Woven eccentricities (or a wonky weave of a geriatric Jack Russell)

Since topping up my sleeved sweater stash (see previous post) we have had a mini heatwave here in the South of England. With temperatures soaring to 30 degrees and little let off at night I have found it difficult to get stuck in to another knitting project. So what to do with yarn that doesn’t result in sweaty hands and squeaky needles and allows a little air flow around the old bod? Yep, you got it, back to the tapestry frame and warp speed ahead on another coptic inspired weave of a wonky portrait, this time Nelly being the muse.

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“Today I shall mostly be fabulous!” Hand woven tapestry in wool, cotton and metallic yarn.

My aim with this one was to use eccentric weaving (where the weft is not at right angles to the warp) to mimic the nap of the fur and to help give the illusion of three dimensions via the suggestion of contour lines. And here is the result: Nelly looking resplendent (and slightly worried i.e. her usual expression) on a majestic looking cushion. Note to self, for the next weave try to create a design that can be woven the right way up rather than on its side as previous ones have been if I wish to avoid developing a permanent kink in my neck and spine from regular progress checks.

Now, what to do next I wonder? I still have a knitting itch to scratch and the temperatures are becoming more conducive to picking up the needles again. However, I wouldn’t want to upset the Big Dog by showing favouritism to the Little and Noisy One so perhaps I should be sourcing some Weim coloured yarn for another wonky weave. Mmm, decisions, decisions, perhaps a cup of tea (or at least the tea leaves) will help? Until next time…….

Stash Busting 1940s style (or the British weather, the folly of a beetroot addiction, caravan claustrophobia and a feminist applause)

In this country one of our favourite pastimes is complaining about the weather, particularly at this time of year. We love a good whinge about what a terrible Summer we had last year, are having this year and will probably have again next year, particularly how it rained EVERY weekend and for MOST of the school holidays. You may be forgiven for thinking that if it is like this every year we as a nation would have resigned ourselves to this fact and would no longer point it out as the opening greeting at every meeting from May until September but I guess in our own strange way (to the much asked polite greeting of “how are you?” how many times do we get a response of “not too bad” or “could be worse“) it is a sign of an enduring if slightly warped optimism.

As a family we gave up going on holiday when I was in my early teens when the challenge of trying to find alternative care for a house full of pets and horses far outweighed the “relaxation” of sitting in a caravan in rainy Devon playing Monopoly. The final straw occurred when Mum in her wisdom and strange addiction decided that what a family of five and a dog in a caravan in Devon could not possibly be without for two weeks was jars of beetroot. On arrival, after a particularly swervy journey avoiding head on collisions on the narrow West country lanes, we opened up the caravan door to find open cupboards and yes, you guessed it, purple everywhere! Dad decided after this incident that he would probably find his precious two weeks off work a year far more relaxing sitting in his armchair at home listening to Jazz. I for one had way too many horse competitions and stuff to do at the stables during the Summer months to miss the tradition of 2am starts to travel across the country with the prospect of enforced time with family members in an enclosed space with no bolt hole or bicycle for escape, and secretly applauded his decision.

Personally I love the British weather. Cited by many of my friends and clients as a potential reason to flee these green shores, I look forward to the changing seasons and the energy associated with the unpredictability of what we might awake to each morning.  I enjoy the full spectrum of possibilities from snow through to heat wave but with none of them out staying their welcome or being too extreme (usually!). Whenever I have flown to hotter climates I am always struck by how dry, dusty and brown everything appears and can’t wait for the lushness of the British countryside underneath the plane as I arrive home. I guess always having had animals to look after and exercise, one becomes somewhat immune to rain and cold as outdoor jobs still have to be done and as the famous saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing (who did say that anyway?).

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the sky may be grey but the garden is lovely and green (except for the piddle patches!)

Anyhoo, neutral introductory ramblings over, let’s get back (briefly) to the political situation in good old GB which continues to fuel the headlines. So, we now have a new Prime Minister and while in my opinion she was probably the best choice out of the prospective candidates, the Brexit farce has somewhat dampened down what a significant time for women in politics this currently is. Theresa May is only the second female to take on the role in British history and one of her first trips as new PM was to visit Scotland’s female First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon in an attempt to avoid us becoming the DUK that I spoke of in my previous post.  This, along with the prospect (everyone please cross your fingers for this one because the alternative is just too awful to consider) of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female President of the US, and Angela Merkel already firmly ensconced as the first female Chancellor in Germany makes this an unprecedented time for woman in prominent positions of power in political history.  With particularly challenging times ahead I don’t envy them but politics aside, as an inspiration to the homogametic sex I applaud them and wish them good luck and judgement in their roles.

If you are still with me (I thank you for that!), this is where the relevance of the past four paragraphs will hopefully now become apparent in the context of creating.  Regarding the weather: I have no sweaters of a suitable weight and sleeve length to cope with chilly British Summer evenings (yes, really!).  Regarding all the political stuff: I needed a calming creative pursuit to lose myself in over the past month or so while escaping into the imaginary world of audiobooks. As far as the beetroot is concerned, that was just a childhood memory that surfaces from time to time at family functions and still causes much amusement.

I have a strange shape for knitwear, having a square body with broad shoulders, minimal bust and a high almost non existent waist (when I was in my early twenties I remember a Summer of baring midriffs completely passing me by despite having a rather splendid belly button ring at the time which I was desperate to show off as non of the T shirts or tops on sale in the shops were short enough to expose any of my flesh!).  I dread fashion returning to high waisted trousers which might as well be over the shoulder dungarees as far as I’m concerned.  Over the years I have learned that while I may lust after flowing or chunky knits, the only way to avoid the “Yikes, what was I thinking?” moment when first trying on the masterpiece that took 100 hours to knit, cost £100 in yarn, and made me look like I was wearing my Dad’s old gardening sweater, is to stick to 4ply and keep it small, fitted and neat. Hence you will not be surprised to hear that my favourite knitwear era is the 1940s which was by necessity a time of stash busting and colour work with unpicking and reworking and slim, neat silhouettes. I am a collector of 1940s patterns and while perusing my library I came across this in “Knitting Illustrated” by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster published in 1948.

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from Knitting Illustrated by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster (Odhams Ltd, 1948)

After taking a quick stash inventory it occurred to me that I had enough Hobbycraft Women’s Institute Shetland 4ply (made in the UK by JC Rennie and Co Ltd and now sadly discontinued) to recreate this rather striking design so after a couple of false starts while I worked out that I needed a purple to complement the blues and green (luckily I had some Rowan Felted Tweed DK which worked well for this) and a provisional cast on so I didn’t have to decide on welt stitch or overall length until the end, this is how it came out.

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Fair Isle sweater in Shetland 4ply and Rowan Felted Tweed DK

And of course, since I finished it on Friday night, we have had a mini heat wave in the South of England with temperatures soaring (comparatively) to 25 degrees or more. You are welcome!

So, folks (Mum), thanks again for reading my ramblings. I am now without any knitting to do and feeling distinctly twitchy so I feel this afternoon I may be returning to my stash to see what else I can conjure up.  This little beauty also arrived in the post yesterday so I think a cup of coffee, a little sit down and a bit of a riffle is next on the to do list. Until next time…..

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New book!

Weaving around the EU referendum

Here in the UK we had a little vote the other Thursday. On 23rd June we went to bed as part of the EU and on 24th June we awoke in the middle of a Terry Pratchett novel (don’t panic folks, this isn’t really a political post, I’m just putting the arty stuff into context with a little background reading for those who may have missed the joke due to holidays or non European domicile). So, in a nutshell, a media magnate (think Reacher Gilt in Going Postal) got together with a couple of posh boys (I’d like to reference Bloody Stupid Johnson here but we are probably talking Assassins Guild drop outs) and as a laugh sold the country a few whopping porkies about: money and public services (“I would never have made that claim, it was one of the mistakes the Leave camp made”, said Farage regarding that naughty bus advert and leaflet headline); immigration (too many dwarves and trolls here already and what about when the goblins start arriving?); and democracy (apparently we needed to get our country back even though some of us were blissfully unaware that we had misplaced it. Can’t have people who put “avec” in their cooking having a say in what goes on in our country, particularly if we haven’t voted for them to do it).

Mix that together with some disgruntled lefties unhappy with the current leadership and direction of the opposition party (likened by Labour supporter and comedian Bill Bailey to the experimental album of a long established rock band), the impact of years of austerity under the current government, all combined with the leave campaign’s advice to dismiss the claims of the Wizards at Unseen University (as apparently we have had enough of experts), and you get 52% to 48% voting to go it alone to “make Britain great again” (although to be fair, as nearly half of the voters thought GB was pretty awesome a month ago some of us probably need a bit more information regarding the context of the word “great” and a historical reference point to clarify the word “again” so that we can properly get behind this sentiment).

So, what are we left with 11 days later? The resignation of the PM, a rudderless ship and a leadership battle (“Every organisation needs at least one person who knows what’s going on, and why it’s happening and who’s doing it”, Terry Pratchett, Going Postal), Boris and Nigel temporarily leaving the spot light perhaps to “find themselves” and prepare for the next reality TV show, an imploding opposition party, a significant handful of leave voters asking if we can do it again as they didn’t think their protest vote would actually count (X Factor has a lot to answer for), a strong taste of “Oops this wasn’t supposed to happen”, a small but nasty dose of xenophobia (it transpires that a small but sadly active number of people were under the impression that they were voting for immigrants to leave the UK not for the UK to leave the EU. Oh the power of words!), the potential dismantling of the UK (will we be calling it the Disunited Kingdom or DUK when Scotland and Northern Ireland attempt to retain their EU status?) and as part of this last point lots of English people frantically searching their family history for an Irish granny.  But perhaps most scary of all, it transpires that there was no cunning plan (and even Baldrick had one of those although according to Blackadder,”Give the likes of Baldrick the vote and we’ll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning and dung for dinner…”).

But, in the spirit of balance I must warn you that these observations are coming from a Remainer (I bet you couldn’t have guessed) and someone who spent a large proportion of a previous career in a strategic, organisational and contingency planning role for a large company. Perhaps running a country has nothing in common with running a business? The Leavers are more optimistic, telling us “whingers” to stop scaremongering, suck it up buttercup, and pull together. Once they come up with a direction, I for one am prepared to listen as procrastination is never a good look. After all, in those wise words of Turner and Kane in their fabulous tune “Aviation”, “it’s the way you wing it, while you’re figuring it out”. While we may have lost the future genius of the likes of Leonard of Quirm, be assured that there are plenty of Cut-Me-Own Throat Dibblers out there already planning “the range of pewter figurines and exciting T-shirts” to turn this potential calamity into a business opportunity (I’ve seen their posts on Facebook).  But it’s not over until it’s over, as they say, and the fat lady hasn’t even got her make up on yet let alone warmed up her voice for this performance.

Of course none of this would have actually happened in Ankh Morpork which “had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote”. It is such as shame that Mr Pratchett is no longer with us as he would have written a corker about all this.

So, enough of politics. During all of this malarky I ran away to West Dean College where I could hide from TV, social media and newspapers and immerse myself in the wonderfully repetitive and calming world of tapestry weaving (while trying very hard not to mention the P word at break times or in the bar after hours).  As my regular readers (Mum) will know, I have recently been entertaining myself with producing wonky portraits of friends, family and our beloved pets so when I saw that lovely teacher and talented tapestry artist Pat Taylor was doing a course on weaving tapestry Coptic style I knew it was destiny and I booked the last place.

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Wonky weave of a wonky self portrait (pulling a face in a mirror)

What characterises coptic tapestry for me is it’s decorative element (it was originally small scale weaving used to adorn clothing), often depicting non symmetrical faces, certain animals like deer and hare, and repeating motifs. So, right up my street then!  The techniques used give a wonderful sense of drawing with the weft and for me presented common sense applications of the weaving principle and problem solving without the self imposed constraints of “doing it the right way”.

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Coptic Marc, produced during the workshop

While it was somewhat frustrating at times, I particularly liked the challenge of the coarse setting we used (the weaves shown are approximately 15cm “square” and set at 3 e.p.c).  It adds a certain charm and another dimension to the original drawings and I have plans to continue the series in this scale.

Before I sign off I must also show you one of Pat’s wonderful weaves. Although these are not coptic inspired, they show her incredible skill at depicting portraits in a simplified but incredibly effective way. From memory, this piece of work was approximately 35cm square and worked on a much finer setting than we were using.  Just lovely! More of her work can be seen on her website.

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One of Pat Taylor’s woven portraits

So, for now it’s a bit of a breather while I decide on the next wonky weave subject. I also have a fairisle sweater on the needles at the moment (a bit of comfort knitting during these stressful times) in need of sleeves. Until next time……….