Lancashire Weekend

maatmill

We have been away in Lancashire for the weekend. Tom will shortly be participating in a rather testing race, and the Bolton Hill Marathon provided the ideal training run. While he was off doing that, me and my parents visited Helmshore Mills Textile Museum.

mill

For someone interested in textile history this is a truly wonderful place to spend a day. Helmshore is one of those great Lancashire places whose very landscape and infrastructure tells the story of industrial development. The story begins with a small eighteenth-century wool processing mill, where locally hand-woven cloth was fulled and finished during the late Eighteenth Century, providing the uniforms for British soliders fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Waterwheel and fulling stocks are still in situ, and for me it was well-worth the visit just to learn more about this aspect of textile processing in the region.

arkwright

In the Nineteenth Century, Lancashire grew rapidly as a global centre of the cotton industry, and downstairs in Helmshore’s second mill there’s a superb interpretation which allows the visitor to get to grips with cotton in its colonial and imperial contexts, as well as in terms of local social history. There are also some fabulous historic machines to wonder at – including a Water Frame (above), which I’d never seen before.

cottonwaste

Until the late 1970s, Helmshore was a “shoddy mill”, producing a relatively coarse-cotton thread to be used in household textiles, and I had not appreciated the multiple stages of recycling that might be involved in its production. Cotton waste might be circulated and re-circulated through the different stages of production several times, before being finally spun into thread on these mules.

mule

It is wonderful to see these machines in action, demonstrated by their knowledgeable guides, and though it would be impossible (and undesirable) to recreate the appalling noise, dust and humidity that cotton mill workers had to endure, I do think that being in such spaces, among the whirring doffers, carders and condensers, allows one to gain a good sense of the former life of the mill. My Grandparents laboured in similar environments, and I came away with a renewed appreciation of what work must have signified to them.

ecclescake

In short, I would heartily recommend a visit to Helmshore Mills, and the cafe, which serves tasty home-baked Lancashire fare – such as Eccles Cakes – is also excellent.

And, in other news:

medal

Tom came 16th in the hill marathon which was a very good result . . .

cone

. . . Bruce has hurt his nose, forcing us to construct a makeshift cone out of pieces of plastic pending a visit to the vet. . .

And, having arrived home across the border, I have now updated the shop with more Ecclefechan mitt kits.

ecclefechansign

forty things

trunkdetail

Yesterday an ancient wooden trunk turned up at my house. This was what I found inside.

trunk

Now, you may (or may not) remember that I turned forty a wee while ago. At the time I told my family and friends not to get me anything: I am not one for birthdays, plus at that time we were in the middle of renovating and selling our old flat and buying our new house. There was lots to be getting on with. But my mum ignored my request and, over the past few months, prepared me a trunk full of forty things to celebrate my birthday. Inside the trunk, each thing was wrapped and numbered separately.

numbers

How exciting! I cleared my desk and spent an exceptionally jolly afternoon unwrapping all the packages. I found many lovely treasures. . .

print
A beautiful Meryl Watts print.

liberty
libertybook
A blank book, bound in navy embossed leather, from Liberty’s.

. . . and things precious for other reasons

brick
Castleton Library was one of my Grandad’s favourite hangouts, and was also where I first learnt that singular thrill of choosing a book.

Opening the packages reminded me that there are few people who know you better than your mum. Who else is aware that I am equally fond of jelly molds . . .

jelly

. . . chickens

chickens

. . . and Spongebob Squarepants?

spongebob

My mum loves hunting things down on eBay, and I’m sure she really enjoyed herself bagging me some lovely vintage threads. . .

barbours-thread
threads
linenthread

. . . buttons

buttons

. . . and this amazing antique tape measure, which is still in perfect nick.

tapemeasure

All of these beautiful and useful items have already taken up residence in my new work-pod, along with this:

beehive

Now, I have looked at these old Patons & Baldwins bakelite yarn beehives many times myself on Ebay over the past couple of years, but have been unable to justify bidding on one. Now I don’t need to!

gauge
I love the old needle gauge on the bottom.

Finally, whoever invented Mint-Aero fudge is a genius.

mintaerofudge

What a completely amazing gift. Thanks so much, Mum.

swings and roundabouts

jesus

Jesus is back. He was discovered at a neighbour’s, lured away by the promise of full Scottish breakfasts, oodles of milk, and a general lack of workmen and disruption. He is looking a bit scraggy, but certainly no thinner . . . We are keeping the wee man inside for a few days and the neighbours have been politely asked to stop feeding him fried eggs and sausages.

But my hopes of a nice, quiet few days were dashed when an idiot joyrider drove a car straight into the side of our campervan, which was parked outside our flat. Happily, no-one was injured, so I can show you what happens when a speeding car hits a stationary campervan.

van

As well as crushing the chassis on the driver’s side of the van, the force of the impact pushed it backwards into a parked car behind. The damage is significant. After some back-and-forth with our insurers, they are coming to take it away to look at it this morning and I fear that will be the last we ever see of it.

I am terribly upset. For me, that van – which we refer to as the wazzwagon – is so much more than just a vehicle. It has played a crucial part in my recovery and gave me hope at a very bad time. It has enabled me to enjoy the landscapes that I love, and has taken us all over Scotland. It may be that it can be repaired, but I very much fear the insurance company are going to want to write it off. Poor wazzwagon.

van-1

box

boo

wazzwagon

vansky

wazzwagonsky

Please keep your fingers crossed for it.

Summer days

brollies

It is a while since I’ve known a spell of weather like it.

The verges have bloomed into wildflower meadows.

wildflowermeadow
bee
thistles

Everything seems sharper, brighter, a dappled world of light and shade.

contrast
light

The evening air is soft and fragrant.

honeysuckle

Folk stroll about, bare-armed, leisurely.

path

Inside, the new rooms are cool and clean and very pretty.

pie

Bruce prefers the shade.

hotdog

We are looking forward to a quiet weekend, with no workmen, and no dust. It will feel like a tremendous luxury to simply cook and enjoy a meal together in the kitchen. While the relocation stress continues, things are out of our hands for a wee while – our only worry at the moment is Jesus – who has not put in an appearance for 11 days. Jesus is an elusive creature, and he has been more than ordinarily elusive of late while the workmen have been here. Still, 11 days is a long time, even for a self-sufficent and resourceful feline like him. Come back, Jesus.

jesusphiz

Islay weekend

cairn

This past weekend I turned 40. I am not too keen on birthday celebrations, and a quiet weekend in one of my favourite places was just what was required.

foxgloves

So though we weren’t celebrating my birthday, we definitely had cause for celebration . . . , having just had an offer accepted on a lovely house!

waves

Our new place really is absolutely wonderful and it is frankly a massive relief to have this part of the process sorted out at last.

seastick

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, the renovation work continues. The flat now features a shiny new bath, a plumbed-in kitchen sink, and a fantastic new floor. There is, however, no electricity in the kitchen or bathroom, no oven, no internet connection, and an awful lot of dust. I confess I find the nothing-is-where-it-is-supposed-to-be business extremely disconcerting, and am a bit rubbish at dealing with it. But every day I count my lucky stars for the good friends and neighbours with whom I’m surrounded, on whose accommodating kindness, stupendous cooking and modern ‘facilities’ I have been able to rely over the past few weeks.

wazzwagon

Anyway, I think I can now safely say that the past few months’ upheaval has a happy END in sight. I am tremendously excited about moving to our new place – and most of all to Tom and I having our own shared space again – as opposed to our two lives being divided between an Edinburgh building site and a Glasgow bedsit. I don’t want to jinx the move by talking too much about it, but I am sure you will find that I won’t be able to shut up about it once we’re settled in.

finlaggan

Onward! Westward!

right now

light

1. The weather is amazing.

crammond

2. After several months’ hard work, Tom has just been awarded two new grants.
WOOOHOO FOR THE BARR LAB!

tom

3. We have central heating, and actual running water. THE NOVELTY!

radiator

I particularly like this bathroom radiator. What a shame its not for me! Work on the kitchen and electrics starts next week, which is likely to prove just as disruptive. I’m envisioning a salad-based diet for the next fortnight – as long as I can still boil the kettle for a pot or two of tea all should be well. . . will keep you posted.

transititions

cowslip

Winter really felt interminable this year. It seemed that, for weeks I passed the same corner every day looking in vain for the snowdrops that always appear there, heralding Spring. “I don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t for those” said one of my neighbour-buddies, indicating a single patch of struggling crocuses that provided the only cheer on a particularly grey and grim sub-zero March morning. When we visited New Lanark on April 2nd, there were no wild flowers blooming at all. The only things of colour we saw were the yellow eyelids of the nesting peregrines and the bright red toadstools that Tom struggled through some spiky undergrowth to photograph. After all of this weird nothing, May’s rapid explosion has felt particularly welcome. I began to see primroses and cowslips poking through the brown and grey . . . then the grass pinged green . . . and then there was speedwell, and bluebells, honesty, and dove’s foot geraniums . . .

speedwell

bluebell

honesty

dovesfoot

. . . and then the blossom started to appear . . .

blossom

. . .and now the ordinary urban paths that I walk on every day appear like fairy glades.

glade

. . . or rather, large black dog-filled glades.

In many respects, these past few months have felt a little odd. Tom has been living during the week in Glasgow, working really hard at his new job. Meanwhile, I have been managing various health issues with greater or lesser degrees of success, and trying very hard to work around and within my limits. These few months have made Tom and I both realise how reliant we are on each other, and how completely rubbish we are at being apart. The upshot is that we have decided to move from Edinburgh to an as-yet-unknown location close to the Highlands but within commuting distance of Glasgow. The prospect of a garden in which to grow veggies, a few chickens and another dog (or two) is very exciting to me, and I am hopeful of finding a small house or steading out West where this dream can become a reality. Less exciting is the work we have to do to our current abode prior to selling it. Apparently, property purchasers require chilly Edinburgh flats to have more sources of warmth than that which is provided by our solitary living-room wood burner . . . thus, with the help of David and Stevie and Trevor we will be installing shiny new-fangled central heating and making various other “improvements.”

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because life is inevitably going to be disrupted over the next few months. A kind neighbour is allowing me and Bruce to hang out in her flat while Stevie is up here ripping up the floorboards, but I have now lost access to my computer and work-pod during the day, so am less accessible by email. I also have to consider the implications of moving my business as well as my home. We have just a handful of boxes of Colours of Shetland left in my warehouse in Leith. Once these are sold, I will have to allow the book to go out of print until I can make new warehousing arrangements at our new as-yet-unknown locale. So, if you were considering purchasing a print copy of Colours of Shetland, my advice is to do it now, as there are not many left (the digital edition will, of course, continue to be available). I’m still taking wholesale orders (with the number of copies-per-shop limited), but for both retail and trade orders, once the books are gone, they are gone.

So, if anyone is looking to buy a flat in North Edinburgh’s leafiest and friendliest neighbourhood, then be sure to keep your eyes peeled later this Summer. And equally if anyone has suggestions for places to which Tom and I should consider moving please do feel free to make them — we are now conducting recces!

my handmade childhood

Various things have been prompting me to think a lot recently about the role that sewing and knitting and other handmade things can play in the shape of ones life. Like many crafty folk in the UK, I enjoyed watching the Great British Sewing Bee. Unlike so many of these competitive TV formats, this programme seemed to me to celebrate genuine amateur skill, and although one might take issue with some of the judging decisions, the nature of some of the tasks, and particularly the time allotted to said tasks, I thought the series was largely really inspiring. I also found it both interesting and moving to see the levels of meaning that were invested in hand-made garments by the competitors themselves, and particularly by their family members, who were so incredibly appreciative of the things that had been created especially for them. It made me think about the fact that there is hardly a single photograph of myself or my sister from our childhoods where we are not wearing something hand-made.

Here we are, enacting a decorative and singularly jolly protest against the privatisation of some green public spaces at Castleton carnival, probably, I think, in 1980. My mum fashioned these gigantic floral costumes from tissue paper that was one of the waste products in the factory where my dad worked. Our headgear was attached around our chins with a pair of tights.

flowerpower

You could easily narrate the story of mine and Helen’s childhoods through the marvelous matching cardigans we wore. My grandma was knitting constantly, and had a particular penchant for the kids’ Aran patterns she found in Woman’s Weekly. These wee hoodies might well be my favourites. . .

merrygoround
(Helen looks very cool on that Lambretta)

. . . though I also love these sleeveless cardis.

arans

Grandma had a ‘Tyrolean’ phase later in the ’80s. . .

tyrolean

. . I recall that she knitted my mum a similar garment, too.

In this photo, I am wearing a sort of snood-y balaclava thing knitted by Grandma, and a quilted coat sewn by my mum.

snowman

My mum is a whizz with the sewing machine. I couldn’t find a picture of the most memorable garment she made for me — a chocolate-brown dress with white polka dots, full skirt, and sweetheart neckline that I wore for my first grown-up party (a sort of prom equivalent, I suppose), but I did locate a photograph of me in my First Communion dress that she made from a Vogue pattern. I remember many details of this dress so clearly: it was lined, with a top layer of light cotton voile with teeny tiny pin-dots. There was a beautiful floral trim around the cuffs and bodice that my mum got from the market, and I remember that the whole thing hung really beautifully, and swished in a very pleasing fashion as I walked. I am the one sitting in the middle, without the red carnation.

firstcommunion

Thanks, Mum.

backward . . . and forward

2012 was really a pretty good year. Here are some highlights.

Work-related trips to some wonderful places . . .
haysdock
Shetland

falls
Donegal

cutsteeks
Dublin

kdworkshop1
(photo courtesy of Charlotte Monckton)
Shetland again!

My first time as a Woolfest trader.

lurking

My sister, Martin Curtis and me, meeting Sophie, Countess of Wessex (note: Helen is wearing a Manu and knitting a Betty Mouat Cowl, I am wearing a Deco and knitting a puffin sweater, and Sophie is looking at a copy of Knit Real Shetland).

wessexroom

Travelling with Tom and Bruce to our favourite Hebridean spots . . .

numberbefore
fingerhasarrived
laddich
swimming
. . . and swimming in the sea!

Working with my favourite folk . . .

melaithsetter
Mel

woolbuddies3
Sandra and Ella

jennnic
Jen and Nic

tomprerace
Tom

. . .to make a book!

covergreen

But if you asked me what was my biggest achievement in 2012, then I would say . . .

noveltyofspeed
blaithin1

. . . learning to ride a trike, and inspiring a few other people with brain injuries, balance issues and similar disabilities to give it a go as well. In 2013, I intend to try moving things up a gear, and am about to begin learning to drive again. My aim is to be pootling about in our van by June. If I say it here, then it has to happen!!

Most of all:
I am so grateful to all of you for stopping by here, for continuing to read this blog, for leaving so many lovely comments, and for supporting me in all sorts of ways in 2012.
THANKYOU, ALL OF YOU! x

I’ll be back shortly with a couple of related posts about my favourite books and yarns of 2012. . . .

In the meantime:

My pal Jen is having a New Year pattern sale. This includes a 3 for 2 deal on some of her super newly-available designs (I particularly like the Porlock socks with their gansey-inspired stitch patterns and personalised lettering) and 25% off the lovely Cloudy Apples accessories collection. Pop over to Jen’s blog to find out more.

And finally, if you are knocking about Pittenweem this Saturday and fancy meeting me and the samples from Colours of Shetland, then pop down to The Woolly Brew between 12-2pm. I’ll be signing books, too, if you’d like a copy.

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