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Archive Entries for January 2010

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Sunday January 31, 2010

Books in January

No fiction again this month. I have been listening to podcasts of the BBC series The History of the World in 100 Objects, which in itself is a fascinating project even without the series - and by the way - isn't it curious to choose to "display" objects in this way on the radio? But then - I think that is part of the point - see them on line and at the British Museum.

  • Respect the Spindle Abby Franquemont
    RespectTheSpindle.jpg All my spinning books start with some elementary spindle information, but I never found it very interesting - it bore little relation to the act of using a spindle I felt. I included this book on my wishlist, as I don't have a book on this topic and I thought - why not?. I have my new (decorative only?) spindle from Woolfest - so I felt I could invest a little more in the knowledge. I certainly had no intention of "going into" spindle spinning in preference to the wheel. But...
    This is really is one of the most interesting books I have read. The author really made me understand - and believe - that the spindle is a better and faster tool for spinning certain types of thread. It is not an accident or lack of technology that prevented ancient peoples developing the wheel, but appropriate choice for the job in hand. She also discusses the physics of spindles - which is fascinating for me - and made me think I might actually start to see the point of angles of momentum, and moments of inertia in a way that I did not when at school - no-one ever discussed spindles at that time, or it might all have been different.
    It also indicates that my apparently random choice of spinning my little bag of alpaca on my fancy spindle might just have been a sound one after all.

  • The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook Tarek Malouf
    HummingbirdCookbook.jpg Tony recommended this American cup cake recipe book from the Hummingbird Bakery. So it became another wishlist item, along with a set of reusable silicon cake cases. Now I simply want to make all the cakes at once, they sound so good, (though I shall be making fairy cakes not cup cakes of course...!).
    I like the recipes as they are not simply plain cakes with inventive decorations but actually different flavoured cakes and toppings. The decorations are relatively restrained - but I am sure you can use your own initiative on that score. The only snag I see now is that I need a food mixer (or jolly strong arms) - Tony acquired mixer and book together I think. Not sure if I am ready for a new gadget... maybe... George and I did get out his juice extractor to make the clementine and cranberry marmalade....
    Anyway - "Yum's the word".

  • Rôtis Stéphane Reynaud
    Rotis.jpg This was a surprise gift, and though I am always pleased with a cookbook, I did think it was odd to have a book all about roast dinners. I imagined each recipe must read: heat up oven, put in large joint of meat, take out joint of meat, carve, eat.
    Well... there we are - I was quite wrong. This is a book of "every day" roasts and includes pot roasts - which are almost stews - and is not restricted to meat and poultry but includes fish - and veg.
    The layout appeals to me as well - each dish wonderfully photographed; this stems from my first and still favourite cookery book today - the Good Housekeeping Picture Cookery Book from the 70s - which has pictures. A trained chef friend of mine always scorned my love of pictures in cookery books - but it really does help if you have never seen the dish before. A German friend once produced some little cakes with a big flourish saying "no need to tell you what these are!" - but I had no idea - I was racking my brains for a well known English cake - they looked like brioche - anyway they turned out to be scones, and they were delicious... just... different. A schoolfriend once entered a competition for "rock cakes" but hers were in little cake cases and looked like fruited queen cakes - she was quite amazed to see everyone else's untidy little piles of cake.
    Back to the roasts - "yum" again.

Posted on January 31, 2010 at 12:53 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday January 26, 2010

Project 365

Tony has started a new project for 2010 - Photo365 (clue's in the name) -


- and has featured some birthday mittens I made for Cathy.

Posted on January 26, 2010 at 6:24 PM. Category: Knitting.

Sunday January 24, 2010

Sandown Show

I spent Saturday and part of Sunday on our Guild stand at the Stitch & Creative Craft Show at Sandown. Amazingly (to me) I was demonstrating spinning on a drop spindle and on a wheel. The wheel was Sandy's Ashford Joy, and it was lots of fun to be allowed free rein on a different model.


I managed to tour the show as well, and purchased some little items - some more patterns from Fi Morris (who had some great new designs), some large ceramic beads, a bit of glitter (more of that in a POM when I get round to it), a Vogue dress pattern, and - some delicious Welsh cheese!

In honour of dressing credibly as a knitter for the show, I finally wore my Debbie Bliss Astrakhan cardigan (which I first started working on in 2007, I think). It was warm and easy to wear - the wool is lovely and soft - and I am pleased with how it looks.


Posted on January 24, 2010 at 7:42 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Friday January 22, 2010

Sacred Made Real

A birthday outing so as not to miss this National Gallery exhibition, (final day tomorrow), of Spanish painting and sculpture from 1600 - 1700.
It included Velázquez and Zurbarán masterpieces alongside life-sized carved sculptures made from painted wood - all designed for religious buildings. The sculptors went for hyper-realism, sometimes using glass eyes (as for dolls) and tears, as well as adding ivory teeth and human hair. The skill of the sculptors, I might mention, was such that the human hair was used for the eyelashes, not for the hair - they showed off their fantastic level of skill in their ability to carve the hair and amazing renditions of fabric, so fluid you cannot believe that it was made of wood. The separate skill of polychroming, was performed by specially trained painters, who often considered themselves more important than the sculptors as they "brought the pieces to life".
As was made clear in the exhibition, this form of art has been much overlooked, as the pieces generally do not leave the religious buildings in which they are housed - except to be paraded around the streets on religious high days and holidays, of course - so they are rarely seen outside Spain.

The sculpture above was Rob's favourite. Rob was very interested to glean everything he could about both the techniques of sculpting and painting the statues, to the lighting effects illustrated in the paintings; (he has recently been trying to get his video students to try different styles of shooting in order to understand how they achieve their effects and moods).


Above is a view of St Francis, who has lost whatever he was holding in his outstretched left hand - however, paintings were often made of these sculptures, and this exhibition shows the two art forms together. The contemporary painting in this case shows him holding a crowned skull, which symbolises wordly vanity - and this specific device is used in some of the other works. It led me to think of what double meanings there might be in Shakespeare's famous use of the skull in Hamlet, since that was of roughly the same period.
This view of the gallery with Mary Magdalene visible through the doorway, gives you some idea of the scale of the sculptures. I took a picture of an "interesting shadow" cast by a really wonderful exhibit which was, by contrast, really tiny; this was Saint Francis Standing in Meditation (most of them were "standing in meditation"...) which had never before left Toledo Cathedral.


I must also say: this whole exhibition was exceedingly gory and macabre, for example, John the Baptist's head with really nothing anatomically left to the imagination. That is one of the things that made the effect rather startling - lots of life-sized creations of Christian suffering. The sacred made real.

My favourite was not one of the sculptures, but Velázquez's Immaculate Conception. This is from a postcard of her - but I think the painting must have been cleaned since the pictures were taken, as it positively glowed under the excellent lighting of the exhibition.


Once outside I felt the need to picture the fountains in Trafalgar Square - the Madonna picture has some symbolism in it which I do not pretend to understand but presume it is purity and virginity: she stands on a moon, there is a kind of citadel in the background, and, in the foreground - a fountain.


Posted on January 22, 2010 at 6:26 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Friday January 15, 2010

Umble Pie

I have been watching a delightful TV series The War Time Kitchen and Garden. It is a semi-reenactment of domestic life during WWII with Ruth Mott and Harry Dodson who partly act out roles as cook and head gardener, and also provide their personal memories of the period - all interspersed with period film footage and radio broadcasts.

HumblePieWWIIPoster.jpg Harry works with a "land girl" making a slow burning bonfire working from instructions in a government information leaflet (which he clearly finds somewhat lacking in "information"). It's rather like the charcoal burners in Swallows and Amazons.
Whilst Ruth makes "swiss breakfast" (muesli) with grated carrot, chopped apple, and oats.
She also made mayonnaise..... without any eggs.... (she had to use the egg in the VE Day party cake - o what's that? what about the pancakes? they were made with powdered egg and milk of course!). The mayonnaise was made by simply substituting the egg by cooked potato, rubbed through a sieve, then whipped up with mustard, vinegar and the usual gradual addition of oil. (I think I might have coped with a simple vinaigrette?).

If the above appeals, see:

Snuffling around the web I find I have woken up a little late to this series from 1993. The other parent series are available on DVD but not this one. However, it is a gem, and is currently being shown on the UK TV history channel Yesterday. I have to confess I ran across it after watching a TV drama series that I remember from my youth.... it seems Yesterday shows these series as ... well... "history"!

Posted on January 15, 2010 at 7:55 AM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Thursday January 14, 2010

Hand of Good

Do you have those days when a few stray elements randomly coalesce?
This is one of those days for me.

handofgood.jpg Last March when I was in Worcester with my old school friends, George and I visited the City Museum where there was an Crafts Council touring exhibition called Deviants "Peer Into the Subversive World of Craft". I was fascinated by it (and I took some pictures but did not publish as I suspected the artists might not be too happy without permission). Of particular interest to me was an exhibit called "Hand of Good, Hand of God" by Freddie Robins - a kind of fractal knitted glove.

I would not have remembered any of this, but that today, I ran across Knit a Work of Art from a Free Pattern at the V&A site, which is Conrad - gloves by Freddie Robins. This immediately reminded me of the exhibition and spurred me to look up Freddie's site (wwww = wonderful world wide web) and confirm she was indeed the artist whose work I had seen in Worcester.

Even more pleasing is that these gloves are inspired by a poem in Struwwelpeter - a 19th century German book of cautionary tales for children (!). This book so fascinated me that I bought a modern fac simile of it when I was in Germany. This tale is of Konrad der Daumenlutscher whose thumbs were removed by the tailor's big scissors - a true horror including fantastic onomatopoeia in the wonderful German language ["jetzt geht es klipp und klapp, mit der Scher' die Daumen ab"], and graphic illustrations.


Coalescence - it's very satisfying when it happens.

Posted on January 14, 2010 at 9:41 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Tuesday January 12, 2010

Icelandic Shawl

All my enthusiasm is now taken up with the Icelandic Shawl. I have been almost dyeing, carding, and spinning to order as I needed the various colours for the pattern. The specified colours include dark, medium, and light greys - but these looked like indigo blues to me in the picture, so I used a French reactive dye called "Jeans" and blended the fleece to get the colours I wanted.


I did get on well with the knitting, but have had to frog the centre section and start again. This is because I have spun a variety of thicknesses - I seem to be consistent within the colours, but each colour seems to end up slightly different. The white (undyed) skeins are the finest, and in the centre portion, the pattern stitch makes the tension much tighter. These two factors in combination meant that the shawl was not lying flat enough.
I also used 3¼mm needles instead of the 3½mm called for in the pattern. This was an expedient choice - UK traditional sizes are either 10 (3¼mm) or 9 (3¾mm). Of course I can obtain 3½mm needles as they are available on the continent (France) or from America (part of my Knitpicks set of interchangeable needles).
So to fix my current problem I have decide to do two things - one is to use 3¾mm needles for the centre portion, - and probably 3½mm when I get to resuming the border. The other is to reskein the white wool and wash it again. Having read the Amy King book Spin Control I took the "fulling" process a little more seriously with my recent blue and brown skeins. They were much improved after vigorous fulling, so I am hoping it will have a similar effect on the white.

Posted on January 12, 2010 at 8:20 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.