Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Starts and Finishes

I love starting work on new designs and, after my recent trip to Wool Warehouse, I've got the yarn I need to get on with a couple of ideas that I thought of a while ago. First of all, can you guess what this is going to be?

Obviously, this is a pencil case in progress - how could you not guess that at once? I knew the colours I wanted to use but spent hours trying out different stitch patterns to get one I liked. And what did I end up with? Garter stitch. Not that I don't love garter stitch but you'd think I would have thought of that first. The coloured stripes are the clever part (well I think they are anyway); I wanted a blended look but without having too many ends to darn in and I eventually worked out a way to combine four colours that fitted the bill.

My other new project is probably going to be a bag, made up of blocks like this one ...

This is a Log Cabin block, a traditional patchwork design where the central red square represents the hearth and the strips around it the log walls. It's a block that always makes me think of that part in Little House on the Prairie where Laura describes how Pa builds their house. 

In my knitted version the two strips in each colour are knitted without cutting the yarn and there is no sewing up to do. Do you like the colours I've chosen? I'm rather pleased with them, although I wasn't too sure about that lightest pink when I bought it. It's a bit garish on its own but I think it looks fine in with the other colours. All the colours for this (and the pencil case) are Stylecraft Special DK - such a useful yarn.

So that's the new starts. Now for the finishes. I've recently published two patterns, one of which I've been working on for the best part of a year, on and off.

This one is called Helicopters and it's another design inspired by Patchwork, this time by the Inner City block. There's a lot less sewing than you'd think in my pattern as I've picked up stitches to knit shapes wherever possible. 

I really like the  yarn I've used here. It's Rico Creative Melange DK which comes in a nice range of shades which have enough variegation to be interesting without being overpowering. I've just bought some more in these two lovely shades which I'm hoping to turn into a double sided Tunisian Crochet pattern.

The other finish was a much quicker pattern. I started knitting it last week and published it today. 

The Perfect Cowl is a very easy knit - just panels of reverse stocking stitch. I've used an odd ball of Noro Silk Garden for a colourful cowl but you could use any similar weight yarn. 

The name comes from the perfect number that the pattern was designed around. A perfect number is one where all the numbers that divide into it can be added together to make the number. So, in the case of 28 (which I used for this pattern), 1+2+4+7+14 = 28. All those numbers play an important part in the design and no, I don't think that's a strange way to design a knitting pattern.

I'll leave you with a photo of one of my quality control team testing out the work in progress earlier today. He's lying on a partially knitted blanket with his head on the new cowl and yes, that is a knitting needle under his paw.

Tolly Cat

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Can't resist a book bag

Sam at my  local bookshop Books & Ink knows how to get me through the door. Every so often she'll offer free book bags with any purchase over £10 and, every time, I obediently trot down there to buy a book or two. This is what I got today ...

First of all, that all-important book bag. It's decorated with an illustration from Judith Kerr's classic picture book 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea' which was published 50 years ago. Many will know Judith Kerr from her wonderful Mog books (my favourite is 'Mog and Bunny') but she also wrote a series of books based on her wartime experiences as a refugee from Nazi Germany. The first of these is called 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit' ... and it's just struck me that maybe the pink bunny in the Mog book was inspired by her lost toy. 

Anyway, the book I bought today is one I saw earlier in the week when I was buying presents and resisted the temptation to add to my pile. So, my resistance crumbled today and I bought it.

Frances Mountford is an artist who has written several beautifully illustrated books about the countryside; this is her first book. The whole thing is a work of art - text and pictures. Here's the title page ...

She takes the modest farm in Surrey where she lives and traces its history over four hundred years and the dozen or so families who have lived in it from the 16th Century to the present day. Here are just a couple of pages; the whole book is like this ...

A Quaker Wedding, 1719

World War One

I love this sort of book that combines art with social history. I bought her second book 'Heartbreak Farm' a few days ago for my Dad and now I want that one too. It's not illustrated throughout but is still lovely. It tells the story of her family farming in the twentieth century. I believe she's written other books, if anyone knows of any please let me know.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

You can never have too many colours ...

... which is just as well because look what I bought today ...

This is a Scheepjes Catona Colour Pack which I found on my first ever visit to Wool Warehouse. I order yarn a lot from them (including that for my ongoing Frankie's Blankie KAL) but I'd never actually been there before. You aren't allowed in the actual warehouse but there's a nice showroom with yarn to stroke - tell me I'm not the only one that does that - and the staff will fetch anything you want to look at. They also have computers set up so that you can use their website to look at other colours of the yarns on display as well as checking what they have in stock.

Anyway, I went armed with a sensible list of yarn I needed for some new designs I've got planned, mostly various shades of Stylecraft Special DK. I blame what happened next on my friend Pat. I foolishly showed her this colour pack and, before I knew where I was, I'd asked them to get it down from the warehouse for me to look at. I was dithering over it (£62!) when Pat (yes, her again) produced a code from a knitting magazine for 10% off. Well, what could I do? Obviously I bought it. Want to have a look inside?

In case you're thinking that's a lot of yarn, I should mention that you can only see the top layer in this photo. There are two more underneath. Catona is a 100% cotton yarn, roughly 4 ply in weight and these little balls weigh just 10g each. There are a massive 109 colours in the range and you get one of each in this pack. To give you an idea of how tiny these little balls are, here's one making friends with a 100g ball of Stylecraft Special.

As you can imagine, the yarn didn't stay in those tidy layers for long.

I've just spent about an hour rootling through this colourful pile and picking out different colour combinations. Honestly it was worth buying this pack just for the fun of arranging and re-arranging all those tiny little balls of colour.

There are one or two blues and greens ...

... some reds and yellows ...

... and a few pinks and purples ...

Not quite so pretty but useful to set off all those bright colours are the browns, greys and other neutral shades.

I then played around picking out a few little groups of colours with the same sort of tones.

Saturated Colours


Bright Colours

It almost seems a shame to use them, doesn't it? I'm thinking of knitting something very simple with them, using the colours as the main draw. I foresee lots more play as I work out exactly what I'm going to do. And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got new yarn to stroke.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Farewell to Penn

Last Saturday saw us making our last family trip to a secondhand bookshop that has been part of our lives for many years. The Cottage Bookshop in the little village of Penn has been attracting book lovers from far and wide for over 60 years but is now closing. 

When I first went there over thirty years ago the shop was still being run by the original owner, Fred. Books were piled everywhere, it was freezing cold and you could buy Puffin First Editions for 10p. I now have hundreds of Puffin Firsts and they've been joined on the shelves by lots of other collections, many of them started by a chance find at Penn.

My children have been going to Penn all their lives - oh the joy when you used to be able to spend book tokens there. They would save their birthday tokens for our next visit and come away with a pile of books. My son spent many hours in this little room ...

As a teenager he read almost only Fantasy books. Now he's more likely to be found searching for old Everyman's Classics to add to his collection. My daughter bought many books of animal stories at Penn and, of course, I always gravitated to the Crafts section. 

Our tastes in books may have changed and developed over the years but we all love children's books and are constantly buying new ones. Last year saw The Great Picture Book Divide when we shared out our huge collection of picture books. It was surprisingly easy to do and led to us re-discovering so many old favourites. Of course, since then, we've each been looking for replacements for books that weren't in our share. Here are the picture books at Penn ...

... well, some of them anyway. Then there are more children's books upstairs ...

... another section of children's paperback fiction ...

... and, a particular favourite of us all, children's books from the past.

Last Saturday my daughter found an interesting book here, illustrated by one of the sisters of Joyce Lankester Brisley, the author and illustrator of the Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories.

So, I expect you're wondering what we bought on our last visit to such a wonderful shop? Here they are, 154 books all together (it helped that all the stock was half price).

And here's my share of that total - a mere 45 books.

Looking at this picture I seem to have got a bit of everything, which is rather nice. I thought you might like to see a few of my favourites so let's start with some children's books.

Two more Puffin Firsts to add to my collection; I absolutely love anything by Walter de la Mare so that one was an easy choice. Mary Norton is perhaps best known for her series of books about The Borrowers (wonderful books) but 'Bedknob and Broomstick' gained new readers when it was turned into a popular Disney film in 1971. It was Disney who turned both words into plurals; recent editions of the book are now called 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks' too. 

I bought 'The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse' mainly for its beautiful yellow cover, designed by Stephen Ross. By the way, 'contemporary' in this case refers to poetry published between 1918 and 1960. Mind you, this selection was made in 1962 so that's fair enough.

How about a few picture books next?

I love the Teddy Bear series of books which are getting hard to find now. In each book the teddy bear of the title does a different job and the gentle text and illustrations take the reader through his day. At no point do any of the other (human) characters notice that they're dealing with a teddy bear. At the end of this book, after looking after the stock, going to market and all sorts of other grown-up activities (yes, that's him driving a tractor on the cover), Teddy Bear Farmer goes to bed ... and looks at pictures in a book. Isn't that lovely? 

This next book was published in 1968 and written by Jane Thayer, an American author I hadn't come across before.

'The Cat That Joined the Club' is about a cat called Casey whose nose for fine food leads him into adventure. The illustrations are by Seymour Fleishman, a prolific children's book artist in the second half of the twentieth century. 

This little book is a small hardback, not much over six inches square.

'The Little Green Book' by the artist Cherry Denham has a strong environmental message as it follows the life cycle of the tree. Each page is beautifully illustrated and the artwork is complemented by quotations from poets ranging from Andrew Marvell to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

To mark our last visit to Penn I bought my son and daughter a special book each which I wrote in and they bought me one. This is the one I chose for myself.

'Lavender's Blue', a Nursery Rhyme collection, compiled by Kathleen Lines and illustrated by Harold Jones. It's a beautiful book.

I see that you can buy a paperback edition of this book from the Oxford University Press where I learn that it has been in print for over 60 years.

Time for a some more poetry I think.

A late and very long poem on the nature of time by Walter de la Mare (told you I liked him), a collection chosen by Malcolm Saville, author of the Lone Pine series and a tiny hardback from the 1040s called 'Rhymes for Young Nature Lovers'. 

It may not be great literature but I'm a sucker for a book with pretty pictures.

This one was bought to replace the copy that my son got in the Great Picture Book Divide.

'Ragged Robin' is an alphabet of poems by the great James Reeves, published in 1961. The illustrations are by Jane Paton. I was so pleased to find exactly the same edition as our original copy.

I bought this collection of three books purely for sentimental reasons.

My Mum read this series of books and I remember seeing just these editions on the shelves as a child. Lillian Beckwith based this entertaining series of books on her time living on a croft in the Scottish Hebrides and she certainly tells a good tale. There are more than these three titles in the series but, be warned, her later book 'The Small Party' is a thinly disguised tirade against Trades Unions - not such a good read.

By now you might be wondering where the craft books are. I've bought many treasured knitting and sewing books at Penn over the years but this time I got just one new craft book and that's really a children's book too.

First published in 1956, this book is described as having 'over fifty easy things to do for boys and girls'. The wallpaper beads are right up to date but I'm not too sure about wire animals covered with papier-mâché - they look like a lot of work to me.

A few more pretty books and that'll be enough children's books for today.

I seem to be building up quite a collection of what I can only call old, pretty children's books. I like the bright covers and simple illustrations; here's a spread from that doll book on top of the pile.

Or how about this from 'My Who's Who of Pets and Animal Friends', published in the 1950s.

See the heron on the right hand page? We saw one of those just after leaving the shop but more about that later. I've left my most exciting finds till last (or nearly last). Do you remember the Fred Wild book I showed you that I bought a few weeks ago? Well, I found his other two books at Penn.

You can imagine how excited I was when I spotted these on the shelves. They're just as good as the seaside book, full of details of life in the 1920s and 30s. I particularly like this picture in 'The clatter of clogs in the early morning' of the Sale of Work - well, I would, wouldn't I?

I love the combination of art and social history in this sort of book. Another series of books like this are those by Helen Bradley She began to paint pictures of her Edwardian childhood at the age of 65 to show her grandchildren what life was like when she was a child. Her first book 'And Miss Carter Wore Pink' was published in 1971 and became a great success. Here's one I bought earlier (probably at Penn) ...

The book is full of the daily life in a Northern village at the start of the twentieth century, shopping, outings and visits to friends. The author's three maiden aunts, Mary, Frances and Charlotte appear often, as does their friend Miss Carter (who wore pink). I think this picture of a visit to the cemetery is particularly touching. Death would have been close to many families then.

Here's part of the text that goes with this picture:
Everyone brought spring flowers to the cemetery and George and I looked at our favourite angel whilst Mother and the Aunts made Grandfather's grave look gay with flowers. Miss Carter (who wore Pink) had a large grave to keep nice, for both her parents and brother were dead.
Anyway, as you've probably guessed, I found two more Helen Bradley books at Penn last week. 'Miss Carter Came With Us' tells the story of 1908, including the suffragette meeting (where Miss Carter faints) and a trip to the seaside.

Throughout the books it is apparent that Miss Carter is rather taken with Mr Taylor the Bank Manager but, on this occasion, he pays more attention to Mrs Maitland's daughter Emily.
It was growing dusk and the tide was coming in, and Mother, the Aunts and Miss Carter thought it very kind of Mr Taylor to come to escort us home. Emily Maitland was just behind him, and as he turned, he took her hand, and Aunt Frances told Mother afterwards that she was sure he had said "My Dear", but whatever it was that he said, Emily went Bright Pink. Miss Carter looked hurt, and never spoke a word all the way home.
Poor Miss Carter.

The third Helen Bradley book, ''In the beginning' said Great-Aunt Jane', is slightly surreal. It's based on the stories Helen Bradley's aunt told her about God when she was a small child, including the one about him living in a shed on the moors and making it rain by turning his tap on and off. The pictures are a mixture of real life and the child's Helen's dreams. This one of Jonah's whale appearing in the park is typical.

This a just a small selection of the books I bought on our last visit to Penn. We spent all morning in the shop, emerging in search of lunch, weighed down with all our books. Penn has a lovely village pond and, as he often is, the heron was on duty.

You can't see him in this picture but, when we were there, he was lurking behind that little island. There are always ducks on the pond and last week there were lots of ducklings too. On one visit to Penn years ago we watched the ducks stage a traffic protest. They solemnly marched across the road, stopping all the traffic, then flew back to the pond and lined up to cross the road again. It was very entertaining to watch; they must have done it three or four times in a row.

I hope you've enjoyed yet another book themed post. If anyone can recommend other good secondhand bookshops in England, the Brown family now has a Penn sized hole to fill.