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June 21, 2011

I’m now blogging here:

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Romantic Wordle

May 14, 2011

This blog has stalled while I’ve been revising for an exam on English literature of the Romantic period. Over at Green Inventions a poet I admire, LL Barkat, has been playing with Wordles. I’m allowed to take four A4 sides of 10pt quotes into my exam so I thought I’d try them in a Wordle and see what happened.

This is what happened:

Any literary bods out there might need to know that one of the texts I’ve chosen to focus on is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Is Persuasion a Romantic text? Well, hopefully that’s what I’ll get asked on Monday!

never too late

April 4, 2011

I stole the title for this post from the pioneering educator John Holt, who took up the cello in later life and wrote an inspirational book about it. I haven’t done anything as difficult as learning a new musical instrument, but I am so pleased to have learnt a new knitting skill – colourwork.

This is the popular Selbu Modern beret and it was really good for a beginner. If I am honest, I should admit that I have tried colourwork in the past, but never bothered to learn how to do it properly, with the result that the yarns became hopelessly tangled and I had to stop every ten minutes to sort them out.

This time I was determined to do it right and I used the instructions generously shared on the Philosopher’s Wool website. I learnt to knit holding a strand of yarn in each hand and the result was a lovely warm, closely woven fabric with absolutely no  tangling.

The yarn is proper Shetland wool from Jamieson and Smith and I really enjoyed using it and thinking of the sheep it came from grazing on that beautiful, remote island. There are some very cute pictures on J and S’s Facebook page.

I feel sure this will open up a whole new world of knitting for me. Unfortunately I look dreadful in any hat with the remotest hint of slouch, but Susanna was happy to step in for a modelling session in return for being able to keep the tam!

foraged pesto

March 28, 2011

Spring arrived in such a glorious rush this year that I got rather over-excited on my first foraging trip. Last year I described how the appearance of wild garlic on the banks of the stream near our house is a sure sign of the changing season. I was so enthused by it on Saturday that I gathered almost a whole carrier bag full of leaves. It’s delicious stuff but pungent: a little goes a long way and I was wondering what I could do with so much.

The River Cottage website had the solution: wild garlic pesto. This is fabulous stuff and I urge you to make some as soon as you possibly can. The original recipe called for 50g of shallot or leek; having neither, I put in a small amount of red onion and might leave it out altogether next time. For the cheese, I used a mixture of hard goat’s cheese and Parmesan.

Other signs of spring down by the stream are the celandines, which have been out for a week or so, and the wood anemones.

Wood anenomes are among my very favourites: I love the way their delicate flowers scatter themselves through the undergrowth. They only come out fully in the sun, though. On a cloudy day they fold in on themselves, and who can blame them – I know I feel the same. As far as humans are concerned, though, I’m fairly sure that some of my foraged pesto stirred through hot pasta will restore our spirits if the temperatures continue to dip this week.


March 15, 2011

I was going to post a few days ago: something about the beginning of Lent and a plan to fast from anxiety, but then the earth shifted on its axis and for a while there seemed to be no point in words.

I heard the Japanese ambassador on the radio and he said: ‘We are humbled and awed by the power of nature’, and I wondered when I last heard a leader in the West talk about humility.

I took time to stare in the garden and saw the power of nature that preserves a seedhead through a whole winter of ice and snow, stripping away everything fleshy and leaving a cage of tracery.

Round about that time the frogs returned to our tiny pond for maybe the fourth year in a row and I stopped and forced myself to remember that this adult started life as a tiny speck of black in a blob of jelly.

In England, everything is just bursting out new.

And no one can make sense of any of it, but I learnt here that ‘Japanese culture has long-prized fragility, impermanence, transience’, and that ‘the cherry blossom is the most prized of all expressions of nature because it achieves such a brief perfection before falling carelessly’.

Postscript: If you love books and writing, go here for a genius plan to raise money for Japan.

Photos of the month

February 27, 2011

My favourite pictures for February. Most, though not all, have appeared on my photoblog. I am really enjoying the challenge my daughter set me, to take a photo every day for a year.

austerity gym kit

February 22, 2011

This is a post about the joy of cables. It was my elder daughter who got me thinking about them. I was struggling with my first bit of stranded colourwork (about which there may be a post in the future, if the result is not too embarrassing) and she said that really she thought knitting was best when it was exploiting texture ‘because that’s when knitting does things you can’t do with anything else’. To elaborate, she cited her sister’s Owls sweater, saying that there was no other medium with which you could achieve the same effect.

I can see what she means, and although I obviously couldn’t go along with the implication that there is little point in using yarn to play with colour, I do think that cables offer all kinds of very particular interest and enjoyment, both for the knitter and for the person who is wearing them.

Cables are playing quite a part in my new fitness regime. One of the many joys of leaving the gym has been abandoning Lycra in favour of wool, and this hat and scarf have accompanied me on almost every outdoor ‘workout’. Each of them in their own way exemplifies why cables are so brilliant.

Yup – I blogged about spring and the next day we woke up to snow.

The hat – Habitat by Jared Flood – is, I think, a good example of what my daughter means by the uniqueness of knitted texture. It is fascinating both to look at and to handle – and of course the design is only one of an infinite number that can be created from the intertwining of different cables of varying sizes. Ravelled here.

The scarf, on the other hand, has a very simple design but it is the warmest one I have ever had, for the simple reason that the cables make it so thick. I am sure this must be one reason why cables were so popular among fishermen negotiating the icy waters off the British Isles.

It is also delectably squishy.

One disadvantage of using cables for scarves is that, normally,  they are not reversible, which means you have to spend a long time carefully arranging the thing around your neck – definitely not something I want to be doing when I am itching to get out onto the moors. You could argue that since I’m only likely to meet sheep, it doesn’t really matter, but I know I would find it infuriating to have the ‘wrong’ side showing. The joy of this pattern is that the cables have been designed to make the scarf completely reversible. Hence the name of the pattern – Palindrome. Ravelled here.

I need to knit some cabled mittens next!

Any dedicated knitters who are reading this post might have noticed that I am also wearing a handknit cardigan – Tangled Yoke by Eunny Jang. There are three reasons why I haven’t blogged about this garment in detail:

  1. It is not particularly well made.
  2. The cables in particular leave a lot to be desired.
  3. I am enormously proud of it.

I feel that to draw attention to the deficiencies in my knitting would be a bit pointless – especially as I am nevertheless so pleased with it. And yet I do love the cardigan: the cable pattern is, to my mind, very beautiful and what is more it required vast amounts of concentration. In fact I was only able to work on it when we were on holiday in Wales and everyone else was asleep so there was total silence in the cottage. Now the cables are puckering a bit and there are some gaps where the 1-into-5 stitches are pulling on the main body of the garment. Also the button band is wonky. But I am so pleased that I completed it and so love the memories of our holiday that it evokes that I wear it for several days each week. And that, I suppose, is another joy of handmade clothes – they might not be perfect but they are unique and they are ours!

Tangled Yoke ravelled here.