More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Taking the leap!

Well, it's a leap year when we're supposed to take a leap into the unknown and do something we wouldn't normally do on the 29th February. I've been wanting more and more to get back into playing music, I just don't do enough of it and it's one of the things that makes my spirit soar.

Last night I spent half an hour with my iphone recording a song I've written.  I must have made ten different attempts to get a good take, but it seems if I get the voice OK the guitar is rubbish and visa versa. In the end I just had to accept that with my lack of practice there's no way I could ever get it perfect, so although it's not usually in my nature to accept second best, this time I allowed the pragmatist to rule. I wouldn't have had the confidence to do it at any other time but as it's a leap year... Long Distance Love.

It's often said that the best songs are written by unhappy people - Amy Winehouse immediately springs to mind. Though it's not always the case, it's true to say that hard times of heightened emotion are the bedrock of many good songs - Joni Mitchell's Little Green about her daughter who was adopted, or Fleetwood Mac's greatest album Rumours, a collection of fabulous songs about their troubled romantic relationships. Many of my own songs were written years ago when I had more things to work through, but what really kickstarted my songwriting recently was that someone close to me had been in a relationship that ended because of problems of distance and I found this so poignant I felt moved to write a song.

The only other time the song has had an airing at Dartington Hall
In another life I used to play in an acoustic duo called Scarlet Vardo. We played in folk clubs all over Britain and performing was second nature. We sang a mixture of our own songs, English traditional and blues and got a real buzz from playing live. I do miss it and have promised myself for years that I'd get back to music, but there's always too many other things demanding my attention, or at least that's been my excuse. Maybe by becoming a knit designer, doing lecture tours and writing books, I've sublimated my need to communicate with an audience - it sort of filled the void that music left.

One of my New Year's resolutions was to play a couple of songs at the local folk club, something I would never have thought twice about in my other life.  I still haven't done this, but after today's post, maybe I'll feel more confident.

PS Didn't realise when I wrote it but my song has got a lot to live up to -  there's another Long Distance Love by Little Feet!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Let there be light!

Woke up to the most gorgeous spring day this morning. The light is amazing - clear blue sky with a large pale sun bringing colours and textures into focus and spotlighting tiny treats that I wouldn't necessarily have  noticed - totally inspirational!  It lifts my spirits every time I see the miniature rainbows dancing around the room from the recycled glass crystals hanging in the window.

Garden through a crystal

If you look closely you can see all the colours of the rainbow
Amazing how reflection creates colour!
Colours of the anemones brought into sharp focus
I'm an incorrigible Grecophile and this sort of day always reminds me of springtime there. The wild flowers in the Peloponnese will be glorious over the next couple of months, before the raging midsummer sun wipes them all out. A friend who has a house near Kalamata has just left to spend a few weeks there and I'm green with envy. We've spent many holidays in the Mani in April/May - there are so many things I enjoy about being there.

It's not always easy for travelling vegetarians, but in Greece there's always lots of feta salads, battered aubergines and courgettes (including the flowers), lentil soups, butter beans in tomato sauce, and my fave spanakopita, which I often make at this time of year to transport me straight back. My mouth is watering and I can even smell the oregano and thyme on the Greek mountainside as I'm writing. I'll make a note to give you the recipe, it really is as easy as pie so look out for it coming soon.
Spanokopita - cheese and spinach pie
At the other end of the day, sunsets are just as awe-inspiring.  A few days ago, driving back from my mother's with Philip, it was as if the sun had put on a show specially for us. I snapped some pics through the car window as we sped along - totally different, but equally breath-taking kind of light.  Whereas in the morning the spring light  is fresh and crisp like a chilled chardonnay, in the evening its light can be moody, fruity and mysterious like a vintage red bordeaux.

Leaving my mum's
Looks like something's happening...

Light starts to change

Wow, the sky's on fire!

I'm thinking I'd like to paint it, so take more pics

Entering York with the floorshow hanging over us
Time for coffee now, love the way the light shines through the chinese rice bowl and how a knitted throw reflects its colours onto the steel frame of the cafetiere - magic!

Coffee time
Just one more pic to throw in, totally unrelated to anything about light, but I'm a total flitterbug when it comes to images in my head. Didn't get to celebrate Pancake Tuesday on the day with the grandbabes, so we did it last Friday instead.
Pancake Friday!
Although the girls are not keen on the finished product, there was much delight at the tossing of it. I was very proud of myself  at being able to keep them in the pan, well more or less, so Philip insisted on trying to capture the moment.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Musical chalk and cheese

I'm an avid collector of songs, in fact my head is chockful of songs I'd forgotten I ever learnt, all jostling for places and waiting to spill out when the right cue comes along. A couple of weeks ago I heard Love Will Tear Us Apart for the first time and immediately loved it

Originally written and performed way back in 1979 by the British post-punk band Joy Division, its lyrics seem to reflect the troubled personal life of lead singer Ian Curtis, both in his marriage to Deborah Curtis, and struggling with depression in the time leading up to his suicide at the age of 23 in 1980. His widow poignantly had Love Will Tear Us Apart inscribed on Ian Curtis's memorial stone and the sad story is played out in the 2007 film Control.

The lyrics read like a wise and beautiful poem written with an emotional maturity which belies the youthfulness of the band at the time.

When routine bites hard,
And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,
But emotions won't grow,
And we're changing our ways,
Taking different roads.

Then love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

Why is the bedroom so cold?
You've turned away on your side.
Is my timing that flawed?
Our respect runs so dry.
Yet there's still this appeal
That we've kept through our lives.

But love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

You cry out in your sleep,
All my failings exposed.
And there's a taste in my mouth,
As desperation takes hold.
Just that something so good
Just can't function no more.

But love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

I heard the song while listening to the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Here we had an altogether different, but nonetheless moving version sung by June Tabor and Oysterband, who between them won four awards - Folk Singer of the Year, Best Group, Best Album for Ragged Kingdom and Best Traditional Track with Bonny Bunch of Roses from that album.  

I loved the song, lyrics, melody, the whole package, but thought no more of it until I realised a couple of days later it was playing on a loop in my head. My musical soundtrack is constant - sometimes one that I'm not particularly fond of that's wormed its way in because it's got a catchy tune - but this one was a welcome visitor.

I got curious and decided to do some detective work and in the process listened to Joy Division's version, and although I found the echoes of punk hard to listen to at first, after reading more about the background and listening a few times, I liked it more and more.

June Tabor & Oysterband's version is a totally different animal - emotional, haunting, musically a treat with cello and strong vocals. I read somewhere that they were the best pairing since Sandy Denny sang with Led Zeppelin and I certainly wouldn't argue with that. I'll always prefer this version as at heart I'm just an old folky, but I think it's a great tribute to Ian Curtis and Joy Division that the song is as relevant today as it was in 1979.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Designer to watch!

I've been meaning to let you all know about a knit designer whose work I came across quite by chance whilst listening to her music - it's great to find people who express their creativity through several different media.  Stephanie Dosen is a talented American singer/songwriter who until recently was living and working in London. I've been listening to her music on and off for the past couple of years since Felix sent me a track on Spotify.

Her ethereal CD, A Lily for the Spectre (2007) has her sweet and sexy vocals seeming to float along the top of some fine arpeggio guitar playing - a sort of latterday Stevie Nicks. I'm told there is another CD, Ghosts, Mice & Vagabonds from 2002 but I haven't heard that one yet.
A Spectre For The Lily
But what's the connection with knitting? Well, whilst researching the best blogs for Sweet Shawlettes World Tour - sounds grand I know, but couldn't think of any other way to say UK, Ireland, Holland, Norway and New Zealand - I came across Tiny Owl Knits and quickly clocked that it's one and the same woman as Stephanie Dosen, seen here modelling her designs.  For me her work has the same quirky sensability and individualism as her music. Here are a few of my favourites - see what you think.

You can buy the patterns on Ravelry, Etsy and from her website, where every design has its own video  with different views. I specially LOVE the tiny knitted rings, that could be sized up to become napkin rings too. Don't let all the fairy stuff put you off, I know you won't all be into it, but believe me, at the core of it all is one very creative spirit.

I didn't realise when I asked her to join the blog tour that Stephanie has now moved back to the US, but wherever she's living I'm sure that her joyous, playful outlook will add a touch of magic. Look out for her blog stop coming up on 20th March.

PS Couldn't help myself when I saw this video, had to share it straightaway - a really cool way of joining yarn in knitting or crochet.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Botanic Gardens in Sheffield

Yesterday was spent with Lyra, our youngest grand-daughter.  As her parents live and work about fifty miles away from York, we don't get to see her nearly as much as we'd like to, so days when we do are always special. The purpose of this visit though was that they were moving house, which I seem to remember is one of the top three major stressors along with bereavement and divorce.  So Philip and I went along to help out and I got the best job of spending both Saturday and yesterday with Lyra, who's very good company.

We headed straight off to the Botanical Gardens and once the rain had stopped had a lovely time consorting with the squirrels and friendly dogs on leads, plus the most adorable cat who looked like one of Arlo's cousins.  

The Victorian Paxton Pavillions are the fabulous focal point of the gardens, which were a part of the original design by Robert Marnock(1800-1889). His plan had a strong T-shaped junction on a south-facing slope, ideal for a glasshouse so, as in many other grand gardens of the period such as Kenwood, the idea took root.
The restored pavillions in summer glory
The pavillions yesterday in the February sunshine
Robert Marnock was an illustrious garden designer who had worked previously at Bretton Hall, now home to the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park,  He won a competition to design the Botanics, and in 1834 was asked to implement his design, and afterwards curated the garden until 1839.  He left to lay out the gardens of the Royal Botanic Society in London's Regent's Park, where he also became curator.
Herald of the spring, beautiful crocuses
His design for the Sheffield Botanics' nineteen-acre garden was revolutionary, displaying each plant either individually for its best attributes or grouped within organically-shaped geometric beds.  This new style was known as gardenesque, pioneered by  John Claudius Loudon. A major restoration of the gardens was completed in 2008, reinstating elements of Marnock's original design and the pavillions now house a fine collection of exotics.
Cacti and succulents
We had a lovely time in the pavillions, where there are plenty of seats to sit and peruse the plants - we didn't do much of that as little girls like to keep on the move - but we were both very appreciative of the warmth and colour of the glasshouses and loved playing peekaboo round the massive cacti and succulents and getting touchy-feely with the more user-friendly non-spiky ones.

On leaving, the teashop beckoned a few yards away and we settled in for a late lunch with a welcome bowl of broccoli and stilton soup, which Lyra declined in favour of a couple of sachets of her favourite Ella's Kitchen.
These look like pulmonarias but not sure, love the blue
Lovely camellias in full bloom, with no sign of frosting
Bare-wood blooms and spicy scent of Viburnum bodnantense
Bedazzling witch hazel
Sleepy cuddles with Lyra's fave Dogdog
Lyra fell asleep walking back through the gardens, so I took the opportunity to snap a few of the highlights. Unfortunately she missed the pungent scent of the ubiquitous sweet box, hanging heavily in the dampness - I later discovered that the garden holds the national collection of sarcococcas.  Looking forward to visiting in the summer, when it must be glorious with everything in full bloom.  Sheffield's Botanic Garden is a well-kept secret that's definitely worth knowing about.  

Monday, 20 February 2012


The perception of colour is a very personal thing so I've never seen it as strange that for me every letter of the alphabet and also numbers have their own colour. Sometimes the difference between one letter and another is so subtle that I can hardly describe it, it's more of a feeling. The colours of the letters influence the overall colour of a word, which often takes on the colour of the most dominant letter.

One day a couple of years ago, son Felix had been reading an interesting psychology book, The Frog Who Croaked Blue, and gave a copy to Philip, who had always been slightly bemused by  comments I'd sometimes make about the colour of words. Whilst reading the book he started to question me further about this and tada, everything fell into place. Apparently I am a grapheme-colour synesthete. Knowing this makes no practical difference to me, although it does sharpen my curiosity to find out more.
How letters and numbers may appear to a synesthete, although it's rare 
that any two synesthetes will perceive the same set of color associations

Synesthesia is a sort of cross-wiring of the senses, where one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualisation of a colour.  Patricia Lynne Duffy says of it in her book, Blue cats and Chartreuse KittensSometimes described as a blending of perceptions, synesthesia occurs when one of the five senses is aroused, yet two respond.

David Hockney, the Yorkshire artist, is a famous synesthete. While constructing stage sets for ballets and operas, he bases the background colours and lighting upon the colours he sees while listening to the music of the theatre piece.  Also Norman Mailer described the condition beautifully in his biography of Marilyn Monroe – She has that displacement of the senses which others take drugs to find.  So she is like a lover of rock who sees vibrations when he hears sounds.
David Hockney painting scenery
I must say though that the condition doesn't seem to be very helpful in choosing a new colour for our kitchen. It's been a very saturated bright yellow for several years and I really fancy a change, but I can't perceive of a kitchen that isn't yellow. So we've been trying out a few other yellows - what do you think?
Top left is Sudbury Yellow, top right is Indian Yellow,
bottom left Orangery (my fave) and botton right as is
Other famous cases are the artist Wassily Kandinsky, writer Vladimir Nabokov, composers Olivier Messiaen, Franz Liszt, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Sibelius, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman and Stevie Wonder.

Would be interesting to know what percentage of knitters are synesthetes - maybe we could take a sample poll?

Friday, 17 February 2012

Review of Rowan's new yarns

Had coffee in the garden for the first time this year yesterday - it felt SO good to be outdoors again. The sun's shining today so with any luck I'll be able to do the same again. The hedge outside the kitchen window is buzzing with sparrows and blackbirds, all tweeting (the original kind, though other would be funny image) and nest building. I love this time of year with all the bulbs coming through, spring green, anticipation, inspiration from renewal. Also Rowan's new shade cards arrived yesterday...
Bell Organic Aran & DK by Amy Butler is new to me and could rival
 one of my alltime faves - Rowan wool/cotton - can't wait to try it!
Maybe this could replace Lenpur linen? Good range of colours.
It's always exciting to see what's on offer from the premier designer yarn company. However, I was disappointed to see that several of my favourite yarns have disappeared - Pure Silk, Silk Twist, Mulberry Silk and Lenpur Linen to name a few. There are gorgeous new additions for us to salivate over though and lots of new shades in most of the stock yarns - I've already picked out quite a few for my next book.
Think this yarn will have fabulous drape and I'm looking forward to
trying it out for shawls, scarves and glam evening wear

Looks as if this may be great for getting the felted look without the
hassle of felting, but can't find any info on how this yarn performs

It's hard for us designers when a yarn we've used in a pattern is discontinued.  Designing knitwear as an independent involves dedication and there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If a yarn is discontinued by the time a new book is published, then it often puts us in a bad light with the knitting public - I can tell you I've had quite a bit of flack over this in the past. It also cuts down options for excerpts and yarn packs, and makes more work for the designer finding substitutes. It encourages a boring ethos of let's stick to the core yarns of any collection to ensure the longevity of the patterns. Of course ultimately none of us want to do that - what designer can resist trying out as many of the scrumptious new yarns as possible?
Chalky colours, love the way it's spun - this 90%cotton/10% silk looks like a winner!
Interesting yarn in saturated summer shades
Trying to keep abreast of the ever-mushrooming yarn lines can be a full-time job in itself, so when considering yarns for books (as against single patterns) I find it easier to use the devil I know. I love the idea of using yarn from many different companies in one book and have tried to do this on several occasions. But logistically this creates just one more mountain to climb. Tight schedules demand finished patterns and pieces up to a year before a book is published, so it's one less thing to have to think about if you can find most of the goodies in one fabulous basket.  With Rowan there's the added bonus of them being just down the road. Unfortunately the discontinuation of yarns and specific colours is an occupational hazard for designers and no matter how hard you try, you can never guarantee that a new yarn will still be there on publication.
An aran weight has been added to the tweed family, fabulous range just
begging for an intricate little fairisle
This is a new addition under the already established 100% British wool umbrella
- a finer boucle quality, I can definitely feel a boucle moment coming on!
It's hard for yarn companies to know how popular a yarn will be until it's on the market and in today's difficult economic climate there's no slack for yarns that don't pull their weight. Unfortunately this applies to both the big companies and the smaller indie ones as they in particular can't afford to invest in yarns that may not sell well for whatever reason.
Yet another angle on the kidsilk haze craze
The final couple of yarns I want to show you are so new they don't have samples for the shade card, only the colours and description. Merino super wash wool and tussah silk sounds like a match made in heaven, so I can't wait to get some Baby Merino Silk on my needles. Another alltime fave of mine was Rowan's 100% tussah silk from years ago - I loved the way it took the dye to produce hues to die for. Adding a stripe to kidsilk haze gives another dimension to this now classic yarn, so I'm sure it'll follow in the footsteps of Rowan's previous kidsilk fibres in being mega-popular.

Baby Merino Silk DK
Kidsilk Haze Stripe
Rowan continue to inspire yarnaholics like me with both their yummy yarns and glorious colour choices. They obviously work hard on yarn development, producing contemporary and innovative fibres which play a big part in helping to keep knitting at the forefront of fashion. However, once more I find myself in the familiar situation where the most important factor in determining whether or not I use any particular yarn in my next book has got to be whether it's likely to make it through the next couple of years.  Ah well, I might as well just take the plunge and start the horrendous task of trying them all out... what was I saying about designers having a hard life? :D