. Alas, I was working a full-time job in publishing that also required a lot of reading and had to regretfully say farewell to the degree. But over many years, I've amassed a huge collection of novels, memoirs, histories, and critical studies of the war and now that I'm working at a university I have that all important academic library card which gives me access to untold riches. I think it's time to immerse myself in this world again.

Literary challenges always give me a certain focus to my reading even though they can be pressure-inducing.  I'm going to read steadily through my collection over the next five years (no doubt with detours as I explore various threads that pop up).  Many will be rereads that I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with. I'm going to read fiction by writers who experienced the war firsthand and by those who can only re-imagine it,  some social, political and even military history (something I've not read a lot of), literary criticism, poetry, drama and art books.  I'd love to say I'd aim for about 50 books a year, but I don't want this challenge to be all encompassing as there will still be plenty of other reading that will beckon. But I hope by the end I'll have read and carefully thought about (incidentally, this is also a slow reading project), between 150-200 books over the next five years, which will ideally give me many different perspectives on the war and allow me to even more fully appreciate my little library.  I may even clear a special shelf and start putting my finished books on it as encouragement.

And I think I'll kick off with some primary material.  I recently saw a BBC drama on the production of The Wipers Times - the satirical newspaper that was actually produced at the front. This facsimile of all the editions has recently been published and I think it will make fascinating reading.

(Incidentally. the photo at the top of the blog post is a close-up of this wild field of poppies that bloomed over the summer in one of Liverpool's parks. There's a movement around the UK to introduce patches of wildflowers in parks and other public spaces and I loved walking past this area each morning on my way to work).

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Oh, The Difference A Size Makes. . .

I was worried I'd run out of wool, so made the small size thinking I could stretch it.  Nope - it was just too small. So I dug out some black wool from my stash and doubled it and made the cuff.  I'm much happier with it and the second mitten is coming along nicely (turns out I have plenty of yarn - either the yarn band or the pattern lengths are wrong, but I like the black cuff so it's just fine.)  This will be my first pair of mittens after doing lots of fingerless mitts and I really like the added warmth.  Turns out thumbs are easy and worth the extra time.  The pattern is Maize from TinCan Knits  Now I may even stretch to gloves. . .

Thursday, 7 November 2013

A Different View of the Lake District. . .

Any walk that doesn't include a soggy sandwich is a good day out in my books. Last Sunday we had gorgeous autumn sunshine for our twelve and a half mile circular hike which started at the south end of the Lake District National Park in the town of Cartmel. 

The hills here don't have the elevation that you'll find a few miles to the north. . . 

. . . buut in compensation, you get the sea!  

And a sweeping view of Morecombe Bay with its treacherous quicksands. 

And then to the north you glimpse the grandeur of the mountains.  

Not a drop of rain all during the walk, but plenty of rainbows.

And gorgeous autumnal colours. 

Some lovely tarns along the way as well. 

And lots of happy looking sheep basking in the sunshine. 

Our final destination was Hampsfell which is the ridge you can see in the photo below.

At the top is Hampsfell Hospice, a shelter built in the 19th century for travellers which is now the most amazing look-out tower. By the time we got there, it was a little past four o'clock and since we've turned the clocks back, dusk was already starting to fall. 

However there was definitely enough light to see a really incredible 360 degree view - these photos really don't do justice to it.  It was an amazing end to the walk. 

Cartmel is also the birthplace of the sticky toffee pudding.  Unfortunately the shop was closed when we trooped into the village shortly before five. Ah well, next time.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Monthly Planner: Hunkering Down in November. . .

October was just mad and went by in a blur.  It felt like I really didn't do anything except work.  I took on so many extra shifts that most days I just got up, went to work for twelve hours, came home and immediately went to bed.  So I'm quite looking forward to a more gentle month even as the days get darker.

Reading:  From the sublime to the mostly ridiculous.

I love this new hardcover edition of the Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig published by Pushkin Press. It is so lovely to hold and read; it's going to be my dipping-into book for this month.  I have long admired Zweig's novels/novellas which I have in beautifully published NYRB Classics editions, but it's heartening to know that he's just as lovingly published on this side of the pond.  It contains twenty-two stories over 710 pages in a wonderfully designed chunky edition and includes "Letter From An Unknown Woman". I love the Max Ophuls film but I've never read the original story. "Mendel the Bibliophile" looks intriguing too.
And yes, the other book on my bedside table is the new Bridget Jones.  I bought it out of nostalgia - I was a bookseller when the first one came out which incidentally I bought at Heathrow after a holiday in London. I'm fifty pages in and it's silly and rather boring but I'm still oddly charmed by Bridget and rather relieved that any resemblance I might have thought I had to her back in my twenties has pretty well vanished by now.

I'm taking a few days off in November and my weekends are booking up fast. There will be at least two hiking days, a trip to Birmingham to check out their spectacular new central library, and another day out with the girls to Harrowgate and the Knitting and Stitching Show! I also hope to visit Baa Ram Ewe's new Harrowgate store and hopefully find time to have a cuppa at Betty's famous cafe.

I'm very excited about several projects I have on the go even though some of them are going wrong.

Like this mitten.  Love the yarn and pattern ( Maize from Tin Can Knits' The Simple Collection) but it's too small.  And I'm not sure I have enough wool to make the larger size.  So I've dug out some black wool from the stash and plan to do the cuffs in that (and make them longer). It's a slightly thinner yarn though, so I'm playing around with different needle sizes.  Not sure if it'll work out yet, but I'm hopeful.

Also on the needles is the one and only xmas gift I'm intending to knit.  It's a cardigan for my mum and so far, so good.  The pattern is Peasy by Heidi Kirrmaier and I'm using Debbie Bliss Prima, a bamboo/wool combination in a gray-taupe colour.  It's my first raglan, top-down cardigan but the instructions are very clear so I'm feeling quite confident about this one.  All the hard bits seem to come at the beginning and then it'll just be rows of stockinette.  I can do that!

The weather is getting colder which means the house is getting very chilly at nights. I'm craving big, chunky sweaters, so I'm attempting a version of Erika Knight's Houndstooth sweater from the October issue of Knitting magazine.  It knits up fairly quickly.  Here's the back which I completed in just two days, but it's now going to become the front as I think my gauge is way off and I've decided that I'm not going to continue the pattern on the back but just knit it in green stockinette.  I also forgot that the stranded knitting would really draw the stitches inwards and my tension isn't great. In short, this may end up being too small. Or too puckered. Or too strange.  Or maybe blocking will do its magic. It's a complete experiment at the moment as I'm probably going to end up changing the neckline too. Or not.  Maybe it will end up as a cushion cover.

Finally, the only knitting I really got done last month was one of those multi-year projects that I started because it required no brain power, it was easy to pop into my purse, and I could get little bits done during my twenty minute breaks or on the bus ride home.  And it uses up my rather extensive stash of fingering weight.  It's a simple mitre-squared blanket done on ridiculously small 2.75mm needles.  I will have to do a gazillion of these squares and then sew them all up.  It will take forever, but it's strangely addictive. I have about 35 done - I've thrown them into the same bag as my 70 odd hexipuffs and they can battle it out for my capricious attention.

It just feels good to have some play time again.