Weblog (home)


Pattern of
the Month

On the Needles
(...and Off the Needles)



About the
Idle Hands

Archive Entries for March 2008

« February 2008 | Main | April 2008 »

Monday March 31, 2008

Books in March

  • The Fourth Bear Jasper Fforde
    I think I was probably introduced to Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next novels) by Robert, and swiftly passed them on to Alison. Although I continued with Thursday Next's adventures, I never bothered with the "Nursery Crime" books until I was given (Robert again) two for my birthday. Through an administrative error I took the second one to France with me, so I have read them out of sequence, but I don't think that has impeded my enjoyment.
    Like Terry Pratchett, Fforde's novels are tagged Fantasy Satire, and like Pratchett, they are brilliant. A fantasy world makes you somehow able to look at what is obviously our own world with more objective eyes - and see humbug and hypocrisy for what it really is - and have a good laugh.
    I do not have journalistic skills to write an elegant review - instead try this.
  • The Right Attitude to Rain Alexander McCall Smith
    This is third in the series about Isobel Dalhousie; a quick read, and most enjoyable. The main character really reminds me of my friend Diane; that is really "reminds" me of her, rather than being actually the same as her. It is her sense of what is fundamentally Right, perhaps, as well as the the descriptions of the Edinburgh locations. Alison said she was very surprised by the ending of the book, and it provoked a quite interesting few moments of discussion on the characters' motivations.
    This author also has several series of books, but I have followed only the Ladies' No 1 Detective Agency** with any dedication. I am certain I would like them all, as I suspect they would all be flavoured with the authors quiet brand of philosphical ideas, as applied in every day life, albeit possibly by rather extraordinary people. Perhaps that is the key to his popularity: you can see that the people are ordinary enough on the outside, but rather extraordinary on the inside - and isn't that how we all are?

** Over Easter the BBC screened a film version of the Ladies' No 1 Detective Agency, directed by the recently late Anthony Minghella. They made some changes, which are in my opinion all excellent, in order to take it properly from page to screen. They (and I) are clearly delighted that they filmed it on location in Botswana - it was the Right Thing to do. It is my understanding that this is the pilot for a TV series, though I can't see any direct reference for it being so; I hope they manage to sustain the high quality of actors, script, and direction if it continues.

Posted on March 31, 2008 at 5:05 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday March 28, 2008

Sunshine and Showers

Just about the definition of the weather in the UK, and Normandy tends to join in with the UK in this respect. If anything it tends to be wetter, and it has been pretty dismal for most of the 2 weeks we've been here. However, yesterday it was quite sunny and warm - we even had tea in the garden. I collected some wood in the wheelbarrow early in the morning and then later on discovered we weren't the only ones to notice how nice and warm it was.

Today we are back to torrential downpours - though the temperature is definitely on the up and spring is with us.

Last year we missed these beauties - we saw instead the red tulips that you can see, still in bud, in the background of this shot.

These are such a beautiful colour that they inspire me to copy them in some way.
Flowers always encourage me towards needlepoint though, not knitting.

Posted on March 28, 2008 at 10:03 AM. Category: France.

Friday March 21, 2008

March Winds

When we arrived on Sunday, some pieces of the barn roof had blown off; luckily Lloyd was able to borrow a really long ladder and he and George effected repairs on Wednesday, when the weather was at least tolerable. It was mostly Lloyd actually up the ladder - though it was sufficiently dangerous that it needed the two of them on two ladders to control the corrugated iron.

Throughout the week, the weathermen have been stoically predicting bad weather - even snow - over the Easter weekend, and although it seemed very unlikely as the week commmenced in bright warm sunshine - the cold snap has arrived! It is alternately very bright, then dark, with sudden heavy showers of hail. The wind is really strong and bitterly cold - even when it's sunny.

Meanwhile, I am having a great time curled up by the fire with my knitting. George is the beneficiary, as I have already knitted one of the next pair of "Vintage Socks" - these also in vintage wool - Patons Nylox in a manly shade of grey/green.

Posted on March 21, 2008 at 12:00 PM. Category: France.

Wednesday March 19, 2008

River Rock

I finally started my River Rock scarf which Alison and I are doing as a Knitalong - so I hope she starts soon, as it is such a pleasure to knit, that in any other circumstances I would abandon all other projects and devote myself to this!

I really love putting beads in knitting - it appeals to a side of my nature I try to suppress for the sake of good taste. Left to my own devices I would dress entirely in frills and florals (...but my friends won't let me...). I like shiny things - so beads are perfect, offering glamour while retaining a degree of sophistication more suited to my years - at least that's what I'm hoping....

I notice from my craft group that beading has really taken off - especially (strangely) among the spinners. I believe it's the current 'big thing' - I fervently hope it will take over from card making, which has swamped all our craft fairs, squeezing out other suppliers - or forcing specialist suppliers to take on more card-making supplies.

Posted on March 19, 2008 at 12:06 PM. Category: Knitting.

Saturday March 15, 2008


Today was Creative Fibres AGM - which lasted all of 20 minutes. There was bumper attendance, and chatting to everyone proved very jolly, as usual.

In the afternoon, we had a talk by Lee Ault from the Dickens House Museum at Broadstairs. Lee is a well-known speaker and expert on costume and textiles; today she was focusing on underwear, and had brought a hamper full of items to illustrate every era. She started out with the 1920s, before working back and forth through the Victorians and Edwardians, up to the 1960s and 70s, discussing each type of garment in turn. In the 1920s, everything was apparently even more unmentionable than even decades before; underwear was laid out by your maid - and then covered up with purpose-made linens so nothing would not be "on display". This was not a problem for the Victorians, as they did not wear any drawers at all - unhygienic - and to wear drawers was considered very racy - the sign of a loose woman.


I loved this item - a boudoir jacket. It was made of a kind of gauzy organza, with a fine pink lining, showing through to give a lovely delicate colour and drape. Naturally, it came with a "boudoir cap" to match.

I was very interested in the "new" caged crinoline invented in the 1850s, making the wide skirt fashions much more wearable, as it was so much lighter than the previous bone-hooped petticoats and layers needed to create the right shape. It was very popular despite being the subject of much ridicule, especially Punch magazine. Dress reformers used the idea of the cage as effectively imprisoning women. [One of Lee's talks is entitled "The Caged Lady (Victorian Costume and Social Attitudes)"]. Gradually the fashion shape changed, with the emphasis moving to the rear, with the "crinolinette" and the bustle.

Although, I don't think any if us dated as far back as the Victorians (!), but we have such a spread of ages, that gales of laughter swept round the room at the mention of almost every 20th century item. Each one brought back memories to someone of their Mum or Granny's underwear - or we were reminded of long-forgotten childhood experiences of being forced into archaic vests and liberty bodices. Ray remembers, as a child in Ireland, her Mother having someone come to the house to measure her for bespoke corsetry.

Mavis is constructing her latest jacket from her various pet furs; she has here a combination of rabbit, alpaca, sheltie, and good old sheep.


Posted on March 15, 2008 at 5:48 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Saturday March 8, 2008

Knitting BAFTAs

I had been meaning to post this item for a while but it took time to get the ingredients assembled. Now - mise en place - I was spurred into action by an article at the end of the recent Interweave Knits with the tongue-in-cheek (I think!) suggestion of an Oscar for best knitting in a film - it was that time of year. It was nice to find someone as potentially bonkers as I am - period knitting never fails to catch my eye and I am always interested in the set dressing and costumes in beautifully crafted TV series which no doubt pride themselves in their recreations.

This stunning top appeared in "Yellow Iris" (Poirot - 1993) worn by Pauline Wetherby, played by Geraldine Somerville, (perhaps more well-known recently for her portrayal of Harry Potter's Mother in the recent films).
Poirot1.jpg Poirot2.jpg
Apologies for the quality but I am afraid I took the low-tech option of photographing the TV!

Poirot, Foyle's War, Miss Marple and so on, are all rich sources of delight. They are of special interest to me as I feel sure that Stitchcraft is often used as source material for the knitted fashions; I have visions of props and costume makers (Rob's students!) slaving away over these very patterns to meet the designer's requirements. I am sure I have recognised more than one cardigan in Foyle's War from the 1940s Stitchcrafts, [though I do not recognise the source of the above example - it may not even be a modern knitted recreation - I can't tell].

Posted on March 8, 2008 at 11:31 AM. Category: Knitting.

Sunday March 2, 2008

Mother's Day, and Mirrors

When I first joined the Creative Fibres group - Spinners Weavers and Dyers - the one thing I was sure about was that I was not at all interested in weaving - how long ago that seems... Since then I have been seduced into trying my hand at braiding - both Kumihimo and ply-split. [See the extended entry to understand how this came about!].
Anyway, it's Mothers Day today in the UK and this gave me the incentive during the week to finish off some little braided items I've in mind for quite a long time. Here is the cord I made from cotton thread I had bought on eBay - I had made spiral rounded braids in two colours - this one introduces a third colour, and the bobbins are set unevenly in the marudai. Sadly the photo does not do justice to the deep purple, and green colours.


A close up shows the colours but they are not as vivid as in reality.


I had to be quite inventive as to how to finish off the ends, and attach them to retainers to attach to your glasses, [note that Jacqui Carey supplies the ends, and they are fine if you want a lot of them, but I found it cheaper to go to the optician in the village and buy a low quality cord at 75p in order to cannibalise it for the ends].

It seems to me that braid is pretty limited in its uses - certainly if you are beginner - but a fairly obvious use is to make a piece of string to hang your glasses on. As you get older, I have noticed, you go through a phase of using one of these; I think it's as you start to need reading glasses** but have not yet reached the point when you require glasses all the time. I think they are quite naff - but it's only a matter of time for me I'm sure - I have made strings now for George and his Mother, and who else is there but myself?
[**I have begun to think now that your eyesight fails as you get older, to protect you from the full force of that first early morning sight of yourself in the bathroom mirror...]

I leave you with that thought on mirrors, philosophy, and aging..... and with some more pictures of the braid destined to be George's spectacle cord.


These are both spiral braids created with 8 bobbins, 4 in each colour, and using the same movements, but the bobbins are arranged in a different sequence on the mirror.


How did this happen?

At my very first meeting (the Open Day 2006) I tried all with all the things on offer, and braiding was well-represented as Sandy is the Chairman of the Braiding Society. I had a go at Kumihimo as her Marudai was all set up, and I thought it was simple enough (I could see that it was easy to get in a muddle, even with only 8 bobbins but...) and no real interest there. However, on display was Janice's "home made" Marudai**, and I thought "I could do that!", the prospect of a DIY project being much more appealing than the braiding!
**[I should explain that the equipment for Kumihimo can work out very expensive - the bobbins are about 8 quid each and the Marudai over 100 - and thats before you buy the Japanese silk threads!].

I searched for a round plant stand all over the place - but without success, and then I found a bathroom rubbish bin, which had a wooden top with a hole already cut in it, and I rushed home to try it out right away. For my first efforts I used the bin itself as a base - this work "ok" but the bin did not have enough depth to allow any substantial length of braid to be made before repositioning of the centre weight was required - and repositioning was almost impossible as the sides are completely enclosed. Anyway I made my first piece of flat braid in this way (not so very many mistakes!) - this is a close up - the braid is about 7mm wide:

I then decided it was worth progressing with adapting the top of the my bin into the Marudai "mirror" (the top plate). I cut some dowel to make legs - I cut holes (very carefully!) in my mirrror using a router, and glued the legs in place. I then made a base for the legs to sit in - this involved a lot of careful measuring and levelling which I don't want to think about. Here are the legs being glued:

The base is an old piece of faced chipboard, which started out square, and I finally cut into a round; I still plan to paint it. Here is my "finished" Marudai.

The bobbins (tama) are probably the most cost saving part of the exercise; they are made from 35mm film canisters. I used to have a lot of these, but I purged them all and in these days of digital cameras I have not accrued any more. No problem there though. I went to my local camera shop and I mentioned what I was after and the guy gave me a HUGE bag full of them! The tama have to be weighted, for which I used 2p coins, which serve the purpose well, as you can put exactly the same number of coins in each canister. I finished them off with an elastic band to act as a "retainer" and stop the threads slipping off.

Each bobbin should weigh about 70g - this can vary according to what you are doing - and then you need a counterweight in the middle at about 50-70% of the total weights of the tama - a bag full of more 2p coins.

As a beginner, again to keep cost down, I was advised to try machine embroidery threads, as they provide a shiny look, a bit like the silks normally used. It was a bit tedious making 20-strand cords to wind on the bobbin - I was able to use my wig loom as warping posts, but the warping takes much longer than the actual braiding. I purchased some threads on eBay, with which someone had been trying out Kumihimo; they were cotton, so harder to use (slippery is better), but already pre-cut into lengths, so much quicker to wind on the bobbins.

Final Kumihimo braids:

Kumihimo supplies are available on the web from Jacqui Carey, as are books on the subject.

For information and book on Ply-split braiding see Julie Hedges site.

Posted on March 2, 2008 at 11:21 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.