Monday, 21 August 2017

Running fast ...

... to stay still - that's what it feels like I'm doing at the moment. Other sayings that come to mind are 'All work and no play', 'Time flies', 'Bitten off more than you can chew' - you get the general idea.

At the moment I'm working frantically on The Big Pattern Series for 2018 and wishing I'd never thought of it! I shall feel better once the knitting is finished and I can concentrate on the writing. As for this year's big Christmas pattern, every time I think of it I start to panic. Maybe I don't actually need to sleep?

Calm down Frankie, deep breaths ... I have actually had a few days out in the past couple of weeks which I'd like to write about but, in the meantime, what do you think of this?

This is what I was working on late last night and it's my first attempt at a knitted Granny Square. I need to try again with some bigger needles as it comes out very thick but I quite like the rippled outside edge. It takes a lot longer than a crochet one would but I think knitters who don't crochet might like it. Can anyone guess how it's knitted?

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A Long Look at a Small Bookcase

This little bookcase lives in my hall and, during the great book sort last weekend, I decided to use it for some of my smaller collections of children's books. The bookcase itself is about seventy years old and was made by my Grandfather out of old packing cases. I have a workbox that was made in the same way.

Anyway, back to the books. On the top shelf are my Ladybird Books; some are my original childhood books but most have been bought more recently.

Since the 1940s Ladybird books have been popular and affordable small books for children. Printing each book on one large sheet of paper meant that quality books could be sold at reasonable prices.

I loved this book as a child and used to pore over the pictures. Children's books with coloured illustrations like this were a real treat in the early 1960s.

These two were mine as a child too. I like the picture of the school milk - those were the days.

The next two are more recent acquisitions.

I particularly love this one, it's just my sort of thing.

And of course I had to have the Ladybird Book of Knitting.

I think I may have to add to this collection soon. Books & Ink have lots of old Ladybirds, just waiting to tempt me.

Next to the Ladybirds on the shelf are three small books.

These are King Penguins, they were published in the 1940s and 50s and are a similar size to the Ladybirds. They're beautifully designed - just look at this one ...

This is 'A Book of Toys' written and illustrated by Gwen White. Nearly all the toys pictured can be found in London museums so you could visit them and look for the originals.

'Wild Flowers of the Chalk' by John Gilmour

This last one is an amazing book. The maps are from John Speed's Atlas of 1627; it's fun to see how much (or little) counties you know have changed since then.

On to the second shelf of the bookcase now. 

I expect these are familiar to most people - some of the Arthur Ransome series of 'Swallows and Amazons' books.

I do like books with map endpapers - this one's from 'Picts and Martyrs'

In this illustration from 'We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea' you can see the rescue of Sinbad, the ship's cat.

I only read 'Swallows and Amazons' as a child (thank-you Puffin Story Books - more about those in another post) but have since read and re-read the whole series as well as sharing them with my two children. This led to an Arthur Ransome themed holiday in the Lake District where we climbed Kachenjunga and found the Dog's Home, as well as visiting Captain Flint's houseboat and picnicking at Darien. If none of this means anything to you, go and read the books - they're wonderful.

Next to the Arthur Ransome are some non-fiction books. First, a few books from the Blackwell's Learning Library, school books from the 1960s and 70s.

I like these for their social history as well as the illustrations. Here are a couple of pages from 'Edna Johnson's Summer Book', first published in 1963.

In 'Dancing in Britain', as well as the expected references to Morris Dancing and Maypole, I also found this ...

Scottish soldiers from the 51st Highland Division dancing in a German prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. The book says that they invented a new dance which is still called the Reel of the 51st Division.

Next come these two books which I expect were also school books.

These were published by the Blandford Press, I would guess in the 1950s. As you can see, I have yet to find Book 2 of the series. More lovely illustrations in these pages from the two books.

The tiny little books at the end of this shelf are my collection of old I-Spy Books.

Modern versions of these little books are still being published by Collins; the idea is to spot things around a theme. You get different numbers of points for each thing you spot, depending on how hard they are to find and, when you have enough points, you can send off for a certificate. You used to get a badge which I think was nicer but the books are still lots of fun.

'I-Spy Wild Flowers'
'I-Spy History'

Not that my house is full of old things but I have everything on that page from 'I-Spy History'!

And now for the bottom shelf of the little bookcase.

These are my Little Grey Rabbit books. I had just one of these as a child which I read and re-read, 'Wise Owl's Story'.

I didn't know that it was part of a series so imagine my delight when, as an adult, I found that Alison Uttley had written more than 30 little books about Little Grey Rabbit and her friends. The stories are lovely, full of details of the countryside and they have the most beautiful pictures by Margaret Tempest.

Here are just a few of my favourites ...

Two books featuring Fuzzypeg the Hedgehog 

How wonderful is it that there's a book about making lace?

I bought 'Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas' just last week and it's already one of my favourites. There's sledging and snowballs (Fuzzypeg gets stuck in one), carol singing, primrose wine and lots of kindness between neighbours. 

And we've finally got to the end of the bookcase. I hope you've enjoyed this look at some of my collections and that it's brought back happy memories of your own childhood books. 

I have more book collections on other bookcases, including hundreds of first edition Puffin Story Books and Green Penguins But they will have to wait for another day.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

August Quilt

Today I've published the eighth in my year long series of mini knitted quilts.

August Quilt is full of flowers, much like my garden at the moment - although mine are hiding behind the weeds and brambles. The little flowers are quick to knit and could be used to decorate all manner of things Summery.

It was a bit of a race to get this pattern ready as we spent the weekend sorting and moving all the books on the bottom two floors of the house into new homes. By which I mean new bookcases, not many actually left the house. When I can get some decent photos I'll show you what I mean.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

New Things

New thing number one:     Improvised Raddle

A raddle is basically a long piece of wood with posts sticking up to spread the warp when warping a loom. Proper ones are silly prices so I tried this thing that I bought at Dunelm Mill some time ago. I can't remember what it's meant to be used for but I think I found it in the kitchen department. Anyway it only cost a couple of pounds and it worked. You could cut out the middle bars and use both sides next to each other for wider warps too.

New thing number two:     Bobbin Winder

This one is the real thing, made by Ashford. Again, you can improvise with drills and suchlike but I decided to go for this one. I got fed up with always having to reload my stick shuttles when weaving with thin yarn so decided to try a boat shuttle. Which leads me to the next new thing.

New thing number three:     Boat Shuttle

This is an 8" shallow Swedish style boat shuttle, made by Bluster Bay and supplied by The Handweavers Studio. Here it is in action at the start of a new scarf. It's definitely quicker and easier to use than a stick shuttle. I bought some paper quills to go with it (these take the place of a bobbin) but I think I shall make my own too. I did read somewhere that you can use drinking straws ...

See that stitched edge above the paper? That's my first attempt at hemstitching.

New thing number four:     Curtains

These aren't at all exciting but they took me three days to make and hang so I'm glad to have finished them. The windows are triple width - think of a bay window flattened - so I had to use two lengths for each curtain and then I lined them with blackout material (having discovered that you can get it in cream as well as black). The worst thing about making curtains for this house is adjusting the length. It's all very well measuring from the floor but my floors aren't level and nor are the windows. This time there was only a few inches difference from one side of the window to the other; when I made floor length curtains for the front room there was a 6" height difference across the window.

See that table in the corner? That's not at all new, being a Regency Card table from the early 19th Century but I only bought it last year. The top opens out to make a big square table, just right for cutting fabric on. I was looking for a desk to fit that alcove when I found this one at Brackley Antiques Centre for about the same price that a new table of that size would have been. I do love old things.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Margaret Murray & Jane Koster

Today I thought you might like to see some of my old knitting books, published by Odhams Press in the middle of the 20th Century.

These were all written by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster, sisters-in-law who started out running a child model agency and then became prolific knitting designers. As well as collaborating on knitting books, they also designed patterns for many of the big yarn houses of the day and were pioneers in the study of knitting history. I learnt all this from Richard Rutt's A History of Hand Knitting which, by the way, is a book that should be on every knitter's bookshelf.

The Murray and Koster books all have very similar titles: 'Practical Knitting Illustrated', 'Modern Knitting Illustrated', 'Knitting Illustrated' ... you get the idea. They also all have lovely endpapers on a knitting theme.

'one plain, one purl' - I like that one

Before looking inside, here's a tip for dating these books. If you look at the line of text giving the printer's details (this is often at the very end of the book) you will see a short series of letters and numbers. The numbers give the month and year of printing.

So, this book was printed in the tenth month of 1946 - October 1946.

Although the books are of their time with lots of patterns for knitted vests and swimsuits, there are also many timeless designs that would be fun to try now.

This shawl would not just be 'appreciated by the older woman' today

Not quite sure why she's reading with her gloves on but the pattern's nice

I particularly like old patterns for baby clothes and isn't this spread beautifully designed?

Many of the books have features on stitch patterns ...

... and also some crochet patterns.

Should you want to look for these lovely books, they often turn up in charity shops and secondhand bookshops or ... you could start your collection with one of my books.

Owing to a combination of never having my list with me when I see these books and the titles being so similar, I have an extra copy of two of the Murray and Koster books.  
The first one is 'Practical Family Knitting Illustrated', printed in 1946.

This one is unusual in that it has colour illustrations. As you might guess from the title, there are 62 patterns for all the family, divided into four sections - one for each season. There's also a short chapter on the 'Principles of Knitting and Crochet' but no stitch patterns in this one. I couldn't find any crochet patterns either.

The second book is 'Practical Knitting Illustrated' printed in 1940.

As you can see, this one has the normal black and white illustrations. There are 75 designs, including some crochet patterns and a few toys and things for the home. There's also an excellent section at the back of the book with advice on adapting patterns for different shapes and sizes and quite a few stitch patterns too. I think this book has a better variety than the other one but of course those colour pictures are lovely.

Anyway, if you would like one of these two books, just leave a comment at the end of this post, telling me which one you'd prefer. First come, first served and I'm afraid I can only send the books within the UK, owing to the cost of the postage. If, once they've got their books, the recipients would like to make a donation to my fundraising page for the Children's Liver Disease Foundation, then that would be very nice but is not compulsory.

Let me know if you've enjoyed this post and would like to see more of my old knitting books. I have some that are about 170 years old ...

Friday, 7 July 2017

A Tale of Two Plays

In the last month I've been to see two plays at the RSCVice Versa at the Swan and Titus Andronicus at the main theatre.

As you can see from the programmes, they were a bit different. 'Vice Versa' is a new play, written by Phil Porter and described as a 'side-splitting comedy romp', inspired by the Roman playwright Plautus. On the other hand, 'Titus Andronicus' is famously the Shakespeare play with the highest body count (which is saying something). I leave you to guess which one I was looking forward to most ...

... which just goes to show how wrong you can be. 'Vice Versa' has had good reviews and most of the audience seemed to love it but it left both me and my son cold. There was no plot, no character development and the jokes were tediously predictable. For those of you of a certain age, think of a combination of 'Up Pompeii' and a 1970s panto. The production was excellent as were the actors but oh dear, what a play! We were still glad we'd gone as it gave us hours of conversation, trying to work out why it was so bad.

Now for 'Titus Andronicus'. This is one of the plays I don't know so I read it before going to see the play. Well ... there are three hands and one tongue cut off, a double rape and so many murders I lost count. By the time I finished reading I was feeling slightly sick. I knew that the play would be better though; for anyone who thinks Shakespeare is difficult, do go and see it live - it will all make sense in the theatre.

It's always interesting to see how each play is staged. Having seen 'Julius Caesar' and 'Antony and Cleopatra' this year which were both in Roman dress, I had assumed that this one would be too. Instead, Rome's Capitol was distinctly reminiscent of the White House, complete with podium, microphone and Secret Service men talking into their radios. The microphone itself almost stood in for the Emperor's crown (or should that be laurel wreath?) and the Emperor Saturninus himself was brilliantly played by Martin Hutson as an immature and needy politician.

Yes, there was a lot of blood, but what was most chilling was the build up to the various murders with the actors becoming increasingly frightened as their fate became apparent. Hannah Morrish's performance as Lavinia crawling on to the stage after her brutal rape was incredibly moving. There was complete silence from the audience as she flinched away from her uncle and brother.

And, as is always the case with Shakespeare, there was humour, often involving members of the audience as the actors broke the tenison by speaking to them directly (word of advice - if audience participation isn't your thing, don't sit in the front row of the stalls at the RSC). We were also amused by the man in the front row who, each time he was handed the 'baby' by the actor playing Lucius, hurriedly passed it on to the woman sitting next to him! It was quite a realistic baby but even so ...

All in all, it was a fantastic play and gave us lots to think about. As my son pointed out, with all those deaths there wasn't a single suicide which was interesting given that it was a Roman play. There was lots of pleading for mercy which, in many other Shakespeare plays, would have had some effect but which never did here. And that led to more murders as each one served as revenge for the last.

So, that's the two most recent plays I've seen. We've booked our tickets for the Winter season now and will be going to see Coriolanus and Twelfth Night, as well as Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage and Kingdom Come which is a new play set in the English Civil War. Next month we're going to see Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare's poem, performed with the help of puppets. Lot's of interesting stuff there.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Shirley Hughes

Listening to Shirley Hughes on Radio 4's Woman's Hour reminded me how much her books have meant to me throughout my life. She used her Guest Editor slot to talk about the importance of libraries, taking young children to art galleries and how to wear a hat.

Well, I've never felt comfortable in hats but the bit about art galleries rang true. My children still remember going to see the Dutch Flower Paintings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery many years ago, the first of many such trips. As Shirley said, we would just look at a few paintings in a gallery and talk about what was going on in them. She mentioned going to see And When Did You Last See Your Father? at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool as a child; I went to the Walker a few years ago and that was one of my favourites.

So, back to the books. I didn't find them all but here's just a few of the books I have that were either written or illustrated (and often both) by Shirley Hughes.

It was interesting to see how many of my favourite books as a child had Shirley Hughes covers. Here are just a few ...

I read and re-read all of these many times. Something to Do is a wonderful book. First published in 1966 it has a long chapter for each month of the year. There are nature notes, poems and, of course, lots of ideas for things to do, both inside and out. I particularly loved the craft ideas and longed to be ill in bed so that I could make a mouse out of a handkerchief.

It never once occurred to me that I could make it even if I wasn't ill! By the way, I've since tried this and it's not as easy as it looks. I did however make some furniture for my dolls house out of conkers, as described in the chapter for October.

I recently came across a Folio edition of this book, called Year Round Things to Do in my local secondhand bookshop and was pleased to see a variation on the original cover which kept the tree.

It was when my children were small that I discovered the wonderful Shirley Hughes picture books. I always say that if you were told you could only have books by one author for a child, then she should be that one. Although why anyone would say that, I don't know! Anyway, I think the Alfie books were our favourites. He and his little sister, Annie Rose, lived in a London terraced house a bit like ours and the books are so warm and true to life. I particularly liked this one, An Evening at Alfie's.

It's raining inside the house and, while their babysitter calls for help, it's Alfie who works out why Annie Rose is crying.

The relationship between Alfie and Annie Rose is beautifully told and illustrated in all the books about them. The fact that my daughter looked rather like Annie Rose as a baby made them even more special. In The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook Alfie takes his special stone, Bonting to the seaside ... and loses it! This was more traumatic in our house than the time when Dave loses Dogger (don't worry, there's a happy ending and, this time, it's Annie Rose to the rescue). Alfie's Bonting had its own little bathing suit so both my children had to find their own Bonting and I had to provide the bathing suits. Here's my daughter's Bonting, proudly wearing his, complete with his name - just in case he got lost. It obviously worked as she still has it more than twenty years on.

In case you're wondering, yes, this is going to be a very long post with lots of pictures. Feel free to go and make a cup of tea and come back to it later. 

Anyway, as well as the Alfie books, we loved the Nursery Collection - small themed books in verse.

They're all really good, here are the first few pages of Bathwater's Hot ...

Bathwater's hot, Seawater's cold,
Ginger's kittens are very young But Buster's getting old.

The Colours book is also wonderful - a perfect combination of illustration and text. 

Tangerines and apricots,
Orange flowers in orange pots.
Orange glow on an orange mat,
Marmalade toast and a marmalade cat.

'Marmalade toast and a marmalade cat' - I thing that sums up all the warmth and comfort of home to a small child. Out and About features the same children but is a bigger book with longer poems.

Shirley also writes books for older children; here are just a few ...

... and there's a lovely book called A Year of Stories and Things to Do which collects together lots of her different stories, interspersed with suggestions for things to do each month. Echoes of Something to Do here.

Glad to see Bonting getting a mention.

Does anyone else have fond memories of reading the Naughty Little Sister  books by Dorothy Edwards? These copies belong to my daughter and, yes, they are illustrated by Shirley Hughes.

I'm still collecting books by Shirley Hughes only now it's often my children who buy them for me. This one, The Christmas Eve Ghost goes back to the Liverpool of her childhood.

I also have her autobiography A Life Drawing which is a fascinating read and full of little pictures.

Just look at all those different emotions on the evacuees' faces

But possibly my favourite of all her books and the one I think everyone should go out and buy - now! - is this one.

A Brush With the Past covers the first fifty years of the twentieth century and is full of the sort of narrative paintings Shirley talked about on Woman's Hour. There is so much to look at in every one of them; it really is an art gallery for children in book form. Just look at the different faces in these ...

Cold leftovers - An English country estate - 1908

Homecoming tea - Yorkshire, England - 1918

A slice of bread by the roadside - Northern France - 1940

There are pages of text with more historical facts for other years but oh, the paintings. This is a wonderful book.

Before I finish I must just say a word about Shirley's daughter, Clara Vulliamy, who is also an author and illustrator. She particularly enjoys illustrating classic children's books such as the Mary Plain books by Gwynedd Rae. If you haven't met Mary Plain, you're in for a treat. I'm also fond of Clara's illustrations for some of the Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories.

This is the story where Milly-Molly-Mandy wins first prize at a party (a doll) and then swaps it for the little cotton wool rabbit that was the booby prize. I was that sort of child!

Clara also writes lots of original books for children and then there's this series ...

... the Dixie O'Day books, written by Shirley Hughes, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy. What a perfect combination.

And now I really must stop. I hope I've encouraged any of you who have yet to discover these books to go out and find them or just to take a child to an art gallery. Thank-you Shirley for so many beautiful and inspiring books.