Monday, 30 June 2014

Down to the sea

I have just returned from a few days in a cottage in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. Aldeburgh is a small, quiet and artistic community famed for its annual music festival. The High Street is full of picture postcard cottages, book shops and galleries and an amazing fish and chip shop. 

However, my favourite part of Aldeburgh is the seafront. There are none of the usual features of a seaside town here - no amusement arcades and kiss me quick hats but equally, no exclusive restaurants and bars. What struck me most was the simplicity of a small town which continues to make some part of its living from the sea.

Of course, there are some artfully placed reminders of the history of fishing in the area with this beautifully restored boat.

And a steady stream of tourists ensure that fishermen can find a ready market for their catch straight from the beach.

The beaches that I grew up with are very different to this. I am used to cliffs and bays and coves but have to say that I am drawn to the straight lines of sky, sea and beach that this open coastline offers.

I love some of the juxtapositions of modern fishing boats and their ephemera with the coastal plants attempting to gain a foothold and softening the stark lines of the landscape.

There are no jetties here so the boats are simply hauled back up onto the beach by tractors and winches,

Nature starts to overwhelm abandoned machinery.

All the equipment for the task of fishing lies out on the wide expanse of beach.

In some cases threatening to engulf the boats entirely.

And what was I doing while all this hard work was going on?

Sometimes I put my feet up on the patio and knitted.

And sometimes I knitted by the sea. It was wonderful to spend some time just sitting and watching this simple landscape accompanied by the gentle rhythm of my needles. A perfect way to relax.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Slow Craft

Another of the things that I love about knitting is that it is a slow craft. Fabric is built stitch by stitch with every inch of the yarn passing through the knitter's hands and finding its place through their deliberate movements. Friends who love to sew can dream of a garment in the morning and be wearing it in the evening. Not so the knitter. Whilst we don't get that instant gratification, any garment that we produce really feels as if it takes part of us with it as it has been our companion for days, weeks, months or even years. 

I decided I needed a new cardigan back in November and chose to knit Old Town by Carol Sunday. I described my fascination with the construction and the fun of not really knowing where the piece was going to take me next. This of course, once the bodice was complete subsided into swathes of stocking stitch because I had of course decided that I wanted a long line cardigan. Perfect TV knitting if I watched much TV.

Therefore, despite really enjoying every stitch, it has taken between November and now for me to finally put the finishing touches to my cardigan. I often feel slightly sad when if sew in the very last end, particularly with a large project as it has now stopped being my knitting and is now just a cardigan. But it is a beautiful cardigan in one of my favourite yarns, Elsbeth Lavold's Silky Wool, in a gorgeous rich brown and I'm looking forward to wearing it.

 I'm afraid the coat hanger shot really doesn't do it justice.

And it looks even less prepossessing from the back but let me assure you, I really like the way it fits and the beauty really is in the detail.

I love the fact that I can't see the provisional cast on at the back of the bodice. The only clue to its existence is the change of direction in the lace border.

The short row shaping of the shoulder gives a really good fit.

Increases to give the skirt a slight flare work flow beautifully into the lace edging.

This is definitely a more feminine cardigan than I am used to wearing but its easy shape means that I think it is going to become a firm favourite.

It was worth waiting for.

Monday, 16 June 2014

How to knit an aeroplane

When I wrote the title to this post I couldn't help but be reminded of Holly Golightly's line in Breakfast at Tiffany. 'I might be knitting a ranch house...' I may be a keen knitter but I usually confine myself to garments and accessories. However, when English Heritage asked me to run a knitting workshop during World Wide Knit in Public Week to help raise awareness for the Britain from Above digital archive of aerial photography I was intrigued.

The RAF Museum at Colindale has kindly offered to host an exhibition of this important archive which   makes available to everyone thousands of aerial images of Britain taken by the Aerofilms company between 1919 and 1953. 

To provide an extra talking point and to get people involved with spreading the word about the archive, Britain from above decided that a knitted aircraft was just the thing! When I was first told about the project I have to admit that I imagined a full sized plane. I was somewhat relieved to see that our plane is a replica, kindly made by students at the University of Hertfordshire. Even so, our needles needed to get flying! (Sorry...)

With the assistance of lovely volunteers Laura, Yvonne and Maggie, Sandra from English Heritage and I spent a busy and enjoyable day encouraging people to come and sit down and knit a few rows. We also taught lots of children to knit and finger knit. Special thanks to Rachel, a mum who came with her husband and son and happily settled in with us for the day, producing metres and metres of knitting and finger knitting while they spent the day looking at planes. She thinks that the Museum should have a permanent knitting corner - of course we agreed!

It was sometimes a little disconcerting to look up from our crafty corner to see ourselves and our little woolly biplane dwarfed by planes of all shapes and sizes.

The smallest plane in the building has to be this little blue one - but it has a very important role in the project and is one that everyone can join in with.

Britain from above has produced a knitting pattern for this little aircraft and is inviting people to knit one, or more, and using their photography skills and imagination, choose a photo from the archive and attempt to recreate it and send it in to the team at Britain from Above. They will upload the photo into their gallery. This is a chance for the whole family to get involved. The pattern is really simple so even a beginner knitter could make one. After that, everyone can bring to bear their creative and photographic skills to make the most spectacular and imaginative image that they can (without of course risking life and limb..). We talked to families, Scout Troops and Brownie Packs who all took away leaflets and planned to have a go.

Why don't you have a go too? Let me know if you do. I'm planning to knit a plane and take it on my summer travels!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Where the yarn comes from Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, the other weekend we were lucky enough to visit not one, but two yarn spinning mills. Moving on from Sue Blacker's woollen spinning mill, we next visited John Arbon's worsted spinning mill.

It was lovely to see another British mill, using lovingly restored and maintained machines ranging from the 1910's to the 1980's in age especially as we got to see, and just as importantly hear, these machines in action. So different from the gentle scuffing and whirring of my hand carders and spinning wheel...

John gave us a patient and comprehensive explanation of the process of taking fibre from the bale to the skein and the role of each machine in the process. I could never do it justice, so here is a selection of images to give a flavour of the environment.

One of the things that strikes me about a lot of the pieces of equipment is that they are often comprised of rows and rows of things that perform the same function.

I love the style of this old company logo, almost obscured by age.

This gorgeous whirl of caramel coloured alpaca felt as delicious as it looks.

Another logo from a more modern era.

Simple but important pieces of equipment ready to use. The old tobacco tin reminds me of my dad's shed where he kept rows of them full of nails and screws of different sizes.

Combed fibre pouring like milk into the hopper.

This French Comb makes me think of a yarn fountain.

 Rows and rows of bobbins filling with yarn.

Machinery manufactured in Keighley which used to be in the heart of the wool industry given a new lease of life in rural Devon.

More wheels going whirr...

And here's what it's all about. The brown skein of sock yarn in the centre may have followed me home...

And I haven't forgotten that I mentioned I would show you the yarn that I bought at Sue Blacker's. From the top left, the yellow yarn is a 4ply Falkland Island Wool from Swan Inlet Farm. The dark green is a Guernsey yarn made from a blend of Hebridean, Manx and Romney. The red is a pure Romney Guernsey yarn. The blue is a 4ply Lleyn and Blue Faced Leicester blend and the pale green is a pure Shetland 4ply.

These yarns are destined to become samples of my mitten and mitt designs. The colours are beautifully muted as they often blend around 15% of coloured fleece into the white which really gives the yarn movement. I can't decide which to use first!

Finally I would like to give a big thank you to Sue Blacker and John and Juliet Arbon for their hospitality and for taking the time to share their enthusiasm for what they do with us. It's wonderful that there are small producers such as them around. They have different approaches and processes so can give us as knitters access to a huge variety of yarns, spun in a variety of ways from a huge range of fibres with a passion and concern for the environment, keeping old skills alive and relevant to assure the ongoing development of the small scale fibre industry in the UK.