Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Miss Clare's Teapot

Has anyone else read the 'Miss Read' books? Miss Read was the pen name of Dora Saint who wrote two long series of books in the second half of the twentieth century. The Thrush Green books are set not far from where I live, being based on the village of Wood Green. You can do a tour of the village on the blog House-Elf Doings if you'd like to see it in real life.

I think my favourite series though is her first, the Fairacre series. Beginnng with Village School, Miss Read writes in the person of a village schoolmistress and, throughout twenty books, we follow the children and their families through the years. Dora Saint was a schoolteacher so she knew of what she wrote.

The books were illustrated with beautiful drawings by John Goodall which really serve to bring the characters to life. Miss Read has a reputation as a 'cosy' author who glossed over the realities of village life but this is simply not true. There are neglected children, damp cottages and plenty of poverty to be found in the books but the overall tone is a positive one.

'So, who is Miss Clare?' I hear you cry. Miss Clare is an older colleague of Miss Read's, one of the old pupil teachers who lost their men in the First World War and remained single. Miss Read values her friendship and visits her often after Miss Clare has had to retire. In Storm in the Village, the two friends share tea ...

'She had brought out the family silver teapot for the occasion, a wonderful fluted object with a yellowed ivory knob like a blanched almond.'

Now this teapot really caught my imagination when I read this and, ever since, I've been looking out for one like it in my visits to antique shops. It turns out that teapots with black knobs are much easier to find; I suspect that they replaced the old ivory ones. I carried on looking for years, keeping my fingers crossed that, when I finally found my teapot, it wouldn't be too expensive.

Finally, on a trip to Banbury Antiques early in the New Year, there it was - on the first stall I looked at and only £12.

There were some nervous moments as I tested that it didn't leak - I really wanted to use this teapot, not just keep it as an ornament. And ... it's fine, watertight and pours like a dream. Metal teapots nearly always pour better than china ones. 

So the next thing to do was to knit my new teapot its own cosy. That shape meant that none of my others were the right size. Miss Read doesn't mention whether Miss Clare's teapot had a cosy but, if it had, I think it would have been one like this ...

If you look through old knitting patterns from the middle of the twentieth century, you'll find lots of tea cosies knitted in this pleated pattern. The yarns are carried tightly across the back of the work, resulting in a very thick fabric. These cosies are particularly warm, dating as they do from before the days of central heating. My old house is always cold in winter so this seemed the ideal sort of pattern for me to use.

The most tricky part was the shaping. The top of the teapot is nearly flat so I had to decrease stitches rapidly while still keeping the stitch pattern going. After lots of unsuccessful tries, I eventually got it right. The cosy is knitted in two identical parts and joined so that the pattern continues uninterrupted.

Now I can enjoy my pot of tea, knowing that the last cup will be as hot as the first. Should you by any chance have a teapot of a similar shape, you can download the free pattern for my Old-Fashioned Tea Cosy from my design page on ravelry. For a normal, rounded teapot you'll want to start the shaping earlier and space it out much more. One day I might design a matching cosy for round teapots but not now.

Monday, 7 January 2019

A New Doll for Christmas

Should you have been lucky enough to get a new doll for Christmas about ninety years ago, it might have looked like this ...

This is the most recent doll illustrated in the new book my son gave me as a New Year present. I say 'new book', it was actually published in 1928 and is called 'Ancient & Modern Dolls'. It was written and illustrated by Gwen White who was an artist who wrote books on design. I recognised her work immediately as I have her book on toys in my collection of King Penguin books.

Aren't these two of the most beautiful book covers ever? Look at the endpapers in the dolls book ...

Both books feature toys and dolls from museum collections (with details of where to see them) and are written in a friendly style. Here are some early toys in the smaller book ...

... and some very old dolls from my new book ...

I love the little story about the handkerchief that goes with this 19th century doll ...

This is a book to treasure. I've just been looking to see what else Gwen White published and came across a book called 'A World of Pattern', published in 1957 which looks like the most perfect book for me ever. Just saying, Jack. You might need to start saving now.

Anyway, I may not have got a new doll for Christmas this year but I did buy an old one a few days later. 

I found her on a trip to Brackley Antiques and I think she's lovely. She's a Rosebud Doll from between 1955 and 1960 which makes her just a bit older than me. Rosebud started making soft vinyl dolls in the 1950s and soft is the word, she's slightly squeezy to the touch. Her dress looks to be the original and she also came with a hat. She's not allowed to wear that anymore though as it had made her hair a very funny shape. 

I've carefully washed her and sorted out her hair and I've washed and mended her clothes. There's a stiff petticoat under than dress - very 1950s. She didn't come with shoes but has flat feet so I think she would have had them originally. I found some to fit and then made her a pair of socks out of a finger bandage. I think a white cardigan with tiny pearl buttons would be nice too.

I haven't been able to find a picture of this particular doll online so if anybody recognises her, I'd love to hear from you. It would be great to find a catalogue from the time which included her.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

My Year in Yarn

Merry Christmas everyone and I hope you're having a lovely day. In case you're wondering, no, I'm not writing this on Christmas Day; I wrote it a few days ago and then saved it to publish today.

So, who's ready for a new challenge for 2019? Well, me obviously. As well as working on a woven temperature blanket throughout the year, I'm also going to work on a knitted and crocheted record of everything I make.

This is the sort of thing I've got in mind - a series of patchwork blocks, each one made up of squares and rectangles representing all the projects I've worked on that month. I'll use the yarn that I'm using in the actual project so this will be a cheap thing to make. The squares and rectangles will be either knitted or crocheted, depending on the project they represent, and each month's set of blocks will be surrounded with a knitted on border. By the end of the year I'll have a small blanket.

If you'd like to join me on this mad journey I've published a pattern for it today which is available free on Ravelry. Actually, it's not so much a pattern as a guide for designing your own patchwork diary. The shapes can be knitted or crocheted and I give you patterns for two versions of each. None of them need you to work out your tension. 

Magic Knitted Squares and Rectangles

Crochet Squares and Rectangles Worked in the Round

I also made a mini design board to help me decide how to arrange my shapes. You can find out how to make and use one of these in the pattern.

Of course you don't have to make a blanket and you don't have to divide your blocks up by months either. You could knit or crochet a record of everything you make for a baby in their first year. Or perhaps make a patchwork of all the charity knitting you do. The possibilities are endless and each person's work will be unique.

As well as the yarn diary you could also keep a scrapbook to go with it. This could include photos of the finished projects, yarn samples or more information about the people you're making things for. In years to come, the finished piece, together with the scrapbook could become a treasured heirloom for future generations.

If you'd like to join me in this adventure, I shall be talking about my progress here and also on my Frankie's Knitted Stuff group on ravelry so do come along and say hello. I think this could be a lot of fun. There won't be any actual knitting or crochet until February so you have a whole month to think about it (and perhaps choose a pretty scrapbook).

So, for now, Merry Christmas - may it be filled with yarn.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Winter Wonderland

Well, I call it my Winter Wonderland, others call it the scullery. This is the tiny room at the back of my kitchen which houses the washing machine, freezer, microwave and various cupboards ... oh, and a few Christmas decorations.

This is the view from the kitchen door. The stars hanging at the windows are my Advent Stars which I've used as an advent calendar this year. Do you want to have a closer look at the room? Of course you do. First of all, the tree.

This is my 'tasteful' tree, as opposed to the one in the front room which is full of decorations the children have made over the years. What do you mean, you don't have random bits of card and plastic covered with glitter on your tree? Lovely though it is (and the stars made from pasta have survived remarkably well), a few years ago I thought I'd have a special tree, just for me. Lots of the decorations are still homemade but you'll be glad to know that my daughter has got a bit more skilful now. If you click on the photo you'll be able to see a bigger version - see the star gingerbread man and the oval cross stitch decoration? - they're both hers. I sewed some of the others and even crocheted a few snowflakes.

Moving round to the big windowsill, you can see lots of familiar decorations, made from my patterns.

Most of these were big Christmas patterns on Ravelry; I publish one of these each December. This was the pattern two years ago ...

The Night Before Christmas

Next we come to two little Christmas dolls - I'm very fond of these - and, in front of them are some Christmas coasters that I wove and then embroidered a few years ago.

Mini Doll Christmas

Then, in the corner, there's the Needle Tree and, next to it, the Gingerbread House.

The smaller window has just a few decorations ...

Here's the reason there's a gap on that windowsill ...

... Tolly cat posing next to the 'Santa's Little Helper' candle holder. He is definitely not one of Santa's helpers though, not unless the job description includes chewing tree decorations and lights (he thinks he's a puppy). Behind his furry bottom is my 3D knitted scene that I made years ago, before I started publishing my designs.

The other side of the scullery is taken up with machines and cupboards but that hasn't stopped me decorating it. There's a little cross stitch Santa hanging from the light switch ...

... a village on the microwave ...

Mrs Christmas is, of course, knitting a stocking

... and a tree of stars squeezed in on the worktop ...

Stacking Stars

In between the radio and my Featherweight sewing machine is this year's Christmas pattern, A White Christmas.

That little lace angel was from a book called Angels: A Knitter's Dozen by Gerdine Crawford-Strong which is a beautiful book. You starch the angels once they're finished so they can stand up.

The final thing to see is on the back of the door to the kitchen ... last year's Christmas pattern.

Tree Sampler

I hope you've enjoyed this tour of my small (but perfectly formed) scullery. Now I'm off for a cup of tea in my own personal Winter Wonderland ...

Thursday, 20 December 2018

At this time of year

At this time of year ... I think of all the single parent families out there, perhaps having their first Christmas together on their own. Being a parent is a hard enough job, being a single parent is twice as hard. My first Christmas as a single parent was 25 years ago now and, as I look forward to my two grown up children coming home for Christmas this weekend, I remember that first one.

We were all a lot younger then!

I took the phone off the hook (you could do that then) in an attempt to stop well-meaning people phoning "just to check you're all right" as the children were opening presents or I was trying to cook. Speaking of which, I didn't even try to do a traditional Christmas dinner that year; the children were too excited to sit down to a proper meal so we had party food laid out on the table and helped ourselves as we wanted. I didn't expect anything to be 'like normal' (just as well, really) and it was chaotic but fun.

Since then, we've created our own new Christmas traditions over the years and you'll be glad to know that we managed proper Christmas dinners after that first year - mind you, it took a long time to get them to eat breakfast on Christmas Day.

The problems single parent families face are talked about a lot but I don't think you hear enough about the positives. The three of us are a strong team and we always have been. My son and daughter are brilliant; I can call on them at any time if I need to, knowing that they will drop everything and rush to help.

We've shared lots of things over the last 25 years - walks, holidays, special food and, perhaps most of all, books. We all love reading, especially children's books; as I write this I can see the two baskets of Christmas books that we've collected over the years. On Christmas Eve we'll take it in turns to read some of our favourites out loud.  

Despite being four years apart in age, my son and daughter have always been close. There's a lot to be said for having to do everything together because there's no other parent to leave one child with. Oh, the endless plastic animal games they used to play, slowly moving their vast collection of animals around the house, chatting all the while. Then there was the year I found them putting toys in and out of their Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve - they said they were 'practising for the morning'. They now admit that they were trying to stretch their stockings ... because that's how you get more toys!

Don't they look sweet in this one? They would have been about eight and four then, I think. The next photo is a much later one, taken on the day we went to the seaside and they started a fashion on the beach by building a set of sand steps, leading up to the prom.

I have no idea what they're doing in the next picture - just being daft I expect. It was taken at my son's graduation (but then you could probably guess that).

So, I'd like to wish all the single parent families out there a very Happy Christmas. Do things your own way, stick together and it will get easier. And to Jack and Rose - you're both amazing people and I'm so proud of our team. Oh, and remember, I like big presents!

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Jane Austen in Steventon

Probably my favourite way to mark special events is to go for a walk. Meals out are pretty much wasted on me; I'd much rather have a picnic perched on a stile somewhere in the countryside. Back around the start of November my son and I went for two particularly fine walks in honour of my birthday. The first was a beautiful circular walk starting and finishing in Lower Heyford which has a train station right next to the canal, making it very handy for walkers.

Lovely though this walk was - a bright, crisp day and full of late autumn colour - the walk I really want to show you today was further afield and something of a pilgrimage.

Despite having grown up in North Hampshire, I don't think I've ever been to Steventon, the village where Jane Austen was born and lived until the age of 25. A story in the Austen family has it that she fainted when told that the family were moving to Bath in 1800. Whether or not this is true, she was certainly happy in the Hampshire countryside and talks in her letters of many walks to visit friends in the neighbourhood.

We began our walk at the church where her father, George was Rector - St Nicholas.

This beautiful, twelfth century church stands alone, surrounded by grass, at the end of a lane from the village. Jane Austen was christened here and it's where she would have worshipped regularly. Fortunately the church wasn't locked so we could see the various monuments to the Austen family inside.

This rather grand one is for James Austen, Jane's oldest brother, who succeeded their father as Rector at Steventon. James was considered by many of the Austens to be the literary one of the family. In the 1930s a great grand neice of Jane's erected this more modest but touching memorial to her in the church.

It's a lovely church and well worth visiting for its own sake.

From the church we set off through the village, past cottages that Jane would certainly have known ...

... and out into the countryside. The walk took us along many old hedgrerow lanes like this one which Jane's nephew, Edward Austen-Leigh, said were 'the chief beauty of Steventon'.

It was on a walk through a hedgerow like this that Anne Elliot overheard Captain Wentworth and Louisa Musgrove talking as they gathered nuts in Persuasion (and yes, the nut trees are still there).

If you can ignore the railway that now cuts through the countryside, it's easy to feel that you are walking in Jane Austen's footsteps. The paths are old and, although many of the buildings she would have known are no longer there, others are still to be seen.

This is Ashe Church which was, sadly, locked but the walk took us right past the Rectory, onece the home of Anne Lefroy, Jane's great friend and mentor.

Here Jane danced and flirted with Tom Lefroy, her friend's nephew. She wrote to Cassandra about it, 

I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself, however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. 

Tom Lefroy went on to become Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and, when asked about Jane in his later years, said that he had loved her, but that it was a 'boy's love' - whatever that might mean.

Jane and Tom would also have danced at Deane House, home then of the Harwood family.

I know this looks grand but the Austen family were not as affluent as the Harwoods. Mr and Mrs Austen only managed by a combination of taking in boarding pupils and farming, a Rector's pay not being sufficient to support a large family.

The villages of Steventon and Deane lie on each side of what was, in Jane's day, and still is the road between Andover (where I was born) and Basingstoke. The Austen family collected their letters from the Deane Gate Inn which also served as the coaching post. I remember going to this pub in the 1970s when men in plus fours could still be seen at the bar. The pub closed a few years ago and is now being redeveloped as a restaurant. This is what it looked like on the day of our walk.

Just down the lane from the Deane Gate is Cheesedown Farm, once rented by Jane Austen's father; everywhere we walked there were links like this.

As I've said, many of the houses Jane would have known are no longer there and this includes Steventon Rectory where the family lived. I knew that you could still find the site of the house by the water pump that once stood at its back and, as we walked back along the lane to the church, we kept looking for it in the surrounding fields. The light was going and the hedges were thick so we were about to give up when we saw a gap in the hedge ...

Now it may not look much but that patch of weeds in the middle of the field surrounds the old pump. So this is where the Rectory was. At the back of the site is a gentle hill which brings to mind this description of Catherine Morland, heroine of Northanger Abbey who also grew up in a country Rectory ...

she was moreover noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house

... a glimpse of the young Jane perhaps?

I shall definitely go back to this part of Hampshire for another walk, perhaps to the site of Manydown Park where Jane accepted a marriage proposal ... only to change her mind the next morning. Or maybe to Ibthorpe where her friends Mary and Martha Lloyd lived. Both the sisters would go on to marry Austen brothers in later life.

And I must go back to the Chawton House where Jane lived towards the end of her life with her mother and sister, Cassandra. 

I've just realised that today, 16th December, is the anniversary of Jane Austen's birth in Steventon Rectory in 1775. A nice coincidence.

I'll leave the last word to Anne Elliot in Persuasion, on her own autumn walk ...

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn-that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness-that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Ink, Paper, Print

I haven't been able to post for a while because of caring duties but I don't want to skip talking about things I did a while ago. So, if you could just imagine yourself back to late October, I'll pick up where I left off ...

At the end of October my daughter and I had a very exciting trip to the seaside. Obviously, a day by the sea is always good and I especially like the seaside in winter but we had an extra reason for this particular day out.

It was the Ink, Paper & Print art fair in Margate, a wonderful collection of artists and printmakers selling their wares. The fair was split over two venues, the Turner Contemporary and The Winter Gardens (yes, the one where The Beatles played in 1963). While I think of it, if you ever get the chance to visit The Cavern Club in Liverpool, do go - it's wonderful.

Anyway, I'd never been to an art fair before so I didn't know what to expect but it was really good. Each venue was full of artists selling their work and chatting about it. I had thought the prices might be too high for me to actually buy anything but many artists were selling greetings cards cheaply and even the prints weren't too much. Here's a glimpse inside the Winter Gardens ...

There were so many talented artists whose work I'd never seen before so I collected quite a few business cards so that I could track them down online. And the good thing about artists' business cards is that they're mini works of art in themselves.

Do you want to see some of the cards I bought? Of course you do. These two are by Michael Goodson, a Margate artist who produces his work digitally.

'Two Seagulls' and 'Rain-bow-bow' by Michael Godson

He also has a print of two seagulls leaning into the wind which is great. My favourite print on his stall wasn't available as a card; it's a print called 'Bird & Bear' and I think it's just crying out to be made into a children's book.

'Bird & Bear' by Michael Goodson

These next two are by Clare Youngs who works with fabric and paper to create animals full of patterns.

'Black Hen' & 'Flying South' by Clare Youngs

Clare has also written lots of craft books which look good and her new book, Animal Parade features lots of her collage animals.

We spent a long time at the stall shared by Kate and Ruth Sampson, Red Gate Arts. These two artists are inspired by classic art from the Art Deco period and produce prints, posters, book covers and much more. Do explore their website and shop to see what I mean. We bought lots of cards from this stall ...

'Happy Birthday' & 'Dawn Chorus' by Kate Sampson

I think that dancer is reminiscent of the work of Ravilious. Two more works by Kate ...

'Cat at Night' & 'Goodnestone Lemons' by Kate Sampson

The next two are by Ruth ...

'Kitchen Cat' & 'After Dark'

Just look at all the individual stories unfolding in 'After Dark'. My daughter particularly liked the two London scenes and it turned out that these were both entries for the same competition which had the theme 'Sounds of the City'.

I'm going to buy her a print of one of these ... when she makes up her mind which one to have.

I dithered for a long time about which print to buy at the fair and eventually settled on this one ...

'Lakeside' by Amy Grimes

Isn't it beautiful? It's one of the many wonderful prints by Amy Grimes  - I'm so pleased with my print and I don't think it's the only thing I'll be buying from her exciting online shop.

One more exciting find at the fair was a roll of sixteen papers, printed from original woodblocks by artists including Ravilious and Enid Marx.

These will be great to use to make cards, books, badges ... when I can bring myself to cut into them.

After all that, we obviously need chips and a cup of tea by the sea - and it didn't disappoint us. Just look at these waves ...

You'd have needed to time it just right to get back to one of those cars without being soaked.

After lunch, we wandered around Margate for a while, coming across this lovely Tudor House, now a museum.

Then we decided to explore a strange little place we'd read about, hidden away in one of the back streets. The Shell Grotto consists of winding underground passages leading to an underground chamber - all covered with shells laid out in detailed patterns.

Not a very good picture, have a look here to see lots more. The grotto was discovered in 1835 but its origins and purpose still remain a mystery. Was it a religious meeting place or just a folly and just how old is it? Sadly, the carbon dating that might help answer these questions is too expensive to be done.

All in all, it was an inspiring and thought-provoking day by the sea. Oh, how I love the sea; it was a wrench to leave it.