Funchal Moebius

Here is my Funchal-inspired design! Like the ‘dragons-tooth’ pavements I saw in Madeira (thanks for the info, knitlass), the Funchal Moebius uses a high-contrast OXO motif with strong diagonals. One side is dark-on-light:

and the other is light-on-dark.

The design begins life as a provisionally cast-on tube . . .

. . . which is knit continuously until it reaches the circumference of your shoulders. It is then blocked flat, twisted in the middle and grafted to form a continuous moebius strip. The result is a dramatic wrap that can be worn in several different ways, but which is surprisingly simple to knit.

The yarn is Renaissance Dyeing’s wonderful organic Poll Dorset 4 ply in shades ‘midi’ and ‘ecru’. This is one of my all-time favourite yarns in which to knit colourwork. Because it is slightly lustrous and worsted spun, it is very different from working with a Shetland – the yarn is very smooth, creating a fabric that is incredibly even (to the point of appearing woven) with a slight sheen and very little halo. The Poll Dorset that Andie dyes is grown, and spun close to where she lives in the Pyrennees. I love that every stage of its processing is totally visible. (You can see the sheep that grew it, together with their shepherd, and the spinner that spun the yarn over here on Andie’s blog.) Andie dyes naturally, and her colours are – naturally – amazing.

I am incredibly pleased with the way this design has turned out. It is simple, versatile, really fun to knit, and sure to be useful in the colder weather.

Want to see how you might wear it?

And yes — everything else I’m wearing is WOOL as well.

The pattern for the Funchal Moebius is now available here.

Madeiran inspiration

One of the many things I admire about Portuguese culture is the way that pattern and design are part of everyday life.

There are beautiful tiles everywhere. Most interiors are tiled, and almost every public space is enriched by a particular experience of the decorative.

Even Brutalism approaches the ornamental.

Wandering around Funchal – Madeira’s ‘capital’ – is a peculiarly graphic experience. By simply walking one is taking a sort of masterclass in pattern.

The narrative of one’s footsteps, of one’s movement through the street, is told out in tiles.

These distinctive mosaic pavements are everywhere in Funchal, from the town’s alleys . . .

. . . to its squares.

The patterned pavements seem to invite the pedestrian to the act of leisurely promenading, strolling, window-shopping.

The aesthetic is all pervasive – here is the entrance to a supermarket . . .

. . .and here is the exterior of a parking garage.

These pavement mosaics are made up of alternating pieces of basalt and limestone. Over the years, Funchal’s designers have clearly enjoyed playing with the high-contrast potential of these materials.

For someone pattern-obsessed like me, the streets of Funchal are exciting and inspiring spaces. For example, I love the way that these right angles . .

become diagonals

The particular design repeat used on this mosaic also appears in one of my Latvian weaving books, and another book I have about Estonian mitten patterns. Such cross-cultural aesthetic connections really intrigue me, and are one of the reasons that I am so looking forward to Rosa Pomar’s forthcoming book. Just pottering about the streets of Funchal made me reflect on the fundamental nature of the repeat and on how the same basic principles tend to govern the surface decoration of very different media (textiles, pavements etc). The OXO, for example is a ubiquitous feature of Spanish and Portuguese tiling, Baltic weaving, as well as Fair-Isle knitting patterns. I particularly liked this playful example.

Anyway, as you might imagine, the streets of Funchal have inspired me to produce a design of my own. I began work on it while we were in Madeira and finished knitting it last night. Here is a wee taster.

No, it is not a hat, but something altogether different. More photographs and a pattern this weekend!


My apologies for my sudden disappearance, there. I had a bad few days with the fatigue, and we decided rather at the last minute to pop over to Madeira for a blast of funshine before the Scottish Winter properly sets in. I have been enjoying:

pleasant surroundings . . .

new friends . . .

beautiful colours . . .

outdoor swimming. . . .

tasty food . . .

and, of course, lots and lots of knitting.

All very restorative.

I will be back with another post at 8pm this evening – at which time I will announce the launch of SOMETHING FUN! Watch this space!


Hello, everyone! You may remember, when Tom injured his hand rather badly a couple of years ago, that we went on holiday to Madeira – the prime destination of British convalescents for at least a century and a half. Tom’s Dad has dibs on an apartment over there, which, in its lovely coastal location, always makes for a convenient and extremely pleasant break in the funshine. I am fond of most things Portuguese (design and cuisine especially) and there are so many things to recommend Madeira – you may recall that I wrote about the island’s beautiful hand embroidery the last time we were there. On this occasion, the focus was on firmly on recuperation, and I spent the majority of my time walking and attempting to swim. You will note in the photograph above that I am sporting actual shoes – an interesting and welcome development, as my feet have, since Februrary, been clad in giant clod-hopping boots. My left ankle is still quite wonky, of course, but it is now capable of managing in a pair of flats occasionally, which I am pleased about – I like to wear dresses, and a walking boot / dress combo is not really the best look.

Every evening, when the weather had cooled a little, we went walking along Funchal’s coastal promenade. Facing South and West, the promenade showcases a marvelous mosaic path (pictured above), Madeiran flora, and the wide expanse of the Atlantic.

The promenade is steep in places . . .

. . . we met friends along the way . . .

(one of many feral cat buddies)

. . . and admired several glorious sunsets.

I managed about 2 miles every evening, after which I would reward myself with an ice-cream from the circus of value. . .

Yes, I know it’s just a vending machine, but I found the basic idea of a street-side automatic ice-cream dispenser quite exciting. This is not something one sees in Scotland.

During the day, when the weather was hot, I spent the whole time either in the pool, or resting from my efforts. Despite the fact that I was a good, strong swimmer before the stroke, I can tell you that learning to swim again was not easy at all. But it is like everything, I suppose. . . the brain has to figure it all out again from scratch, and this is both difficult and tiring.

When I first got in the pool, my left leg could hardly move at all – it seemed confused by the resistance in the water and wouldn’t follow what the right leg was doing. I began by trying to just walk in the water – my foot balled itself up into an immovable club-like object, and the hip refused to relax and swing – but I managed it eventually. Then I got Tom to support my weight while I tried to teach the leg to kick. This took a long time – it didn’t seem to like moving upwards in the water, and the ankle and foot remained stiff, refusing to relax and work like flippers. All of this was familiar from my experience of learning to walk again; the left leg seemed to prefer doing exactly what the right one was doing; attempts at independent effort in the limb would make it want to just shut down; and movements in other parts of my body would seem to help the left leg move in a similar way (for example, bending my right arm at the elbow would help the left leg bend at the knee). This neuroplasticity stuff really is fascinating – the stroke wiped out my left leg from my brain, and now some other bits of my motor cortex are clearly operating it. Indeed, I wonder whether my left leg and right arm are now permanently wired together – certainly it is curious that I can make the leg do things by moving the arm about.

Though I found it difficult to move about at first, the buoyancy of the water helped in other ways. For example, I found after a while that I could jump about from one leg to the other, and even hop up and down on the left foot – an activity impossible to contemplate on dry land. The jumping and hopping and kicking and walking seemed to have beneficial effect, and in a couple of days I was swimming – unsteadily and wonkily, but swimming nonetheless – across the pool. By having several sessions in the pool a day, and doing a lot of sleeping and resting in between times to allow the brain to make sense of what it had learnt, by the end of a week, I had managed to do this:

If you had seen my first lopsided attempts, you would understand what a massive achievement this is for me. And though my movements may look relatively smooth, I have to say that none of this feels easy. Previously when I swam, I found breast-stroke quite relaxing, but this is certainly not the case now – every movement with the left arm and leg involves a lot of concentrated effort. I am sure, like walking, or knitting, or anything else, that this will improve over time. And it is also worth pointing out that, so far, I’ve been unable to master my favourite stroke, the crawl: the bilateral kicking and reaching seem too much for the left leg and arm to master. I saw an interesting programme before we went away which featured Paralympian swimmer, Liz Johnson. Johnson has cerebal palsy – which has left her with serious damage to the right side of her brain and, like me, impaired mobility on the left side of her body. She similarly finds the in-tandem action of breast-stroke much easier than the bilateral movements of the crawl. I found the short film of her swimming around London extremely moving and inspiring (can’t seem to find it online, unfortunately).

The swimming certainly seems to have had a beneficial effect. There are some small, particular movements that so far, despite my efforts, have eluded my leg and foot. For example, bending my ankle toward me while holding my leg extended has proved extremely difficult: the tendons along the top of my foot (are they called extensors?) don’t seem to be able to manage this, and the foot just flops out to the side. But after a week’s swimming, I was finally able to bend my foot upwards toward me at a neat right angle. Hurrah! I know it may not sound much, but these tendons on the top of the foot seem to affect all sorts of things about my gait and mobility, so this is a big step forward. And really, just about everything about my leg seems that little bit stronger. Needless to say, I intend to add swimming to my exercise repetoire now I am back home.

Anyway, such was my holiday duathlon of daytime swimming and evening walking. Tom reckoned when I factored in the other activities in which I excelled – viz, knitting, eating pasteis and drinking tea – that I actually accomplished a curious daily modern pentathlon . . . more of the knitting shortly. . .

all change

Today I put away my summer clothes, and removed the winter ones from storage. I always find it a bit depressing having to encounter the berloody tights again . . . but it is nice to see warm winter dresses, sweaters, and coats. Anyway, before I pack the summer stuff away, I thought I’d show you various garments I sewed and knit myself over the past few months which, for one reason or another, I didn’t get a chance to blog about. You will note that there is something of a red theme going on — this wasn’t intentional! And apologies for what’s going to be a rather picture-heavy post.

1. Dotty Dress.

I was finishing the lining of this dress when I wrote this post back in June. I was reasonably pleased with how it turned out, so don’t know why I didn’t blog about the process more. It is a “very easy” Vogue pattern (V8319) and was reasonably straightforward — as I recall, it only took a few evenings to make. The only downside about the dress is that it came out slightly large. I was nervy about the rep Vogue patterns have of running small, so made myself the next size up. And then the dress was difficult to take in after I’d finished because of the precise way the body and cap sleeves taper together. But I am being pernickety – it is not too baggy, and I like the pattern very much. I may use it to make myself a winter dress –in the right size this time. I bought the pleasing dotty fabric from here — a site that I try not to look at too often as their stuff is just too damn tempting. Heres another picture. You can blame Tom for the hysterical gurning and throwing of shapes.

next up we have:
2. Boat skirt

I made this back in early June, using some Cath Kidston furnishing fabric I’d been given and some lovely red grossgrain ribbon I received in the badge swap (thankyou, Philippa!). I followed the basic instructions in this book, adding lining and facings to the formula. Its a good fit, quite sporty. I like this skirt very much and have worn it lots over the past couple of months.

And another skirt:
3. Summer swallows skirt.

I bought this Japanese fabric as a birthday treat to myself from the wonderful Rosa Pomar, whose stock is always so lovely — top quality and exceptionally well chosen. I like skirts like this with a lot of fabric — the width of the bottom is about three times that of the top. To make it, I just followed the instructions for a basic pleated skirt in this book, adding facings to the formula to make the skirt hang a bit better. I spent a long time matching up the waves and swallows on the pleats — this was well-worth the effort I think. Finally, I found some wide, black, broderie anglais edging on ebay, and added this to the bottom. Bingo! A skirt for wearing with a sticky-out petticoat underneath. And though its perhaps more of a summer garment, these swallows are going to hang around for winter too.

And finally:
4. Mary Traynor

I knitted this little top while hanging around in hospitals, waiting for surgeons and physiotherapists to finish doing what they were doing to Tom’s hand. The yarn is so lovely to work with — it was quite a comforting thing to have in one’s hands. Mary Traynor was my maternal grandmother — a champion knitter who spent every summer in lacy tops of her own making. She is to blame for my knitting, and lacy summer tops remind me very much of her.

The top is my own design: bottom-up, in-the-round raglan; spiral shell lace pattern; crocheted edging. It took just one skein of ornkney angora 4 ply. That’s right folks! Just 50g!

I love this yarn so much — so light and sugary, and it knits up a dream. The finished top turned out well, but it is wee — almost too wee. My thursday night knitting comrades laughed heartily at the size of it when they saw me making it — the combination of the lace pattern and a 40cm circular needle meant it looked contracted and near-dollsize, but it blocked out nicely, and does fit me — just. Here it is being blown around on the promenade near Funchal.

ye gods, was that really just last week? The weather is so crisp and autumnal here that Madeira seems a world away. So, anyway:

Design: Mary Traynor (my own pattern)
Yarn: Orkney Angora 4 ply. Red. One skein. Ysolda, and her lovely beret, are to blame for my yarn choice.
needles: 4mm addi turbos
ravelled here

Swapping round the warm- and cold-weather wardrobes has reminded me just how many berloody clothes I own, and that, aside from the occasional pair of tights (groan) that I really do not need to buy any more. I’ve found real pleasure in making and wearing all the things I’ve sewn and knitted so far this year, and am looking forward to revamping my wardrobe with handmade items this winter — tweed suits and knitted dresses, here we come.

And for those of you who were kindly asking after Tom: things are starting to improve. Madeira really did wonders for the healing process: he was told the other day by the woman we call “badphysio” that he was doing remarkably well “for his age”. (Note: we only call her badphysio because she’s rather dour and hardchrist, not because she’s at all bad at her job). The poor hand is still incredibly painful–now the tendons have healed, they have to be stretched and punished to prevent him having a claw. He has no feeling in the fingers, and the injuries are still rather fragile. But the evil splint can now be taken off during the day, and he is allowed to go running and hill walking again. This is very good news indeed.

bordado Madeira

Madeira has distinctive textile traditions. I had a vague sense of these from my grandma (who taught me to knit), who visited Portugal several times, and who owned several beautiful pieces of Madeiran table-linen. I particularly remember a very fine cloth, decorated with Richlieu-style cut work in pale brown against white. The Madeiran traditions of hand-embroidered whitework and cutwork are still very much alive, and I was able to find out more about them at the IBVAM museum (their super website is available in both Portuguese and English) and the Bordal embroidery workshop in Funchal.

(Nineteenth-century view of Madeira. Library of Congress).

Like other colonial communities, Madeira’s first Portuguese settlers brought and developed their own traditions of embroidery for domestic use and trousseaux. But by the eighteenth-century, the island’s nuns were also successfully producing and selling textiles for an international market. In the letters I’ve read, there are many references to the nuns’ roaring trade in artificial flowers, made by hand from cambric and linen. The fine embroidery of Madeira’s rural women also drew the admiration of the English commercial families who had settled on the island, as well as the many wealthy tourists and travellers who often came seeking rest-cures from the island’s restorative climate. By the mid-nineteenth century, English families who had prospered in the wine trade also saw the market potential of Madeira’s hand-embroidered textiles. And after Madeiran embroidery received tremendous acclaim in London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, it began to be successfully exported to foreign markets.

In a particular way, Madeiran embroidery flourished on the failure of the other commodity for which the island is famous: wine. During the mid-nineteenth century, Madeiran vineyards were ravaged by blight and entire agricultural communities were put out of work. Rural women’s domestic and decorative labour — the fine white-work and cut-work embroidery for which they were famed — then came to provide an alternative source of income.

(Madeiran embroiderers of all ages)

Cross-cultural comparisons are perhaps all too easy to make, but the story of Madeiran embroidery puts me very strongly in mind of that of Shetland lace. Here are two liminal island communities; two increasingly impoverished agricultural populations; and two groups of women producing decorative work of exceptional fineness and quality. Both Madeiran embroidery and Shetland lace were displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, after which both acquired prominent aristocratic patrons and a certain international cachet as luxury products. This cachet had several components, but a large part of it, it seems to me, was about the work being produced on an island, by several generations of talented women who lived in isolated, rural communities and who were also of course, exceptionally poor. Like the women of Shetland, the Madeiran embroiderers worked from home, with the quality and sale of their work largely overseen by commercial agents from the export houses. While their work was sought after and commanded high prices, they were very poorly paid — until the welcome advent of 20th century unionisation, and the protection of Portuguese (and later, EU) employment law.

A final point of comparison with Shetland lace is the fineness, delicacy and incredible beauty of Madeiran embroidered textiles. You can get some sense of this from an amazing nineteenth-century matinee coat on display in the IBVAM museum, whose intricate scallops flow all the way from the neck to the floor like the delicate crests of waves. (You can see it by following this link and clicking on the images. The matinee coat is on the far right, on the second row from the bottom of the page).

(Madeiran Embroidery pattern from Dillmont’s Encyclopedia of Needlework (1884))

The IBVAM Museum was very interesting, but even more so, in some ways, was the embroidery workshop at Bordal, because you really got a sense of the whole process of the production of Madeiran hand-embroidered textiles from start to finish. We saw exactly how patterns were transferred to cloth (with a speedy pin-pricking gadget, indigo and paraffin) and how the cloth was cut and prepared. The embroiders largely work from home, and several were there to drop off their completed work for washing, ironing and finishing. One showed me a large, circular table-cloth of unbelievable beauty. It had taken three women a whole year to embroider. We saw one room piled high with several decades worth of paper patterns, and in another, women sat sewing hand-embroidered bodices onto skirts to create gorgeous little girl’s dresses. When the items are finished, they are taken to IBVAM (a short walk away) who check the quality and authenticity of every single embroidered item, which is then given its own holographic seal. This protects the tradition of hand embroidery against the machine-made imports with which it has been threatened for the past half century. The women who worked at Bordal were just lovely, and very tolerant of my impertinent questions, and broken Portuguese. Being able to see them at work was incredibly eye-opening and inspiring.

If you are wondering what makes Madeiran embroidery so distinctive, it is the combination of raised stitches and cut work, usually in white, or sometimes in brown or blue. Flowing and floral lines in padded satin stitch, or long-and-short stitch, mingle with detailed cutwork, (cavacas, caseados), areas of removed threads, (escada, ilhos) and large numbers of raised dots (granitos, seguidos, rematados). You can see many of these distinctive elements — the ladder (escada), the scalloped edge, and the raised dots in this small and very beautiful piece of embroidery, which I bought. I think it may well be the most lovely piece of fabric I have ever owned.

I also bought a couple of other cloths as presents, and a less delicate, but no less lovely cloth for myself for wrapping bread. A four-cornered hand-embroidered loaf wrapper! I just love it.

(yes, I baked a loaf, then wrapped it up! Hurrah!)

Further information:
You can find out more about Madeiran embroidery in the book “Madeira Embroidery” by Alberto Viera, which is produced and sold by Bordal and which also comes in a slightly shaky, but nonetheless informative, English translation. If you are in Funchal, the Bordal embroidery workshop can be found on the Rua Doutor Fernăo Ornelas and IBVAM is on the Rua Visconde do Anadia.
On Shetland Lace I highly recommend the work of Sharon Miller , which I’ve recently been reading.


“. . .as this place differs so vastly from anything thou hast ever seen, I make no doubt thou will be agreeably entertained with the many romantic prospects, whimsical houses, pleasant cool gardens, and amazing precipices. . .” (Deborah Hill to her son Richard, Funchal, Madeira, May 1st, 1743)

My only previous experience of Madeira was through the letters of Deborah Hill and her relatives — eighteenth-century Quakers who, like many other merchant families of their class, made their fortunes in the transatlantic wine trade. Though they are more than 250 years old, Deborah Hill’s letters still convey an accurate impression of Madeira — both in terms of the insistent presence of the British on the island, as well as it’s “romantic prospects and amazing precipices.”

Our idea was to enjoy these prospects through some serious mountain and levada walking (the levadas are an incredible architectural system of canals criss-crossing the island and carrying water from the cloud-capped mountaintops down to the vineyards and plantations) but Tom’s accident rather scuppered these plans. So instead we engaged in some less precipitous but no less restorative activities — involving lots of sunshine, tasty food, low-level walking, and (for me) lots of swimming too.

We really enjoyed Madeira’s colourful fauna . . .

. . . and flora

. . .and I have a fondness, bordering on an obsession, with Portuguese cuisine. There are many, many things I like about it (tisanes, for example — the Portuguese make a fine cup of tea) but my two favourite things are grilled sardines and custard tarts (pasteis de nata). I tend not to consume these items simultaneously, (though who knows what I might do in a moment of gastronomic over-excitement) but I did manage to eat both on a number of separate occasions while we were away.

(tasty grilled sardines at O Barqueiro. So very good — I bored Tom with sardine raptures for days)

(you see here several varieties of pasteis — coconut, walnut, apple, almond– but the custards, pictured to the top right in the first photo, are my confirmed favourite)

The range and quality of fresh Madeiran produce is really amazing. I shan’t go on about the four different varieties of passion fruit we tried or the wonderful straight bananas, but certainly our Scottish neeps and tatties were made to seem rather dull and prosaic in the face of such abundance.

(farmer’s market in Funchal)

Being sedentary sunshine tourists was a new experience for Tom and I — our holidays are usually a bit more, um, strenuous, and are spent in Britain or Ireland. I am not really very fond of being a Brit abroad, and I find it particularly weird and difficult somewhere like Madeira or the Caribbean, where there is evidence of the British exploitation of local resources and labour everywhere you look (I’m thinking of eighteenth/nineteenth-century commerce as well as contemporary tourism). It is perhaps possible to assuage such cultural-imperialist guilt through an appreciation of – and engagement with – a foreign landscape, such as that which one gets from walking. But it is hard to throw off one’s tourist-ness when one cannot get up into the mountains. And it is well-nigh impossible to stop feeling like a guilty British tourist when one is surrounded by large numbers of other tourists — dare I say it — of a certain age.

I do not often spend much time with large groups of British octogenarians, and I don’t wish to sound churlish or mean, but there are a few observations about their group behaviour that unavoidably and repeatedly strike one in such situations. The first is just how berloody grumpy they can be. This constitutional grumpiness seems to lead them to assume that, even in the peaceful, beautiful and near-idyllic settings Madeira affords, that everyone else is having a slightly better time than they are. In a restaurant full of elderly British tourists you can literally feel the pairs of beady eyes darting about suspiciously: did those people get served before me? Are they perhaps sat at a better table? Another impulse, closely associated with the assumption that everyone else is having a Slightly Better Time Than You is to ensure that you are Having the Best Time You Possibly Can Under the Circumstances. This impulse leads individuals whose usual pace is probably under half a mile an hour to move at incredible speed when it comes to being the first on a bus. Normally, this would have amused me, but it was actually rather stressful when accompanied by someone with a still painful, serious and rather fragile injury. I was strongly put in mind of comments toward the end of this post in which a heavily pregnant person is repeatedly bombarded by a marauding elderly mob eager to get to the quilting fabric.

Still, being a tourist has its benefits — one of which is being able to acquire a couple of metres of some superbly cheesy, but also pleasing, fabric that only a tourist would buy.

Do you think I can get away with wearing a skirt made from this stuff? I do hope so.

More about Madeiran embroidery tomorrow.


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