Monday, 16 April 2018

School Prizes

My daughter and I have just had a 'sorting' weekend. We worked very hard and there's now a mountain of stuff in the hall waiting to be taken to the charity shop. One of the things we sorted was all my old children's books which had been scattered fairly randomly around the top floor of the house (they were actually on shelves, not on the floor - well, mostly anyway). They're now beautifully organised and it was very exciting to find some old favourites.

It was particularly nice to see my Mum's old books from when she was a child again. They're now about seventy years old and showing signs of their age, having been read by several generations. Amongst them were some school prizes so I thought you might like to see those, together with a couple that I got at about the same age.

Mum's are the ones with plain covers and are from the 1940s. My two are from the 1970s. We were both around ten or eleven when we got them. I couldn't find a picture of me at that age but here's one of Mum.

Her earliest school prize dates from 1944 and is a book of stories called 'When the Fire Burns Blue' by Dorothy Ann Lovell.

I see that the teacher who wrote the inscription in this book was Mrs Blake. She taught at New Street School in Andover for many years and ended her career at the newly built Balksbury School in the same town ... where, some 26 years after writing in Mum's book, she taught me. 

This would have been a very special prize in 1944 when rationing was in force, making books harder to get. 

The stories in the book are whimsical and accompanied by some lovely line drawings. I remember reading this one 'Little Red Bird' again and again.

The bird is a mechanical one who sings when children put a penny in the slot in his cage. One day, while his owner Mrs Hurley, dozes by the sea, the bird flies from his cage for a short taste of freedom. When he looks down from the sky and sees Mrs Hurley and her worn shoes he remembers that she relies on the pennies he makes and returns to the cage before she wakes up.

Mum's next prize was a small book of Grimm's Fairy Tales, published by Everyman. 

The endpapers on old Everyman books are always beautiful. These were designed by the artist Eric Ravilious, one of my favourite artists and he was also responsible for this icon on the title page.

I learnt from the Everyman's Library Collecting website that different icons were used for different categories of books; this one was for books aimed at 'Young People'. I've just been to the wonderful exhibition Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship at Compton Verney which was so good I think I shall have to go again.

I don't remember reading the Fairy Tales book much but I did read this one many times.

Mum won this one in the Summer of 1948 and it's a classic girls' boarding school story. There's trouble over a missing postal order (remember those?) and someone waylays Esme and locks her in Matron's cupboard - that sort of thing.

My two prize books date from around 1970; I seem to remember that we were asked what sort of book we would like and I chose poetry for my first one.

'My Kind of Verse' is a selection of all sorts of poetry, ranging from Nursery Rhymes to Keats and Shakespeare. I've always loved poetry and I learnt some of these by heart.

I devised my own dance to go with 'I had  little nut tree' which I would perform at the drop of a hat (yes I was that sort of child). I love the fact that this rhyme shares the page with Yeats and Thomas Moore; that's what I call a proper anthology.

I got my second prize a year later and this time I chose a book of Shakespeare stories.

I really loved this book and read the stories so many times. I think my favourite was 'As You Like It', although I now prefer 'Much Ado'. I went on to study English Literature at University and now go to watch Shakespeare plays at the RSC regularly so this was obviously a good choice.

One day I'll show you some of the other old children's books I got from my Mum but I think that's enough for now. By the way, do you like the old brushed cotton sheet I've used as the background for the photos? I bought it in a charity shop to back a quilt top I pieced a few years ago. I really must make a start on that.

And here's a picture of Tolly Cat who's been sitting on my lap 'helping' me write this.

How would I manage without him?

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Blankie Progress

Knitters working on my year long blanket pattern Frankie's Blankie are now a quarter of the way through this project. Twelve squares have been knitted and sewn together (although some are still waiting for their visit from the sewing-up fairy who seems to have quite a lot on her plate at the moment). The squares are a mixture of plain ones using all sorts of textured stitches and coloured ones, worked in a variety of slip stitch patterns.

I have been completely amazed by how popular this blanket has proved to be. When I was designing it last year, I wondered whether people might think it a bit dull - just 48 blocks, one after the other - but I needn't have worried. Lots of people are knitting it and they seem to be enjoying discovering new stitch patterns.

The best thing though is the community that has developed on my ravelry group. There's a special thread there for chat about the blanket and, as I write this, it has 2823 posts. Knitters from all over the world meet there every day to compare notes about their progress and help each other. It's like a very friendly, international knitting group. Mind you, we don't just talk about the blanket. Our conversation has ranged from families to chickens, by way of rubbish collections, the weather and just about anything else you can think of. I'm already thinking that I'll have to do something next year to keep this community going. Not another 50 pattern project though.

Anyway, I thought it would be nice to share photos of some of the blankets being knitted. One of the lovely things has been to see how people have taken my basic pattern and made it their own, either with different yarn or different colours. It makes me want to knit another one, using some of their ideas. I'll start thought with a few blankets in the Stylecraft Batik DK that I used for my blanket.

Debbie, from England

These are Debbie's squares for the first month. As you can see, each set of four blocks is sewn together, with the coloured squares being turned on their sides. It looks more interesting if the lines of pattern don't all run the same way and it also helps to even up the squares which can end up slightly different sizes. Debbie's made a particularly good job of her sewing up - I don't think my 'month blocks' were that square.

Mari-Elaine, from England

Mari-Elaine is also using the Batik for her blanket. Here you can see all the squares for the first three months sewn together. That's one row of the blanket done; there will be three more below it by the end of the  year.

Amity is using cream Batik for her main yarn and then replacing all the colours with one multi-coloured yarn. She's chosen another Stylecraft Batik yarn called Elements and is using the Sulfur colourway.

Amity, from England

As you can see, she also has a furry helper when it comes to blocking her knitting. Every time I see one of Amity's blocks, I'm struck again by how well that variegated yarn works. Here's a closer look at her squares for February.

Of course, lots of knitters have chosen their own yarn for knitting the blanket. A lot of fun was had choosing yarn and then deciding on the colours. Ruth is knitting her Treasure Buster Blanket in 100% wool, using yarns from Drops and Kammgarn.

Ruth, from Germany

I think this one looks particularly fresh and bright; I'm looking forward to seeing it grow.

How about this one for a different look?

Sue, from the United States

Don't those squares look great with grey as the main colour? This one's very popular on my group. Sue is using various shades of Plymouth Yarn's Encore Worsted; I had to resist the temptation to start another blanket when I first saw this combination.

Anysia is using a very popular yarn for her blanket, Red Heart Super Saver in solid colours.
Anysia, from the United States

This is another fresh looking blanket in the making. It's interesting how much clearer those slip stitch patterns are when worked with one contrast colour, rather than a mixture.

Maggie's blanket makes me think of sunny days and long, cool drinks ...

Maggie, from England

She's using Caron Simply Soft yarn, mostly from her stash. This is a yarn I'm not familiar with but I think I shall have to give it a try; it comes in a huge range of colours.

Lots of people are dipping into their stash for this project, resulting in some beautiful colour combinations and blankets that will be unique. Here are just a few examples ...

Laurel, from Wales

Isn't this gorgeous? Grey again, it works so well to set off all the other colours. Why does this one make me think of ice-cream? I don't think I've ever knowingly eaten a grey ice-cream.

Jenny, from Australia

Another pretty set of colours from Jenny - also, why didn't I think of taking photos of long strips of knitting like that? It's got to be easier than balancing on steps which is what I normally end up doing.

There are also some knitters who are using completely different yarn. Corien has chosen a thinner 100% wool yarn from Wol met Verve so her blanket will be smaller than mine.

Corien, from the Netherlands

It's going to be beautiful when it's finished. 

There's one blanket that's going to take longer than the others to complete but that's for a very good reason. Lou is using only handspun yarn - how impressive is that?

Lou, from the United States

Don't those blocking pins look good? That's one of the many things I've discovered from the chat amongst the Blanketeers (thanks to Isabel for that name). They're called Knit Blockers and are made by Knit Pro. I think I shall have to invest in a set.

Of course, some people can't be content to make just one blanket. Paula is knitting two at once (and keeping up with everyone else). One is in solid colours and the other uses a variegated yarn and then different colours for the single colour squares.

Paula, from Australia 

I really like this one with the pastel colours. Wouldn't it be a beautiful blanket for a baby? I think using different colours for the 'plain' squares works very well.

I hope you've enjoyed this look at some of the lovely blankets being knitted this year. If it's made you want to join in, it's not too late. You can download all the patterns so far by following the links on my Frankie's Blankie page and then come and introduce yourself on my group (2824 posts now). There's no pressure to finish your blanket in a set time so  you can just enjoy the journey. If you want to use the same yarn as me, you can order it from Wool Warehouse who are super quick at sending out orders. Quote FRANKIE10 at the checkout for a 10% discount.

Here's to the next three months of Frankie's Blankie, I'll report back on progress then.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Spring Finishing

I think Spring Finishing is a much better idea than Spring Cleaning. Actually, I've been doing some of that too but didn't think you'd appreciate photos of my scruffy house (and that's after the cleaning).

My first finish is the Tunisian Crochet scarf I told you about a few weeks ago. This was from the pattern in the book Tunisian Crochet Workshop and it was a fun, quick project. Here it is being modelled by the ever patient Mr Bennet.

What do you mean, you don't have a life size cuddly sheep in your house? What do you do when you want to photograph a scarf or shawl then? My sheep is named after Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice whose patience is also sorely tried.

I was going to add pompoms to the ends of the scarf but, in the end, just sewed on some bright coloured buttons instead. Which reminds me, I've started my own button Charmstring. Victorian ladies used to collect buttons on a string like this; they all had to be different and the buttons had to be given, not bought. The idea was to collect 999 buttons, at which point the love of your life would appear and give you button number 1,000.

I've got about a dozen buttons so far so I've got quite a way to go. As you can see, these are all metal buttons; I'm tempted to start another one with bright coloured plastics. It's probably as well to hedge your bets; it would be a bit sad if Prince Charming turned up with the wrong sort of button and I had to send him away.

I've also finished the crochet blanket that I started making out of some old Noro crochet squares I found in a box. I crocheted round each one, crocheted them together and then added a border. The border took a while as I kept thinking "just one more round". Anyway, it's been washed, blocked (and had the cat hairs it acquired during blocking removed) and I'm pleased with it.

I've been putting up a few decorations for Easter too, well ... the odd bunny anyway.

I'll put vases of daffodils everywhere tomorrow and then it will look more Spring - like. I do like my Springtime Wreath. You don't need much else when you've got one of these to hang up.

See that mottled effect in the top right corner of the picture? That's what you get when the sun shines through old, Victorian wobbly glass.

With Easter in mind, I knitted up some little flower brooches the other day. I've got a small collection of old china posy brooches and my knitted flowers match them nicely.

You can get the free pattern for my Spring Posies from ravelry as normal. They can be made as normal brooches or you can use a paper clip to turn them into buttonholes.

I think I'll go and do some quality control on those little chocolate eggs I bought now ...

Friday, 16 March 2018

Back on my Needles

Back in October 2015 my daughter gave me a very exciting birthday present - a yarn advent calendar.

There were 24 doors to open and behind each was a mini ball of Opal sock yarn. Each one weighed about 15 g and they all had suitably festive tiny ball bands.

I really enjoyed finding the new yarn each day and knitted one square with each colour during advent.

Then, in the New Year, I knitted two more squares from each little ball. The three above all came from one colourway. As you can see, I added some plain cream yarn to break up all that colour (as well as making the yarn go further). And this is what I turned all those little squares into ...

This is my Patchwork Pelerine, a cross between a shawl and a poncho. It buttons up down the front and has a straight hem on one side and a pointed one on the other. This is one of my favourite things to wear, I really love it.

This of course left me with about 4 or 5 g each of 24 different variegated yarns which I was determined to use up. So, later in 2016, I turned them into 24 little Advent Stars, each with their own number.

I was so pleased to have used up every scrap of yarn that I decided to repeat the whole project and treated myself to the next Opal Advent Calendar in Winter 2016.

And this is where I got stuck. 
It didn't take me long to decide what to knit - folded flowers that I would turn into a quilt. So, off I went ...

So far, so good. Easy to knit and pretty on both sides. Now I knew I was going to need to add some other yarn to be able to make something big enough to justify being called a blanket. Having used cream as my contrast colour for the Pelerine, I decided to use a dark colour this time and found a nice dark grey Opal yarn.

Yes, I know they're different sizes - my tension may not always be spot on.

The plan was to alternate the coloured flowers with the grey ones ... the only problem was, when I laid the first few out, I didn't like how it looked.

Too heavy looking and the coloured flowers look a bit odd in amongst the grey. Now, having hit this problem, you might think that I'd have tried a different contrast colour or played around with the arrangement. But no, what I actually did was put the flowers away in a basket and forget about them for a year. I didn't seem to be able to get past my original plan.

Anyway, last week I got them all out again (feeling rather guilty at having neglected them for so long) and, straight away, it dawned on me that I could just space the grey flowers out a bit.

Already it looks better and there are other arrnagements I could try. Perhaps a grey flower in the centre surrounded by coloured flowers and then the occasional ring of grey? Why didn't I think of that a year ago?

So I'm now steaming ahead, knitting lots more flowers so that I can play with other ways of arranging them.

The eagle-eyed among you will spot that I've knitted just a few more of the coloured ones than the grey. In fact there are 31 coloured flowers and 9 grey ones (I had to count them three times, I was sure I'd done more than that). This is because the grey ones are boring to knit! I'm now making myself knit two grey flowers for every coloured one in an effort to even them up a bit.

Maybe I'll actually get this quilt finished and turned into a pattern this year. I wonder if Opal are planning an Advent Calendar for 2018?

This isn't the only old project I've resurrected recently. When sorting out boxes of beads the other day I came across a box full of crochet squares. Don't ask me why they were in a box with the beads, I have no idea. I remember making them with odd balls of Noro Silk Garden Lite more than ten years ago.

There were 25 squares all together and it seemed a shame to leave them in that box (also, I needed it for beading supplies) so I decided to turn them into a quick blanket. I'm crocheting round them with some Stylecraft Special DK in Parchment that I bought by mistake (please tell me that happens to you too) and then I'll crochet them together.

I'm having to resist the temptation to abandon my proper woolly work and just do these at the moment. I'm trying only to do one after I've done some proper work. This morning I spent several hours cutting and sticking bits of card to make a prototype for this year's big Christmas pattern so that definitely earned me a bit of crochet. I wonder if writing a blog post counts too?