Saturday, 31 December 2016

Advent Calendars

In November, a group of knitters from the Huddersfield Knitting & Crochet Guild branch decided to share two Opal advent calendars - these calendars have 24 doors for the days of Advent, like other Advent calendars, but behind each door is a 15g. ball of Opal sock yarn.  There were 8 members of the calendar syndicate and 48 balls of wool, so 6 balls each - sounds simple, doesn't it?  No.  They devised an extremely complicated scheme - before any of the doors were opened, the ball behind each door was pre-allocated to a syndicate member.  Then each member had custody of one of the calendars for 6 days.  Every day she opened the appropriate door and posted a photo of the ball door could see what she was getting.  Here's one of the photos, posted by Ann Kingstone.

 And after six days, the keeper of the cube met the next keeper, to hand it over.

Yesterday was the grand finale, when the syndicate met to distribute the balls of wool to their owners. I wasn't a member of the syndicate, just a fascinated observer, but I went along to see how it all worked out.  They met in Salt's Diner in Salts Mill in Saltaire, the other side of Bradford.

Every member of the syndicate was given a pair of socks with their balls of wool stuffed inside.  Then there was some swapping, so that people could get a selection of colours that they liked.  There was even some discussion of what they might knit with the yarn - the 6 balls will make a pair of (very multi-coloured) socks, though you could mix them with a plain background colour and make something bigger like a shawl.  And as far as I could see, everyone was happy with their share, and keen to do it all again next year.      

By then it was dark, and we went into the village to see the Saltaire Advent windows, which are lit up every evening until January 5th.  Like any other Advent calendar, a new window was 'opened' every day in December until Christmas Eve, though they started with 10 windows on December 1st, so now there are 33 windows to see.   The windows are scattered all over the village, and I didn't have time to see many of them, but I did see some very well-designed and executed displays.  And the very first that we found was this:

It's all knitted or crocheted - poinsettias in pots, snowmen, paper chains, a gingerbread house,...

Knitted robins wearing woolly hats on a knitted snow-covered log:

Alpacas wearing woolly scarves (both crocheted, I think) under knitted mistletoe:

 (Alpacas are important in the history of Saltaire because Titus Salt, who built the village for his mill workers, made his money out of spinning alpaca yarn.)

So window no. 7 was a very good start for a party of knitters.  

Another favourite:  window 19, showing Father Christmas in his sleigh flying over the village.

And here's window 9, a display about Titus Salt's rules for the people living in Saltaire:

No pubs; No drinking alcohol; No hanging out washing; No animals in Saltaire.

You can read more about the rules here.  As far as I remember from a guided walk around Saltaire, the prohibition on hanging out washing was because Salt had provided a wash-house and he wanted the villagers to pay to do their washing there, but it wasn't popular.  Some villagers got around the rule by hanging out their washing on vacant land just outside the village.  And he wasn't against alcohol as such - the rules was really against being drunk, and he didn't want pubs where workers might meet and combine against him.  Philanthropic, but only up to a point.

The windows were worth seeing.  The Saltaire Living Calendar has been happening every Christmas since 2006, though I had not heard of it before this year - I'll go again next year, with enough time to see them all.  

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas 1941

Stitchcraft, December 1941

75 years ago, Britain had been at war for more than two years, and on the home front, life was difficult.  Food and clothes were rationed, so Christmas could have been cheerless and miserable. But magazines like Stitchcraft tried to show readers how to make the best of things. The December 1941 Stitchcraft  had a bright and stylish jumper on the cover - it took just 12 oz. (340g.) of 4-ply (fingering) wool, and 1 oz. of contrast.  The magazine also offered a pattern for a sleeveless V-neck pullover for "one of your friends in the Forces", as well as two more knitting patterns for women -- another jumper and a cardigan.

An ad in the magazine illustrates the advantage of knitting your own clothes.  Greenwoods of Huddersfield would supply the wool to knit any of the patterns in the magazine, or would knit them for you.  The wool to knit the cover jumper cost 9/5½ (9 shillings and five pence ha'penny - about 47½p, directly translated into decimal coinage).  But as well as the money, you had to send in 6 of your clothing coupons.  Alternatively, they would supply it "completely hand-knit and ready to wear" for 25 shillings (£1.25) and 8 coupons.  So if you knitted the jumper yourself, you saved a lot of money, and 2 clothing coupons. As the war went on (and after the war too), clothes rationing became more severe, with fewer coupons issued to each person.  Knitting for yourself and your family was essential, to eke out the precious clothing coupons.  

Stitchcraft at that time had a cookery article in each issue, and in December 1941 it was of course about Christmas cookery - or how to cope with limited supplies of everything you might have thought essential.  There's a recipe for an Excellent Wartime Cake, with no eggs, and a Holiday Pudding, described as "a war-time substitute for our usual Christmas pudding - not the rich, fruit-laden affair of former days, but quite a good one, and far more digestible!"   Both the cake and the pudding contain raisins - it seems surprising that they were still available at all, as they were imported, but clearly supplies were much more limited than before the war.

Christmas present giving was not forgotten either - several pages of the magazine are devoted to ideas for gifts, largely made from oddments of wool and scraps of fabric.  There are needle cases, pin-cushions like cacti in pots, a soft toy fox terrier, and an egg cosy "for the monthly egg".   To be honest, these knick-knacks mostly do look like something made out of oddments, though the gloves and scarves would be very acceptable.  And the jumper, cardigan and pullover patterns are appealing, even today.  Overall, the magazine did a very good job of encouraging Christmas cheer.

A merry Christmas to us all.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Bonham Mitts

I have just finished the Bonham mitts that I was knitting at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate at the end of last month.  They are a Christmas present for my daughter, so I've timed it well.  Not a surprise present - she chose the colours and tried on the first mitt during the knitting so that I could get the length right.

The yarn is Rowan Donegal Lambswool Tweed, discontinued long ago.  I was given several skeins in different colours a few years ago, and it has been languishing in my stash ever since.  I thought it would be right for these mitts, because the recommended yarn is Rowan Fine Tweed (also now discontinued). The Donegal Lambswool is a similar weight.  The colours are called Blue Mist and Pickle.  Blue Mist is fairly straightforward, but pickles come in all sorts of colours. But the yarn is the colour of Branston pickle, so perhaps that is what the name refers to.

The mitt design is by Angharad Thomas, and based on a pair of gloves dated 1818 that were sold by Bonhams the auctioneers a year or two ago.  (You can see the original gloves on Angharad's blog, here.)  It's an interesting construction too - all the increases for the thumb gusset are on one side, not on both sides as is usually done.  So the thumb on the second mitt has to be a mirror image of the first.  And on one side of the thumb gusset, the rows of stitches are in the same direction as those on the palm:

and on the other side, where all the increases are, the rows of stitches are at an angle to the palm:

It's an intriguing effect.

I'm very pleased with the finished mitts.  They are wrapped up and under the Christmas tree, and I'm sure Susie will like them too.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A Long, Long Scarf A-Winding

I have been knitting a scarf for my sister for quite a while now - I wrote in August about knitting a swatch for it, here.  It's been my main knitting project ever since, though I've been doing other bits of knitting, too (as well as everything else that needs doing apart from knitting).   It took a long time because of Margaret's specification - she wanted it to be 80 inches long and 10 inches wide (about 200 × 25 cm.)  And it is.

I could have made it a bit longer, because I had 20g. of yarn left, out of the original 200g.  But we had arranged to meet last Monday, so I had to stop knitting and press it before then.  Otherwise, I would have finished off the yarn - I think 80 inches was intended as a minimum, not a maximum, and I don't have an obvious use for 20g. of 4-ply yarn.

It wasn't a surprise present.  Margaret approved the colour before I bought the yarn, and I sent her the swatch so that she could check that it wouldn't be irritating (it's alpaca and nylon, because she can't wear wool).  So on Monday she tried it for size and declared it long enough, before re-wrapping it to put away until Christmas Day.

It is all knitted in dewdrop stitch, from Barbara Walker's Treasury of Knitting Patterns - an easy lace pattern.  Three out of four rows are just k3, p3 all across the row, and the complications that make it lacy are all on the 4th row.

The wrong side looks just as good as the right side, too, though they aren't the same.  In the photo below, the wrong side is shown on the right.

A very successful project - it will be wonderfully warm and cosy to wear.  And not itchy.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Another Year in Books

Last week, one of my book groups had our Christmas dinner (at the Olive Branch, Marsden, where we had a very good meal).  Very sadly, we have lost one of our members this year - she died in the summer after a short illness, unexpectedly and far too young.  We thought of her and remembered that at last year's Christmas dinner, she was with us.

As is now traditional, I gave everyone a Christmas card, showing the books we have read this year.

The books are:
  • Anna of the Five Towns, Arnold Bennett
  • On the Black Hill, Bruce Chatwyn,
  • Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín
  • Me and Mr J, Rachel McIntyre
  • The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
  • An Officer and A Spy, Robert Harris
  • Sweet Caress, William Boyd
  • Exposure, Helen Dunmore
A good selection of books - there were none that I really didn't like.  (That has happened in the past, when some books have been very hard work to read.)   I enjoyed the last three very much, and I think my overall favourite was An Officer and A Spy.   It's a fascinating account of the Dreyfus Affair in France, which I knew nothing about at all.

Our next book (for our meeting in January)  is Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.  I haven't read it before, and haven't seen the 1947 film with Richard Attenborough as Pinkie,  either.  I'm looking forward to it.

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