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.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Lovely Little Looms

I have been more that a little obsessed with my collection of pin looms lately. There's something very compelling about being able to weave small pieces so quickly. I started off with my Hazel Rose Multi Looms - that's the two square looms at the top of the picture. These looms have the pins placed in groups of three so that you can weave squares like those worked on old Weave-It Looms which were very popular during the twentieth century in the United States.

With this type of weaving you create the warp by wrapping the yarn round the pins in three directions and then use a long needle to weave across. The finished squares have a dimpled edge.

Squares woven on the 4" and 2" multi loom

That bigger square is one of a pile that I'm weaving with James C Brett's Marble Chunky yarn. I find this is the thickest yarn that I can use on these looms. I'm using two shades and plan to sew them together into a blanket eventually.

As for the tiny 2" loom, that's been useful in planning colours for a new weaving project I'm planning - more of that later.

These looms are called multi-looms because you can weave on them in various ways, including diagonally. I've just bought a set of Hazel Rose's looms specially designed for this bias weaving.

This is the Tiny Weaver Set, a square and a triangle loom to weave shapes that can be sewn together to make lots of exciting patterns.

With this sort of weaving, you wrap the pins and weave at the same time, using a long crochet hook to pull the yarn through.

The resulting squares have straight edges and I like the look of the diagonal weave.

Straight weaving and diagonal weave

I'm using two more shades of the James Brett Chunky to weave a blanket, using just the square loom from the Tiny Weaver set. You can make all sorts of exciting patterns just with squares. Here's the design I planned after looking through my quilt books.

i'm starting in the middle and working outwards in a sort of spiral; this is what I've done so far.

Somehow, this looks more like one big piece of fabric than knitted or crocheted squares do when they're sewn together.

I haven't forgotten the little triangle loom though; that's going to play a starring part in the Temperature Blanket I'm planning to weave next year. I've been inspired by reading about weavers working on their temperature blankets this year on the Looms To Go ravelry group and I thought it would be nice to have a go too. It took me ages to draw a plan of what I want to do.

The main part is going to be made up of woven triangles, one for each day of 2019. I'll weave each triangle in a shade to match that day's temperature. I've got 19 colours ready, one for roughly every two degrees Celsius. The months will be marked by squares and then I'm going to do a key to the colours at the side. The whole thing will be bordered with grey squares. I was going to use navy blue as in this sample but it's just so hard on the eyes to work with very dark colours.

I had thought I would have to buy lots of colours in a thick yarn but then I made the happy discovery that two strands of Stylecraft Special DK are just the right weight. Here are a few sample squares ...

The two grey squares are samples of my border and month squares. All those little squares are going to be the key to the 19 colours. I've stuck labels on the back of these with the temperature range that each one represents.

I'm really looking forward to starting work on this blanket in the New Year. It will be nice to be doing something that isn't one of my own patterns, just like a normal person.

The other little loom I want to show you today is very exciting. 

This is a Turtle Loom from Blueboonet Crafters and, as you can see, you can weave hexagons on this one. These looms come in various sizes and a friend kindly sent me the new Fine Sett Turtle Loom. The pins are close together on this loom which means you can use finer yarns. This is great for me as I have a LOT of leftover thin yarn. 

The Turtle Looms combine bias and straight weaving which makes them fun to use. First you weave diagonally ...

... then you thread your yarn on to a needle and weave back and forth for the rest of the hexagon.

By the way, I love the new pencil case I found to hold my weaving tools. Not only is it a beautiful green but it's made of a very tactile silicone. I may have to go back to Office Outlet and get another one. They had a bright blue ... and a yellow ... and ...

Anyway, here are my hexagons sewn together.

I'm using Hayfield Spirit DK which is a thinnish DK and this will be a scarf. I'm adding the hexagons in rows of three (those dark ones on the right are the last row to be added).

Another very exciting thing I've discovered with this loom is that, if I use thin sockweight yarn (about 400 m per 100 g), I can sew two hexagons together to get a hexiflat. When I sew these together, I'll have different colours on each side.

These are going to be a cowl when they grow up. I'll use single hexagons at the sides and fold them in half so the finished cowl will have straight sides. Does that make sense? Here's a little mat I made using a double hexagon in the centre and then folded hexagons around it. 

I may have got just a bit carried away when it came to embroidering those little flowers.

I hope you've enjoyed looking at my loom collection. These are such fun to work with, I can really recommend them. In fact, I think I might just do a bit of weaving now ...

Friday, 19 October 2018

Stacking Stars

The problem with publishing a big Christmas pattern series and a year long series like the Blankie is that, while they're a lot of work, people not knitting either of them think I'm not doing anything ... which means the donations to my Fundraising Page drop off. At times like this I try to design a quick pattern to fill the gaps while I carry on working on bigger things (it would help if I didn't keep on designing blankets, I've got three more in the pipeline at the moment).

I've just finished one such pattern, Stacking Stars and I feel the need to show it to anybody and everybody so here it is.

These are very simple, garter stitch stars which come in nine sizes and can be stacked together to make a rainbow tree. I think this is such a typical Frankie pattern in many ways.

First of all, it started with the colours. I love any excuse to play about with lots of bright colours and, since I made my Colour Pegs of Stylecraft Special DK, this has been much easier to do. For this pattern, I had in mind a range of brightly coloured stars in all different sizes so I got my colour pegs out to choose my colours. I thought nine would be enough so I put together two sets of colours, one bright and the other a bit more muted.

Then, on the grounds that you can never have too many colours, I re-arranged them into a sequence so that I could use both sets.

When I'm arranging colours like this, I very often put them in rainbow order - Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (that was fun; I may have to write in colour more often). I love the way Stylecraft Special is labelled by name rather than colour; my chosen colours are, from left to right:

Burgundy, Claret, Lipstick, Copper, Gold, Sunshine, Kelly Green (one of my favourites), Green, Bottle, Petrol, Empire, Turquoise, Fuchsia Pink, Boysenberry, Lobelia and Royal. I work with this yarn so often that I'm starting to learn the names off by heart; it's almost like they're my friends ... Oh dear.

Anyway, after choosing my colours I had to work out how to knit the stars. This is where I decided to go back to one of my old patterns, Advent Stars.

I designed these a couple of years ago to use up yarn left over from my Opal Advent Calendar, after knitting my Patchwork Pelerine. I understand Opal aren't producing a yarn advent calendar this year which is probably just as well for me as I still haven't finished the project I started with the 2016 calendar.

So, I took the basic pattern I'd used for the Advent Stars and then worked out how to knit different sizes. This turned out to be really easy, it was just a case of adjusting the number of pattern repeats to suit the number of stitches cast on. This is why I love garter stitch, it makes designing so easy. Right, I thought, knit nine sizes of stars, starting with 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 stitches. That shouldn't take long.

This is where I hit another typical feature of my patterns. They might be colourful and very simple to knit but it takes a surprisingly long time to knit enough of any given pattern to be able to produce a pretty picture. Turns out it takes a very long time to knit 18 stars (plus one for the top of the tree). It didn't help that each star is actually two star shapes sewn together. This makes the shapes more regular as well as giving them a bit of body. So, many days later, I ended up with this ...

At this point I got distracted by arranging the stars into pretty patterns. This happens to me a lot when I'm working with lots of colours. There was a lot of this ...

Eventually I decided it was about time I turned turn the stars into something. I'd had the idea of a tree in mind from very early on but I couldn't decide how to arrange the stars. Should I stack them so that all the edges matched like this ...

... or offset the points to make more of a rosette shape ...

... or perhaps something more gradual, like this swirl ...

In the end I decided on the first option and set about sewing the stars together through their centres. This was very quick and easy, although I realised half way through that I needed to use the colour of the topmost star, not the bottom one as that would be the one that showed. 

And guess what I found out once I'd finished? I could still twist the stars once they were joined which meant I could have all three shapes.

I'd left the star for the top of the tree until last, planning to sew it down through the two bottom points but then I had a better idea. If I pinned the star to the tree, I could take it off to store the tree, lay it flat on top and pin it down again. That way, it was less likely to get battered when I put it away.

I used one of my T shaped blocking pins for this which is just the right length for the job.

At this point you'd think I would have finished the actual knitting, wouldn't you? But no, another thing I do a lot is think "what else could you use this pattern for?". I managed to talk myself down from knitting some star bunting but I did get distracted by a tree decoration ...

... and a tiny tree with stuffed stars and silver beads for decorations ...

This one's only about 5 cm or 2" tall and I have to admit that it was a bit fiddly to knit.

So, there you have it, a typical Frankie pattern - lots of colours, simple pattern (but taking ages to knit) and several uses for it. One more thing that strikes me is that it's yet another geometric pattern. I think playing with shapes comes a close second to playing with colour.

RainbowAccidental ToyPlay Beads and Honeycomb Bauble

See what I mean? Click on the links below the picture for more details on these four patterns. There are lots of geometrics in my blanket patterns too but I think I've wittered on enough for today. Time to get on with some of those unfinished designs I think.