Monday, 1 December 2008

December and there's still plenty to do

I was born into a family that knitted. My mum, granny, aunts and cousins always 'had something on the go'. If they were sitting they were usually knitting and I never remember a Christmas when my sister and I didn't receive knitted dolls' clothes or a pretty sweater and hat from at least one of our relations. Most of the knitting relatives I remember from my childhood have now sadly gone but they have hopefully found a happy place to knit and natter together as they did in life. I'm sure they would be pleased to know that their enthusiasm for all things woolly has rubbed off on me and over the years I have amassed a large selection of yarn into which I frequently dip.


Nothing is wasted and I always squirrel away the smallest lengths of yarn. I'm particularly fond of odd balls like these. Dozens of different colours which provide dozens of different knitting possibilities. Here are just a few examples that I can show you.


Striped gloves with extra long cuffs, just right for chilly days. 


Striped shawl with multicoloured tassels, warm and cosy.


Striped jumper and woolly beret for teddy. You wouldn't think he'd need it with all that fur but he assures me he does.


Traditional  Fairisle. I always like use 'traditional' real wool for this. Shetland wool is my favourite.


A crochet blanket. I have to confess I did buy the black yarn for this as I needed more than the amount I had in my woolly stash. It was great fun to make, one square at a time in any colour combination that took my fancy.


From very large to very tiny. These knitted toys are for a dolls house and measure 4 cm (just over an inch). The arms and legs only required 4 stitches. I used my finest yarn (4 ply) and and my finest needles. Fiddly but fun!


I prefer making something just a bit larger than 4 cm. These two friends measure approx 12 cm (just under 5 ins)


And these happy sailors are about the same height (the teddy is shop bought but his togs are handmade).


And for Christmas, what better than Santa bringing a tiny doll for a little girl in a red dress, woolly coat and beret. Doesn't she look pleased.


Time to make the Christmas cake, but first the rum must be poured over the fruit and left overnight. It looks like there is no lack of volunteers for the rum pouring! Santa takes charge... "Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum".

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Damask baubles, shiny brass and a clean chimney

Isn't it strange how one person's trash can be another person's treasure. Many years ago I was horrified to find a friend discarding a bundle of gorgeous damask fabric samples. They dated from the 1960s and she couldn't find a use for them. Needless to say I volunteered to take them off her hands.


Brights as well as soft muted tones


Over the years I've found many uses for the fabrics


The smaller patterns were ideal for the dresses and waistcoats I made for my 18th century dolls house family and I have other pieces put by for the four poster beds. The samples aren't large so I always cut into the fabric with caution and save small left-over scraps just in case I find a use for them at a later date. That 'later date' arrived during the week when I used some of the scraps to cover 9cm polystyrene balls to make Christmas baubles.


Recently several talented bloggers have posted pics of their bauble handiwork and I've been itching to give it a go. The small off-cuts of damask were just right for the job and I was pleased with the results. I have a selection of gold metallic braid left over from other projects and this came in handy for covering the joins between the different fabrics.


I'd planned to use beads and buttons as finishing touches but they didn't look right so I attached tiny brass bells (with pins) around the centre of the plainest bauble. I'd like to say the bells tinkle beautifully when jiggled but I'm afraid the sound they make is more of a dull rattle.

Whilst I happily created festive baubles my husband was hard at work doing a more important job, sweeping the chimney. Our sitting room chimney is a law unto itself and has twice caught fire only a few weeks after it has been swept, so hubby likes to keep it spotless. The second time a fire caught hold the chimney pot exploded and the sharp fragments landed on the car roof (we still have the dents to prove it!)
With so much 'useful' activity going on in other parts of the house I decided I should also be seen to be doing something more essential. Now this is a job I always put off doing because I don't enjoy brass. Throughout the year I convince myself that tarnished brass doesn't look out of place with our 'older style' furniture but I do like clean shiny brass at Christmastime, so this week out came the cleaner and the rubber gloves.

No sooner had I laid newspaper on the kitchen table than my husband arrived and plonked our dining room chandelier onto it. He must have thought this would be a good opportunity to disconnect it from the electricity supply and bring it to me for a clean but its arrival on the table quickly made my apathy for brass cleaning a whole lot worse.

I persevered and confess it didn't take long to get it shining again and within an hour it was reconnected and fully working. I think you'll agree it was worth the effort!


Then out came the candlesticks. I just love mellow candlelight at Christmas. A few years ago I spotted a picture in a magazine of an old oak dresser decorated with Christmas greenery and a large collection of mismatching candles. It looked wonderful. I knew I had to recreate that 'look' so I trawled through Ebay and before long I found the perfect lot. One dozen vintage brass candlesticks, all different shapes and sizes (no pairs). A pair of candlesticks can fetch a decent price but mismatched ones aren't always popular and as a result I got a bargain buy. Cleaning them was a lot easier than tackling the chandelier and I'm really looking forward to basking in the glow of warm candlelight over Christmas.


Holly, ivy and mistletoe have been brought indoors during December since Pagan times as a way of brightening homes during the dark days of winter. According to Robert Herrick (an Elizabethan poet who lived 400 years ago) the tradition was to keep the Christmas evergreens in the house until Candlemas (2nd February) when they should be replaced by Box which should stay indoors until Easter. I love these old traditions!

Ceremonies for Candlemasse Eve (with original spelling)
by Robert Herrick (1591 - 1674)
Down with the Rosemary and Bayes,
            Down with Mistletoe;
Instead of Holly, now up-raise
            The greener Box (for show.)
The Holly hitherto did sway;
            Let Box now domineere;
Untill the dancing Easter-day,
            Or Easters Eve appeare.
It is the start of Advent on Sunday (30th Nov) and I will be bringing more evergreens into the house. I wonder if they will survive until Candlemas. In Elizabethan England there was no central heating so my guess is they will have dried and withered by New Year. I will let you know.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The tale of Bunnykins china

In Wednesday's post I showed you 3 balls of yarn and a Bunnikins mug and asked if you could guess what I was planning. Sadly I have to disappoint those of you who thought I might be pregnant or expecting a new grandchild, neither is correct I'm afraid. The answer is a lot less exciting... another knitting pattern! Whenever I see Royal Doulton's Bunnykins china I'm immediately transported back to the days of my early childhood. The top two dishes belonged to my brothers but the bowl and plate at the bottom were both mine. As a tot I ate my porridge every day from the bowl and golden syrup sandwiches from the plate. For me it is a perfect example of what nursery china should look like, simple, sturdy, colourful and fun. I'm not a lover of the action scenes depicting modern animations that decorate some of today's nursery ware. Little people don't need excitement when they are eating. Bunnykins fun comes from the anticipation of finding those beautifully detailed scenes beneath the food when you have been 'very good' and cleaned your plate. And what little conversation pieces they are.


During all these years of admiration for Bunnykins china I have never once considered its history, until now that is, and the story behind its existence makes quite a touching little tale. In the early 1930s Mr Cuthbert Bailey was the general manager of Royal Doulton's Burslem pottery in Stoke-on-Trent. His young daughter Barbara had become a nun many miles away in Sussex and he missed her very much. His visits were infrequent and strictly controlled by the convent and he saw very little of her. During one of his visits however he asked her a favour. Barbara had always shown a talent for drawing and so he asked her to try and design something that might be suitable for a new line in the nursery china that Royal Doulton was planning. As she had a great love for both children and animals she had no hesitation in creating families of little rabbits enjoying the everyday life she had known as a child. Families cooking, picnicking, fishing, dancing and even a father rabbit bespectacled and pipe-smoking based on her own father. Although the Reverend Mother of the convent was unimpressed, the Bunnykins range was introduced by Royal Doulton in 1934 and was an instant success. Reverend Mother continued to be discouraging about the Doulton venture and demanded that Sister Barbara work at it in secret. And so she drew and painted each little scene very late at night, by candlelight, alone in her cell.

Mug1_1 Mug2_1

Working quietly and alone Sister Barbara provided all the Bunnykins designs until the Second World War (66 in total). Since then designs have been produced by a succession of other artists faithful to her original style. Bunnykins china is still being made to this day; the only Royal Doulton range to have endured so long. Sister Mary Barbara Bailey died at the convent in 2003 at the age of 92. Her obituary, printed at the time in The Independent newspaper, can be seen here.


Above is a page from 'The History of Children's China - Part II'. Bunnykins ware is featured on page 141 along with an advertisement for the range dating from 1953.

Chinabookpt2_1 Chinabookpt1_1

If you collect, or are interested in children's vintage china then both the above books are an excellent source of information and photographs (mainly black and white).
On the right - Gifts for Good Children, the History of Children's China 1790 -1890 by Noel Riley and on the left The History of Children's China, Part II 1890 - 1990 by Maureen Batkin.
Run rabbit, runI love the little rabbits that run endlessly round the rim of Bunnikins china so have produced my own knitted version (below). I have embroidered little pink daisies between the bunnies in the top row. Small blades of green grass in straight stitch would also be effective.


Making little white fluffy tails and stitching one onto each rabbit is a bit fiddly but the finished effect is worth the effort don't you think?


This chart can be used for knitting or cross stitch embroidery.
If you are planning a gift for a tiny tot you might consider giving a piece of Bunnikins china together with a little knitted hat, jacket or blanket decorated with a row of running rabbits.

Little Bo-peep will travel to.....
I want to thank everyone who entered my little competition last week. I was very touched by so many nice comments and really do wish you could all be winners. Bo-Peep and her rascally sheep have been growing more and more excited in anticipation of travelling to a new home.

It is now time to reveal the name of the winner. The weight of Bo-peep and her sheep together with the piece of Lakeland stone is 226 g (8 oz).
Here are the entries which can be seen in the comment section of my 15th October post.
Martha 217 g, Andrea 204 g, Paula 270 g, Maria 227 g, Sabine 194 g, Mumintroll 290 g, Suzanne 218 g, Robyn 180 g.
Well done Maria, your guess was only 1 g more than the correct answer. Little Bo-peep is ready and waiting to travel to Spain. How exciting!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Toadstool house hunt

If you visited my blog on Wednesday you might remember I was looking for a certain something to inspire a knitted picture I'd planned. I spent an hour or more working my way through all manner of children's story books with little success. Then I found 'Winkie in Toadstool Town' and hoped my search was over. You see I'd been looking for fairy toadstools; the kind I remember reading about when I was a child. There seems to be great enthusiasm for all things toadstool at the moment have you noticed?
Unfortunately the cute little toadstool town in this book wasn't quite what I was looking for.
But the toadstool on the cover of this book for Brownies was just right, red with white spots.
What I wanted to find was a fairy house, a toadstool with a door and windows. So my search took me to the book I mentioned last week. 'Come Follow Me' by Gyo Fujikawa. Full of wonderful pictures of fairy folk I felt sure I'd have success. But no! The only toadstools in the book were on the cover. These were being used as garden furniture by the tiny lady who resides in a grassy bank, you can just see her emerging from her grassy house in the bottom right-hand corner. My search continued.

Then I remembered the ultimate toadstool Des Res.....Big-Ears' house. Thank you Enid Blyton, I knew you wouldn't let me down. A sweet little door with a lamp over it and tiny lattice window, perfect. And just look at those inquisitive beetles at the bottom of the picture.
In this second picture you can actually see inside the house. Those stairs look a bit close to the front door wouldn't you say? They wouldn't pass the planning regulations in our human world. By the way, that isn't smoke coming from the window, its steam; in the story Big-Ears is doing his washing.
I was not hopeful of finding any more toadstool homes when I picked up my old 'Pookie' book. You need a hankie for this story, its a real tear jerker. I opened the book.....

....and what a wonderful little toadstool village met my eyes. Traditional red with white spots, lattice windows and chimneys, the lot. And in between were the sweetest tree trunk homes with steps leading to front doors that were hidden between twisted tree roots. What a delightful place to live!
Having found illustrations of fairy toadstools I decided to search for toadstool shaped objects around the house. Surely I must have something! But I'm afraid the result of my searching was this rather pathetic group of three, one made of glass, one of made wood and the third, a well used cake decoration dating from the 1960s.
I almost forgot to include my mother's wooden darning mushroom. Everyone had a darning mushroom in 'the old days' and it was in constant use. I still use it from time to time.
So what about the real thing? Autumn is supposed to be a good time for fungi so I was certain I'd find plenty of examples around the garden and in the wood. After much searching I found two lonely toadstools on a pile of wood chippings.

I've never seen a red and white spotted toadstool in the flesh. Sadly it has the rather ugly name 'Fly Agaric' because it was once used for poisoning flies. It is indeed very poisonous which is a shame because its such a beauty.
You can probably tell that I enjoyed my search for fairy toadstools as it brought back many childhood memories. In the end I decided to knit simple red and white fairy toadstools that would be small enough to fit on children's hats and scarves or something really tiny like a mobile phone or iPod cover. No windows, doors or chimneys in my knitted toadstools I'm afraid, there wasn't room! For added magic I've added a row of dancing fairies.
I've left the background white so that you can see the grid clearly.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Owls, logs and lanterns

Today there's a bitter wind blowing off the nearby mountains and I'm quite surprised the highest peaks haven't got a covering of snow. With such a bracing wind what better way to keep warm than a morning spent cutting logs ready for the winter days ahead. My husband loves his chainsaw and everything to do with cutting wood. I think he might have been a coppicer or charcoal burner had he lived 100 years ago. His enthusiasm and hard work thankfully will provide us with log fires until next spring when the process will begin all over again.

 We are surrounded by woodland so fallen branches are plentiful.
You have to know which wood burns quickly or slowly, gives good heat or doesn't. Its all a mystery to me.
The leaves are only just beginning to change colour but the old crab apple tree outside our back door is always ahead of the game and is now shedding its leaves quite quickly. Festooned with blossom in spring and glowing gold in autumn it gives real value for money. I'm always amazed at how many different shaped leaves it has. The ones in the picture above all come from this tree.

The woods are quieter than they were in spring and summer. The sound of birds foraging in the leaf litter alternates with the delicate tap-tapping of falling acorns as they bounce off branches on their descent to the ground. The occasional hoot of a tawny owl is not uncommon. We see this bird quite often around the garden during the day. This little tawny was photographed on our windowsill at midday.

When I was a child my story books always seemed to feature wise old owls like the one pictured above. It is from one of my first books, 'Baba' by Betty Larom. Owls always wore specs and often carried a book under one wing to reinforce their wisdom.

When she was very small my daughter was given a wonderful book entitled 'Come Follow Me' by Gyo Fujikawa. All about the secret world of elves, fairies, gnomes and trolls, the illustrations are really endearing and not at all frightening for a young child. The picture above is attached to a poem about Halloween in which three little witches dance with a black cat amongst the pumpkins. Two haughty owls watch the dancing and frown. No books and no mention of wisdom!

Ted is ready for Halloween but is looking a bit glum wouldn't you say?  A woolly jumper could be just what he needs. With this in mind I have two patterns for you this week. The first features Jack-o'-Lantern and the second little owls.


Repeating every 12 stitches, the lanterns are easy to knit and I rather like the idea of knitting a row of smiling ones with just a single frowning one somewhere in the row.

Using bright yellow for the features adds to the effect and really does make the lantern look as if it has a candle inside. To achieve this effect use yellow yarn for the features when knitting or do as I have done and embroider the yellow on later.



The owl repeats every 12 stitches

Both Jack-o-Lantern and the owl would be great for Halloween themed knitwear. You have just a month to complete a project. Have fun!