More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Monday, 24 April 2017

Oriel Hat

I recently picked up my needles again for the first time in more than a year. I've tried to knit before, but found it so stressful it was counterproductive. Not for me the calming effect it has on most knitters. The hypnotic smooth repetition of rows, the colours, textures and stitches combining as if by magic to form an unfolding work of art before one's eyes. Strange as it may sound to those who knit for pleasure, I associate knitting with deadlines for books and magazines. It was even worse when I did production and two collections a year for both myself and other large design houses. Deadlines were ever-looming, forcing me to push myself to the limit to create my signature knits, featuring both technical interest and classic, timeless style. In the past I've tied myself in knots over the years making sure the patterns were as near to perfect as could be, sometimes bringing on excruciating bouts of sciatica.

So.. all this stopped couple of years ago when I was diagnosed with myeloma. Everything was thrown into flux as I fought for my life. By the time I came out of hospital four months later,  I was as weak as a kitten. However, one of the things that sustained me through it all, was the mountain of good wishes and gifts I received from other knitters. I would receive such heartening messages daily, and these contributed so much to keeping my spirits up and making me determined to recover.

Many of you were already good friends from our knitters' tours, some of you I'd never met except on Facebook, and there were others whom I'd had no contact with, who had enjoyed my designs in books and magazines. Every kind message I received played its part in galvanising my resolve.  It was like being wrapped in a cuddly, warm comfort blanket. In fact one super kind knitter in the States made me a patchwork quilt, with a lovely dedication sewn into it - you know who you are and I can't ever thank you enough! I was so overwhelmed, I burst into tears when I saw it, and it's been on my bed ever since.
I immediately fell in love with this one

Two years on I happened to be browsing the Fall 2017 collections. I've always loved Missoni and their amazing 70s inspired knits caught my eye immediately. Their geometric, zigzags and innovative combinations of vertical and horizontal stripes reminded me of the smock dresses I'd made in the late seventies, they were the ones that kickstarted my career as a sweater designer. Seeing the gorgeous Missoni designs made me itch to get my hands on a pair of needles again, despite the pain and stress I still feared.  I had a definite design for a hat in my head and was determined to give it a go. Also a hat was just about the size of project I thought I might be able to handle.
This reminded me of the smock dresses
 I made in the seventies
So I gingerly grabbed a few balls of colourful yarn from my stash, then started to dig deep into my design reserves. After they'd been dormant for so long, I was unsure as to whether I'd still be able to find a way of interpreting the inspiration. I knew I wanted to create something that would be wearable, beautiful and knitable. What I didn't want was to spend all my time working things out beforehand as I used to do, so I just picked up my needles and took the plunge.
These two tops show how different the basic pattern can look, depending on the spacing of the horizontal stripes... 

...and this cropped top and longline vest are SO reminiscent of my stripey dresses  (below, with yours truly modelling in the late 70s)
Photographed by Philip in Finsbury Park
Once the knitting started, I was immediately transported into my own knitting universe, where nothing matters other than the pursuit of the perfect piece of fabric. P finds this state of mind totally alarming, as I seem to him to be completely incommunicado, and he knows well the damage that can incur.

However, on this occasion the project was a small one, so I found it utterly charming and rewarding as it unfolded in front of my eyes. I was totally absorbed and in tune with the Missoni aesthetic and in no time it was ready to sew up. I quickly found my Clover pompom maker and tada... finished!

I was so pleased with it I put a photo on Facebook and lots of you lovely knitters left some amazing comments. It then occurred to me that if I could still write a pattern - as I took no notes whilst knitting it - I could then make it a free pattern. This gift would be my small thank-you to all the knitters who took the time to send thoughts, messages, cards, gifts, hugs and love my way when I most needed it. 

So here it is... the Oriel Hat, named as several people said it looked like a stained glass window. If it brings to you a fraction of the pleasure your kindnesses have brought to me, I'll be well chuffed.
Enjoy! xo
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Saturday, 21 January 2017

New World Order

I'm not talking conspiracy theories here, no, just the sharp right turn the western world seems to have taken in 2016. 

First of all Brexit - and if I hear one more person tell me to get over it I'll scream. Then Donald Trump's election to the most powerful position in the world. And yes it does affect me, even though I'm not an American. The world is a much more dangerous and brutal place with Trump and his cronies in the driving seat. What happened to the caring society? Barack Obama did his best to address the social problems in the US but obstructionist tactics more or less blunted his sword every time he tried to get anything through congress. And now apparently Obamacare is to be abolished. What a shameful state of affairs - a dog eat dog society, where only the strongest and richest prevail, whilst people on the poverty line perish. Whatever happened to compassion?

In the UK we now have a situation where politicians are hungry for power at any cost and therefore have to pander to popularism. How could Theresa May change her tune so abruptly after the referendum? My only guess is that she's terrified by the 52% who voted for Brexit and therefore feels she has to woo them to stay in power. The will of the people is mentioned a lot these days, I call it the tyranny of the people. What happened to the will of the 48% who value the progress made by brave people who were willing to stand up and fight for what they believed in in the last century. One by one the rights of women, ethnic minorities, LGBT, disabled etc etc are all being eroded, substituted by a culture of celebrity worship and greed. 

There's no option but to wait and see  but I can't help feeling it's fiddling while Rome burns. I truly hope my understanding of the situation is wrong, but the initial signs are not looking positive. 

But life goes on. Many of us need some positive input at the moment so here's some of the things that have lifted my spirits this month: 

I'm not a fan of orchids as they usually curl up and die on me, but this one has given me a lot of pleasure recently, even flowering a second time.
The petals of the orchid reflect perfectly the pattern on this glass ball
A closer look

We had some beautiful sunsets at the beginning of the month!
The sun doesn't get any lower than this!
Gorgeous blue and coral sky
Coming back into York from a trip to the coast
I love the boldness of amaryllis in January, nothing to lift the spirits better than watching one thrusting its green shoots up boldly from the bulb, then the incredible explosion of colour once it starts to open... with the bonus of four blooms on every shoot... and sometimes two or even three shoots to every bulb.
Promise of what's to come
First bud to open
And there's still some lovely things to feast your eyes on outside. Like this old tree stump, colonised by moss and fungi.
The moss is like velvet 
Beautiful textures and colours - must be a sweater design in there somewhere :)
And there's no lack of scent either, the mahonias and hamamellis or witch hazels have a heavenly delicate scent at this time of year.
Hamamellis Pallida, the best for flowers and scent
Always looks good in January
We have a sweet box in the front garden. Its flowers bloom through the early part of the year and scent the path to the front door. Sorry no photo at the mo.

Shadows are always interesting at this time of year and I was particularly struck by the shadow of this magnolia grandiflora. 
Echoes of Matisse don't you think?
I'll leave you with this picture of Arlo resplendent in this winter coat. 
Arlo enjoying the damp winter air
Thanks for dropping by x

Monday, 2 January 2017

Happy New Year

Peace love and light to all my followers in 2017. May your creativity flourish and your dreams come true. I'm looking forward to sharing more of my observations on life in Yorkshire with you.

More anon,

Friday, 18 November 2016

Rambles around November

It's been a rum old week... as my mum used to say! Nothing in particular, but since the excitement of my birthday at the beginning of last week it's seemed very quiet,  like the lull before the storm . May be something to do with life after Brexit or realising that President Trump is no longer a bad dream... probably both.
An Italian depiction of a festive culinary birthday from Giulia, Felix's lovely girlfriend 
To blow away the cobwebs I've been taking bracing constitutionals most days. Just round and about, but not only does it help to kick my muscles back into gear, it also gives me a huge adrenaline rush to be amongst all the glorious autumn colour. It's just as vivid as it was a month ago. The gardens too are holding onto their leaves as long as possible, making the outdoors seem as if they've been airbrushed with an extra layer of warm hues. Amazing for mid-November!
Little pond in the park
On one of these walks we came across our friend Mrs Tiggywinkle. P and I saved her once more from being squashed on the road. Since being a tiny baby she's been seen in our neighbourhood regularly, appearing in various streets, where she loves to snuffle amongst the fallen leaves in the gutters at the sides of the road. She's now quite tame and doesn't mind being picked up and if necessary, relocated to a nearby safer place.
There she goes again heading for the road
I'd love to put her somewhere where I know she'd be permanently safe, but I think she just likes to live dangerously  🙂
How wonderful is the gnarled shape of this moss-clad Japanese maple, the ground was covered with its fallen red leaves...
...and the verdant fernery - an essay in green.
And in pride of place cheering the cockles of my heart are the majestic specimen trees. They certainly know how to stamp their authority on the landscape...
... making me smile as P caught me lingering by this stunningly golden dogwood. 

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the fabulous felted mittens keeping me toasty are by Eileen Maga and are available in practically any colour you might wish for in her Etsy shop Sew Sweet Clover. Also, if you're a longtime reader of my blog, you may recognise the hat, which is the Albion from my book World Knits.  Many people who don't have the book have asked me for the pattern over the years, so when someone asked the other day, I decided the time had come, so for any of you who might like to knit it, the pattern is on Ravelry.
If only you could drink these colours - blink and you might think you're in a Disney landscape...
...and the wonderful reflections are something else.

On the home front, Django has been very under the weather recently, scratching manically at his coat and moping around feeling so sorry for himself. As both our cats are dosed regularly for worms, fleas and ticks, we were beginning to think there was something terribly wrong. We mentioned it to the vet when they were getting their annual jabs and sod's law,  quick as a flash she found evidence of fleas on both of them. A stronger dosage of anti-flea meds was prescribed and duly administered. so fingers crossed, he'll soon he'll be fighting fit again. Meanwhile unabashed, Arlo has been up to his old tricks, bullying poor Django, sitting in the sink just when you need to use it - he loves water, don't ask - and when he's not doing either of the former, he gracefully poses around the place so that we can fully admire the beautiful creature that he undoubtedly knows he is. 
Luckily they don't fight all the time though and Arlo can be a sweetie sometimes.
Here he is sitting on top of the kitchen bin - he's a dab hand at sitting on anything you need to use - doing his excellent impersonation of a circus lion.

We've had a regular visitor recently in the form of a neighbour's cat. They're away quite a lot and he's very old, so methinks he comes to warm up by the fire. However, he's top cat in the street, so Arlo is getting a little of his own medicine. Cat karma! 🙂
Jo making himself at home
Finally I hope you managed to get a glimpse of the supermoon the other day especially as it's the biggest one since 1948 and we won't be seeing another one so big until 25 November 2034. 

Unfortunately we didn't as there was far too much cloud, but I've been taking pictures to celebrate the season's fading light recently, usually with little success as they're all taken on my phone, but I think this one captures something of the atmosphere at dusk.
Sweet dreams xo

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Loudon Wainwright 111

I've been a longtime lover of the work of Loudon Wainwright, ever since I was given a copy of his first album way back when I too was trying to make a name for myself in an acoustic duo on the folk scene with my first husband. But there the parallel ends. For me, life's various twists and turns seemed to get in the way, and once children came along it became impossible to pursue my earliest career choice. Even so, I continued to write songs and play my guitar, always with the intention of resuming, but somehow I never seemed get round to it. 

But Loudon was made of stiffer stuff, always able to turn life events such as marriage break-up and its inevitable family repercussions, into insightful, witty, sometimes poignant, additions to his ever-growing repertoire. With a well-chosen few words, he could paint a powerful picture, with razor-sharp observations of totally ordinary feelings and situations. Everyone could relate to his songs, after all they expressed universal sentiments, delivered with self-mocking sarcasm, and a sensitive sprinkling of tenderness, always skillfully avoiding the mawkish. You could listen to a Loudon Wainwright 111 song and think that life's not so bad after all, that we were all in it together.

Another thing is that although I've been to only one other of his concerts, I feel a close connection with his very imperfect life. His vulnerability makes the world seem less brutal, persuading us that we all have the same emotions, fears and things we're not proud of. 

So to the concert. It was only the second time I'd been out in the evening since I've been unwell, so I was expecting great things. I get pretty fed up with our ageist society - patronising people banging on about how old a person is instead of the quality of whatever they're doing.  and I got the distinct impression that many thought The Third (as his opener, Chaim Tannenbaum referred to him) may be past it by now. Not on your life! A well balanced set of old and new, no holds barred, no subject out of bounds -it's impossible to pick a favourite, his songs have been part of the backdrop to my life for so long. However, one of his best lines for me is from The Home Stretch:
If the day off doesn'r get you, 
Then the bad reviewer does, 
At least you've been a has been, 
Not just a never was.
This performance was as dynamic and  perceptive as ever, with the bonus of a couple of monologues from his father's archive, written for Life magazine through the 50s, 60s and 70s. Actually, on this showing, The Third could have made a career out of acting.  As well as guitar, he also accompanied himself on piano and banjo, giving a masterful performance on Another Song in C.
The only thing I didn't enjoy was his choice of support. I don't like to give any musician a negative review as I think it takes a lot of clout to stand on a stage and be judged, so I'll just say this. I found Chaim Tannenbaum a little too similar to The Third. However, his songs lacked the sardonic humour and were all too sad and real for me not to find them depressing. I do hope he sold some CDs, but I doubt it as I'm not sure what his target audience is, especially on this tour. He was never going to out-Loudon the man himself and his studied melancholy might have fit better as a contrast to a Zydeco band. However, the two old friends seemed to be having a great time together, so what the hell. Chaim's best line was when he was introducing The Third, stating dryly I'm now going to leave you with the object of your desire. 
Our very old much-played first Loudon album
I came away with all the old songs buzzing in my head, especially the first one on his first album, School Days. Loudon's lyrics hammer home the failings and triumphs of the human condition - no-one does it better. Later that evening I couldn't help thinking he'll probably live to be a hundred and ten. He's his own best therapist, and for all those who love his music, he's a shot in the arm!

Happy Halloween to you all. I shall be Trick or Treating with Izzi and Ava xo

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Hygge has become a bit of a buzz word recently. There's no English word for it, but this Danish word is best translated as cosiness or living well, and pronounced hoogah. I was curious to find out more so I bought the Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. Even this morning's Guardian is sporting an article in G2 that claims the concept of Hygge is being 'sold by the yard' this Christmas. I have to admit I didn't read much of the article as I couldn't stand the smug attitude of Jess Cartner Morley, who seemed to be mainly interested in the commercial  (particularly fashion) opportunities it presents. I was put off by her slightly facetious tone, and also because the piece seemed to say exactly the opposite of what I had understood from the book.

Hygge can't be sold or indeed bought. Apparently you can have all the candles, log fires, fluffy blankets, handknit socks, hot chocolate and marshmallows, mulled wine, home-made bread, and walks in the country that money can buy, but if you can't take pleasure in the simple things in life, make time for friends and family, or celebrate what you have instead of what you don't have, then true hyyge will elude you.

Several other European countries have their own words for Hygge -  gezelligheid in Holland, Koselig in Norway, Gemütlichkeit in Germany and hominess in Canada. But whatever you call it, really it's just a word to express happiness, finding a cosy intimate nest where you can feel safe. Hygge espouses togetherness, harmony, mindfulness and gratitude, as opposed to selfishness, competition and greed.
So... what I really want to say is that reading about all this was like coming home. Everything I love is in this word, so hence a blog on the things which are making me happy right now over the past few days.

First up is the garden, in all its autumn glory. It lifts my spirits even in the rain, which seems to intensify the dazzling colours and textures.
Jewel colours after the rain a couple of days ago
This one was taken in the same place about a week before the one above
Coffee in the garden yesterday - gotta get it while you can!
Fuchsias, geraniums, and verbena bonariensis still going strong and the
sculptural castor oil plant flowers are in big fat bud just beyond 
The acer on the right is a fabulous burgundy
Next are the cats, Django and Arlo, who are the catification of togetherness... well when they're not fighting that is  😉.
Kitties chilling in front of the wood stove  
Then there's all the beautiful fruits and vegetables. We're still harvesting tomatoes from the garden, as well as using nasturtium leaves, seed pods and flowers in salads. Also pansies are edible and good for a  splash of bold colour too. We're lucky to have several friends who bring us home-grown veggies, this week squash, spinach, beetroot, apples and pears, so the autumn larder is a wonderful feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Pumpkin and edible gourds
Conference pears from a friend's tree
I lovr pmomegranates for both their looks and their goodness
Cabbage and purple kale
I'm enjoying my new-to-me Guild F30 guitar that I bought on Ebay from a store in upstate New York. Despite my reservations about distanced transactions across the pond, it turned out to be a very good experience with great customer support.  I'm also listening to a lot of music at the moment. This week the new John Renbourn and Wizz Jones album, Joint Control arrived on the dorrmat so poignant as it was the last CD John Renbourn made before he died last year. Also we've got tickets for Loudon Wainwright 111 playing live with Chaim Tannenbaum at The Barbican next Tuesday - I know for some he's an acquired taste, but I've always loved his dark humour. Which reminds me I'm also revisiting my old knitting song More Yarn Will Do The Trick.  I'm working on a pared-down version  - just me and my guitar so that it's easier to focus on the amusing lyric. Hope to be able to post before Christmas...

...And talking of Christmas, which I don't usually like to do in October, I noticed the shops are full of Xmas crackers, cakes, puddings etc, when we haven't even had Halloween or Bonfire Night. When I asked why, I was told that they had to do it to keep up with other stores or they would lose ground in the battle to get the lion's share of customers' cash. Am I just growing into a grumpy old woman or are there others like me who object to receiving Xmas greetings in October? Ooops, sorry to digress into something that I'm not happy about. What I was going to say is that I've been making knitted gifts, small projects from my book, Great Little Gifts to Knit.
Over the past few weeks I've set myself a target to take a walk every day around the leafy backstreets of our neighbourhood. Sometimes P and I walk to the pop-up library café in the local park, where you can either sit in the book tent or at tables outside the caravan"s serving hatch with a large cup of coffee or steaming hot chocolate.
Beautiful old horse chestnut tree
Collecting conkers by the library café in Homestead Park
It's fun to be there, and difficult to stop P from joining the many little ones picking up conkers from a nearby chestnut tree - even if I wished to 😉. I've managed to walk into town too and on that occasion clocked up more than 5000 steps on my phone. So... super pleased, since I got ill, that's a record!
Vitis cogniettiae starting to turn on a walk at Harlow Carr about ten days ago
And finally, here's what really makes my cup runneth over - the grandkids! Izzi and Ava will be over today, filling my heart full of grandmotherly love. We've taught them how to play cards recently, which brings me back to hygge. Board games and cards are very hyggeligt, said to be much better for children than the ubiquitous Playstation or other computer games, as they're interacting with real people rather than virtual ones.
Lovely colour on the foreground maple in the parkland
Sunset in the park today
Would love to hear what brought hygge into your life this week. I've had a bout of the local sniffles over the past few days, but it's a good excuse to have lots of lemon tea with lashings of honey 😉. Enjoy the autumn and thanks for dropping by xo