Decisions, decisions….

Do you set yourself knitting goals? I do, I have to in order to keep myself motivated. I love knitting, but I’m so slow that I get discouraged at how little progress I’m making, unless I set myself little targets. I’d promised myself that I would finish the back of Tony’s Fair Isle sweater by the end of October, and today I did it, with a whole day to spare. Now the front has been cast on, and I shall have the boring ribbing out of the way by tonight, so that I only have glorious colourwork stretching ahead of me on the home run. I’m determined to have the sweater knitted and seamed by the end of November, so he can get as much wear out of it as possible. I got rather doubtful as I finished the back, because it seemed dreadfully long, just like the sleeves, but when I held the finished piece up against Tony, it was just the right length, and the right width too. Hurrah!!

In order that there should be no distractions to get in the way of my goal, I’ve persuaded Mama to knit me a winter scarf. Now I have the difficult decision of what pattern to choose. There are disadvantages to having so many patterns at your fingertips on sites like Ravelry, you know, especially when you are as indecisive as I am. I know that I want the scarf to be cream cashmere (much to Tony’s disgust, who said cream was so boring), as I have a lovely chocolate brown leather jacket that I want to wear it with, and I want it to be rather a statement scarf, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. I think I’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities. The question is, do I want to look:

a) urban chic, with the sculptural Swiss Cheese scarf.

b) dandified, with a pretty curlywurly corkscrew scarf.

Or is there another gorgeous scarf pattern out there that would be even better? You tell me!

An Old Fashioned Girl

I think I need to create a new category called Opinionated. Because I am a very opinionated person, and the longer I blog, the more my opinions are clamouring to be expressed. I am a grownup, I have learned that not everyone wants to hear my viewpoint on any given subject, and so I tend to keep schtum unless asked. But you seem like such close friends to me now that opinions can’t help but creep in when we are talking.

I must be honest with you though, I’m a very odd person really. You know these personality tests you can do, where they draw out the information that you prefer peas to carrots, your favourite music decade is the 1970s, you would never go to sleep with your makeup on, and your dream date is Heath Ledger, and from that define you as a fun loving girl with a strong sense of loyalty and a hidden desire for a large family? Well, they never work for me (ok, they don’t really work for anyone, but what I mean is, the answer I would choose is never in the list of options). I expect, if truth be told, that few people fit neatly into a pigeon hole, but I have always seemed to be a misfit. Not in a scary way, just in a slightly uncomfortable way.

I attribute this partially to having been born to older parents. My mum was 43 when she had me, which was positively geriatric back in the 70’s. I was brought up around older people, and could never get along with kids my own age. I spent my childhood and teen years stuck firmly into a book. And I rapidly came to the conclusion that I had simply been born into the wrong decade, in fact, possibly into the wrong century.

At 16 I was deeply into L M Montgomery (still am), and decided to makeover myself as an Edwardian lady. I found a book of historical dress patterns, and my dear mother sewed me a couple of authentic skirts, floor length and pintucked, and some high necked lace and broderie anglaise blouses. I wore my hair in a pompadour bun. I read a rather silly article in this week’s Sunday Times style supplement that advised women who didn’t fit the general idea of beauty to play up their qualities in a historical way, dressing as a Fieldingesque doxy with frizzed hair and rouged cheeks, if necessary. Well the world of the early 1990’s was not that inventive or openminded, and this was long before the vintage clothing trend hit the fashion world and made retro dressing the norm. Still, I was happy.

Later on I was to turn this passion for the olden days into a successful business, with a vintage clothing website. That was huge fun, back in the days when vintage was becoming very trendy, but before the general public had caught on, so that you could find divine 1950’s ball gowns in the fancy dress section of charity shops. Happy days. Luckily for me, I’m blessed with such wonderful friends that they thought my vintage clothes were cool long before the High Street made them everyday wear. And with a shops stock to choose from, I had a revolving vintage wardrobe (although at 5’10, very few items properly fitted me).

Nowadays I’m far too lazy to dress up, but when I do, I’m still most comfortable in vintage inspired clothing. And in the other areas of my life, I’m always drawn to the old fashioned. My cd collection consists of Big Band era standards and classical music (the only radio station I can bear is Classic FM). My favourite books, as I mentioned yesterday, are at least 60 years old. I adore old films, Frank Capra’s work, the Nick & Nora series (oh! I bought some wonderful Nick & Nora snowman sheets today off eBay! But I digress…), anything black and white.

It seems to me that the world has lost its sweetness in the last 50 years. You only have to contrast the difference in humour, for one thing. I do not like the sardonic cruelty that characterises so much of today’s comedy, or its vulgarity either (and yes, I know that using the word vulgar makes me very old fashioned). I don’t like the fact that nothing is sacrosanct, that everything in life is open to scrutiny and mockery. I don’t like the cynicism that I see around me, even though I can understand the reasons for it, and I loathe the lack of good manners in today’s society.

And small things too. Why don’t we have afternoon tea any more? Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if we all stopped for tea, and bread toasted on a fork in front of a log fire, and buttered crumpets, and macaroons, in the middle of the afternoon? And wouldn’t life be easier if women were allowed to get older, instead of devoting all their time, money, and brain to looking the same age as their grand daughters? And whatever happened to people reading aloud to one another?      

I’m not denying that there have been changes for the better in the last few decades, but there have been far more changes for the worst. In my opinion. But I cannot turn the clock back, or transport myself back through time to a gentler age. All I can do is create my own little personal timewarp. In it, I sit in front of a fire, drinking tea and eating freshly baked scones. Chopin tinkles prettily in the background, and a clock ticks steadily. A good whodunnit lays on my lap, and my knitting is by my side. Whatever changes in the world outside, the things I love remain. And maybe one day, I’ll be able to persuade Tony to read Pickwick Papers to me as I knit….

Feeling bookish

My Persephone Books magazine arrived on Saturday. If I had to choose any field other than yarn to work in, it would be books, and if I had to choose one publishers in the world to work for, it would be Persephone. They are gradually bringing back into publication some wonderful books, written by and for women, and mainly from the earlier part of the 20th century. I have spent my adult reading life hunting down this kind of book, and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one! My favourite books are written by women in the 1930-50 period, with domestic settings in which character leads over plot, laced with gentle wit. The kind of book in which little happens, but you become very fond of the people you meet in it.

Some Persephone books that I have enjoyed include Mariana (by Monica Dickens), Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (by Winifred Watson, to be released as a film next year), The Children Who Lived In A Barn (by Eleanor Graham), Greenery Street (by Denis Mackail, one of the few male authors who I enjoy), and Miss Ranskill Comes Home (by Barbara Euphan Todd). I do wish they published more new books each year, as I’m always looking out for new authors that I might enjoy. Thanks to Abe Books, I now have all of Monica Dicken’s earlier books (The Happy Prisoner is a particular favourite), as well as most of Denis Mackail’s novels.  

If you think you share my taste in books, here are some more of my favourites that you might want to hunt down:

  • Henrietta’s War & Henrietta Sees It Through, by Joyce Dennys. These are fictional collections of letters written in the Second World War, and are in a similar vein to E M Delafield’s Provincial Lady Series, or Jan Struther’s Mrs Miniver (which is wonderful, and far better than the movie version). They are filled with witty little illustrations too. 
  • Guard Your Daughters, by Diana Tutton. If you enjoyed I Capture the Castle, you’ll enjoy this. It’s about a 1950s family of girls, ruled over by a frighteningly unpredictable mother. Despite the rather grim premise, it’s a light sweet book.
  • M for Mother, by Marjorie Riddell. This is a collection of essays about a typical mother, worrying about her independent career minded daughter, and is very charming and very funny.
  • As Cooks Go, by E Jordan. I’m not sure if this is autobiographical or fictional, but it’s very good either way, about a woman who hires herself out as a day cook to rich London households in the 1930s, to make a little extra money.
  • Wild Strawberries & Pomfrt Towers, by Angela Thirkell. I know that Angela Thirkell (the sister of Denis Mackail, by the by) is not so unknown, but I think her books can be very typecast, which may put some people off. These two are by far her best work, involving many characters, but without being so bewildering as some of her other books. 
  • Chloe Marr, by A A Milne. So many good writers are remembered only for their childrens books, but A A Milne wrote some marvelous novels, most of which I’ve managed to find. This is my favourite, frothy, funny, and sweet.
  • The Curate’s Wife & Miss Mole, by E H Young. The characters in these books are finely drawn, and remind me a little of Barbara Pym’s books. 
  • The Flowering Thorn, Something Light, Harlequin House, & The Eye of Love, by Margery Sharp. Yes, I’ve mentioned her before (several times!), and will continue to recommend her on every possible occasion. I’ve managed to get hold of a copy of all her books, including the highly sought after Rhododendron Pie, and each one is a delight. I re-read The Flowering Thorn each year (as I do Cranford), and enjoy it just as much each time. I have contacted Persephone to suggest that her name be added to their list of forthcoming authors, so here’s hoping.

There is one author, beloved by so many, who I’ve never really enjoyed, and that’s Nancy Mitford. I really don’t know why, her books have just the kind of setting I love, but I just don’t find myself amused by them. Another book that I should enjoy, but don’t, is The Brontes Went To Woolworths, by Rachel Ferguson. I ploughed through the first half today, and gave up in despair. My bookshelves are full of books that have only been partially read. I’m very fussy, and not at all highbrow, so I won’t continue reading if a book doesn’t make me feel good, however clever it is. So, those are some of my recommendations, can you recommend any to me? I’m going away over Christmas, and I’m already stockpiling books to take with me……

Pattern Suggestions

  • Dashing Mitts in Sophia 6ply Pianissimo
  • Anna Sweater in Sophia 12ply Homme (with a bit of jiggling for gauge)
  • Cloche Hat in Sophia 8ply Brook
  • Reversable Cabled Brioche Scarf in Victoria Cavern
  • Twisted Scarf in Sophia 8ply Hedgerow & Bullion
  • Travelling Roses Lace Scarf in Beatrice Plum Pudding
  • Wings of a Dream Stole in Cecilia Cocoa Bean
  • Wavy Feathers Wimple in Sophia 4ply Robe
  • Anya Scarf in Sophia 2ply Incense
  • Chevalier Mitts in Emily Parkin
  • Rudy Got Sole Socks in Helena Brooding
  • Avalon Socks in Laura Naughty
  • Spin Me Right Round, Baby Hat in Emily Belle
  • Tesselating Lace Socks in Lucia Chortle
  • Diamonds In His Shoes Socks in Emily Mesmerise
  • Viking Socks in Helena Pastoral
  • Bavarian Twist Socks in Lei Femme Fatale
  • Yarn Pictures

    Someone commented earlier in the week about my photos, asking how I get them to come out well. Ha! If you only knew the blood, sweat and tears that go into the photographing! I’m not a natural, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have developed a kind of routine that works for me most of the time.

    First of all, I only shoot in natural light, so I hope for good weather, not too sunny as that bleaches out the colours, not too cloudy, as that makes the photos too dark. Today was dreadful, really dark and gloomy, which makes all the photos dark and dingy. That’s why I’m so late getting the blog up today, because I had to spend much longer than usual editing the photos in Photoshop. But more on that later.

    I have a sheet of ivory coloured matte card that I use as a backdrop, and I lay each set of skeins on it, with indirect light from the window hitting them side on. I always use a tripod and the self timer on the camera, as I have really shaky hands. I also use the macro setting, so I can get the yarn in closeup detail. Before starting, I lay a sheet of white card down, and adjust the white balance on the camera. I’m very conscious that you all rely on me to get the colours in the photographs as close to reality as possible, so I keep adjusting the white balance throughout the shoot, as the light changes.

    I take around 4 shots for each colourway, a couple on auto, and a couple on the daylight setting, as I’ve found that those two light settings on my camera are the most true to life. I use a Canon Powershot A80, by the way. After shooting all the yarn, I go through the photos on the computer, selecting the best ones, and adjusting them as necessary in Photoshop. I try to fiddle with them as little as possible, but just adjust the contrast, saturation, etc, as necessary to get a good true photo. Some days it all works like a charm, other days (today!) I’m pulling my hair out. The hardest ones are reds and bright blues, my camera just hates those colours, and I can never get them to look as good in the photographs as they do in real life.

    I have to be honest, this week I am really disappointed with the photos. Pity, because we have some superb colours this week. Here are some of my favourites:

    (Sophia 2ply in Spellbound)

    (Cecilia in Cocoa Bean)

    (Baby Lucia in Plumage)

    (Laura in Moorland)

    (Lei in Minstrel)

    (Victoria in Tutti Frutti – Victoria is a silk/cashmere aran weight yarn)

    (Sophia 6ply in Merry)

    (Sophia 8ply in Hedgerow)

    I’m not going to blot my blog with a photo of it, but go take a look at Sophia 4ply Chameleon. I’ll wait….. Ok, what do you think? We’re split here – Tony thinks its the best colourway he’s ever done, and I think it is appallingly ugly, and looks more like some kind of unpleasant fungus than anything else. I was all for sending it back to be overdyed, but he insisted we put it on the sale page anyway. We shall soon see whose taste is right…..I’m off to hunt down some interesting pattern suggestions now, and will add those to the blog sometime tomorrow. Enjoy!

    PS. Don’t forget the clocks go back tomorrow night! I’m not sure how many of you international customers also have daylight saving changes this weekend, but if you don’t, Sunday’s sale will seem to be starting an hour LATER than usual. Oh dear, I hope that makes sense!!