Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Eight Christmas Babies

Eating hard boiled egg.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Knitting with a Donkey

 Teddy the donkey approaches.

 Showing an intelligent interest.

Note dog and billy goat standing at a respectful distance. " Can you show me how to do that? "

Monday, December 10, 2012


About an hour and a half's drive from Christchurch at the end of Banks Peninsula is the little town of Akaroa. Uniquely, for New Zealand, it was originally settled by the French and so the main streets are called cheery names like the Rue Jolie.

 And they are pretty. The old cottages are covered in roses and their gardens are full of flowers. The harbour setting is lovely as well and is now visited regularly by cruise ships because they can no longer dock at the main Christchurch port of Lyttelton which was damaged in the earthquake. One cruise ship arrived while we were there and I was very disappointed when I saw the passengers coming ashore to look at the town. There it was all festooned with roses waiting to greet them and there they were, dressed in black and brown polyester stretch knits looking like a lot of flies. Where were the fluttering silks and picture hats one would expect of people on an expensive South Pacific cruise in the spring time?

The town of Akaroa is really just for tourists now. After dark the flower covered cottages show no sign of life. During the year the population is only about 800 people, most of whom seem to be involved in the tourist trade, but in summer 15,000 visitors fill the place up and put quite a strain on the water supply.
I thought it would be a nice spot to show off my new cardigan made from about ten different colours of the Renaissance Dyeing Poll Dorset. It's knitted in daisy stitch which skinned my fingers while I was making it.

This little jetty looked like something from Moominland.

There is a very pretty little lighthouse which was once on the point of Banks Peninsula but has been moved into the town. Because a cruise ship was visiting the lighthouse was open and we were able to look around it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Flamingo Park

When I first moved out of home at twenty I briefly shared a house with Richard Neville who in those days was still trailing shreds of notoriety behind him because of his involvement with the Oz obscenity trial in London. It was a lovely old house in Bondi Junction with a black and white marble hallway. Although it was the height of summer it was never too hot because in the afternoons a sea breeze blew through the upstairs windows and cooled everything down. On the stairs were stacked old copies of Oz magazine gathering dust.
Richard never seemed to be a disturbing or wicked character and I put that down to the cardigan he used to wear in the cool of the evening. It was hand-knitted in thick wool and had lots of cuddly looking koalas all over it. He had bought from from Flamingo Park which was a terrifically expensive shop in the Strand Arcade run by Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson. I desperately wanted a cardigan like that for myself but because of a shortage of money I decided to make my own. The design I came up with was somewhat simplified but I was happy with it for a few years. It had wattle on the front and a cockatoo on the back. Here I am with my sister at Campden Park in Sydney:

She's trying to make the cocky say something.

Much, much later, not long before Flamingo Park closed, my friend Kate and I both bought jackets there. They weren't the top of the range like Richard's but they were very useful and comfortable garments to wear.
This is Kate's

And this is mine - the only picture I could find.
When I moved to the Blue Mountains, one damp and misty day I went to a garage sale at Jenny Kee's house and finally bought the highly decorated jumper I'd always wanted. It wasn't new and it still wasn't cheap but it was the real thing.
I haven't worn it very often because unfortunately the colours don't suit me. However, one day when I was wearing it I was walking through the carpark at Blackheath and Jenny Kee, who was perched halfway up a ladder nearby painting a mural of parrots and cockatoos and looking not unlike an exotic bird herself, screeched at me, "You're wearing my jumper!" It must have looked a lot better on her but nevertheless it's one of my most treasured possessions.
At the same garage sale I bought this which gave me some insight into her design process:
Here's the book

and here's what was inside it.

And in an op shop in Oamaru I found this - the book with the final version of my jumper design in it:


And many thanks to you, Jenny.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


While I was in Australia in July I was contacted by Michelle at Artwear Publications wanting me to create a design for Yarn magazine. The problem was I was in Australia with no knitting equipment and she needed the design by September 1st so it could be prepared for the December issue. On the plane home I came up with the idea for the Regard socks, so I plunged in as soon as I got home and knitted them and sent them off thinking I'd done pretty well. But I had misunderstood. Michelle was keen to have a Fair Isle design. Fortunately the weather turned really nasty and stayed that way for a week. I designed, watched George Eliot DVDs, knitted and came up with these socks. I had them done and sent away with about a week to spare. The George Eliot films gave me the idea for the name. The country dance or contredanse where one couple dances while the others stand and watch. This is what happens with Fair Isle knitting - one yarn does the work while the other waits. The vertical design is based on the Fair Isle knitting from Sand Lodge and I made all the motifs different so there would be no possibility of boredom setting in.
This is my first real official publication and it's very exciting and was lots of fun to do. Thanks to Michelle and the team for the editing and the great photos (as seen in the magazine, not here).
The yarn is, of course, Renaissance Dyeing Troubadour.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Two Books (and the Consequences)

I rarely buy new books but this gorgeous hot pink book of Estonian needlework of all kinds from Muhu Island was irresistible. There are many inspiring stories of the remarkable women who kept the farms running throughout the busy summers while their husbands worked on the mainland, and who at the same time managed to adorn themselves and their families with clothing of beauty, skill and imagination. I was impressed by the description of them wiping the farm muck off their hands in order to do a few more fine embroidery stitches before having to get covered in muck again.
I used a rough sketch of one of the flower patterns in the book for a little bit of embroidery work of my own - something I haven't done for a very long time.
This book gave me the idea and the pattern for a joddakai - a gypsy apron:
It's a lovely little book, written, I imagine, for children, with very simple concise language and clear illustrations.
Here's the page for the joddakai:
I haven't been able to find photos of anything similar online or in books, so I have no idea of how authentic it is but I happened to have a length of Italian cloth as specified and so I made one.
There are lots of other things to try. Making chrysanthemums from willow or birch sticks using a cut down kitchen knife:

And there are instructions for fortune telling and making some very sticky looking sweets.
Here's the joddakai with some of the brightly dyed Blue Faced Leicester wool from Renaissance Dyeing. More of this later.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Return of Spring

We've been having some very unpleasant weather. There was a gale blowing straight from Antarctica and bringing sleet and flurries of snow right down here to the edge of the ocean. Fortunately the sheep and goats did not produce any more babies while the weather was so nasty, but we do have quite a few lambs already in the paddocks. Their mothers kept them out of the wind as much as they could and everybody came through.
Yesterday with the sun returning the lovely Melanie from Moeraki Boulders Holiday Park agreed to model the Queen of the Night for me. Her verdict was that it was very warm and comfortable and she thought the shape was just right, which was nice because I really agonised over the shape and did more maths than I've done since I left school.

Then a trip to Oamaru where I found this lovely merino/alpaca blend from Flagstaff Alpacas hand dyed by Doe Arnott. It's called Gimmerburn and I bought the lot, so if you like it you'll need to ask Doe to dye some more.
It looks almost edible - thank heavens it's not. My mind is full of plans about what to make from it.

A bit more farm news. Mrs Goose is nesting right by the front door and Mr Goose keeps guard night and day, passing the boring moments by shouting at his reflection in a mirror.

He's very messy, too.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


The first time I ever heard of Regard rings was in an Angela Thirkell novel, Miss Bunting, I think it was, when the very frail old rector gives his son's young girlfriend a ring that had belonged to his grandmother and explains to her that the six stones in it spell out the word regard. Ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond. At the time I thought it was a charming idea. Since then I have discovered that there is also a Dearest ring - diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire and topaz. This does not have quite the same interest for me as the Regard ring because regard has other meanings apart from expressing affection. It also means to consider, to give careful attention to something. It's important for us in our everyday lives. I now have a Regard ring and when I look at it I remember my mother and think of how she lived her life and of how I'm living mine. it helps me pay attention to my behaviour and to the fleeting nature of life.
Old Regard rings are rather rare and expensive, but there are here and there some modern and slightly cheaper reproductions.
Here is an original from the 1890s:
You can see how pretty it is with the scrolled gold and the unpretentious size of the stones.
And so to the knitting. It came to me in an incredible brainwave that I could convey the same message in a pair of socks - or a hat (coming soon) or scarf or gloves. And I came up with this design:
Of course you can change the colours of the rest of the sock around to suit yourself. The important part is the colours of the gemstones and the scrolled gold around the toe. There is also a lacy pattern around the cuff for a more delicate Victorian look.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Queen of the Night

I love Mozart's operas. They're so funny and full of good tunes. Years ago before opera became rather popular in Sydney and tickets consequently became sought after and expensive, I used to have quite a supply of free tickets to dress rehearsals and performances showered on me by relatives who worked in the orchestra or warbled away on stage. There were plenty of Mozart operas amongst the offerings. Don Giovanni was my favourite character because I liked the way he was so wicked but so unrepentant at the end. He may have been bad but he stuck to his principles, if you can call them that.
I used to really enjoy a dress rehearsal on a sunny day when I'd be sitting in the dark at the Opera House, eating minties and watching the dragon at the start of The Magic Flute cavorting, or perhaps galumphing around the stage. And the Queen of the Night - what a crosspatch! Shoving her daughter around and screaming at her to go and kill Sarastro. So nasty and unnecessary.


This is Diana Damrau as the Queen and a clue to the reason for her temper. The poor thing is cold. There she is, out in the night air with barely a shred of gossamer to cover her. No wonder she has to work up such a head of steam. What she needs is something warm to wear and so I've kindly made her a shawl in the hope that she'll settle down and leave everyone alone. 

Here it is - a preview of Queen of the Night -

 She can wrap herself in this as she wanders around her flower garden at midnight thinking happy thoughts and sniffing the heady scents.
It's mostly knitted from Renaissance Dyeing's BFL (Nuit) and it stays on the comfortably on the shoulders and doesn't try to slip off. The pattern will be available very soon.

As you can see, the blossom is out here. We had three solid weeks of rain and everyone was getting quite depressed - and then spring arrived! A whole week early. We've been working in the vegie garden and enjoying the sunshine. And the first lambs have arrived, two sets of twins, so it must really be spring.