Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I've just returned from a holiday in Sydney. It was wonderful to catch a ferry again and to see the beautiful Sydney winter sun. Everything looks extraordinarily bright compared to the soft light in the South Island in winter. The sun in Sydney has a kick to it even in winter, but it does get chilly when the sun's not shining. So where were the winter knits? The last person I saw knitting was at Dunedin airport on my way out. In Sydney I looked and looked for hand knits but I didn't see any. I know you're out there, knitters, because there are quite a few knitting magazines around.
I found my woolen jumpers were perfect for Sydney, even when the sun was shining.
Here I am at the Archibald Fountain in Sydney's Hyde Park kitted out very warmly in Renaissance Dyeing wool. Apparently when I was three I hopped into this fountain on a hot day when my mother's back was turned.

At the yacht club at Middle Harbour - more Renaissance Dyeing - having lunch with family and with my friend Carol who was visiting from France and who has kindly agreed to translate some of my designs into French. (The tam is the Hall of Fire Tam, which I think is the most versatile of all my tams.)

And here meeting a pelican at the fish market on a cold, grey and breezy day. Along with the other woolly stuff I'm wearing the Roman de la Rose socks, and I realise that it would be good to have shoes that showed them off.

While I was in Sydney I had a message from Yarn magazine asking for a design for their next issue. That was pretty exciting. I've been making lots of charts and thinking hard. So I really hope there are lots of not so secret knitters out there in Australia.

And here's something completely unrelated to knitting. It's one of my father's artworks. He's made many of these, all very different and all designed to light up like little rooms:
They're quite fascinating. I don't have the lights on in this one because my brother is changing the lighting system but I have one here which I'll photograph for another post.

A final photo - from Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains. Lovely, isn't it?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Green and Gold Impudence

As you can see this has absolutely nothing to do with the Olympics (Australia's colours are green and gold) but is about socks and accordions. The accordion in the picture is a rather elderly small sized Serenelli from Italy with gold-flecked keys. It's in rather poor taste but who could resist a gold accordion? The socks tone it down just a little.
I had the idea for these at the same time as the Frivolitee socks. They're quite different because they're worked in a couple of slip stitch patterns and are full of texture and depth. The patterning is a bit hard to see in the sun. It might be clearer in this photo:
They can be made without the top frill but that wouldn't be quite so much fun to do.
I've admired the Bohus designs for a while but I know that they are complex to work. I like the way these have a Bohus look with hardly any effort at all - only one colour for each row. The main colour, Maury, is the same that I used for this jumper so I knew how lovely it is -
A pretty frilled jumper
Back to the socks now. They are available as a kit from Renaissance Dyeing and they're called Impudence. Just the thing for cool nights in the gypsy caravan.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Freedom, Frivolity and the Gypsy Life

Back in the 1930s my mother had a friend who drove her horse and caravan from Melbourne to Sydney, about 900 kilometres, and for entertainment on the trip she took with her a windup gramophone and a pile of George Formby records. This has stayed with me as a dream of independence from the everyday world. I've always known that a portable windup gramophone and a pile of suitable 78rpm records were part of life's essentials. Here is the lovely caravan sized gramophone with which I've replaced my other much larger one. I've got plenty of records to go with it, although no George Formby.

For the last few years I've been rather tied to the farm so naturally I've been making plans for escape. Apart from my husband, who is even more essential to the plan than the gramophone, there are number of other important elements to be included. The caravan and horse, of course. I would like one of those old Reading wagons - real one, not a reproduction - and a gypsy cob to pull it. Teddy the donkey would come along as well, the goats could wander behind, the chickens could travel in a cage underneath and the dog would naturally ride on the wagon.
A Reading wagon looks rather like this one. It's more upright, not like a bowtop.

If I were a real gypsy I would favour Royal Crown Derby for my crockery, but I rather like the idea of Irish Belleek to go with the Irish linen sheets (a dream at the moment).

The problem of how to fit a piano in a caravan has been hard to solve but recently I've come up with a possible solution to that. 
Inside this ugly case is the answer: 

What could be more appropriate? Now I only need to learn to play it properly.

Yes, there may have been a wrong note there. The dog certainly thinks so.

And what to wear? I found a hand knitted red woolen skirt in an op shop which will keep the chill away and I've made a beret and socks to go with it.
Frivolitee Socks
Frivolitee Beret

The socks and beret are called Frivolitee (with an acute which I can't find on this keyboard) and are available from Renaissance Dyeing renaissancedyeing.com as a kit made with their beautiful organic and naturally dyed yarn. The red here is dyed with cochineal.
If, after equipping yourself for the road, you should be fortunate enough to have some leftover cash,  perhaps you could spend it on 24 carat gold jewellery and be really self contained. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

On the Perfect Shawl

I'm working on a shawl design at the moment and looking at the miriad designs available on Ravelry and elsewhere and thinking about their popularity. There must be many reasons for it.  A shawl is something beautiful, often fragile, preferably warm and soft. It does not need to be made in a particular size. It can be worn like a scarf, around the shoulders or gypsy-like, around the waist.
Over the years I've made a few and while I wouldn't say they've been mistakes, there are some I would never make again. The baby shawl, for instance. So beautiful, so white, so fine, so easily covered in muck. Then a moment's inattention due to new baby exhaustion and someone has put the masterpiece in the washing machine and produced a matted, felted, misshaped miniature.
Then there are the Shetland shawls in cobweb yarn. They languish in a cupboard because they can't be worn. That would mean the chance of snagging a thread, of maybe having to wash it and pin it all out again. Something like that simply attracts accidents. They would not be the warmest of shawls, either, although they are certainly the most beautiful. I did wear one of mine once, when I had to play God Save the Queen for an historic celebration in the village. I couldn't believe how beautiful it looked and that I had made it. It's back in the cupboard now with the others because imagine the horror if anything happened to it.
Madeira Shawl actually in use
centre panel of Madeira

I'm thinking that a practical shawl design would be in a dark colour so that if the ends trail around the marks won't show. It should be fine but not too fine because warmth without a lot of bulk is very important. It should be large enough to cover the shoulders and of a shape that sits comfortably and doesn't keep wanting to fall off. The constantly slipping shawl can be very tiring for the shawl wearer. It should be beautiful to look at and it should be able to be worn with the majority of clothes.


 Of course, it should be fun to make and not blind you in the process, like the black Shetland shawl which took me two years of evenings to knit by the light of a 40 watt bulb that was the strongest lighting permitted in the house then. What a marathon!
Midnight Shawl detail with crowns, Spanish lace and more

Midnight centre panel
Here is the 2-ply Rose Shawl which I made from some very soft merino my mother gave me at some point. by the time I got round to using it the moths had got to it and made the knitting very annoying because the thread kept coming to a sudden unexpected end:
Rose Shawl

Rose Shawl centre panel

The  moon rising over the sea two nights ago. A cold night and a frosty morning. Just the weather for the perfect shawl.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Around the Farm

Teddy the donkey makes sure the goats aren't getting any extra treats. Note the useful handbag made from an old feed sack.

Everyone smiling for the camera. Teddy wishes he had a special hat with ear openings.

He likes a kiss on the nose.

She hasn't noticed that her baby is really a guinea fowl.

Easter babies, now very well grown little chickens.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

On the Dubious Nature of a Bargain

My grandmother's folly

The blue flowers were the first ones I stitched

In the 1960s my grandmother decided to go on a cruise. Her idea of a cruise was not on a cruise ship but a cargo ship without any particular itinerary. I believe it was the first foreign ship allowed into China after the Cultural Revolution. Before she left she bought some needlepoint to keep herself occupied during all those boring days at sea but the trip turned out to be so exciting that when she got back she had only managed a few stitches. I suspect the needlepoint had been the only boring thing for her because she gave it to me to finish, having told me what a lot of money she'd spent on it in case I didn't take the responsibility seriously. I was ten and not very good at needlepoint. In fact I knew nothing about it. I finally finished it when I was 18. It's now a record of my improving skills and I remember every flower on it. Unfortunately for myself I didn't realise that on a double canvas you don't have to stitch between the doubled threads and so I did twice the number of stitches. The most tedious part for me was the background. My mother said plain and beige would be tasteful and that's what I did. By the time I'd finished it it was so pulled out of shape that I had to take it to be professionally blocked. They said I'd better leave it for a while so it would stay in shape. I've left it now for nearly 40 years while I waited to miraculously find a piano stool of exactly the right size to put it on.

A few years ago I found a set of five partially stitched needlepoint canvases in the Salvation Army shop for $5.00. With my earlier experience of the value and use of these things I bought them immediately. They came with all the wool to finish the centre panels but nothing for the background. Of course I knew better than plain and beige and so I had a Kaffe Fassett moment and drew basketweave over a couple of them and added a few clouds. Then I started buying the wool. The cost quietly added up. I finished the first one and realised that I'd spent $50 just on the wool for that one. After that they became a guilty secret in a plain calico bag. However, all guilty secrets come to light eventually, so I faced up to finishing them. My mother supplied enough scraps of tapestry wool for one of them. Op shops came up with the wool for another and Andie from Renaissance Dyeing sent me some of her lovely natural indigo crewel wool for the last two. I washed sacks full of wool from the sheep, made up the cushions and finally had something to show:

The basketweave may have been a mistake
Yes, there were five. Here's the other one. It's on my very battered but richly deserving old piano stool:

And here's a lovely Alice Starmore design stitched by my mother:
My mother was the family needlepoint expert and I mean to make an album of photographs of her work soon.