Loch Ness Knit Fest

knitted-nessieI was at the Loch Ness Knit Fest at the weekend; a chance to inspire myself anew regarding one of my favourite hobbies. Some of the work was amazing; the knitted garments designed by Christel Seyfarth, for example, were awe-inspiring, but I don’t think I could keep up my concentration long enough to work one of them now.  Scattered around the venue, Eden Court Theatre, was a wide variety of knitted Nessie, including this splendid example in the entrance hall. There was an even bigger one in the vestibule, but I couldn’t get far enough away to photograph it in its entirety.

One of the displays I really enjoyed seeing was on the Moray Firth Gansey Project. Ganseys, sometimes better known as Guernseys, are knitted sweaters made for fishermen. There are all sorts of stories about what the different patterns mean; zig zags are called ‘marriage lines’ and a double cable makes ‘horseshoes’. They’re rather like Aran sweaters, but traditionally knitted in dark blue wool rather than the natural Aran colour. The Project website has lots of examples and some patterns to knit yourself, so do take a look: I rather fancy trying the knitted teddy with his own gansey.

inverness-castleI could only manage to go on the Sunday, when the show closed at 2pm, so I spent the afternoon wandering around Inverness. I haven’t visited it since I was a child and I’d forgotten what an attractive town it is – although since the year 2000 it’s been a ‘city’. The river Ness runs right through the town, and there are lovely walks along its banks. The weather was perfect – clear skies with a little autumnal nip in the air. My second photo shows Inverness Castle on its little hill. It’s quite modern (1836, which is modern for historians!). It houses the local Sheriff Court and isn’t open to the public, although its grounds are. Should you ever find yourself holding a Royal Bank of Scotland note for 50 pounds sterling, turn it over and you’ll see Inverness Castle.

I really enjoyed my little trip and it reminded me I should get out more instead of spending my time inside gazing at a computer. I must get a few walks in, scuffing through the leaves, before winter arrives.

Order from Chaos

Woolly drawersI had a real treat last weekend. It might not sound like much, but I spent most of the day sorting out my knitting wool. It had been piling up all over the place for years, much of it in boxes that I never got to the bottom of, so I had no real idea of what I had. The sight of some well-priced plastic drawers in The Range decided me, and I was off.

Really, I should have taken a ‘before’ picture, but I didn’t want your opinion of me to be too low. Here instead is an ‘after’ shot of neatly labelled drawers containing (mostly) everything knitting-related. I had bought just two sets of drawers but reluctantly concluded, with balls of DK swelling around my feet, that I was going to have to buy another one. Fortunately they all fitted in one corner of the room, and it makes my heart soar to see them standing there so neatly.

Novelty YarnsThere may be added refinements coming along: the large labels are very easy to read but rather block the view of what’s actually inside, so I may have to make them smaller. And if I printed them, they’d be neater than my handwriting. And really, I should sort the DK into wool or synthetic fibres. And…

But just look! Here is a view of the drawer of ‘novelty yarn’ (bottom) and ‘Mohair (on top). Isn’t it inspiring to see all the different yarns, and think what could be made with them? The bright pink one on the right has sequins! The autumnal one on the left is all fluffy! I have so many ideas buzzing round my head now – I wonder how many I’ll get done before the end of the year?

Paris

Eiffel TowerWell, I didn’t win the Beau Monde’s contest – but I have been abroad for the first time in ten years, which is also something to celebrate. My fourth visit to Paris, but at seven days away it was the longest time I’ve ever spent there, and enabled me to revisit some of my favourite sites as well as see others I’d never managed to reach before.

It may sound incredible, but the Eiffel Tower was one of these latter. I had never taken the time to visit it before, as my interest lies in earlier buildings. Now, though, I was determined to reach the top – which actually needed a second visit, as the top was closed the first time so I could only go as far as the second stage. Using the elevator, naturally. I hadn’t realised just what a massive construction it is. It’s tall, of course – over a thousand feet – but there are lots of tall buildings now. What really impressed me was the massiveness of its construction, with hundreds and hundreds of girders in a complicated latticework, like a giant’s version of Meccano. And it has toilets at the top! – though I have no idea where the flush goes…

Around the lowest stage were the names of 72 French inventors and scientists. I’d only heard of one – Ampere – but it struck me as I was going around Paris how many streets and subways stations are named after people the French want to celebrate and remember, which I thought was admirable. There are other ways the French celebrate their history, too; admission to all the national monuments in Paris is free for children, so that families can show their children their heritage.

Saint DenisThe Eiffel Tower, of course, is the internationally recognised symbol of Paris and France – even the logo of the airports is a little Eiffel Tower with wings – but centuries ago it was the fleur-de-lis which represented France and the French monarchy. Many pre-Revolutionary kings and queens are buried at St Denis, my favourite place in Paris. I’d visited it nearly thirty years ago, and just fell in love. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, even in July it was almost empty, which really let me appreciate its scale. I love the intersecting voids which you see when you look between pillars to more pillars and the spaces between them. There is some stunning stained glass in the little ring of chapels on the east.

The shape of a Christian Church is meant to represent Christ on his cross, and early churches often had the choir at a slight angle off the straight to indicate this. I’d completely forgotten until I realised that the first bay in the choir was squint! My guide to Paris recommended Notre Dame and the Museum of the Middle Ages to visitors interested in the medieval period, which may explain why St Denis was so empty – but if you do go to Paris, don’t miss it. It even has its own station on the Metro network, Basilica de Saint Denis, so it couldn’t be easier to get to, and it’s just stunning.

“Commit to Knit”

knitted hat and flowerThis is an initiative of the UK Hand Knitting association, and a very good idea it is. During the month of June, knitters are asked to create something for charity and send it off to be used or to raise funds. Commit to Knit has a website and links to several charities which welcome hand made gifts.

I decided to knit something for the Mission to Seafarers and went with a fairly simple hat pattern in cheerful stripes. As it’s rib, it should stretch to fit whoever ends up with it, and as it’s quite long the wearer can turn up a brim to keep the ears cosy.Mermaid

Also in the photo above is a knitted flower (supposed to be a Chrysanthemum!) which is not to be worn with the hat. It’s being sent to the Drunken Knitwits in Oxford, who are hoping to string knitted flowers and insects along the length of the railing around the Radcliffe Camera on the first of August to raise money for a mental health charity. Another excellent cause, and my little contribution is already on its way.

And then after that I was attracted by a cute knitted mermaid in my latest magazine and made her up last weekend. I added some star beads to the tail for some sparkle (hence also the purple hair). I’ve just realised I should have embroidered a face, instead of sewing felt pieces on, as they’ll probably bleed if she’s washed. Dash! Oh, well, if she’s a mermaid she’ll be used to getting wet…

Royal Ascot contest

Beau Monde badgeI’m really excited to announce I’m one of the four finalists in the Royal Ascot contest for Regency authors, run by the RWA’s Beau Monde chapter. http://thebeaumonde.com/resources/the-royal-ascot-contest/

I entered at the end of March only in the hope of getting some feedback, so this is wholly unexpected and very encouraging. Now I have to wait until the middle of July to find out, but I’m not worried – because with my memory I’ll probably forget about it within a few days, and the result (whatever it is) will come as complete surprise!

If you haven’t come across The Beau Monde before, there’s a blog and a free monthly newsletter you can sign up for, which gives Regency snippets and details of new titles. There’s a fun series of articles about Georgette Heyer’s novels to celebrate 80 years of the Regency novel that I recommend: Victoria Hinshaw, who writes about ‘Pistols or Two’, Heyer’s only collection of short stories, has picked my two favourites to write about at http://thebeaumonde.com/regency-turns-80-pistols-for-two/

The Wonders of Lavender

LavenderToday is National Fragrance Day – a fairly new invention, but a nice one to add to the calendar, especially when spring is on its way and we’re starting to see flowers appear. I expect the intention is that we all ‘try a new scent’, as magazines are always suggesting, but I’m a hopeless person to market to, as my favourite fragrance is lavender.

Lots of people dismiss is as an ‘old ladies’’ scent, but it’s fresh and clean and natural. The Latin word ‘lavere’, ‘to wash’, is the origin of the English word lavender, which seems very suitable. As well as scenting soaps, dried lavender can be tucked between sheets to keep them fresh, although if you want to avoid scratchy blooms in bed a lavender bag is probably a good idea. It’s an easy plant to grow and harvest – just cut some stems and pop them in a paper bag or envelope somewhere warm to dry.

The most famous name connected to lavender is Yardley’s, a London perfume company which has been making scented soaps for nearly 250 years. There’s a tantalising hint of an even older history, since 150 years before that a man named Yardley obtained the contract to provide lavender-scented soap for the city of London, but records of this seem to have been lost in the Great Fire of 1666. Since 1770, though, the firm has made and sold its famous soaps and other toilet preparations, and it holds several Royal Warrants. It’s not the only firm to specialise in lavender; I’ve visited Norfolk Lavender near Heacham, where there are great fields of purple lavender; the air is scented and the bees seem drugged with so much richness. Their lavender oil is extracted by a distilling process, and the tea room serves lavender-scented scones. You can even make lavender sugar, like vanilla sugar, by placing several stems into a jar of sugar and letting the scent permeate the sugar.

Even if you don’t like the scent, you’ll like the colour – lavender is a soft pastel purple which goes with a great many other colours. It was a popular shade in the Regency, and worn too as ‘half-mourning’, when black gowns could be put away but society frowned on colour.

The folk-song ‘Lavender’s Blue, dilly, dilly, lavender’s green; When I am King, dilly, dilly, you shall be Queen” dates to the 17thc, although earlier versions are bawdier than the nursery rhyme we know today. Recently it was sung by Lily James in the newest Disney version of ‘Cinderella’, which brought it to the attention of a new generation of children. I hope they’ll remember it as they grow older, and look out for lavender; there’s so much more to it than just being a ‘old ladies’ scent’.

Vision boards

Pink CardiganI’ve already said I don’t do New Year Resolutions, but I came across an interesting alternative just before Christmas last year. Instead of what are often quite negative resolutions: “I’ll give up….”, a Vision Board lets you picture what you want in your life in a positive fashion. You use words and pictures to create a vision of the goals you want to achieve, and look at it often.

That’s it.

Hmm, I thought, I can’t see how it will work but it won’t cost anything and it might make a difference, so why not give it a try? I found some cover art images online and added my name and book titles along with the words ‘Write’ and ‘Create’. Uncomfortably aware that I tend to get bored with projects, and start something new, I added the word ‘Finish’ alongside pictures of pink and green cardigans (knitted but not sewn up). That patchwork I started in 1979 – nope, not finished either. A picture of someone lecturing to an awestruck audience, beside ‘Expert’. A suitcase and ‘Explore’. Add in a photo of money (hey, why not!) and a picture of a Starbucks cup, inspired by Joanna Basford’s story

And so far? Well, I’ve finished the pink cardigan (pictured) and nearly done the green. I’ve been asked to lecture in June, and I’ve got one trip booked and another on the horizon… although I’ve haven’t gone back to the patchwork yet. And the best thing about vision boards is that you don’t need to wait till the New Year to create your own. So give it a try. After all, it doesn’t cost anything and it might make a difference.

And if you need some ideas, there’s a good article on vision boards in the Huffington Post