forty things


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


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.


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

A beautiful Meryl Watts print.

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

. . . and things precious for other reasons

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 . . .


. . . chickens


. . . and Spongebob Squarepants?


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


. . . buttons


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


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


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!

I love the old needle gauge on the bottom.

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


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

monday stuff


Can one develop an addiction to pompom makers? If so, I fear I am sorely afflicted, for I am now the proud owner of several different varieties in a range of sizes — the most recent of which is pictured above. These tiny and rather pleasing contraptions will enable me to turn out miniature fluffy balls under an inch in diameter — which will hopefully add the final ridiculously festive finishing touches to these mitts . . .


. . . and these mittens


(I do apologise for the quality of these photographs — daylight is a rare commodity in Scotland right now.)

In other news:
If you would like to WIN a signed copy of Colours of Shetland, you have two opportunities to do so: first in the Visit Shetland December Newsletter, and second in the latest issue of Let’s Knit, in which I and the book both feature.


Finally, Tom is about to celebrate an (ahem) significant birthday, so we are taking a few days off and going somewhere really exciting to celebrate over a dram or two as old as he is.



I confess that I am really looking forward to a wee break as I have been rather occupied of late, as you can imagine. For us, Tom’s birthday signals the start of the festive season, which round here is a time of maximum relaxation / pie eating / film watching / long winter walk-taking. Bring it on!

When we return I will have some Snawpaws to show you. . .

Until then x

happy tortoise and hare day!

The tortoise and the hare is finished! I am pleased with it!

I am not ashamed to admit that I had foolish ideas about an appropriate photo location, for which I blame a poster I saw a while ago advertising the LMS railway. The poster was from the 1920s, and like many of this era, it got its message about the benefits of travel across with the image of an energetic young woman enjoying a healthsome, outdoor sporting activity – in this case golf. The setting was the Fylde coast, and a culotte-clad golfer was dramatically framed against the dunes, swinging her club and staring into the middle distance. The caption read “Lytham St Annes for Sea Breezes and Sunshine.” (I’d show it to you, but it doesn’t appear to be online…this companion piece gives you a flavour of it, though). I was to be the windswept golfer, so I donned my culottes (which Tom refers to as the loon pants for perhaps obvious reasons) and we set out to find a golf course.

I was of course forgetting that golf courses are private spaces – indeed, to me golf represents a wholescale privatisation of the landscape anachronistic in a country with progressive outdoor access legislation – but clearly on this occasion politics had to be sacrificed to fashion. Golf courses are also (apparently) dangerous places, due to the associated hazards of flying golf balls and marauding golf buddies. With some trepidation, we advanced beyond the margins of public access and attempted to find a good location. I did not possess clubs or other paraphernalia; the golf buddies were circling like vultures, and a lolloping woman with a leg brace is a conspicuous figure on the green. This was a totally shite idea for a photoshoot!

The flag is there to remind you that I am on a golf course and I am staring out to sea (perhaps trying to locate my lost marbles). The whole effect is more Just William than Jordan Baker, but this interesting shot of my armpit does serve to illustrate what you are all no doubt dying to know: how did I incorporate shaping into the colourwork? ‘Traditional’ fairisle sweaters are not shaped to the bust and waist, and more modern, closely-fitting designs often get round this by allowing the shaping to interrupt the pattern (with a greater or lesser degree of success). I considered several options, none of which were totally acceptable to me: vigorous blocking; the familiar trick of working with smaller or larger needles; having half a tortoise or hare traveling up my torso; or making the sweater fit more loosely and squarely ie- not bothering with shaping at all. Waist decreases were easily integrated into the deep rib at the bottom of the sweater, but what about increasing for the bust? In the end, I realised that I could continue working peerie bands around the sweater, as long as my increases were added in multiples of 5, and I wove in the colours of the hares and tortoises along the back of the work (this is the only weaving I did). This has allowed for a difference of several inches between the measurements of the waist and chest, and the peerie band fools the eye (to a certain extent) into seeing the pattern moving continuously around the torso. In any case, as one does not usually throw armpit-displaying shapes in public, the way the increases are worked is not all that obvious anyway.

Short row set-in sleeves are my new favourite thing: I was put off them a little when I tried Wendy Bernard’s method of picking-up-the-stitches-as-I-went with a kids sweater I was working on a while ago – I made a bit of a pigs ear of it – but really much prefer doing it the way that Barbara Walker recommends: cutting the steek, picking up stitches all around the sleeve cap, and working short rows to the underarms (I used the Carol Sunday short-row method). O, the joy of setting in a sleeve without seams!

I love the triple vikkel braid that separates the ribbing from the colourwork. What I had in mind here was the decorative belt on a ’30s swimsuit, and it does give the sweater that slightly drop-waisted feel. The braids are rather time-consuming to work over a sweaters-worth of stitches, but definitely worth it.

Strangely, the pictures that we took seemed to be much better once we had escaped from golf-world . . .
Here’s a final shot of the whole thing.

A pattern shouldn’t be too long in coming; I’ve planned everything about this design really carefully, so hopefully there will be no unknowns. I also had the idea of writing a companion design for tortoise and hare fingerless gloves / armwarmers to be included with the sweater pattern (these might be worked as a sort of tester swatch or sampler for those unfamiliar with colourwork techniques like the vikkel braids, and could be rather fun).
Here are the project specs in the meantime:

Design: the Tortoise and the Hare
By me! Pattern forthcoming
Yarn: 4 shades of Blacker designs Shetland 4 ply; Katmogit, moorit, white and dark. This is an exceptionally soft and tasty Shetland, which I know will wear fantastically well. I used 180g /675 yards of the katmogit, almost a whole 50g ball of each of the moorit and dark; and around 30g of white.
Needles. 2.75 circs for rib, and on 3mm for body.
Ravelled here

In other news, it was my birthday yesterday (huzzah!) and there were macaro(o)ns. Tom used the Humble Pie recipe a few of you recommended and attempted three varieties: almond and rosewater; pistachio and vanilla; and hazelnut and orange. I have to say that there was a lot of cursing coming from the kitchen the night before last: Tom felt the recipe was a little too sweet and too eggy and removing the macawotsits from the greaseproof paper proved to be a total nightmare. The almond ones were the first batch, and he felt that he overbeat the egg whites, and overcooked them to boot. But the pistachio and hazelnut varieties turned out extremely well, even though Tom was not at all pleased with what he felt was their rather rustic appearance. Indeed, he seems to have gone off the idea of fiddly pattiserie altogether, since his first response to making the macaro(ons) was “I’d rather bake a big ol’ cake and cut you a giant slice.”

From my perspective, however, they were damn tasty – particularly the pistachio ones. And I mostly had a great birthday, but I have to be honest and say that the combination of excitement and exhaustion proved to be a little toxic: I spent the early part of the morning motoring around the flat with the hill-walking poles that Tom had got for me, not thinking about what the effects of learning a new skill of reciprocal bodily co-ordination, combined with putting a lot of unexpected weight through my left arm, would be. I stupidly wore myself out, collapsed for the rest of the day, and then had to sleep for a few hours before I could muster up enough energy to nip out to North Berwick for Tortoise and Hare photography. After that, we bought a fish supper and sat on the sea wall to eat it, looking out at The Bass Rock almost luminously white with gannets – a lovely evening, but an at times frustrating day.

birthday tea


Well, what else can you do when someone gets you a giant teacup for your birthday? This is how I spent yesterday evening.


All I can say about where I’m standing is that it was until recently waist-high with weeds, and that I am very proud of how that wall now looks since last week I thought it was just some sort of mossy hummock. I’m also pleased that my teacup (ahem, um, plantpot) co-ordinates so nicely with the trousers of my birthday buddy, Felix, who celebrates her 30th today. Happy Birthday Felix! I’m a bit older, but never too old to be ridiculous. And don’t worry, I took off the daft frock before I got on with some birthday digging. Cheers!



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