Sunday, 11 August 2019

Comfort Knitting

At the moment I'm officially working on my big Christmas pattern series for this year. What I'm actually doing most of the time is playing with colours.

This is a Scheepjes Colour Pack, consisting of 10g balls of each of the 36 colours of their Stone Washed yarn and the 22 River Washed. I hadn't used this yarn before and thought it would be fun to knit squares with all the colours.

I decided to use the Quilted Lattice pattern that I used in my big blanket pattern last year and, after a bit of experimentation, worked out that I could knit a 5" square from each little ball and have just enough yarn left to make a colour peg for future reference.

The two yarn ranges go together well; the Stone Washed has a subtle variegation, a bit like Stylecraft Batik, while the River Washed is more of a solid colour but with a lovely bloom to the yarn. Both yarns are beautifully soft. I'm knitting the squares in order; here's the top row as it came out of the box.

As well as this comfort knitting, I've got some comfort crochet on the go too. I'm working round and round on a huge Granny square, using some lovely shades of Sylecraft Special.

Those colours may look random but it takes a long time to get the perfect balance of random. I'm thouroughly enjoying working on this; it gets dumped into a basket and taken with me whenever I sit outside and is now getting quite big.

Mind you,  a blanket that looks big on your lap doesn't look nearly big enough when you lay it out flat on the floor so I've got a way to go yet. Making this reminds me of my Granny who taught me how to make Granny square blankets like this. I remember sitting with her, working on them together, using up odd lengths of yarns as they came to hand. Happy Memories.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

New Books

I always enjoy a day out in Leamington Spa and I nearly always come back with new books. This is owing to two exciting shops: Presto Music, an independent, proper music shop and The Craft Works. This, as you can probably guess, is a craft only version of the discount chain The Works.

I did particularly well recently and thought you might like to see what I got. Music first, because I always go to the music shop first.

I got two new violin books. The duets are to give me something a bit more 'normal' to try as I've only played Bartok duets so far which, although fun, are something of a challenge. The new book has eight duets from eighteenth century - right up my street. I also got a new book of violin studies, 'More Technique Takes Off' (to follow on from 'Technique Takes Off' naturally). I only had one more study to work on in the first book so I thought I'd be on to this new one soon ... turns out they saved up lots of hard stuff and crammed it all in the last piece - trills, vibrato, tricky timing. I may be a while.

The piano book is Burgmuller's famous set of piano studies. I never did studies when I learnt the piano so didn't know about these until my violin teacher recommended them. They're lovely little pieces, easy to sight read but hard to play really well.

I also got a recorder book (well, we wouldn't want the recorders to feel left out, would we?). A Baroque Anthology for descant recorders which I plan to play on my tenor recorder. Baroque is best. One day, I'm going to make myself a badge with that on. Also, one with 'Music for a while shall all your cares beguile' (from a Purcell song, in case you wondered).

So, that's the new music books. Now for the craft books.

All three of them have lovely covers and, I don't care what anyone says, I do like a book to have a pretty cover. Let's have a closer look at them, one by one.

'Beautiful Stitches' by Susan Bates is full of simple, freestyle embroidery designs. Animals, flowers, gardens - there's something for everyone. I love old-fashioned country scenes, the sort of thing featured in my old Stitchcraft magazines so this was one of my favourites ...

I was rather taken with the seed packet designs too ...

I have a lot of nasturtiums in my garden but, at the moment, they're more leaf than flower.

I think they're pretending to be lily pads.

This one features several of my favourite things: gardens, tea (although that should be a cup and saucer, not a mug) and, of course, knitting.

DMC colours are given for all the designs in the book or you could just use whatever shades you have, a bit like colouring in with thread.

This next book is the one I'm most excited about.

Sew Flower Quilts & Gifts by Atsuko Matsuyama is just gorgeous. What is it about Japanese quilting books that makes them so stylish? The designs are always appealing and full of the most perfect details. It is possible to use Japanese quilting books even if you don't read Japanese as they normally include diagrams and measurements but this one is in English.

What shall I show you? How about this picnic lunch set and beautiful little bag? Just look at those flowers ... and the lace edging .. and the patchwork strap ...

There are four little seasonal wall hangings too; here are the ones for autumn and winter...

I love all the little details in this sewing kit ...

You can never have too many sewing kits, especially if they're as pretty as this one.

Most of the projects in the book are small but there is one big sampler quilt. 

I just love the fabrics this designer uses - lots of bright pastels, typical of the 1930s. This is one of those books where I could happily make every single project.

The last of the craft books is a bit different as it's all about making flowers out of fabric.

At first I thought the cover was the best part of Fabric Blooms by Megan Hunt but then I found her felt flowers.

Felt, bright colours, buttons? Some of my favourite things. How about this for a fantastic bouquet - the bridesmaids would be fighting each other to catch this one.

You could use these flowers as a starting point for your own designs; they'd make lovely decorations for cards too. 

Now I would never wear this sort of thing (because, frankly, I'd look ridiculous in it) but aren't these felt flowers beautiful?

I don't know when I'll find time to make something from one of these new craft books but who cares? In the meantime, I can enjoy browsing through them; craft books are some of the best comfort reads I know.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

People's Park

It's taken me a while but I've finally managed to collect together some photos (and summon up the energy) to tell you about our party in the park.

When I first moved to Banbury twenty years or so ago, I thought the park at the end of my road must be quite a new one with its modern sounding name. In fact, the park - and its name - have been around for a very long time. 

It all started with a man called George Ball who owned a chemist's shop in Banbury in the late nineteenth century. When he died in 1892 he left £3,200 in his will to be used for ...

 '... a Park for the recreation of all classes during every day of the week from sunrise to sunset all the year round, to be ornamentally laid out, and called the People's Park.'

It took some time to come about but the park finally came into being just before the First World War. At that time the land was rented from a private syndicate; when it became the property of the Council  after the war, it was felt to be truly a People's Park at last. 

Which is where we get to the original opening ceremony in July 1919. In the pouring rain, the people of Banbury came out to watch a Fine Lady on a white horse process through the town to the park. It was a combination of celebration and commemoration; the horse had been to the war and back and wore his owner's medals on his bridle. To those watching on it must have been a poignant sight.

from the Banbury Advertiser

About a year ago, this old photograph was the starting point for a group of local residents who set out to help plan a party to celebrate the park's centenary. The Town Council are the experts at planning these sort of events; what we offered was raw enthusiasm, creative ideas ... and a lot of knitting.

One of my neighbours was in charge of assembling a huge amount of bunting made by local groups and schools, another put together a costume for our Fine Lady out of charity shop finds and Jane worked tirelessly all year to find local groups and encourage them to be part of the event. And me? I was responsible for the yarn bombing.

I wrote patterns for simple knitted and crocheted squares, advertised for volunteers ... and then got completely swamped by hundreds and hundreds of squares! In the end we used 1,000 squares in the park on the day, made up into 28 blankets and other decorations, but I've still got masses of squares left over.

We wrapped blankets round trees ...

... and pillars ...

This is the entrance from my road

... and we used them on benches and the ground too ...

The picture above was taken in the Rose Garden which looked particularly beautiful with all its blankets, bunting and deckchairs.

Local primary schools plant and decorate flowerbeds each year and these added to the gaiety of this special part of the park.

I thought these flags, from many countries, looked fantastic tied round the tennis courts too.

The bunting and loose blankets came down at the end of the day but I left the ten tree blankets up for another couple of weeks, during which there were two more events in the park. Every time I went to do running repairs, as well as when we put the blankets up and took them down, lots and lots of people stopped to say how much they loved them. I hadn't expected them to be so popular but they really were. When Jane and I finally took them down yesterday, people were sad to see them go.

So, what do you do with dozens of very large, quite dirty blankets? Well at the moment they're all piled up on my bedroom floor while I try to ignore them.

I'm going to wash them, find somewhere to store them and then ... we'll put it all up again next year. It was so popular it seems a shame not to use them in the park for future events. A local church has also expressed an interest in using them to yarn bomb their wonderful church so that would be exciting.

Then there are all those unused squares ... I'm thinking of turning them into some sort of woolly bunting. It would be longer lasting than the paper sort. 

So, that was the all-important yarn bombing but there was also the small matter of the party itself. Right from the start we knew we wanted a procession like that of 1919 and, if at all possible, we wanted a Fine Lady on a white horse too. Which is where Michelle and Foggy came in. Michelle is a very experienced rider and Foggy coped beautifully with all the noise and people in the procession - not to mention the brass band. And didn't they look the part?

This is them leading the procession round the Cross ...

'Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, to see a Fine Lady upon a white horse'

and yes, she had rings on her fingers and bells, if not on her toes, on her ankles. Even Foggy wore flowers for the occasion.

Here they are, with Sir Tony Baldry, the High Steward of Banbury and Surinder Dhesi, the Deputy Town Mayor.

These last two photos were taken by Puritans Radio, a local radio station who act as Master of Ceremonies for this and many other local events.

The day itself was like a great big village fete. There were stalls all over the park, representing local groups and businesses as well as charities. There was a dog show, crazy golf ( which looked fantastic, this would be a great permanent addition to the park), Punch & Judy, circus skills, face painting, go karts ... Local groups performed in the arena, ice creams were eaten and everybody had a lot of fun.

I spent the entire day running between the Labour Party stall - where we shared bubbles, chat and made friendship bracelets - and the History stall and, in between that, my daughter and I gave out hundreds of commemorative badges (which I made) to every child we could find! 

Jane had prepared a lovely display of old photographs of the park which attracted a lot interest throughout the day and we'd also put together a History Trail and a Memory Hedge. I didn't get any photos of the History Trail but here are some of people's memories of the park, hanging on the hedge.

It was all an awful lot of hard work but oh, so worth it. To see the Fine Lady appear at the entrance to the park reduced me to tears - suddenly, it was all really happening. It was a very happy day, bursting to the seams with a real old-fashioned sense of community that I hope the people of 1919 would have recognised. 

Here's a bit of a taster of the day, courtesy of the Town Council ...

Should you want to read more about the park's history, I stole the few facts I used here from Jane's two excellent blog posts on Municipal Dreams. I do urge you to take a look at these, they're full of interesting details and there are some great old photographs too.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Blankets, blankets, blankets ...

There's no getting round it, my house is full of blankets. There are only a few days to go to the People's Park Centenary and the yarn bombing is everywhere. There are blankets for trees ...

... and blankets for benches.

At the moment I'm blocking a blanket a day which takes up lots of space on my bedroom floor. The cats are helping by sleeping on the wet blankets. Why do they always do that?

As well as the yarn bombing, I'm involved with planning various other activities for the day. This is just one of several collections of necessary stuff to be found wherever I can find space for them.

This lot (next to the microwave) is for the History Trail and the Labour Party stall. We're going to be making friendship bracelets with children and adults - that's the floppy things in the jug - and a mini bunting display of people's hopes for the future; the bunting flags are in the yellow bucket. As you can see, I've been doing a lot of cutting out lately.

There's also a pile of bubble blowing solution on the floor and the Labour Party banner is in the hall. I suppose I really need to work out how to put that together before Sunday. I have a constant 'to do' list on the go at the moment and, fast as I cross things off it, I think of more things to add to it. We've been helping to plan this event for a year now and, fingers and paws crossed, it's going to be a good one.

Today I thought I would have what I laughingly call a 'day off', by which I mean a day when I do my normal work. So, what did I do? I worked on another crochet blanket.

This is my Happy blanket, made with more of the lovely Sirdar Happy Cotton that you may remember me talking about recently. It took me all yesterday evening to work out how to arrange the squares; today I've been crocheting them together and taking lots of pictures. I really enjoyed it, it felt like a holiday to be doing my own work again.

I need to buy more of the cream yarn now before I can do the edging. When it only comes in 20g balls, that means buying lots of them. I looked at substituting another yarn for the cream for this reason but I couldn't find anything as nice and it didn't seem to work out cheaper anyway.

I've got a couple of year long blanket projects on the go this year too. I've just passed the halfway mark with my woven temperature blanket. Every day I weave a triangle in a colour that represents the maximum temperature on that day. Broadly speaking, it goes from blue at the coldest, via purple and green to orange and red for hot days.

Can you see the triangle for the last but one day of June? It's red! The first red day of the year (and only one so far). I got very excited about that. The blanket is a bit on the lumpy, bumpy side and my embroidery is definitely wonky but who cares? I'm hoping that blocking will work wonders for it but I can't really do that until it's finished.

The other ongoing blanket is my Year in Yarn. This is where I work a patchwork block for each month, made up of patches representing everything I've worked on. The months are put together in the following month so I've only got five months of this to show.

Far fewer projects in April and May than in the first three months of the year - park preparations again. I expect the next few months' blocks will be a lot busier.

Right - I can now cross 'Write blog post' off my list. what's next?

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Charity Down

I have an old box in my house that once contained fireworks. They cost 20/- which means they were bought before 1971 - and there's a remarkably cheery picture of Guy Fawkes on the lid.

This is the box that Mum kept the old family photographs in, most of them in black and white and many of them very small indeed.

My daughter has a very grown up, professional scanner and she's recently scanned all these photos so that we can see them in greater detail. It's amazing what a difference it makes. Tiny photos that don't look that exciting turn out to be real treasures when you can see them properly.

Which brings me to Charity Down ...

Not even big enough to be a hamlet, Charity Down consisted of the farm buildings and two small cottages, set in a valley at the end of a long road. We lived in the cottage on the left from when I was a baby until I was about three. Here I am, sitting on the back step in my nightie.

I don't remember Charity but I have heard lots of stories about our time there, mostly because we lived there during the winter of 1962 - 3. That was one of the coldest winters on record in England, rivers froze and many villagers were snowed in ... including us.

For me and my brother it must have been quite exciting; I don't remember it at all but just look at this lovely photo of the two of us.

I love the way I'm trying to copy him but, somehow, not quite getting it right. It must have been a difficult time for our parents though, no central heating then remember and only what supplies could be brought across the fields.

For the rest of her life, wherever she lived, Mum always made sure her cupboards were stocked up in winter "in case we get snowed in". I remember finding it very funny that she told me to do the same when I was living in Birmingham but, looking at these pictures, it makes sense.

We never were snowed in again as badly as this but I always half expect it to happen and yes, I stock up in winter too.

Sunday, 30 June 2019


A few weeks ago my son and I had a day out in this wonderful little town.

This is Ironbridge on the banks of the River Severn in Shropshire. It's known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution so I was expecting something a little more  - well, industrial. Had I visited in the second half of the eighteenth century It would all have looked very different.

'Coalbrrokdale by Night' by Philip de Loutherbourrg (1740 - 1812)

Abraham Darby developed the use of coke, rather than charcoal in the manufacture of cast iron early in the eighteenth century, producing a high quality product at low cost.  The original smelting works led to factories producing ceramic tiles and china, all within a few miles of each other in what was then known as Coalbrookdale.

Some fifty years later, Darby's grandson (also called Abraham) decided that a bridge was needed to link the town with the industrial works on the south bank of the river. The result was the first bridge to be built entirely of cast iron anywhere in the world.

'Ironbridge inder Construction' by Elias Martin (1739 - 1818)

During recent conservation work, parts of the original paintwork were exposed and the whole bridge has now been re-painted in this colour.

Doesn't it look magnificent? I love all those repeated lines and patterns. From the start, the bridge was something of a tourist attraction and anyone and everyone had to pay a toll.

As you can see, you even had to pay a halfpenny (pronounced haypenny for my younger readers) to take a lamb across the bridge.  There were no exceptions at the other end of the social scale either.

'This bridge being private property, every Officer or Soldier whether on duty or not, is liable to pay toll for passing over, as well as any baggage waggon, Mail-coach or the Royal Family.'

Within the six miles of the Gorge, there are lots of exciting museums to visit. There's one about Coalport China, a tile museum, a clay pipe museum ... you can visit the Darby houses and, as if that wasn't enough, there's a re-creation of a Victorian town at Blists Hill. I do love a good museum so this is very much my sort of place.

By now you've probably guessed that we had been lured to Ironbridge by all this glorious history ... well, if so, you'd be wrong. What we actually drove two and a half hours for - beautiful country all the way - was this ...

Yes, it's a book shop (of course it is). This is not just any old secondhand bookshop though, this is Twice Told Tales which specialises in Penguin and Puffin books. We both collect first editions of the Puffin storybooks, old green Penguin crime books and Picture Puffins.

This is just part of my collection - green penguins at the top and puffins below. The picture books at the end of the middle shelf are my Picture Puffins. These were wonderful books, full of information and with beautiful artwork.

At the bottom right corner is my checklist of Puffin Picture books which I bought from the Penguin Collectors Society and which has helped me list my collection correctly. Both the text and the illustrations often changed between editions (and yes, it does matter).

We spent hours in this little bookshop, sorting through all the treasures and couldn't have been made more welcome. It's a wonderful shop and we'll definitely be going back. Now that we know what a beautiful place Ironbridge is, I think a holiday is called for. I'd love to visit all the museums and it looks a great place for walking too.

Anyway, want to see what I bought? I had to restrain myself as there were so many books I'd never even seen before so I concentrated on the more unusual ones.

These two books are from a short series I'd never heard of before, published in the 1940s and 50s. I do love books on design.

There were some beautiful Penguin books on music; I managed to restrict myself to these two.

There was also a book of madrigals and another one of part songs ... choices, choices. I did get a few Picture Puffins too, including a rare one ('The Story of Louisa').

If you collect Penguin or Puffin books, a visit to Ironbridge is an absolute must.

Downstairs is more 'normal' stock and this looked good too - we definitely need to go back here.

After lunch sitting outside a friendly cafe near the bookshop (Ironbridge seems to be a very friendly place), we had a walk along the river and went to one of the smaller museums. It's such a beautiful place, just look at this wild flower meadow on the banks of the river.

And I really liked the buildings too - isn't that brickwork great?

All in all, Ironbridge was a revelation to us - we'll definitely be going back.