More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A Day on a Narrowboat

Spent a chilled day on the Avon & Kennet canal last weekend, courtesy of Ali and Juliet, a couple of Felix's friends, who were away across the pond for a couple of weeks.
We were a motley crew of seven, comprising Felix and his four lovely housemates, Philip, plus yours truly...
Our skipper - Justin
Greg & Justin
Bina, James and me
Philip, Felix and I had been to a family golden wedding in Reading the day before, so we'd set off early to join the others by mid-day in Bath.  The weather was glorious and the Brasseries were flowing fast and furious.  I must have led a sheltered life, as I hadn't come across these wonderful tiny bottles of amber nectar before, but I must say they went down a treat in the heat.
Our makeshift picnic lunch of hummus, guacamole, olives, camembert, ciabatta, and crackers tasted way better than it would have done indoors, spread out like a feast on the roof and eaten while we chugged along, watching the floorshow of a bevy of other boats, painted every colour under the sun.

Canal life is lived in technicolour, with inspiration wherever you look - colour, pattern and form. Each boat is a work of art, expressing its owner's unique personality.
Eat your heart out Leonard Cohen - freedom!
Some boats even have their own resident dog or cat...
Fell in love with this gorgeous girl
Much wildlife was spotted including many dragonflies, damselflies, ducks, geese and this heron...
The locks and swing bridges brought interesting diversions, expertly navigated by our clever crew.
Lining Ali and Juliet's narrowboat up for a lock
Closing the swing bridge
 Plus several sculptures spotted on the banks amongst the Joe Pye weed.

Approaching Avoncliffe
Eventually we arrived in Avoncliffe just as the light was beginning to fade, in time for Greg to get out his guitar and play a few songs after we'd moored - including an awesome rendition of Dylan's Hurricane  - I can well see why it's had 84,000+ hits on YouTube!
Of course I can never miss a chance to get hold of a guitar, so it turned into a bit of a session and we were pretty hungry by the time we started to think about supper. 
We finished the day at the nearby pub, the Crossed Guns, with a hearty pub supper of chips and veggie burgers, whilst the non-veggies had other local delicacies like steak and ale pie. A wonderful time messing about on the river!

Thursday, 16 August 2012


I wasn't meaning to blog today but two major things happened.  So... let's get the priorities right here. Firstly we have a new grandbaby, and I've been itching to tell you all about him, but wanted to wait until I had photos. Well today they arrived, so I'm over the moon to be able to introduce you to Louis, born at home in Sheffield on the 7th August, weighing in at 8lb 2oz.  His parents haven't decided definitely on a name yet and are waiting to see what suits as his personality develops, but meanwhile it's Louis.  Tristan and Jane have got another month before they have to register him so it'll be interesting to see whether or not he grows into his name. 

We met him for the first time last Sunday and he's a lovely boy, allbeit exhausting for his mum, as he seems to have a particularly voracious appetite. But when he's not enjoying his food, he's snoozing happily in his moses basket, sometimes watched by Lyra, his bemused little sister.  I really love the first couple of months when babies are at that dreamy stage. After three sons, then three grand-daughters, feels good to have a little boy in the family again. Maybe he's started a new run of boys?

The second thing I wanted to share is my contribution to Vogue Knitting's 30th anniversary Fall issue.  I was thrilled when asked to design a sweater for their Ode to the Aran story.
Some of you may remember back in April I posted a photo of a box of gorgeous Classic Elite yarn that had just arrived, with me saying I couldn't disclose what it was for, but it was an important project?  
Well now I can show you the aran peplum jacket I was about to start work on. The yarn is a merino/silk mix to die for, soooooo soft and luxurious.  
Photo © Rose Callahan
It uses 11(12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18) balls of Classic Elite Magnolia in their spring Green #5481 and comes in six sizes, photographed in the second size, a 34in bust. Although it doesn't get a name in the magazine, I call it Inisheer after the smallest Aran Isle, where we'll be taking our guests next month to do a workshop on our knitters' tour.
Photos © Rose Callahan
Every designer was asked to say a few words about their project, but as we were restricted to a certain number of words I was trying to be concise and said:
Form follows function, and for me cables provide both. The aran stitch patterns are inspired by the rich and diverse range of plants supported by the limestone pavements of Inisheer, the most easterly Aran island.
However, I also might have added had there been space:
The temperate climate supports a rich and diverse range of plants, similar to those found on the mainland in the Burren. The cracks and crevices of its fabulous limestone pavements are covered in arctic, alpine and Mediterranean plants such as gentians, avens and orchids for much of the year, encouraging a variety of butterflies, moths and other insects. The peplums on this jacket remind me of the beautiful butterfliy wings, the little lace pattern is reminiscent of an orchid  bloom and the irregular cables bring to mind the gnarled old trees buffeted by the wind on the island.

So... cause for much celebration and rejoicing right now, we're also off to a family Golden Wedding tomorrow - everything seems to be happening at once.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


What can I say that hasn't been said many times over? Such an exciting city, offering a plethora of choice for the traveller. Our main aim was to make sure everything was in place for our September knitters' tour, but we wanted to soak up some of the unique atmosphere of the city too. We left York at midday and by six o'clock were settled into Brooks, our hotel in the heart of Dublin.  Quick freshen up and we were out on the town.
York Station - love the curve.
First stop was supper at Fallon & Byrne, the bustling foodie restaurant and food hall just round the corner from our hotel. As we climbed the stairs to the restaurant, we had a bird's-eye view of the food hall and made a note to come back in the morning to take a closer look at all those seductively tempting shelves.
Fallon & Byrne Food Hall
Our meal was just what we needed to get us up and running for the evening - roast plum tomato soup,  fettucine with summer squash, spinach and ricotta, then P had a deliciously wicked sweet which I passed on but probably ate half of, all accompanied by a fresh and fruity bottle of white - perfect!
As we were leaving I noticed all the bikes lined up outside - what a great idea, think we could do with a bike hire scheme in York too.
We wanted to spend our first evening at a traditional Irish music session. Although Dublin is a maelstrom of music, that turned out to be more difficult than we'd imagined. Wherever you look on the streets you have music shops, buskers, pubs with music coming out of every orifice.
Not-so portable hammered dulcimer on Grafton Street
The grey men
Group of young buskers trying their luck
But we found that nearly all of the music in the pubs was a performance rather than a session. No problem if you want to sit and soak up the spirit but I had my spoons in my pocket. P had done some homework and discovered that the best session in Dublin was at the Cobblestone Bar. So we quickly hailed a cab and ten minutes later were sitting in the packed bar of said pub, which by now had a whole bevy of musicians already holding forth.
Guitar, banjo, accordian, tin whistle, flute, fiddles, spoons, uilleann pipes and more, jigs, reels and song. The Guinness was ordered and we settled in to a fabulous evening of traditional music.
We were a bit worse for wear the next morning, but still up bright and breezy as there was so much to do. 
After a hearty breakfast we were off on our travels, revisiting the beautiful St Georges Arcade further up our street, where there are stalls selling everything from food, art and flowers to retro and vintage clothes, jewellery and hairdressing - I particularly enjoyed the architecture and the little jewellers on the corner.

A quick wander to get our bearings, with me gravitating to Avoca, where there's lots of colourful handmade inspiration, both yarny and readymade.
Pounding the pavements is thirsty work, so our next stop was coffee in Bewley's on Grafton Street, built in 1927 with wonderful stained glass, orientalism and arts and crafts fittings.  The coffee's not bad either.

As we were leaving I noticed this disk to Bob Geldof displayed behind a busker - any Boomtown Rats fans out there?

This Is Knit
One of the highlights of our trip was visiting This Is Knit again.  This is Dublin's yarn mecca, where knitters of all ages and abilities are warmly welcomed by owners Jacqui and Lisa. I'll be doing a workshop there on the tour, so it was great to meet with my assistant, the delightful Maria, who also works in the shop.  Maria is gathering together some local knitters for us to knit with in the bar one evening at Brooks. We'll also be dropping into the Dublin Knit Collective which meets just around the corner.
Another was the Guinness Storehouse, where you take the tour and end up in the amazing bar at the top of the building with panoramic 360 degree views across the whole of Dublin to the Wicklow hills.

Panoramic views over the city from the top of the Guinness Storehouse
Wandering around the city took ages, as we came across so many interesting little distractions - from graffiti and quirky quotations to the very different statues of Oscar Wilde and Charles Parnell, Ireland's uncrowned king.
Charles Parnell, uncrowned King of Ireland
Oscar Wilde in Merrion Park
Yeats quotation

Joyce quote at the top in the shadows
In the evenings the street are thronging with people, all eager to get the best craic. Temple Bar is reputedly where it's at, and all life is definitely there, with restaurants of every persuasion, and themed Irish music for all tastes. But there's also hidden gems in quieter parts of the city, all within a stone's throw, where you can sit and people-watch, especially around six o'clock when the locals are finishing work and calling in for a pint before going home.
Temple Bar
Stag's Head, lovely old pub frequented by locals
I decided I couldn't bear to go to Kilmainham Gaol. I'd heard the moving story about the 9-year-old girl who was sentenced to a year's hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread and decided that it would be too emotionally gruelling. So P set off alone on the hop-on, hop-off bus to visit the gaol, intimately linked to the struggle for Irish independence.
The plaque in the exercise yard where the
1916 Easter Rising rebels were executed
Part of Francis Bacon's studio
Meanwhile I went along to the Hugh Lane modern art gallery, where amongst other gems, Francis Bacon's Studio can be viewed in all its glory.  If nothing else it certainly made me feel better about my own workspace!

Can't finish without showing you a couple of pics of the mighty Trinity College, home to The Book of Kells - a must-see  and fabulous inspiration for knitted cables. 
All too soon we were making our way back to the airport, with just enough time for a last glass of Guinness in the snug at Kehoe's.
Can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to going back next month to share the experience with guests on our knitters' tour. I warn you though, Ireland is addictive!