More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Ryan's Daughter.

As part of my homework for next year's tour,  Knit Ireland, I rewatched David Lean's Ryan's Daughter last night.  It was shot on location in several of the places we'll be visiting such as Inch Beach, Dingle town and the Cliffs of Moher. Based on Flaubert's Madame Bovary, this is an epic in the same mould as Lean's previous blockbusters, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, but in my opinion over long and indulgent and it fell far short of my expectations.   

I found myself irritated by how it constantly portrayed the Irish in a very bad light. There was hardly a likeable character amongst the major players, in fact the only one was the priest, the rest were depicted as cruel ignorant peasants, an adulteress, a village idiot and a traitor who was willing to sacrifice his only daughter. 

My experience of Irish hospitality was totally different when I visited in August.  In one family-run hotel, on commenting how delicious the potato cakes were at breakfast time, I was taken to the kitchen and given the recipe, along with several other family favourites - just one of many kindnesses I received as I travelled around.

However, I did love the splendid photography celebrating the dramatic landscapes and weather.  Also the film did the local economy a world of good bringing more than £1m to the area in 1969.   A whole village was specially built, so creating many jobs, though as it was dismantled after filming there's scarcely anything to be seen of it now.  You can view the beginning and end here, then if you think it's worth it, the entire three and a quarter hours is on YouTube.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Eine kleine knit music.

Rediscovered the Knitting Song this morning whilst editing the website and fell in love with it all over again.  Written by Ashley Hutchings and Jo Hamilton, I first heard it a couple of years back at the Early Music centre in York, when their band, Rainbow Chasers, did a gig there.

Jo playing air piano
Jo Hamilton's debut album Gown

Jo and fellow band member, Ruth Angell, are both avid knitters.  Have a listen - Jo's beautiful voice is haunting and fragile at the beginning, building up to a lively crescendo at the end with some fine fiddle playing.   Jo is now working solo and her gig for us last year on our Devon & Bath tour was a highlight of the tour.  She's just released a special edition of Gown, featuring one of her greatest songs, Think of Me.  Here she is at Dartington Hall playing air piano, apparently the first one in the world!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Blue skies over Mid Wales.

Having a few days downtime in our home in Wales.  Brought lots of knitting, but it feels so good to be outside that I'm not getting much done.  Fabulous weather for this time of year, had coffee in the garden this morning under blue sky with not even a hint of a nip in the air.
Lots to do in the garden, mountains of leaves, but can't bear to sweep them away as the colours are just glorious. Still some flowers around - the odd Japanese anemone, catmint going strong, gunnera nursing next spring's massive magenta buds, few bright blue salvias and gay yellow Welsh poppies soldiering on, tiny campanulas and herb Robert dotted around - but the best displays are from fuchsias and the hydrangeas which are just phenomenal and a real bonus.  There's something about the equinox light that makes the garden glow, especially at dusk everything looks luminous.
Not many birds around when we arrived, swallows and cuckoos have definitely left for warmer climes, so I've filled the bird feeders to tempt back the overwinterers. As yet only tits and finches spotted, not even a buzzard circling overhead, but as it's so clear, maybe it's just cosier tucked into the nest today?
The cats are loving it.  Django's revisiting all his favourite haunts, places in the garden where the mice hang out, and in the evening he lolls around indoors dreaming about catching them.  It's Arlo's first time in Wales and he seems much more of a townie, following Django around, but stopping short when it comes to leaving the terrace and galloping back to the safety of the cat flap.
You can just see Philip with saw after the felling!
For the past few months as the days get shorter we've been getting less and less light on the terrace, as a dense oak tree on the edge gets bigger and bigger.  Starting to feel like we're in a cave!  So... today Philip is taking down the offending tree to hedge height, but not without first apologising to it as we both feel bad about cutting down any trees.  However, it's got to the point where it's either the tree or us, so sorry oak tree, this has gotta be done.  There'll be much clearing away afterwards so I'm hoping the weather holds tonight so we can light the chiminea and watch the sun go down with a glass or two before supper.  
Blue skies!
Haven't thought about food yet though, it'll have to be something quick and simple as we'll probably both be knackered.  As I'm writing this baked potatoes thrown into the Rayburn are sounding good, with a Greek salad of tomato, feta, onion and cucumber and some hummous from the fridge made yesterday.  Decided then, now I can get on with the sweeping and clearing up.

Can't believe it, whilst I've been indoors the sun has set over the mountain opposite and it's only 3.30.  There'll be another couple of hours of light though so I'd better get a move on.
PS  Tree clearing done, had a lovely sundowner on the terrace by the chiminea, even if we had to bring out the blankets!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sweet Shawlettes sneak peep

Sneak preview of the project gallery of my new book, Sweet Shawlettes, to be published by The Taunton Press in January 2012 in the US, but not till March 2012 in the UK.  A collection of twenty-five shawls, capelets, cuffs, collars and more, it's available for pre-order on Amazon.  Here's the blurb:

Shawlettes are hugely popular fashion accessories worn about the shoulders and meant for showing off. They're not only stylish but these budget friendly pieces make for perfect portable projects. The garments are grouped by style: Country, Couture, Folk, and Vintage, and feature gorgeous yarns including cashmere, wool, silk, cotton, and sustainable blends. Knitters of all levels will draw inspiration from the brilliant patterns and variations. Additionally helpful are illustrations, charts, schematics, and an appendix with instructions for special stitches. Each shawlette can be easily reinterpreted in beautiful ways, and the patterns in this book will capture knitters imaginations for years to come.

I'm very excited about this book and can't wait to hold a copy in my hand  - it would be great to have your feedback.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Coat for a boat

Son Felix sent me this photo from Bristol -  eat your hearts out vulgar yachts , this stylish knit boat knocks the socks off boring uniformity!  Even the mooring is adorned.  Fabulous job by the knit artists -  check your local marina for more or get one like this from Knitiffi.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Blast from the past!

Just noticed another sweater from my back catalogue (below left) on Joanne Conklin's blog.  It gives me such a buzz to see someone has taken the time to actually make one of my designs, especially an allover fairisle - awesome!  Originally designed for Ralph Lauren Womenswear more than twenty years ago, Joanne has knitted this sculptured fairisle so beautifully, not an easy knit either with both fairisle and reverse stocking stitch patterns.  The version on the right is from the very first Rowan Journal.  My thanks go to Joanne for reuniting me with this long-lost friend.  If anyone else has pictures or stories about making one of my vintage designs it would be great to hear them.

I'm going through my portfolio at the moment, revisiting many old favourites and deciding which, if any, I could bring into the digital age.  I can then make them available as downloads or even make a best-loved Ebook.  It's a big project - I have hundreds of designs, but it'll be a good thing to do with a glass of wine in front of the fire on long winter evenings.  Watch this space, I may get it done by this time next year!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Knit Real Shetland

Noticed today that Jamieson & Smith's new book Knit Real Shetland is at last published.  It seems like a lifetime since I was asked to submit a design.  As Ralph Lauren used a lot of J&S's yarn, I thought it  appropriate to feature one of the original designs I did for Polo in the late 80s.  From what I can see on the J&S site, it's a collection of fifteen wearable and doable projects by some great designers.

In my sweater, Olly's Allover (mark, name not chosen by me), the main aran design was taken from Gladys Thompson's fantastic book Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans.  There were several mistakes in her written pattern and it was a minefield to navigate. However, I know that ultimately I must have got it right as we made about 500 pieces for Polo and then an order came in from the womenswear line and many more were made without further correction.   In those days delivery dates were strictly adhered to and we were often left with many sweaters which didn't make the shipments.  We used to have pre-Xmas sales of unlabelled sweaters in Kensington, London and I remember selling off the excess production from this design and being amazed by how many media people bought it -  Jenny Agutter particularly springs to mind, she looked gorgeous in it.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Blog Action Day on Food

I love food!  Growing it, cooking it, eating it.  Some of my happiest memories are centred around food, so celebrating it with Blog Action Day gives me a chance to talk about one of my favourite topics.   I've put together a slideshow of some of my best-loved food images - just click on the caption to view.
Web gallery of my favourite food images

I am a longtime vegetarian, but don't usually stand on a soapbox about it as some tend to roll their eyes when they hear the word vegetarian.   Sometimes people can't imagine what we lettuce-eaters find that's at all tasty to put on our plates.  Other times people feel threatened and so feel they have to justify being a carnivore by going on the offensive.

There are many reasons why I choose not to eat flesh - the environment, animal cruelty, healthy lifestyle to name a few.  I try not to be sentimental about animals (though I'm totally in love with our two kittens - life is full of contradictions), respecting their right to basic freedoms in the natural order of the world.  I'm not against a lion killing its prey, but we humans are quite unique in that we're capable of rational thought, so as there are many alternatives, I choose not to eat meat, fish or fowl.  

It's often thrown at me that being a lacto-vegetarian is a bit of a cop-out anyway.  The dairy industry pumps antibiotics and hormones into cows, the bull calves are sent off for meat (then there's the veal, don't get me started on that) and the whole operation takes up much land which could be used for growing vegetables.  Of course that's true, but it's my opinion that people make their own decisions in life depending on their circumstances and all you can do is your best.

I buy organically grown, local food whenever I can.   A vegan for five years, I ultimately reverted to lacto life as it became increasingly difficult socially.  Even so I'm constantly aware of this and make a conscious effort to cook vegan food at least half the time at home.  I'm often told I must be under-occupied to actually cook a meal in the evening.  Let me tell you that it takes no time at all and cooking with fresh cruelty-free produce is a joy and a relaxation after a heavy day of number-crunching writing patterns in front of a computer.  I can just turn the music up and wind down!

Beef cattle are significant players in deforestation, soil erosion, water scarcity, global warming, depletion of fossil fuels, and loss of biodiversity.  Of course you can't blame the animals for this, the finger has to be pointed at the people who eat them.  Every time a steak is consumed, natural resources are being used twice over, once to feed the cow, then again when the cow itself is eaten.   You don't need to be a genius to see that using the same land for food crops which go straight to the table is a much better way.

There's so much obesity and ill-health in the Western world.  Many people don't consider where their pre-packed meat actually comes from.  Surely it's worth giving vegetarianism a chance to prove it's a better way of life for health, the environment and of course, for the animals.  Help feed the whole world instead of just the West.  So come on, try it for a day, a month, or whatever you feel you can do and let's see if  we can leave the world a better place for our kids.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Playing For Change

Watched this video on a blog called Rhythm on the Needles and was blown away by the idea.  Playing For Change Day is a creative day of action that uses the universal power of music to create positive social change.  How wonderful that there is a global community of musicians performing on street corners, cafés and concert halls playing together to build better lives for future generations.   The next Playing for Change Day is 22 September 2012.

Friday night curry club!

Up early today with a delivery of logs to be stacked.  I just love knowing that the logs are in for the winter, or at least for part of it as no doubt we'll need another load before next spring.  Makes me feel warm and reassured just looking at them - my very own security blanket!

Looking forward to a roaring log fire tonight, the nights are drawing in and there's a nip in the air - definitely a good enough excuse, so I'll be snuggling up with my knitting hatching some new designs - I hope!  Having a lazy Friday today.  We have a Norwegian guest this week who's here to learn English, so I'm trying to make an extra effort on the food front.  So... what's in the pot?  For tonight I'm making a veggie curry with nan and raita, with baked apple and Yorkshire ice-cream to follow.  

My family has always loved any excuse for a celebration and the grandchildren are getting very excited about Halloween.  Here's Izzi at a dress rehearsal trying on her witch's costume.  
I love this time of year, maybe it's because my birthday is coming up too, but York is just magical in the last three months of the year - twinkly lights in all the trees, Dickensian feel to the half-timbered streets, some lovely independent shops on Gillygate to browse for Christmas prezzies, plus coffee shops on every corner to recharge your batteries.  Bettys is always a treat on dark evenings - nothing better than to sit in the window (never agree to going downstairs, you definitely don't get the full Bettys experience there) watching the ghost tours or late-night shoppers pass by.  

Btw, if you're wondering about the interesting swirly pot in Izzi's pic, half-obscured by the nasturtium, it's by my friend Ilona Sulikova who makes utterly amazing raku pots inspired by the shapes of the Somalian women she once lived amongst, and decorated with intricate geometric patterns in vibrant irredescent colours. Unique.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Quilt Museum, York

Spent the morning at the Quilt Museum here in York, arranging a visit for our Lakes & York tour next May.  This is a fabulous space, not to mention the beautiful quilts.  Set in a stylish, well-planted garden glowing with autumn colour, St Anthony's Hall is a medieval guildhall in the centre of York dating back to 1446.  In its long and colourful history, it has been a guildhall, a workhouse, a munitions magazine, a prison, a Blue Coat School, the Borthwick Institute (historical archive) and now a museum.  

Managed by The Quilters' Guild of the British Isles, its aim is to promote the crafts of patchwork, appliqué and quilting through changing exhibitions of historic and contemporary textiles. The current exhibitions, Structured (modern) and Quilting from the British Isles (traditional) were just amazing, especially so set beneath the dramatic black and white vaulted interior of the hall.  My favourites were the heritage pieces - just to die for!
From Structured at York Quilt Museum

SO much inspiration in colour, textures, pattern and form.  We were so excited by it all that we decided I would do my tour workshop at the museum.  The idea is to do a modular knitting class, then we could use all these wonderful quilts as a springboard to new knit designs.  The workshop room is well-lit and bright and fitted with digital projector, something that is pretty hard to find in medieval buildings. 

So, all in all,  a very productive morning, finished off with an excellent Americano in the Italian deli which is also on site.  Heaven!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

In The Pink!

Was reminded of this design (aka Blackberry Ice-cream) from my back catalogue yesterday when someone ordered a kit.  It was featured in Knitting magazine way back in 2005 and I love the way the cables continue beyond the edges.  Made a note to develop this idea further.  It's always too tempting to rush on to the next design without fully exploring all the possibilities of the previous one, so a stroll down memory lane is like seeing afresh all the things I've found really inspiring in the past.  There's always a different angle in terms of yarns, silhouettes, stitches etc, but unfortunately I think I'd need another lifetime to review every design!  My aesthetic is one of the few things that remains core-constant (though still evolving) -  with all else I'm open to persuasion, except on my longtime devotion to vegetarianism.  I must have hundreds of designs sitting on the shelves in my studio all waiting to be rediscovered - in fact the sheer volume makes me feel ancient!  However, on the positive side it provides me with my own pattern library that I have instant access to.

Just have to mention one more thing, totally unrelated to anything except to those, like me, who are Strictly addicts.  My friend, Cathryn, and her sister were in the audience last Saturday...yayyyyyyyyy!

I'm green with envy, wouldn't you just love to be there with all the razamataz - the sets,  the dresses, the judges (especially Craig and Bruno), and of course the fabulous dancers and dancing.  Cathryn tells me that Russell Grant was the absolute best.  Something at the back of my mind tells me he's from York - I vaguely remember his shop on Stonegate till it closed a few years ago.  So come on Russell, we'll all be rooting for you in York.  Sorry to see Edwina Curry go, she's a good sport, I thought the hopeless Nancy Dell' Olio should have gone.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Inspiration from nature.

Been looking to nature for inspiration today, to a cauliflower to be precise!  I don't know a lot about fractals but the word immediately springs to mind when looking at this gorgeous geometric pattern.

The term fractal was coined by Benoit Mandelbrot in 1975.  The dictionary defines them as a complex geometric pattern exhibiting self-similarity in that small details of its structure viewed at any scale repeat elements of the overall pattern.  Whatever, it's very obvious that nature has her own complex way of creating patterns within patterns and it's hard to believe that this amazing structure has grown in the ground over the summer.  In fact it felt like almost a crime to cook it,  however I did and very good it tasted too, as delicious a cauliflower cheese as I can remember.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Steve Jobs

It's been a hard couple of days on the planet - two massive visionaries gone.
Your time on this earth is limited, don’t live someone else's life, live by your vision. - Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011
iReflect, iSad, iInspired... so iShare! 
(Steve Jobs tribute logo created by Jonathan Mak, a 19-year old in Hong Kong)
Art Jonak

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Bert Jansch

Was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Bert Jansch yesterday.  One of the greatest guitarists of our time, he is another musician who has provided a substantial part of the soundtrack of my life.  I remember as a young teenager hitching a lift from Lancashire down to London to see him play at the Horseshoe bar on Tottenham Court Road where he, John Renbourne et al performed every Sunday. He was one of the guitarists who inspired me to play guitar and I remember well struggling with Angie, Courting Blues and Jackson C Frank's (another late great) Blues Run the Game amongst many others.  An irreplaceable loss to the music world.  I shall miss you Bert Jansch.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The edge of the precipice!

Aaaarrrgh - am facing the void today, trying to get started on a new book.  At least I have a synopsis so it's a void with a framework, but as yet nothing to flesh out the skeleton.  For me the cooking time  is just that and I go into overdrive at home, especially at this time of year with all the wonderful fresh produce around, making soups, pies and chutneys, all the while pondering on the next design, in this case it's the first design!

Had a lovely day with grand-daughters Izzi and Ava, yesterday, so today I've no excuse but to knuckle down.  The cats are being supportive, Django has a lot to say as ever about the design process and sits at my desk as I write, Arlo is reading the Guardian.

Left to my own devices I'm disorganised in my life, but organised in my work, and the first thing I do is to clear my desk so there are no distractions and I can focus my thoughts.  Then I have to get an idea of the book as a whole in my head - the theme,  the chapters, the colours, the stitches and the techniques - and make sure there's a good balance.  This demands a chart which I can then pin up and work to.  Once I have this, with the intended designs in the appropriate chapters, then the nitty gritty hard work begins.

This consists of crystallising the thoughts I've had during the cooking time and so turning them into concrete designs - basically transforming ideas into knitted stitches, charts, and a written pattern.  Often, the best laid plans change in the doing, but the structure helps to keep me on track.  If this all sounds very anal, all I can say is that if I don't go through this process I feel I'm wading through treacle and often going down blind alleys,  and unfortunately time is always at a premium in the hectic world of publishing.

So here I am with a blank sheet, but with a head that's bursting with ideas that have yet to be made manifest on the needles and on paper.  I've only been able to concentrate fully on doing this since my upcoming book, Sweet Shawlettes, was sent off to the printers last week.  Writing a book is similar in some ways to having a baby and it's cathartic to know that one is finished before starting another.

Hugely exciting time, at this moment I don't know where my needles will be taking me, but I do know that the knit design journey is never dull.  I'll just make some leek and potato soup to share with girlfriends tonight before taking the plunge.  What's that saying? Procrastination is the enemy of inspiration?  Wish me luck!