18 May 2019

Postcard from England - Ancient places and hidden doorways

In this last in this series of postcards from England, you will find us in the Welsh borderlands. I love this part of the world, with ancient castles and manor houses dotted through the landscape. One of these castles is Croft Castle in Leominster. This was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is set at the top of a hill overlooking the lands beyond. 

The castle was very grand with stone dragons guarding the main entranceway, but it also had some lovely hidden gems in the gardens behind. We walked along a brick pathway bordered by blossoming apple trees and then came upon this charming wooden doorway with a rambling wisteria alongside.

We had been dodging the showers as we had walked around the castle but a weak sun broke through as we made our way to the entrance. The trees were almost glowing in the yellow light. Mind you, I had to smile while Tim was taking this photo since behind him there was a patient queue of drivers waiting to drive down the road!

We then drove to an ancient monastery, Haughmond Abbey, just to the east of Shrewsbury. It's amazing how you can feel a sense of history in the stones there. The abbey dates from the early 12th Century and was a place of worship for 400 years before being sold to local landowners and then later used as a farm. I loved the open archways leading from one area to the next and the sheep passing slowly along the fence beyond.

The next day we came right up to date by going over the brand new Mersey Gateway Bridge to Liverpool airport. We weren’t flying from there but instead were visiting a National Trust house right next door, Speke Hall. This is an old Tudor house with beautiful timbering to the front.

The house had been built around the time of religious persecutions in the Tudor times and featured an ingenious device – a small hole cut into the eves. This allowed servants to listen to the talk of visitors and warn anyone who might want to escape quickly, hence the phrase “eves dropping”!

The next day we went just to the south of Manchester to Little Moreton Hall. We were here at the end of the afternoon and enjoyed seeing this amazingly crooked house with hardly another person in sight. We had a refreshing cup of tea in the tiny tea room before strolling around the restored knot garden with this pair of old garden rollers by the kitchen door.

I hope you have enjoyed this diversion into the English countryside! Next time I will show you what I was speed-knitting as I went. Yes, Anna planned her wedding a year ahead and yes, I chose my dress several months ago but as we knitters always do, I only decided I needed a shawl 10 days before we left..! But more about that next time.

Many thanks to Tim for all his great photos over the last three blogposts. Please do go and find him on Instagram or Flickr if you would like to see more of his photos.

Until next time, Happy Knitting!


15 May 2019

Postcard from England: Bluebells and meandering ways

When I was about 8 or 9, I would often cycle for hours with my friend who lived nearby. Those were the days before mobile phones or excessive traffic on the roads and we would venture deep into the hills surrounding our hometown. After several miles of walking our bikes up steep hills and then zooming down the other side, we would stop for lunch in woodlands carpeted with a vast expanse of bluebells. They just seemed to be everywhere, the gentle blue stretching away under the trees and into the surrounding grassland beyond. 

So I was so pleased to see bluebells growing in profusion as we drove into Cornwall recently. We just don’t see them in Florida and it is many years since we were in England in the right season. We researched good sites to see bluebells and discovered that a National Trust property called Lanhydrock House was especially noted for the carpets of deeply coloured bluebells lining the approach to the house. 

In addition, the woods were perfumed with wild garlic which was flowering alongside. The backdrop of blue really made the white flowers stand out beautifully. 

We then drove on through incredibly narrow country lanes to visit St Enedoc’s church nearby. The church is noted for its remarkable history as it was almost completely engulfed by sand dunes in the 19th century. In fact, the local name for the church was Sinking Neddy! The clergy had to hold one service a year for it to remain consecrated and they did this by cutting a hole in the roof and lowering the members of the congregation inside!

These days, access is much easier as the church has been dug out and the dunes stablised. It is a beautiful old church dating from the 12th century and among the people buried there is the British Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman. His gravestone looks out towards the bay and the beautiful coastal sunsets beyond. 

We saw many more bluebells as we drove out of Cornwall going north and encountered some more when we visited a picturesque timbered house called Brockhampton in Herefordshire. I sat and knitted on a bench in the orchard, happily listening to the ducks paddling in the moat and enjoying the afternoon sunshine. 

In my next blogpost, we’ll visit some timbered houses in Cheshire and Liverpool. Many thanks again to Tim for his wonderful photos. I love being able to knit in these lovely locations while he frames his shots! If you would like to see more of his work, then please follow him on Instagram

Until next time, Happy Knitting! 


13 May 2019

Postcard from England: Weddings and Wild, Wild Cornwall

We are on our way back from a wonderful fortnight in the UK, with gatherings of friends and family in both the south and north of England. So here are three postcards with some of our adventures in the Old Country!

We started our journey in Cornwall with Storm Hannah bearing down hard on our heels. The day of our arrival was warm and dry for the first few hours, but as we drove towards the west the weather changed until we had to pull over and let the pounding rain ease up a little. Over the next two days, we watched the forecasts with unease: would the storm arrive just as our daughter Anna and her fiancĂ© Andrew met to take their vows? We researched how to take the best wet weather wedding photos, and they scoured the town for wedding-themed umbrellas. 

In the end, the rain clouds passed just as they emerged from the service and the strong winds just blew Anna’s wedding dress into beautiful drifts of cream and lace. They were so fortunate! So please join me in congratulating the new couple. Those of you who follow Anna’s website and Instagram accounts will see her proudly using her new name, Anna Alway. 

We stayed in Cornwall for another few days after the wedding and went in search of National Trust properties in the area. If you are ever visiting the UK, I can really advocate getting a membership of the National Trust or its US sister organisation, the Royal Oak, so you can visit as many of these properties as you like. In Cornwall they not only look after old houses but also miles of coastline and even some abandoned tin mines. 

In this photo you can see me knitting by one of these, Botalack Mine. This is in a wild and windy location and the mine is situated perilously close to sheer cliffs down to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Tim’s photos of the site captures the stunning beauty of the location and makes you marvel at the miners who braved the conditions at the mine through all weathers. 

The waves were not especially strong on the day when we visited but still easily crested the rocky outcrops in the bay. I can only imagine how frightening those waves must be when they reached the height of the chimney in the mine! Miners’ tales speak of the roaring sound of the waves overhead on stormy days and the fear of them crashing into the mine shafts... 

On the day we visited, we were spared those fearsome conditions and instead were able to enjoy the beauty of the area along the Coastal Path. Clumps of spring flowers clung tenaciously to the slopes and dry stone walls, with pink Thrift and yellow Gorse competing for attention against the dark stone cliff faces. Truly Cornwall at its best. 

In my next blogpost, we’ll stay in Cornwall with views of bluebell woods and the church where Sir John Betjeman is buried. If you have enjoyed Tim’s photos from Cornwall, then please follow him on Instagram to see more photos from our travels. 

Until then, Happy Knitting wherever you are! 


12 May 2019

Patternfish is closing!

I am enormously grateful to the many pattern selling sites that I use. They work tirelessly to provide access to many thousands of knitting patterns from Indie designers such as myself. Unfortunately, as we all know some sites such as Ravelry and LoveKnitting prove successful and go from strength to strength, while others change direction or fail. 

Only recently, Craftsy changed its focus from patterns to classes and adopted a new name, Bluprint. Many thousands of indie patterns were removed from their offering and I know that has caused some concerns with knitters who have struggled to find old links and pattern purchases.

However, the latest casualty in the knitting world is the news that Patternfish is closing its site. It will stop selling patterns at the end of May and close its site permanently at the end of June. This means that you will no longer be able to download any patterns you have purchased from the site or get automatic updates.

So, please go now and download your patterns so the current version is stored safely away somewhere and let me know if you have any problems with this. Also, sign up to my Newsletter for news of any pattern updates.

​You can also check my Pattern Update and Errata page to make sure you are using the latest version of your pattern and please let me know if you wish to update your pattern at any time in the future.

Please check my website for all my patterns and for the latest photos, updates and news.

Thank you Patternfish for all you've done over the years. It was a pleasure working with you.

Happy Knitting!


6 Apr 2019

Of tree branches and baby blankets

About four weeks ago a large branch fell on me while I was gardening, hitting the top of my head hard. I didn't black out but I felt like my head was ringing with the impact and I now know people don't jest when they say they are "seeing stars". After several weeks and large numbers of paracetamol tablets the headaches have started to ease, but for the last few weeks it has seemed that all I wanted to do was to sit in one place and gaze vaguely at a piece of knitting that hardly seemed to grow. 

Well, the body knows what it is doing and I did find myself just resting in my favourite chair gently dozing and doodling with stitch charts and that seemed to do the trick. Then one day this week, I woke and felt better. Isn't it funny when that happens?

So I looked at the few inches of baby blanket I had completed in several weeks and two days later it was done and a second smaller dolly blanket was well on its way. I had fun when I came to finishing the blanket though, as I had a large fluffy helper! Our grandson has a little monkey, Michael, who waits patiently for his next visit. He is a helpful monkey and tried to assist with sewing in the ends but I had to redo them as he got bits of fluff sewn in.

Then he examined various boxes to see which would make a good bed before settling down in a medium-sized Amazon box which was just the right size.

The stitch pattern is one that I "designed" during my long sessions sitting in my La-Z-Boy chair recuperating. I love doing this – just starting with a blank sheet of graph paper and noodling around with stitches. Many of the stitches in our Reversible Knitting Stitches book resulted from just such a process. Of course, if I go hunting I will often come across very similar ones in some stitch book or other. It's hard to invent anything new in knitting isn't it!

Well, one of the ones that I drew up really excited me as soon as I was working it. The front face has a very modern feel with sharply-defined lines and the fabric had a pleasing weight. So I tried it in some PaintBox cotton aran yarn and I really liked the way it came. Just perfect for Spring-time babies.

The back of the stitch is like an undulating garter stitch with a regular repeating diagonal pattern. Of course, it's those undulations that make a blanket cozy and warm as they really trap the air and give a lovely warmth to the final design. Spring can be very fickle. One minute it's warm like summer and the next you have to bundle up because there's another flurry of snow. So this is perfect for these changeable conditions. Warm enough for a bit of a chilly day but not stifling like a heavy wool blanket would be.

This is the Caela Baby Blanket and Dolly Blanket and the pattern is now available on my website. In addition to Michael's cute little dolly/teddy blanket, the baby blanket comes in three sizes for a Moses Basket, a stroller or pram, plus a large square blanket which would be good for a playpen or playmat.

By the way, did you know that the new advice is for babies not to be left unattended in cots with a blanket or soft toys? This is quite different from when I was a young Mum, of course. Then you had to put a rolled-up blanket behind baby to keep them on their side, plus quilted bumpers on every side of the cot. Such a change to the bare cots you see today.

However, when they're out and about with you in attendance, then they definitely need a blanket and this one is great for those times. Sitting in the garden with baby in a Moses basket beside you, strolling through the leafy lanes for a morning walk in their pram or tucked up in the car seat when you are heading to the shops.

Read more about the Caela Baby Blanket and Dolly Blanket here, and if you have a new little baby arriving in your family soon – many congratulations!

Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Glorious Garter Stitch

17 Mar 2019

Glorious Garter Stitch

A question for you: what is the first stitch every knitter learns? Well that's a bit of a trick question since there are only two possible answers, a knit or a purl, but if I was to answer that I suppose I'd say most people learn the knit stitch first. 

And now a 2nd question: can you name two stitch patterns using only knit stitches? This time there would be a few options to choose from, but here are two: if you were working in the round, you would probably be working in Stocking Stitch (or as they call it over here, Stockinette Stitch). 

However, if you were working back-and-forth on straight needles, then that would most likely be Garter Stitch. 
Every Row: Knit to end. Simple, easy, yet so versatile.

Garter Stitch is a dense, compact stitch which produces deep areas of colour with a wonderful stitch definition and texture. It can be worked all in one colour, but I think it really comes into its own when sections of Garter Stitch in different yarns are worked side-by-side. For example, in Anna's Patchwork Cushion, blocks of Garter Stitch in different colours co-ordinate to give a dynamic, modern result. 

Garter Stitch is also absolutely gorgeous when worked in stripes. For example, in the Winsford Stroller Blanket above, the pattern features bands in solid and two-colour stripes. This is a variation of Garter Stitch called Wide Garter Columns from our book, Reversible Knitting Stitchesand it gives a wonderful blending of the two colours used in the pattern. 

However, you don't need to work any variation of Garter Stitch for a striped pattern. At the top of this blogpost and in the photo above, you can see how well stripes work in the basic stitch. This is Anna's Ugly Blanket which has been worked in a variety of colours. 

I love that name! It stems from an initial impression of some left-over yarns as they looked so unpromising when all mixed together in their basket. However, Garter Stitch came to the rescue and blended them perfectly in the finished blanket!

Garter Stitch has several other qualities too. Firstly, it is a reversible pattern, meaning that both sides look good so you don't have to choose which side is the "Right Side". In fact, it is one of those rare species: a truly reversible stitch, so both faces are identical. 

One result of this reversibility is that Garter Stitch lies flat. I have written about this here and here, but to recap: knitwear has a tendency to curl when one side has more purl "bumps" than the other. The purl stitches push outwards and the result is a curl in the finished item. Sometimes this is desirable, such as when you want to make an easy roll-necked sweater. However, usually it is not a good feature. 

Garter Stitch is perfectly balanced with exactly the same number of purl "bumps" on both sides, so lays absolutely flat. This quality can be used for items that need to be level, such as rugs and hot pads. For example, in Anna's Quilted Hot Pads above, a T-shirting yarn has been used to make a pad with raised stitches over a Garter Stitch base giving a perfectly flat, insulated layer for your saucepans.

Another quality of Garter Stitch is that it tends to push out widthwise so can hold other designs open. In the Quilted Hot Pads, this is important so that the insulating ribs of the stitch are held securely in place. 

In other patterns, small sections of Garter Stitch can be used to give warmth and texture to a design. I will come back to that next time and see how panels of Garter Stitch can be used in a baby blanket.

Meanwhile, if you have enjoyed seeing some of Anna's wonderful explorations of Garter Stitch, then please visit her website and read more about her new E-Book, Glorious Garter Stitch.

And if you would like to have your own copy of our book, Reversible Knitting Stitches, then please click here.

Until next time - Happy Knitting!


Anna's Website: www.kikuknits.com

Anna's new E-Book: Glorious Garter Stitch


5 Mar 2019

A return to winter and a new scarf

It’s been an odd year for weather. Last week in the UK people were sitting in the parks surrounded by daffodils and basking in the warm Spring sun. This week, Storm Freya has blown that wonderful sunshine away with freezing temperatures returning alongside the strong winds and rain. 

Meanwhile in Boston, there has been so much snow in this first week of March! Over a foot of snow arrived yesterday and for a time 2-4 inches of snow were falling every hour. A real return to winter. 

We had just the same last year, when our arrival back in the North-East saw the start of four storms, one coming right after the next until there were walls of snow on all the roads and driveways. As one of the commentators on CBS said,

“Call it what you want but suddenly March is becoming the new February.”

He may well be right there. Well, I for one am not going to stop my winter knitting just yet! So I have just finished up another winter scarf and I can see this is going to be needed straight away. 

This is the Karlskrona Scarf, a strongly textured man’s scarf with a really interesting reversible stitch pattern. This features a dynamic zig-zag design on the front and a well-defined vertical stripe on the reverse. 

Both sides show a classic symmetry that is both pleasing to knit and to wear. The stitch is also easily memorised so is a great fire-side pattern to work. What could be better after a morning shovelling snow than to sit in front of the fire, a cup of tea to hand and a new project on your needles. Sounds a perfect combination to me!

For more details about the Karlskrona Scarf please click here. The pattern includes three different sizes and is available for instant download from my website. 

The stitch pattern is taken from our book, Reversible Knitting Stitches and you can find more details about ordering your own copy of the book here.

Until next time - keep warm!


Last Blogpost: Love this time of year

Thanks to Tim for his great photos! If you would like to see more of his work, please find him on Instagram: @xidman


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