M.E.

Knitting in Wartime

Well, I’ve had another break from blogging. I’m OK; but overdoing it, stress at work and not sticking to my strict diet resulted in a bit of an energy drop. Fear not though, I’m nearly back to fighting fit, and haven’t been languishing on the sofa too long; in fact there is a new knitting pattern on the way, but more of that later.

I really wanted to tell you about The Kitchener Stitch: Knitting in Wartime event I attended at the end of March; this was organised by the excellent Knitting in the Round project people in Glasgow.

I was pleased to find my friend Catriona in the audience, who also attended the Sanquhar Workshop last year, and also vintage designer, Susan Crawford, and Glasgow based designer, Karie Westermann.

 

Jane Tynan (Central St Martins) kicked off the proceedings in her talk ‘Comforting Body and Soul: Knitting in First World War Britain’. She felt there was an unorthodox anti-mass production feel to the unsolicited knitting for the troops, from about 1941. This may have been a response to a perceived lack of uniform supplies. The government benevolently “allowed” this spontaneous knitting to continue until colours and styles of the knitting were undermining the uniform, and it was felt the knitting needed to be controlled. Standard patterns and wools were then produced to contain this “subversive” knitting.

 

Wendy Turner, (an ex-museum colleague of mine, and a knitter herself) told us about the vast collection of unsorted knitting patterns she discovered when she started working at the Glasgow Women’s Library. These can be viewed by visiting the library. She brought a selection of the wartime patterns to show us:

Service Necessities

Service Woolies

 

Joyce Meader (‘The Historic Knit’): practically showed us ‘Knitted Comforts from Crimea to the Modern Day’. She knits for battle re-enactors, film and TV; and a procession of long johns, balaclavas, WAF knickers, combinations, and even medical dressings were passed through the audience:

Balaclava

These socks were made for the American Civil War, so the soldiers walked on their opponents’ flag:

American socks

This hat is from the medieval period and is knitted and fulled (felted) to be worn under a helmet. The bobble bit at the top provides more of a buffer between the head and the helmet, and has a useful loop for hanging it up.

Early hat

Joyce is an enthusiast and entertainer, and regaled us with great stories about the items she knitted and their use.

Joyce Meander

She also brought along a vast collection of wartime pattern books and equipment:

Knitting pattern display

Knitting patterns and equipment

Old knitting books

Boer War knitting advert

Wartime Knitting patterns

I never knew there were music hall style wartime knitting songs!

Knitting songs

This one was popularised by the entertainer, Arthur Askey:

Knitting song

We had plenty of time to look at it all over lunch:

People looking at display

 

In the afternoon, Maggie Andrews (University of Worcester) talked on ‘”Men went to war and women knitted”: domesticity and crafts on the Home Front in Britain’. She focused on how women’s skills were commandeered for the war effort. The Women’s Institute was founded in 1915, with a focus on crafting; making items to sell, which brought needed money into rural areas. Toys were particularly popular, as it was no longer possible to get toys from Germany. There was a sewing pattern for Cuthbert Rabbit, an anti-hero based on a cartoon strip; and many versions of Cuthbert were made and spread all over the country. London exhibitions were held in 1917, selling items made by Women’s Institute members, which raised the value of women’s skills.

In World War II the idea of modernising craft pervaded: make do and mend was touted – no woollen garment was thrown out, clothes were re-fashioned. Knitting also enabled women to care for their family; having to knit was often resented as it was time consuming by the time-poor working classes. There was a class division, as people with money could buy refurbished clothing from department stores rather than having to make it themselves.

 

Barbara Smith (Knitting and Crochet Guild) highlighted the appeals and campaigns, often figureheaded by upper class women in ‘Useful Work for Anxious Fingers – Knitting & Crochet in the First World War’.

Barbara Smith

The Queen’s Appeal in 1914 was instigated by Lord Kitchener, and requested women of the Empire to supply 300,000 knitted belts and pairs of socks (see original newspaper request at the top of page 8: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/ww1-archive/11109716/Daily-Telegraph-September-23-1914.html) Lady French (wife of Sir John French, Commander of the British Home Forces) was asked by the War Office to instigate a similar appeal. In the end they got more knitted items than they needed. Lady Tullibardine enabled the Herring Girls, who followed the fishing fleet along the East coast, to earn money from their knitting during the war.

 

Aside from being an interesting event I really learned something about the lives of women in wartime and how women’s skills were commandeered or volunteered during the world wars.

 

Karie Westermann also wrote a blog post about this event.

 

If you are interested in the knitting songs, singer, Melanie Gall, is performing, long forgotten knitting songs from WWI and II at the Edinburgh Fringe through August – A Stitch in Time: a knitting cabaret.

I will be going along with some of my knitting friends.

 

Very, very soon, I will be publishing a new shawl pattern, here’s a taster:

Gujarati Diamond detail

 

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Pushing up Daisies and Camellia

I have just published two new knitting patterns, Camellia and Dreaming Daisy shawl. This is Camellia:

Camellia02

The name came from the photos of the wristwarmers by the Camellia bushes in Durham Botanical Gardens. They had a working title of Victorian wristwarmers as I was thinking of the fine mittens the women wore at that time.

This pattern has been a long time coming, due to the slow down and concentration problems I experienced having M.E., the pattern got shelved many times. It started back in 2008, I had knitted the Garbo jacket from Sculptured Knits by Jean Moss, and I liked the textural quality of the faggoted rib in the pattern, and picot edges and flared lace inserts in the hems of some of the other patterns. I wanted to incorporate these ideas into some wristwarmers I wanted to make for presents for Christmas, but was struggling to make it work. I was discussing my problems with Kate Davies at our local knitting group, and she suggested that I decreased into the wrist and back out again to incorporate the lace inserts, which is what I did.

The first pair I made were in black angora for my friend Sacha:

Victorian Wristwarmers 1

in a light DK/Sport weight. I then fell in love with a dusty mauve yarn in my local yarn shop – Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran, and had to adapt the pattern for the heavier weight yarn. I made these for Alice:

Victorian Wristwarmers 2

Then I wanted a pair for me and went back to a lighter weight yarn – Rowan Felted Tweed:

Victorian Wristwarmers 3

I wore these until they wore out and had loads of holes. I then saw Alice in her chunkier version of the gloves again and decided they were better.

So I made myself these green ones in the Donegal Tweed 2 years ago and tidied up the pattern a bit:

Camellia on gate post

I was still struggling to make sense of the pattern, and then recently I bought a knitting design program – Stitchmastery, created by Cathy Scott in my knitting group, and that helped to finally get me to the end of the pattern. A real exercise in patience and perseverance.

 

The other pattern is Dreaming Daisy shawl, which conversely is the quickest pattern I have designed and published.

Dreaming Daisy Shawl

I started it because I took Amy Singer’s Plug and Play shawl tutorial on Craftsy. Amy is the founder and editor of the online knitting magazine Knitty.com, and I attended a workshop with her in Glasgow, so I knew she explained things in a clear and practical manner. I also knew about the Plug and Play concept because of the Pembrokeshire retreats she ran with Brenda Dayne from Cast-on.com.

I love knitting lace shawls, but I felt a bit out of my depth designing one, so this tutorial was great for simplifying the design process with lace and enabled me to come up with this design.

Dreaming Daisy Shawl width

The shawl is a combination of a bold daisy motif which bounces along the waves of the Feather and Fan stitched based lace pattern. The slow self-striping/ombre/gradient yarn stripes alternating with the solid colour stripes adds to the strobing movement across the waves. I found the simple lace patterns, with plenty of plain knit and purl rows made this a fairly simple shawl to knit, with enough detail to keep you interested.

Dreaming Daisy Shawl waves

I’m looking forward to see what colour combination knitters come up with for this shawl. It could be completely knitted in one colour, or you could use a semi-solid dyed yarn instead of solid for the main yarn, or you could do every stripe a different colour! I hope to be surprised!

You will be able to buy the nice shiny new printed versions of these patterns from me at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, this Saturday and Sunday 14th-15th March, and my Tulips for Margaret pattern for £4.00 each. I have also got some greeting cards of the Felty Folk available. I am on the Craft Tree stall which is run by members of the Tea Tree Tea group in Edinburgh, we have been kindly given this opportunity in return for volunteer work throughout the Festival by Mica and Jo, who are also members of our group. Thanks Mica and Jo. Please come and find us, there are also lovely handmade items made by other members of the group. I’m really looking forward to squidging yarn and meeting everyone at the Festival.

Thanks to Sacha Man for modelling my shawl, and Kelly Golf and S. Miller for the use of their photos.

 

Is Venice the most beautiful city in the world?

It’s certainly the most beautiful city I’ve visited! I was there for a week with my friend from Newcastle to celebrate my 50th birthday.

It was really a big deal for me to be there, I haven’t been abroad for 9 years, as I felt it was a bit of a waste of money while I was struggling with M.E./CFS, and I would inevitably spend at least half of the days tired out in a hotel room. Thankfully, I can put that behind me – I walked the length and breadth of Venice every day I was there, and my friend was as tired as I was at the end of the day, but still ready to explore Venice again the next morning.

Just why is it so beautiful? Is it the famous sights?

St Marks Basilica

St Marks Basilica

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

St Mark's Square Lion

St Mark’s Square

St Mark's Square and Me

I’ve never seen St Marks Square so deserted, this was at 10.00 on a Thursday in February.

St Mark's Clocktower

St Mark’s Clocktower

Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs

View to St Mark's Square

Is it that the roads are canals?

Gondola – Grand Canal

CannaregioThis looks like a Caneletto painting to me; and this:

Grand Canal

Gondola

Gondolas passing

Just look at the incredible colour of the water here:

Water colour
Is it because it is a series of islands surrounded by water?

The Lagoon at dusk

View from San Giorgio

Gondolas at St Marks Square

This is San Michele, the cemetery island:

View to San Michele

Murano:

Main canal - Murano

Glass Shrine - Murano

Burano:

Burano

Or is it the lovely buildings?

Doge's Palace

Doge’s Palace

Giant’s steps

Giant’s steps, Doge’s Palace

Campanile

Venice buildings - Castello

And the wonky buildings?

Campanile and Canal

Campanile and Campo

Wonky Campanile

And a picturesque scene at every turn…?

Venice buildings

Venice buildings
Or the intricate detail?

Carved canal arch

Carving - Doge's Palace

Giant's staircase steps

And the carved sculpture?

Carved letterbox

Carving fish market

Venice Lion

Angel - Cemetery Island

Or the incredible interiors?

Ceiling in Doge’s palace

Ceiling in the Doge’s palace

Golden Staircase - Doge's palace

Golden Staircase – Doge’s palace

 

I think it must be a combination of everything that makes it so magical:

Rialto Bridge at night

San Simone Piccolo at Dusk

Sunset at San Salute

I had an amazing time, it was everything I hoped it would be.

More in my next post – Everyday Venice – about how life goes on in this extraordinary city.

Thanks to S. Miller for use of his photos.

Cuillins from Elgol - Isle of Skye

Return to Skye

I reached a personal milestone in my recovery from M.E. and managed to drive for 6.5 hours up to the Isle of Skye!

I used to live in Skye from 2000-2002 and I visited a couple of times after I’d moved further South, but I didn’t have the energy to travel that far, and drive around Skye once I had M.E.  I’ve been feeling a lot better, so I planned a trip up in September, and thought I’d share my photos and experiences.

It’s a lovely drive up there, and the scenery just gets better and better as you travel through Glencoe, Invergary, Shiel Bridge, past the iconic Eilean Donan Castle and over the bridge to Skye.  It’s been about 9 years since I’ve been up that way, and I think time had diminished it somehow in my mind; as I saw that wild landscape again, it was larger, more dramatic and more sublime than in my mind’s eye – it quite took my breath away. I stayed with my friend, Marion, in Portree the 1st night, and in the morning I drove over the hill to Struan, on a crazy winding single track road, to see my friends Zuleika and Beads in Caroy, on the West side of the island. There’s a great view of the entire Cuillin ridge from that road:

Cuillin ridge from Struan Road - Isle of Skye

Zuleika and Beads (real name – Mark – everyone knows him as Beads) live in a small cottage on their croft. They hand-built their cottage, and have continued to add bits to it, so it was great to see how the cottage and croft have developed. They live quite self-sufficiently growing their own veg and herbs, and keeping a few animals, generating their own power, using a natural water source and composting toilet. What always amazes me is their ingenuity at re-purposing and recycling material. A fish farm had been put out of commission near them and dragged up onto the land, so they sawed up the large circular plastic float and used it to edge their raised vegetable beds:

Raised beds, Chapel Croft, Caroy - Isle of Skye

It works really well, doesn’t rot, and holds in the heat.

Beads has really gone to town with his recycling and has made crazy animals and creatures from the flotsam washed up on the shoreline at the croft. They are so imaginative and fun:

Sheep made by Mark Francis

Sheep

Rat made by Mark Francis

Mole made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Rhino and Bird made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Rhino and Bird

Creature made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Creature made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Bird made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Bird on their gatepost

Butterfly mobile made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Butterfly mobile

Angler fish made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Angler fish

They were found all over the croft and the cottage! He’s planning on selling them and will have a website up and running soon. Beads is normally a carpenter, and had to get away to a job, so after my tour around the croft, I had a good catch up with Zuleika, drinking some fresh peppermint and lemon balm tea, picked from the croft.

I headed up to Waternish in the North of the island for the afternoon. I lived in Waternish most of the time I was in Skye, and it was great to get back to my old stamping ground:

View from Stein - Isle of Skye

View from Stein

I drove as far North as I could go on the Waternish peninsula, which took me to Trumpan, and the old church and graveyard there:

View to Dunvegan from Trumpan, Waternish - Isle of Skye

Dunvegan from Trumpan

I popped in to see Neal and Maddy at Halistra Pottery and bought a mug, and bought some lovely autumnal 4 ply yarn from Shilasdair:

Bought in Skye - Shilasdair Yarn & Halistra Pottery mug

Heading back out of Waternish, I went down to the bay at Camuslusta to see some friends. Initially, no-one was home, and a collie dog accompanied me on a walk along the beach:

Camuslusta, Waternish - Isle of Skye

Although he was more interested in chasing the chickens really:

Chicken, Camuslusta, Waternish - Isle of Skye

I finally managed to find Judith at home (it was her dog) and had a quick cuppa with her, before heading back to spend a quiet evening in Portree with Marion, and headed down the South part of the island, to the Cuillins and my friends Ray and Antje, and to a wedding ceilidh in the evening.

I wanted to have a walk in the scenery in the morning, so I drove to Elgol for a walk on the cliffs. It was quite windy and threatening rain when I got there, which made it look very dramatic:

Cuillins from Elgol - Isle of Skye

Gars-bheinn in the Cuillins - Isle of Skye

Elgol cliffs - Isle of Skye

I walked along the cliffs to where they broke up into limestone pavements nearer the water, had a good explore, and the sun came out. I found a baby waterfall:

Baby waterfall at Elgol cliffs - Isle of Skye

and wild flowers: the Devil’s Bit Scabious was irridescent against the grey limestone:

Devil's Bit Scabious

and had a rest on the rocks in the sun, peacefully gazing out at the Cuillins. As I headed back to Elgol harbour, the midges rose up from the heather in the sunshine, and gave me a few bites! I was unprotected, without any midge repellant, as there was no sign of them when I left the car about an hour before. It shows how fast the weather can change in the Highlands.

I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with my friends in Torrin under the glowering Blaven:

Blaven from the road to Torrin - Isle of Skye

The wedding ceilidh was fun in the evening, and I had enough energy to have a couple of dances. My best wishes go to Abigail and Tibor on their married life together.

I stayed with Antje and Ray overnight, and after a bit of a false start found my favorite beach in Skye the next morning:

Shoreline at Torrin - Isle of Skye

It was absolutely deserted, and the water was crystal clear and it has the most beautiful rounded egg-like pebbles and amazing white marble cliffs.

I helped Antje with her sock knitting when I got back, funny, neither of us knitted when I lived in Skye, but now we’ve both taken it up… I headed back home the next day. It was so marvellous to be in such a beautiful part of the world for a few days, and to catch up with old friends. We just carried on together as if I had never moved away; for all my friends there it was just as if I still lived in Skye and had just popped around for a cuppa. Thanks to them all for looking after me.