Tuesday, 4 November 2008

whose grand-daughter would line up her satsuma like this?

Little Miss Low had two satsumas for lunch today. The first one she lined up with the sections all facing the same way. The second one was lined up like this, with the sections arranged around a central point of symmetry. Given that Mr B recently blogged about his obsessive list-making, I think that something genetic could be going on.
She also insisted that all the "ends" be pulled off because "I don't like to eat them".

Sunday, 26 October 2008

lace knitting - gah!

When I first started looking at knitting sites and knitting blogs I noticed that a lot of knitters favour lace knitting and produce lovely shawls and scarves. At the time I thought – no, this is not for me, anything finer than double knitting is just too fiddly for me, especially as I generally have to reduce my needles by two sizes to get the correct gauge. Then I realised that lace knitting may be a fine yarn, but it is knitted on larger than expected needles (and gauge for a shawl isn’t crucial) and I also discovered the wonderful world of beautiful hand-dyed and hand-painted yarns. At the Knitting and Stitching Show this year I was seduced by a gorgeous skein of Fyberspates Scrumptious Lace in a pretty lettuce-y green. I chose Swallowtail as my pattern and even had a friend in mind as the eventual recipient of my work.
However, it turns out I was right – it IS too fiddly for me. I have had five attempts at getting started, keep ending up with the wrong number of stitches and it’s all too fine and fiddly to identify my mistakes. I think I will come back to it next summer when there are longer hours of daylight to knit in, but for now all that frogging is beginning to damage the yarn, so it will be put on hold.
Meanwhile I have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous and am knitting an eco string bag on big fat needles.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


I’m feeling sad. It has been a sad year: several deaths; major surgery and long stays in hospital; bad news about unborn babies; extreme weather conditions; work and financial worries; and relentless grey, wet weather. All of the above (apart from the wet weather) have been at second or even third hand, not my personal tragedies, but I’ve spent a lot of this year sympathising/empathising with or worrying about people I love and now I feel sad.
I can be a bit of a pollyanna – searching for the silver lining, looking on the bright side, urging people not to be gloomy, but sometimes I think it is appropriate to recognise that life has been tough of late and to acknowledge all that sadness in other people’s lives and mine too. I won’t dwell on it for long – we’re going to a wedding at the weekend, good stuff is happening as well – but just for today I’m not going to push the bad feelings away.
Note: this is not a bid for sympathy from the cyber world – just a statement of how it is.

Friday, 17 October 2008

manx loaghtan

Knitting yarn from the Sheldon flock of rare Manx Loaghtan sheep. I bought this natural, undyed yarn when I was on retreat at Sheldon in May. It’s a slightly uneven, rather rustic yarn and it took a while deciding what to knit as I realised that my 500g pack was not going to be enough for a big sweater. In the end I went for a cardigan/jacket, knitting the sleeves from the top down so that I knew how long I could risk making them without running out of wool.

The ball-band says "knit as double knitting" though it looked and felt rather more like aran to me. My knitting tension never matches pattern requirements anyway so I decided to play around with needle sizes and see how it knitted up and then work from there (ended up using 5mm). I decided this was going to be my first venture into creating my own garment without a pattern and that I was going to make something to fit ME rather than some idealised size. After the gauge experiments the next step was taking my own measurements, which was a bit sobering as I realised that shaping to go in at the waist was not going to be one of my requirements. I went for a shape that would give plenty of ease around hip and belly while fitting more closely around bust and shoulders. This meant some dart shaping at the lower end of the jacket. Also went for a slightly scooped round neckline, which I find more comfortable than something that comes up close round my neck.

I am modestly pleased with the results. It fits better than most knitted-from-patterns garments I have made – so good not to have a cardigan that strains to fasten at the bottom edge – and I think it will probably work quite well with my winter wardrobe. If I’m honest it’s probably not a yarn I would have bought if I hadn’t been staying at Sheldon where the wool was produced. It’s an unusual colour – french mustard maybe, or cinnamon if we’re talking colour charts, but probably cowpat brown is more accurate - and the yarn still has that redolent sheepy, lanolin aroma, which was quite nice for knitting as my hands felt moisturised, but not particularly what I want my clothes to smell of. (When completed I washed it and used fabric conditioner and I don’t like the smell of that much better than the sheep smell.) I’m still happy to have bought and used it though – another piece of work that carries memories and associations and a good way of supporting the work of a valuable organisation.

(The sheep photo at the head of the post was taken by Cathy Wainwright and was posted on the Manx Loaghtan Sheep Breeders Group)

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

what if the hokey cokey is what it's all about?

Spotted on a tee shirt at Greenbelt.

Greenbelt is, of course, awash with slogans on tee shirts (and some unusual fashion choices - see Mark Loudon’s photos), but this was my favourite. I noticed it on a scholarly looking bloke in the book tent in an understated navy blue.

Very post modern.

Seems like a good motto for living with uncertainty.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

another continuity announcement

This is probably not the most beautiful or original thing I have ever made - a canvaswork cushion cover worked in wool in tent stitch, but like so much needlework it is replete with memories.

My father moved into a nursing home in 2001. The house was an old priory and there was a pleasant garden to sit in. I thought that if I had a bit of simple needlework I could sit in the garden with him having desultory conversation or companionable silence as the fancy took us, which is when I bought the initial materials for this. In the event it was not many months before Dad's dementia meant that he moved to the top floor of the nursing home into the EMI (elderly mentally infirm) unit and we didn't get to spend that much time in the garden, though I did carry on stitching from time to time when I visited him in his room. The stitching was incomplete when he died in 1984 and I've only picked it up occasionally since. Suddenly, around Easter this year, it was finished and set aside to be rediscovered when I had my workshop clear-out. It was very distorted by stitching and took a LOT of blocking to get it back to a square enough shape to be turned into a cushion. Now it's done - on a chair in the sitting room and full of happy/sad memories of my father and a difficult time in our lives.

Edited postscript. Obviously (as Alice has pointed out in her comment) he died in 2004, not 1984 - don't know how that got in there!

Monday, 6 October 2008

they're joking, right?

I bought some buttons on Saturday afternoon. Nothing special, just squarish wooden buttons for the cardigan that I have almost finished. I sewed two of them in place and then noticed the warning on the back of the card:The idea that I might remove these buttons and sew them back on each time I wash the cardigan is just so far from the way I live my life that I just laughed.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

here's one I made earlier

This was finished some time ago – just in time for H’s birthday in August in fact, but I didn’t have time to photograph it before giving it to her. Finally got round to standing her in the garden and taking some pics last weekend – though they’re still not exactly brilliant photographs. The pattern is Central Park Hoodie and seems to be one of the most popular patterns on the KnittingDaily website. H chose the wool, which is Rowan Pure Wool Aran. It was lovely to knit with and I enjoyed the interest of the fairly simple cable. I even managed to continue the central back cables up the back of the hood.
I’ve got a ball of wool left over and I’m planning to make this for myself.

Monday, 15 September 2008

woad 3

Well finally my woad was ready for harvesting and I made a special trip to the allotment with my secateurs.
I’d been chatting to another woadie in Frome, who had told me that rather than going through the very lengthy process of extracting the pigment, I could in fact use the fresh woad leaves to make a more delicate shade of dye. It gives subtle spearmint shades rather than the blue normally associated with indigo. I had seen a description of this process being applied to fresh indigo leaves, so decided to give it a go.

Even this process was fairly slow and time consuming:
chopping leaves,

heating water and steeping the leaves (careful not to let it get too hot), adding soda ash and sodium hydrosulphate, whisking for ages and ages as the froth turned blue and then back to green again, but finally the dye bath was ready to use. I dipped my prepared cloth and watched the magic process of pulling the cloth out of the bath a greeny/yellow colour and watching as the exposure to air turned it blue-ish.

Unfortunately there wasn’t really enough dye to make repeated dippings to get more intensity of colour, but I hung them all out to dry anyway.
Sadly by the time they had dried they were much paler and by the time they had been properly washed and rinsed they just look like whites that got into the wrong wash…
Oh well, it was fun to try, but probably not something I’m going to make into a regular activity.

Saturday, 9 August 2008


I had to vacuum the soles of my feet today! That’s a first for me.
I’ve been clearing out my workshop (it seems like months I’ve been working on it). There was a shallow plastic box on a shelf just above my head with lots of "stuff" in it. I lifted it down to sort through it all and an unopened bag of plaster of paris fell to the floor and split. Powder everywhere - in things, around things, behind things, everywhere! First the dustpan and brush, then the vacuum cleaner were pressed into service. But then I noticed that as fast as I cleaned one bit, I was leaving footprints everywhere else. Vacuuming the soles of my feet was really the only solution.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

woad 2

I thought I was going to have to call this post "oh woad is me" (and it may come to that eventually). After sowing the seeds in great excitement and watching them germinate and sprout, they just seemed to stop and enter a period of stasis. After a few weeks the leaves started to get a bit bigger, but the little stems didn’t get any bigger and don’t look strong enough to hold up the plants.
Anyway, Stu and I decided we just had to go for it. We went up to the allotment and took the plastic sheeting off a patch of earth. We dug over the top layer and pulled out the couch grass and raked and levelled and then planted the little seedlings. (When I say "we", it was mostly Stu doing the heavy stuff and me getting to do the fun bits – but Iris helped as well).
The plastic collars are supposed to give them some protection from slugs, but really they’ve just got to take their chances – after all it was a weed originally!

Monday, 9 June 2008


Whenever I have a workshop clear-out I come across this.

It's a canvas-work rug that my mother started in the sixties. She spent quite a lot of time on it, but never finished it. When she died in 1992 I took it on, intending to finish it myself. Clearly, this hasn't yet happened. I have done some work on it, but the wool is very fibrous and makes my eyes itch. It's never going to be a rug now as one of the wool colours has virtually run out, but I think I could just about even off the ends and turn it into a big fat floor cushion. One day!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

work in progress

Around this time of year I start to panic that I won’t have any work to show when we open our doors for the SouthBank Arts Trail. One of my reasons for starting this blog was to record my work and reassure myself that I am, in fact, doing something even though it may be quite slow.
These are two almost finished pieces. Just that tricky decision – is it finished or not? Then I need to think of a way of presenting them. Current thinking is spraymounted onto board, but I need to do some experiments before I commit to something that may ruin them!
I trudged into town yesterday to buy some machine embroidery thread. (Bristol is oddly ill-supplied with creative needlework materials.)
I have been playing around with stitching into plastic carrier bags. I like the idea of recycling plastic bags and, you never know, they may soon be a scarce resource! Maybe in fifty years time plastic carrier bags will be exhibited in museums as cultural artefacts, monuments to the prolific foolishness of the twentieth century. Of course, they will have to store them carefully in acid-free tissue paper to stop them from fading and degrading in the light.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


This is a mistake.
A lot of knitters seemed to be talking about Noro Kureyon and the pattern of choice seemed to be the Lizard Ridge Afghan. I thought I’d give it a try and bought a couple of balls of yarn. Rather more muted colours than the other examples, but I didn’t want to just COPY, I had to introduce my own twist. Anyway, I’ve knitted up a square and I hate it. I didn’t enjoy using the yarn which is rough and knobbly and makes the complicated picking up of wrapped stitches in the short rows pattern very hard to see. The finished result just reminds me of hippy seventies sweaters. At my age that doesn’t look retro and cute; after all I can actually remember all those earnest young men in their corduroy flares and baggy jumpers – reader, I married one!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008


This is what I’ve had on my needles over the past couple of months. It’s a vintage-inspired cardigan for me. All the knitting sites I’ve been looking at are obviously having an effect because I’ve blocked all the pieces before sewing up, which is something I’ve never really bothered with before. Can’t believe how grown up and patient I’m becoming – it’s a fiddly, time-consuming job and I thought I was going to run out of pins!
By the way, did you notice my lovely cactus pin cushion? Thank you gift from the aforementioned Si (who has already had more name-checks than anyone else on my blog!). It caused a great deal of cactus envy from daughters 1 and 2.

The cardigan has to go back on the needles after blocking to knit up the front bands and little shawl collar. It’s been frustrating because I have already had to go back to Get Knitted for an extra ball of wool and I’m worried that I still won’t have quite enough to finish it. They’re holding an extra ball in the right dye lot for me just in case, but I won’t be able to get out there until my next "car day".

Friday, 21 March 2008


I was given some woad seeds for Christmas by lovely friends who know my passion for indigo. Woad is a similar plant to indigo, but native to Europe whereas indigo came originally from Asia (and gradually superseded the local product). I’ve only ever bought and used synthetic indigo so far, so I’m very excited about growing and producing my own dye.

Stu has agreed to let me have a little bit of space to grow it on the allotment, and Good Friday seems an appropriate day for sowing. The directions on the packet are a bit sparse so I have found some interesting stuff on the internet about growing and using woad.

Just got to sit back now and wait for the little shoots to appear!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

embargo lifted!

Now that she has received her birthday present I can reveal the small part I played in the creation of Sue’s quilt!
Si had the lovely idea of asking friends to contribute patches to a quilt for Sue’s 40th birthday, so that she could "wrap herself in her friends’ affection". Their friend Emily was main-craftswoman, responsible for planning and putting the quilt together and I had the privilege of creating a border for the quilt.
The background fabric of the quilt was restricted to two different blue fabrics and unbleached calico so I decided to introduce a mix of complementary colours (red/orange/pink) to create some visual excitement and emphasise the blue-ness. This was all done at a distance - they’re in Leeds; I’m in Bristol - so it was pretty much fingers crossed that I’d interpreted what was required correctly.
Anyway, all is now revealed and it has come together beautifully. I especially love the central motifs of the quilt which include little figures of the family in blue and white Leicester City colours!
Here’s one of my photos of the border before I sent it off (all 7 metres of it!):
And here’s the square I contributed:

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


A few years ago I was asked to take part in an Easter exhibition/ creative worship type thing. It gave me the impetus to make something that had been kicking around in my head for a while and I produced this.

It’s taken from a 16th century painting of Christ, Man of Sorrows. It is stitched on a large wire fence panel using torn fabric and heavyweight wool. I wanted to explore the hard vs. soft contrast: Christ, the all-powerful son of God is the man of sorrows, beaten and bruised; traditional image, traditional technique vs unconventional materials. I worked on it during Lent and thought that it would be an opportunity for reflection and meditation as I worked – romantic fool that I am!
In the event it was actually a very stressful process, both physically (working into that wire, bent over the dining room table left me with raw fingers and a very painful back) and emotionally (we were preparing to move house and having some essential repairs done which kept threatening disaster and the dissolution of all our plans, but I had the Easter deadline to keep). I don’t think I did any meditating or reflecting except in choosing what fabric to use next or wondering why everything always happens at once.
I was reminded of this process last week when I used Si Smith’s brilliant 40 CD again at a service. It always strikes me what a long time 40 days and nights is. I think we often have warm fuzzy ideas about retreat and withdrawal from the world (especially when life is busy and we feel hard-pressed) and visions of rapturous communion with God, but the reality can be a deeply painful confrontation with oneself.
I suppose I can’t leave this on such a negative note. For Christ of course, his forty days in the desert equipped him for his ministry. (As Si’s minimal text says, "for my thirtieth birthday I gave myself some time away from it all. And now I’m back". For me, the process of work on my piece was painful, but the completion was a very satisfying outworking of what had been in my head and I also have the pleasure of knowing that the piece has been used in worship by the mayBe community.
I obviously still have warm and fuzzy ideas about retreat, since I have just booked a four-day walking retreat on Dartmoor in May. I’m braced for aching joints and muscles, blisters, insect bites, dehydration, hypothermia; but please can I skip the meeting me bit and just get to the communion with God bit.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

where to start?

I don't think I'm a natural blogger. I have resisted this for a long time. Have kept diaries in the past and always been keenly depressed by re-reading them.

However, I have recently been inspired by the vast numbers of creative blogs out there - notably knitting, but other things too and thought it might be a good way of reviewing my work and encouraging myself that I have actually done something.

So, just to get me started:

In 2007:
I finished a quilt I had been working on since moving to Bristol

I did quite a bit of knitting for babies.

At the end of the summer I did some indigo dyeing and now have a pile of fabrics I need to do something else with:

For Christmas I was given two skeins of silk cashmere from SkeinQueen (Thanks M&J) which I have knitted into a pretty scarf.

This has taken me so long to get into anything like a format I am prepared to publish that I don't know how long it will take me to come back, but I think I'm just going to have to post as it is and tweak later.