Thursday, 20 December 2012

Moth Shawl

Here is my latest pattern release - the Moth Shawl. It is a triangular lace shawl designed to be made from fingering-weight yarn. The lace is intended to represent tiny winged creatures. These are friendly moths who won't devour your stash!

The pattern is on sale for £3.50 at Ravelry, which comprises a PDF download containing written instructions, several charts and photographs.

The working on various permutations of this rule that the summer and I am glad that it is finally ready for release. A big thank you to my pattern testers for helping me to work out various kinks in the pattern and checking that it knits up well, and to my Dad for taking the lovely photographs of the shawl.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Matilda and Wovember

This weekend, I went to see Matilda the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre in London with my family. It was my choice - I had heard that it had received lots of plaudits and when asked which musical we should see as a family (my family + my uncle, aunt and cousins) then I suggested Matilda. So I approached with some trepidation - I would feel responsible if it was dull, boring or 'unsuitable'.

Thankfully, it was none of those things. I loved the book by Roald Dahl as a child and identified strongly with the clever little girl who enjoyed reading books (mercifully, I didn't identify with the unappreciated, unwanted daughter aspect of the character). The musical really captured the spirit of the books - riotous fun and just a little subversive. Having entered the theatre not knowing any of the songs, I've been happily humming 'When I Grow Up' and 'Miracle' since we left. The set design is really imaginative - full of books, rising desks, swings and things to climb up, and had plenty to look at during the interval. If you can get to London, then go to see it! It really is good - as a group of adults, we thought that any children aged 8+ would love it. There are some loud bits, sudden flashing lights, cruel parents and a scary headteacher so younger children might not cope.

It's also Wovember, so my Google Reader has been filled with lots of pictures of sheep and woolen objects over the past week. Wovember was established last year to celebrate real wool and real sheep. Personally, I knit a lot with wool but wear little of it in bought garments (the jumper I'm wearing today is 60% cotton and 40% polyester). However, wool is so much more evocative and connected to the lives of real people and animals than polyester. As a knitter and crocheter, I'm a little more keyed in than the average person to the idea that different breeds of sheep make different types of wool for different purposes, but I can't tell you the last time that I actually touched a live sheep (I was probably 8 and at a Rare Breeds Farm) or really got up close to one. What I've really enjoyed from the Wovember posts is the opportunity to get closer (via the internet) to sheep and where my wool comes from.

Friday, 19 October 2012

What I've been...


Crochet Chat - I was somewhat bereft when long-time crochet podcaster Mary-Beth Temple decided to wrap up proceedings and focus her energy elsewhere. But her place has been admirably filled by this podcast from Stacey Trock aka Fresh Stitches. Stacey is known for her adorable stuffed animals and cute graphics and brings a new voice to crochet podcasting. With great guests such as Laurie Wheeler, founder of the Crochet Liberation Front and Stacey's insights into the crochet industry, this blog has become a staple on my playlist.

The Story Board  - this is strictly a youtube video series, but as the video portion consists of various authors sitting in front of skype and chatting to each other, I've been using it more as a podcast. Patrick Rothfuss, author of the phenomenal 'Name of the Wind', chats to other successful authors about the craft of writing and storytelling. It's great to hear (and see, if you wish) from people who are passionate about storytelling and what makes a good story.


Needled  - this is the blog of knitting designer, researcher and advocate Kate Davies. Kate writes intelligently both about her designs and knitting history, and she is closely involved in the advocacy of Shetland wool. Each post is accompanied by photographs of her designs and nature, mainly in the beautiful landscapes of Scotland and Shetland. I feel like I learn something about the history of knitting each time she thoughtfully writes about her latest project.


Revenge - this glossy American drama focuses upon Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) and her quest for revenge against the Hamptons-residing Grayson family who framed her father. The characters live in the lap of luxury, making this pure escapist fun, full of glamorous dresses, luscious beach-side scenery and sumptuous sets. And it's not just pretty. There's tension and mystery as Emily manipulates Hamptons society to get revenge and find out exactly what happened to her father.


A Knitted Shawl - it's my own pattern, so unfortunately I can't provide a link to it yet. It's made out of some Wollmeise 100% Merino Superwash in a brilliant blue (WD Nazar Boncugu), and will have an all-over lace design. I designed the lace portion of the shawl in the springtime, and I used the Knitting Kninja's tutorial on designing lace triangles to help understand how to take my lace design from a basic rectangle to a growing triangle.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Hiding in the Cloisters at Cleeve Abbey

I visited Cleeve Abbey in August. Like my trip to Blakeney, visiting Cleeve provided a welcome respite during a week of frantic cooking and preparing activities, this time near Minehead.

Cleeve was a Cistercian Abbey. The Cistercian Order was formed at the very end of the eleventh century in eastern France and spread across Europe in the twelfth-century. Cistercians were characterised by their white habits and dedication to manual labour. Famous abbeys of the order in Britain include Fountains, Furness, Melrose, Rievaulx and Strata Florida. During its lifetime as an abbey, Cleeve wasn't very important -  it was the daughter house of Revesby Abbey in Lincolnshire, but located in a fairly remote Somerset valley. However, as a heritage site it is remarkably well-preserved. And by 'remarkably well-preserved' I mean that some of the buildings still have roofs.

The church was demolished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but the other buildings were converted into a manor house. Over the centuries, the importance of the tenants decreased until the 19th century when it was occupied by farmers. Its importance as an historical site was identified by George Luttrell of nearby Dunster Castle in the 1870s, who acquired it and conducted archaeological excavations, making the site into a tourist attraction. Today it is managed by English Heritage. I am a member, so got in for free.

It was a wet day and I ignored the instructions of the man in the ticket office and explored outside first, while there was a break in the rain.

This photograph shows the recovered foundations of the abbey church, into the cloisters with the dormitory as the two-storey building on the left. It was very peaceful outside, I think the rumbling sky and the fairly isolated location had put off most visitors.

Beside the abbey site were fields filled with sheep - a reminder that the Cisterican order didn't just pray and copy manuscripts, but were also manual labourers. Though the spiritual importance of the site was removed by Henry VIII, it still remained a fertile valley where sheep could be reared.

Although most of the inside of the abbey consisted of cavernous, empty rooms with descriptions and pictures of what they might have looked like when the abbey was operating, there were still a few gems. A medieval wall painting in one of the rooms, sealed off from visitors so that the environment could be controlled to preserve the painting, and a carved ceiling in the refectory. In the long dormitory, several of the window sills were covered with medieval tiles and outside, beneath a marquee, there was a whole uncovered floor of heraldic tiles. 

Cleeve Abbey isn't a grand palace that demands your attention. Instead, it is a quiet, peaceful place, with cracked tiles and vast empty rooms. Stripped of its wealth, it has still retained its dignity. Elsie J Oxenham, author of the 'Abbey' series was inspired by the site and so was I.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

What I've been...


In Our Time - Gerald of Wales - as an errant medievalist, I can never resist when Melvin Bragg and guests speak on a medieval subject. Gerald of Wales was always a little late for my studies, but I did use him in essays as an example of  intermarriage between Welsh and Norman nobility, and the way that Gerald felt that his mixed parentage halted his rise to power within the church. This programme goes much further beyond my blinkered view of Gerald, with well-informed experts expounding about Gerald's background, travels, writings and struggles to climb the church hierarchy.

Never Not Knitting - Alana Dakos' gentle knitting podcast is back after a six month break. Alana's podcast was the first knitting podcast that I listened to, and it really opened up a new world to me - that there were smart, intelligent, funny people (mainly women but not all) talking about knitting in engaging ways. For a craft that is so visual and tactile, I was surprised to find that podcasts work so well. Alana gives an insight into the life of a knitting designer and mother, and her blog is full of her stunningly photographed knitted designs.

Kermode and Mayo's Film Review - Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo review films. It does what it says on the tin. And more. Running for over ten years, the pair have developed their own quirks that are well-appreciated by fans - Kermodian rants, 'hello to Jason Isaacs' and elaborate descriptions of listeners accomplishments accompany their comments on films.


The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie - a nuanced view of a single battle in a fairly realistic fantasy world. The book focuses on six characters over three days as they prepare to fight over an unimportant circle of stones on the border between two polities. I haven't read Abercrombie's other novels so it might be that more about the setting is explained in his First Law trilogy. Reading it as a stand-alone, I was caught up in his gritty depiction of a medievalish battle (cavalry, infantry as well as the first test of the cannon). Abercrombie uses his title well - the Heroes is the name of the stone circle that the armies are fighting over, but he also intelligently questions who and what is a hero.

The Number Mysteries by Marcus du Sautoy - Having studied humanities at university, I am trying to rectify the situation slightly by reading popular science books. Marcus du Sautoy is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a mathematician at the University of Oxford (obligatory boo, hiss), so is perfectly placed to try and help me. The Number Mysteries looks at five big questions in mathematics in  a user-friendly way, showing how mathematics can also help solve other problems. He looks at how our understanding of various problems has developed as well, which provides a narrative to a subject which is dependent on data rather than story. Although du Sautoy occasionally jumps a little further than I am able to follow, it is a very user-friendly book and helped me to remember how much fun maths can be.


The Great British Bake-Off - I must admit that I, along with millions of others in the UK, am glued to this reality show where bakers compete to show that they can make perfect pies, pastry and puddings. This show not only has a competitive element as bakers are eliminated each week, but is also didactic - I've learnt that strudel pastry has to be rolled until it is almost see-through, setting agents are integral to making a proper'American-style' pie and it's ok if your chocolate pudding falls on your shoe, so long as it tastes good. Mel and Sue are amusing, Paul and Mary are authoritative and the bakers are inspiring.

Vikings  - I have had a love-hate relationship with this documentary series. On one hand, it's exciting to see a documentary about my period and to see places I've only read about in books (Birka, Staraja Ladoga, Repton) on screen. On the other hand, I know too much about the period to be satisfied with the title or some of the explanations. 'Vikings' is a loaded term in medieval scholarship, and while I admire the team for sticking with it consistently, it doesn't adequately describe the Scandinavians who settled in Russia, Iceland, or stayed back in Scandinavian. I also felt that the first programme took too long a view on the prehistory of Scandinavia - I'd have preferred a little more thought about how much affect the Bronze Age Scandinavians had upon the medieval Scandinavians. Examples from 2000 years before the Vikings were used to try and explain their activities.

I would have liked to have seen more on the Roman and early medieval period Scandinavians - bog deposits, gullgubber and the Vendel ship burials could have filled half an hour easily. And, trying to avoid making this a long rant, a better survey of the Old Norse religion (not jumping straight to the late medieval Icelandic manuscripts) and a more nuanced assessment of the Alfred jewel (it says 'Alfred had me made', it doesn't say 'King Alfred had me made', there's a difference) would have been appreciated. Still, watch it - the Vikings are much more than  pillagers and raiders, and I think that this show managed to get that point across well.


Chocolate Brownies - I've made quite a few batches of chocolate brownies over the last few weeks. I was asked to do the catering for a getaway for a few college Christian Unions, and decided that I would make chocolate brownies for dessert one evening. Of course, I had to practice before I went so I made the recipe from the M&S Baking Day book (mine has a different cover, but I think that it's the same book). Having made this recipe, my Mum then asked me to make some brownies for a friend of hers so I made the Brooke's Best Bombshell Brownies recipes. Finally, I was asked to dinner at the home of my Bible study group leaders so I wanted to bring something that they and their kids would enjoy. Brownies! I only had one egg, however, so I looked through my various cookbooks for the recipe with the smallest egg requirement. That was in DK Chocolate book. These ones ended up quite thin and crunchy because my tin was a little too big, but the others were both delicious.

Snapdragon Tam - I love Ysolda Teague's whimsical designs and decided to embark on this tam as a present for my friend. The instructions were clear and well-laid out and the stitching varied between requiring little and intense concentration. Unfortunately, I was not successful. I didn't weigh my yarn (lovely, squishy Malabrigo Worsted in Lilac) beforehand, and ended up running out of a yarn before I reached the decreases. I considered ripping back and starting the decreases earlier, but instead chose to cut my losses and buy my friend a dinosaur cookie cutter and other baking bits. It's a great pattern, and one that I hope to revisit when I have the right amount of yarn.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Bunting and beverages in Blakeney

If you've heard of Blakeney, it's probably because of the seals. Those marine mammals actually reside in Blakeney Point. Blakeney village itself is separated from the sea and the habitat of the seals by miles of salt marshes. Once a bustling a seaport, encroaching silt made it impossible for larger boats to reach the town. Now its principal visitors are tourists, who can go on boat trips out to see the seals, walk through the marshes or climb the hill, passing the characteristic Norfolk flint-and-brick cottages.

I found myself, lacking funds to go on a boat trip and lacking suitable footwear to go on a walk, in the third category. The part of Blakeney that I explored is principally a narrow street, with houses on either side and picturesque little alleys leading across to more cottages. 

As you can see in this photo, most of the road is marked with double-yellow lines. When we first explored this street, the whole road was blocked by an Adnams lorry delivering to the pub. We had to slide down the side of a queue of cars, unable to do u-turns due to the narrow nature of the road. When I returned to take these pictures, the lorry and the queue had cleared and peace had returned.

Many of the doors, and door and window frames were painted in eggshell blue and grayish tones of red, pink, purple, blue and green. 

The harbour was filled with crabbers - children dropping nets down the harbour wall and into the stream in the hopes of catching some Norfolk crab. 

It was a windy day and the bunting that stretched all the way down the harbour was flapping wildly. 

I was visiting with some women who I was cooking with on a camp in Holt (yes, the same place as I went last year). As a student, my friends and I would never consider going up to a posh hotel and having tea there - we have the assumption that such a place will be out of our price range. But visiting Blakeney with some women who are older than I, they had decided that they wanted to have tea at the Blakeney Hotel. It turned out to be less expensive than Costa Coffee and we found a little sitting room to ourselves with views across the terrace to the harbour. Having spent a week slaving over a hot stove (or at least, cutting up salad for 250 people), it was a great place to relax and feel pampered. 

The shopping in Blakeney left much to be desired when compared with nearby Holt, but it was sufficiently picturesque and peaceful to calm my soul.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Shawls of 2012 (1. Buryan)

I've spent the past year doing an MPhil, and consequently, this blog has been somewhat neglected. I have still been knitting and crocheting, but my room doesn't have very good light and the weather in Britain has been somewhat appalling over the past couple of months. Thus, I haven't really got my act together to get some of my creations photographed.

I've made several shawls this year. As I was giving one of them away to a friend, then that was the kick into action that I needed to get it photographed. But it was another rainy day, so I ended up shoved into the one picturesque corner of my room (a white painted fireplace), trying to get some decent shots. I took a lot, and ended up with three 'modelled' shots that I like, and more 'on a white background' shots that are decent.

I thought that I would post the pictures up here. The shawl is another variation on the clustered trebles technique that I used on the Endellion shawl, and was an attempt to use up some leftover Wollmeise 80/20 Sockenwolle (the Pfefferminz Prinz that I had previously used on my Multnomah and the Vergissmeinnicht from the Idony gloves  and Knotty gloves). It ended up a little shorter than I really wanted, but I really like the mix of the two yarns.

After making Buryan (I thought after Endellion, I could use Cornish saints as theme names for my shawls), I've made two more shawls. However, my parents have taken one of them (Petroc) home. I'm off on my usual summer transit, helping on various camps, so I don't think that I'll be able to photograph it until the end of August. My other shawl, Piran, is almost finished. I'm trying to work out how to do the edging and the bind off at the moment. Hopefully, I'll be able to photograph it on my travels. All three of these shawls are my own designs, so when I have time, I'm hoping to write up the patterns, get them tested and then release them.

Hopefully, it won't be another ten months until I post here again!

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