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.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Good things come in small packages

I do like a pretty package, don't you? This one arrived from Weft Blown recently, complete with sheep badge. And inside was ...

... a tiny weaving loom

It's a two inch pin loom made by Hazel Rose Looms. This is one of their smallest looms (it fits in the palm of my hand) and I absolutely love it. For those of you who don't know about pin looms, they are a very simple way of weaving shapes, based on the old Weave-It Looms which were very popular in America in the second half of the twentieth century. I first read about them in this issue of Piecework Magazine in 2010.

My first Hazel Rose loom was a four inch square which I've had a lot of fun with; here it is with the new loom fitted inside it.

The yarn is woven round the nails on the loom to create the warp and half the weft before the last half of the weft is woven with a needle to complete the square. These little squares are a great use of variegated yarn which looks completely differently when woven rather than knitted. The four inch squares in the picture were woven with James C Brett's Marble Chunky and all come from the same ball of yarn.

Would you like to see what prompted me to order this new little loom?

Isn't this wonderful? It's a blanket made up completely of woven two inch squares. Even the black sashing is actually lots of little squares. A member of the Looms To Go group on Ravelry posted this picture of the blanket she'd found in a charity shop and she kindly gave me permission to use it here. It's rather sad that such a beautiful piece of work should have ended up in a charity shop but now it's found a good home where it will be treasured.

So, I've started on my own version. I think this one could take a while!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Corduroy and Quilts

I am starting to get somewhere with some of my unfinished designs. This week I finally finished my knitted rug ...

This has taken me over a year to knit - 150 small squares! - but I'm really pleased with how it's turned out. I'm calling it Corduroy as the deeply textured ripples are like huge corduroy stripes. For this pattern I developed a technique involving swapping between two sizes of needle and joining the rolls to the square as you go. I know that makes no sense at all but if you download the free pattern, you'll see what I mean.

I must say that I think the edging is quite clever too, even if it did take me most of last weekend to work out how to do it. It's a knitted on I cord - simple but enough to tame the edges of this beast.

Should you not feel the need for a knitted rug you could use the pattern to make a blanket. I think it would be lovely as a child's play mat; it's almost padded and little fingers would love all that texture. It could be knitted with scraps of leftover yarn too.

I rather like the back of the knitting too which is perfectly flat.

I'm now halfway through this year's calendar of mini knitted quilts too, having just published the June Quilt. Here are Quilts 1 - 6, January to June.

The summer months are the hardest to design I think as I can't think of so many obvious things to use. Any ideas for July and August? 

Meanwhile, I'm catching up on some other unfinished designs: a crochet blanket, another knitted blanket based on a patchwork quilt design and a lacy scarf using KintCircus yarn. Oh, and I'm still working on the big KAL patterns for Christmas and 2018 ...

Thursday, 8 June 2017

On This Day ...

On 8th June 1913 a woman called Emily Wilding Davison died in Epsom Cottage Hospital. Four days earlier she had run on to the track during the Derby and been hit by the King's horse, Anmer as she tried to grab his bridle. Emily was a Suffragette who had been force fed many times in prison and it is now believed that she was trying to attach a 'Votes for Women' banner to the horse's bridle.

The jockey, Herbert Jones, escaped with concussion but could never forget what had happened. At the funeral of the leading Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in 1928 he laid a wreath "to do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison".

Women were finally given the same voting rights as men in 1928.

Today, 8th June 2017, exactly 104 years after Emily Davison's death, I shall vote in the UK General Election. I will be voting Labour for the sake of our National Health Service and our schools and because I believe in a fairer future for all people. The important thing though is that I shall use my vote and I urge everyone - whatever their politics - to do the same.

Emily Davison, Teacher and Suffragette

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Teddy Bear's Picnic

Did you know that 10th July is Teddy Bear's Picnic Day? Well no, nor did I until I had a message from Carl at Bijou Basin Ranch in Colorado, asking if they could use one of my patterns in some kits they were selling to mark the occasion. Bijou Basin is a family owned Yak ranch which sells high quality Yak fibre and yarns. I've never knitted with Yak wool but I'm assured that it is soft and warm.

The pattern they are using is my Teddy Bear Stripes, although their bears will be knitted in one colour. Here's my original teddy bear (striped and otherwise) ...

... and here is the sample bear, knitted with the Yak wool ...

Isn't he lovely? He looks very cuddly. If you would like to buy a kit to knit your own teddy bear, you can order one from Bijou Basin for $25. They are kindly donating a percentage of the price to the charity I support. the Children's Liver Disease Foundation, for which I am very grateful. You can read more about the kit, including helpful tips on knitting your bear on the Bijou Basin Blog and share photos of your finished bears on their Ravelry Group. You've got to love a group that has 'For the Love of all things Yak' under the title, haven't you?

From Colorado Yaks to an English Dance Band in the 1930s ...