Haps Again – Montbretia Hap

I knitted Montbretia at top speed, so that’s why I am blogging about it about as slowly as I possibly can (any excuse). This was the first Hap I made from the Book of Haps. I was drawn to Montbretia mainly because of the unusual construction and shape; lots of short rows and bobbles, interchanging garter and stocking stitch, more than one colour – these are all things I like quite a lot. Also welts, an entirely new thing to me which I now want to incorporate into all the knitted things.  I realised I had stash yarn that would do the job perfectly for this – I love my stash, but it is there to be knit with, after all…so in I dived.

I came out with some white 4 ply, some MadeleineTosh Tosh Merino Light in Cousteau – a dark sea green, just beautiful, and two packs of mini skeins of Knitting Goddess sock yarn; one in oranges and one in dark green/blues (rather like the Tosh, a happy accident).

I cast on for a ‘Medium’ of this hap knowing my gauge was a little tighter than the pattern (I got 24st&36r/10cm) and I would get a slightly smaller hap because of this. It’s width is about 140 cm rather than 144. It sits nicely over the shoulders for when it’s just a bit chilly, or I can wrap it and knot loosely at the back of the neck if I’m cycling (because, by the time you’ve got to the top of Divinity Road in Oxford you don’t need a big scarf on, even in the depths of winter).

It began – appropriately – looking slightly foetal, and carried on like that for a while:


The first welt (in the picture above on the right) was a bit messy, I hadn’t knit it tight enough at all, but I managed to fix that with a bit of sewing in on the back when I finished, and blocking helped hugely.

The most fun part was the bobbles! I loved doing these, once I’d got the hang of them (it’s been at least 12 years since I did a bobble) they flew by:

It was finished in eleven days. Eleven! This is a record for me for a thing that’s not supposed to be tiny to start with. I got it on the bed for a good blocking:


And think it’s splendid. I really do like this unusual shape. I’d like make a really huge one of these which I think would look brilliant draped longways along the back of a sofa. But for now, here I am wearing it in baking hot July:





Blue Dot Festival

I am not a scientist, I don’t have any academic scientific training beyond an O level in Chemistry and a couple of courses I took in archaeological science as part of my degree. I do have an enquiring mind though, and have ended up working in an environment where I need some understanding of cancer biology (lay person level) and to be able to keep up with the science while taking minutes. I also married an engineer and have an eight year old boy so obsessed with science I  feel I have to do the reading so I can join in conversations  (though I’m sure one day soon he’ll feel pity for his mother’s lack of understanding of quantum physics).

I like doing the reading, it’s always been a joy to learn new things. I love to listen to The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio4; I like to watch Horizon – especially now it’s got past that ‘were all going to die in this [insert that week’s armageddon scenario]’ phase – and if I were stuck without reading matter on some long journey I’d probably buy a copy of New Scientist in WH Smith rather than Good Housekeeping. I really like the way science has recently become something which isn’t ‘other’ and beyond the understanding of us all, and that WOMAD has a Physics Tent (though we didn’t get organised enough to go to WOMAD as well, sadly).

We’re super-keen on music and on listening to it in fields so the eight year old can come with us, so, when we heard about the brand new Blue Dot Festival we bought tickets straight away – who could resist “an intergalactic festival of music, science, arts, culture and the exploration of space”. Blue Dot took place at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, a place I’d failed to visit despite living in Manchester for 5 years, which is home to the famous Lovell radio telescope. Having a festival at an observatory seemed such a good idea we just had to go.

We saw some fabulous things that weekend, not least the Lovell telescope itself (which I knew so well from pictures) both with and without Brian Eno’s installation projected onto it:

Lovell Radio Telescope

We saw a hugely entertaining recording of the Infinite Monkey Cage, during which there was audience participation involving Brian Blessed impersonations, and Charlotte Church sang that D:Ream song.

Public Service Broadcasting, Underworld – “MUM! when are they going to do Born Slippy??”-  and Jean Michel Jarre were fantastic headliners (no photos of PSB, me and the boy were right at the front though!).

Infinite Monkey Cage; Underworld;  Jean Michel Jarre

We went to a talks, one about spacesuits – do you know about the huge part Playtex played in the development of the spacesuit? Fascinating stuff even when delivered to the background of a very loud main stage just opposite. We had a nice lie down during a Planetarium film about the telescope. The boy met loads of young scientists who were running the Science Fair bit of the festival, and I think he surprised an astrophysicist by knowing about the ‘potato radius’ ;  he danced with a robot and tried a VR headset, looked down a special telescope at the sun, exercised like an astronaut, operated LEGO ‘Mars rovers’ and was generally in his element. Oh, and the Clangers were there. You could go and knit a Clanger but I managed to stop myself, the appeal of sitting knitting a small pink alien for hours being lost on two thirds of my party (I’ll save it up for a winter project).

Spacesuit talk by Dallas Campbell; Sun telescope;  boy and telescope; VR; LEGO Rovers; Small Clanger

Another place the boy was in his element was the Luminarium KATENA. We all were. There was a massive queue for this, in which we got chatting to a family from Sussex and ate hot dogs. We all agreed this was an amazing event, our kids were having a great time and it felt really safe to let them wander off a bit. Eventually we got inside the gigantic balloon-like structure and the wait proved well worth it. I could have stayed in there for a few hours:

Luminaria KATENA

We only saw a fraction of what was on offer over the weekend. There was a big top near the main stage with music going on pretty much all the time (though this did bleed sound to the main stage which was a shame)  and two more tents with talks and music in the back of the arena.  The arboretum was home to a smaller stage for the more acoustic end of things, and what looked like a beautiful light show about the planets that we never managed to catch. However, we didn’t miss things because you just couldn’t get there, it was mainly due to enjoying sitting on a rug in the sun playing Dobble. We never felt that far away from anything, you could easily walk from one end of the festival to the other (even with a medium size child in tow) and there was lots of space – it only felt crowded on Saturday night, understandably, for Jean Michel Jarre.

As with all new festivals there are probably some things that could be moved around to deal with the some of the sound issues,  and some other teething problems. The food was great, there was a Real Ale Bar (at which there was much rejoicing for we really don’t like Heineken) and a Molecular Cocktail Bar which smelt amazing (saving that for next time). And the loos were fine.

We loved it and we’ll be going back next year. When are the tickets on sale?

Over the Sea…

I went to Skye a little more than a decade ago, it is an enchanting,  magical place (I think probably more magical than Tahiti, S.H.I.E.L.D. fans!).  It’s so magical in fact that one of my very best friends (the Quilter) and her family decided to up sticks and go and live there permanently. We said ‘Cheerio’ last week (‘cheerio’, as another friend noted, being so much less final than goodbye) and now they are there, posting envy making photographs on Facebook and settling in.

So much change all at once, what with the Current Situation (as I’ve started having to refer to all the post referendum events) it was an emotional parting. I will miss them very much, but – what with the magic,  and the cooked breakfasts we’ve been promised, and the Shilasdair shop – I expect we’ll be up for a visit soon.

What do you give a person who’s just bought a lovely B&B with a swimming pool and a bit of beach of its own on a beautiful island, as a going away present? Knitting of course.

It’s always a joy to give a handmade gift to another maker, they ‘get it’ (not that non makers don’t, though I’ve had a few frozen grin oh that’s nice moments in my knitting career). Since she’s gone to Scotland that knitting had to be in some way Scottish, so inevitably I cast on for a Hap. This was before The Book of Haps came out (more on that particular rabbit hole another day) so I  chose the Northmavine Hap from Colours of Shetland, but in colours of Skye.

This (below) is the Old Man of Storr, a particularly fine pinnacle of rock don’t you think? When I was on Skye in 2005 I went to an amazing installation by NVA, who create their own magic with light, and I have to say it cast a proper spell on me. But what I’m really interested in here is the grass. I remembered Skye as being really quite green, and I wanted to incorporate that feeling into the hap:

Old Man of Storr

Old Man Of Storr (image: kineticphotos.co.uk)

Also the beaches (and yes, more grass) of white sands strewn with seaweed at the tide line:

Claigan coral beach

image: theskyeguide.com

And for some reason pink and purple sprang into my head. I thought I must have been remembering heather, but perhaps I was actually remembering this little row of cottages:

skye houses

Image: seethehighlands.com

I had my colour scheme, and now I needed to choose the yarn. I settled on:

  • Jamieson and Smith Shetland jumper weight for the greens (since I haven’t been to the Shilasdair shop yet!) as it is Scottish.
  • Touch Possum Silk Merino which actually belongs to the recipient of this hap. It was brought from NZ by her sister-in-law a while back (I still have enough to knit another item). It’s really hairy and has really no stitch definition whatsoever which makes choosing patterns difficult, but I thought it would work in this as the tide line seaweed element.
  • Rowan Rowanspun 4 ply, as we’re both from Yorkshire, for the pink and purple
  • Some white BFL, handspun by me, for the white sand.

This is a lovely pattern with a great rhythm, it’s the second time I’ve made it and it just bowled along. As I hoped the hairy possum yarn worked really well when used in stripes:

Northmavine corner

I did all the repeats on this occasion (I missed the last repeat on my first one, as I wanted a smaller hap) so it can be wrapped round the body like a dancers wrap, in the traditional Hap manner:


Here’s the wingspan, on me in a garden in Oxfordshire:


I handed this gift over on the day after the EU Referendum (as mentioned above) when we were already feeling rather emotional and overwrought, and there may have been a small weep from both the giver and the recipient. I hope it warms her in the Scottish winter and reminds her of us, though I’m fairly sure I can easily fly to Inverness from quite nearby, and hire a car, and enjoy that cooked breakfast, to remind her myself…

A Walk in the Oxfordshire Woods

We’re lucky to have a garden which ends at the edge of a nature reserve, so our own trees merge in nicely with those in the reserve (and there are some giants, as we found out when one came down in the storm a couple of years ago). On a quiet morning, with your back to the houses,  you could be in the middle of nowhere. Before here I lived about as near as it’s possible to live in the woods while being simultaneously 2 miles from Aldermaston AWE and Reading town centre – down a short lane off the main road and in behind the trees,  home was in a little terrace of four old cottages. When a friend visited from London she was alarmed at the lack of streetlights (I had moved there from Hoxton, just as it became unbearably hip). How did we cope in amongst all these dark trees? she asked. Well, we carried torches, it’s simple really. You’d think she’d been dropped into the wildwood of the middle ages  she was so spooked. I loved it.

While my first choice for a walk would always be along a wind-blown cliff top, a woodland walk comes a very close second. So, this last but one day of half term, I decided to take the boy for a walk in the woods. The woods I chose this time (we’re not spoilt for choice round here, woodlands everywhere) were Shotover Country Park, to the east of Oxford. I’ve never been there even though I’ve lived here for ten years or so, so this was a litte adventure for both of us.

Shotover is an SSSI and is run by Oxford City Council for everyone to use. It includes heah, marsh and meadow as well as woodland. It was a Royal Forest until the Civil War, when it became grazed land. The London Road – where travellers were prey to Highwaymen – ran across Shotover Plain. arming ceased in the early 20th Century and the land returned to woodland. It came into the care of the City Council in 1930.

The drive up to the main car park is up a huge hill, on a single track road. It’s about 2 miles away from where I work in Headington, but you feel miles away from Oxford, There are a few properties on the hill, how amazing would it be to live up here!


Oxford from Shotover Hill, from Recollection, 1791.   John Baptist Malchair (image ashmoleanprints.com) Highwayman days surely!


Part of the current sign/map/leaflet rack, a lovely piece of graphic design

We only explored a very small part of  the Country Park – while I’m trying to get my child to apprecite the absolute joy of walking, he’s eight and would rather be making a LEGO Bionicle or fighting Endermen, though he is now very keen on climbing trees! (see below).

We chose the Red path ‘Sandpit Walk’ – which it’s suggested takes 30 minutes (I’m playing the long game here, too much too soon will put him off for life I fear).  I will go back and explore the other paths and ‘desire lines’ before long, hopefully with some company.


We took a few pictures.

We found a beautifully climb-able youngish oak tree in a clearing, where for a brief and tantalising moment the SUN came out (we’re having a very wet, cold and grey start to June this year).

Most of the blossom is gone now, but the bracken is unfurling – these are delightfully called Fiddleheads in North America and Canada and probably elsewhere, I’ve never heard it used over here though. There was starry moss underfoot – I ‘found’ a rabbit hole shortly after I found the moss and did a spectacular roll to avoid dropping my phone, much to the boy’s amusement. Be careful out there. We saw some lovely lichen too.

In a slightly  more wooded area we encountered yet another climb-able tree, which got its own back by encaging the boy as he tried to get out. You shouldn’t annoy the woodland spirits.

Those tantalising little desire paths lead off into the trees, and at one point we had a bit of blossom ‘snow’ along one of the wider paths. Of course no woodland would be complete without some really spooky trees…here’s my favourite, with it’s woody ‘hand’ reaching towards us…

Shotover is lovely, I really can’t beleive we’ve never visted before, we’ll definitely go back, I’d like to see it in the early morning and the evening, in the sun, the snow and most of all, in the autumn, when it must be amazing. So that’s an Octoer half term day out already pencilled in, I’ll make sure that boy gets the walking bug eventually.

Stonehenge Lap Blanket – Part III

The swatch is finished. But first a bit of background to the parts of the design not yet seen (until now…fanfare?).

Stonehenge stands in a landscape – often referred to as a sacred landscape –  of monuments. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering Avebury, the Stonehenge Cursus, Silbury Hill and barrows such as West Kennet Longbarrow and Bush Barrow. I have spent quite a lot of time in the area – Avebury is a favourite day out; where else can you buy a pint in the middle of a stone circle, or spook yourself with memories of scary 1970s childrens programmes?

In my student days we had a trip out to Salisbury Plain, taking in Stonehenge very early one summer morning. We were able to walk ‘inside’ the monument. Walking between the stones themselves is an entirely different experience to the one you have as a general visitor (though the experience is vastly improved by the new visiting arrangements you are still kept outside the stones, unless you visit at Midsummer for the festivities).

The monument suddenly seems less huge, but at the same time more imposing. The stones tower above you and you feel small, you begin to understand how a hierarchy of ‘priests’ and ‘congregation’ might work around a space like this. The monument is not a thing to look at, it is a thing you experience, and you would probably experience it differently according to your place in society.


A Modern Midsummer at Stonehenge

Despite all the reading, essay writing and exam sitting it wasn’t until I stood among the stones that I fully realised all these monuments meant nothing without the people; the generations who built them, who maintained them, who forgot them and then came back to them. People have written this place into novels, films, and into their own lives. To the modern day druids, new agers, travellers, archaeologists and historians, tourists, writers, this ancient monument is still hugely significant.

That’s why I’ve put people – druids (of course)  and a circle dance of visitors – into the middle of this piece of work.

White robed druids with an antler topped staff, on midsummer morning:

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A Circle Dance of revellers/visitors/whatever you wish them to be:

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In knitting this second swatch I’ve changed the order in which the elements of my design appear in the blanket, and smartened up the Trilithon section:

Here is the entire swatch:

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The design will be mirrored on the other half of the blanket, and then I’ll add a trim of some kind.

I’m really excited about getting going on the actual piece itself.


Previous posts about this project:

Part I

Part II

Where all this came from…:

During my degree I became quite fascinated by the different understandings and experiences of ‘significant’ places by people through the ages.  I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on that very subject – I did love a bit of archaeological theory, I wasn’t just in it for the digging (though that is obviously Great Fun).

I was influenced by the work of Barbara Bender and Richard Bradley on this subject. Bender’s book ‘Stonehenge – Making Space’  I remember really annoying some people (often the sign of a good read!) and I devoured Bradley’s  The Significance of Monuments  – I’m looking at that  well thumbed and margin-noted copy just now – as well as his  The Past in Prehistoric Societies.

Stonehenge Lap Blanket – Part 1

I’ve been thinking about designing a lap blanket for ages, ever since I finished Kate Davies’ ‘Rams and Yowes’ which I made in a multi-coloured stash busting mood back in 2012 . I had an idea that I’d like to do some thing based on a landscape I know well, I also had a vague idea about how I would do it. This is part one because it turned out, as I started the actual knitting, a load of ideas flooded into my head about what I would create in the middle part of this blanket. Anyway, here we go.

I did an archaeology degree as a mature student and became fascinated by later prehistory in the British isles.  That stage in human history when people stopped hunter-gathering, and began to settle down in farming communities. People began to have a much greater impact on their environment – much of which we can still see today in the remains of their settlements, field systems and material culture. They began to develop belief systems that resulted in the building of monuments to the ancestors (Neolithic long barrows like West and East Kennet and Waylands Smithy) and, in the Bronze Age, mounds containing  elaborate burials (Bush Barrow, Upton Lovell ‘Golden’ Barrow).

People also erected standing stones and stone circles from the far north to the south of the British Isles. These circles have been interpreted ceremonial centres and meeting places for as long as archaeology has existed as a discipline, and before.  Among the well known monuments; Callanish, the Ring of Brodgar, Arbor Low, Stanton Drew and Avebury perhaps the most famous of all is Stonehenge.


However, I am not here to write an archaeology essay (you can find millions elsewhere, or I can lend you one of my old ones) I’m here to write about this colourwork design which has been festering in my head for three years.

Stonehenge is just off the A303 near Amesbury – it’s a road we use often, a slower and (traffic jams permitting) more pleasant route to the South West than the M5. I always feel a  little thrill of excitement as we get to the turn after which the monument ‘pops up’ as if from nowhere. There’s the Henge, on the plain, in splendid isolation – more so since the relocation of the Visitors’ Centre and car park from directly over the road to its new home near Winterbourne Stoke.

After knitting a few colourwork patterns, and in many of them substituting my own colour scheme, I’d bought Felicity Ford’s (@knitsonik) book on making your own stranded colourwork patterns. I dabbled about with some designs and put them away for a year.  Then a couple of weeks ago I heard her interview with Kate on the ‘A Playful Day’ podcast. That inspiring  interview was the thing that finally kicked me off, and I started colouring in an excel spreadsheet.

Though I started with coloured pencils and paper,  I found doing the final parts of this easier on a spreadsheet – I can move things around and paste pattern repeats in – and find out really how bad my counting is. I can also zoom all the way out to get an idea of what the design will look like overall.

The design I’ve come up with, after staring at that spreadsheet for A Very long Time, contains all the elements I wanted it to (apart from the singing of a downland skylark).

I’ve included:

A Trilithon: Probably the most recognisable part of the henge, from the Bronze Age phase:


The A303: The road, the course it takes and the affect it – and the resulting traffic – has on the stones is an ongoing debate.


Barrows: Specifically Bush Barrow, pictured below, which was excavated in 1808…


…n which the following remarkable objects were found:

Function: Of course we will never really know the function of the place, but there are many theories, the most popular being that Stonehenge is a temple to the sun – hence the gatherings at midsummer. Though recent work suggests it may have had a function at midwinter. So, I though I would include the sun and the moon:

I now have a chart (part 1) and some knitting – Jamieson & Smith Jumper Weight from Shetland, though it would be lovely to do this in a more local yarn, I don’t think there is any with such a vast range of colours:



Some links:

Stonehenge: there is vast literature (of all ilks) about this place you can Google, or similar. But here is the English Heritage website as it has a rather fab timeline:


More on Bush Barrow and Wiltshire History: http://www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk/

A Playful Day: http://www.aplayfulday.com

Podcast Episode 95 is the one mentioned here, they are all marvellous.

Felicity Ford’s Book: http://knitsonik.bigcartel.com/product/knitsonik-stranded-colourwork-sourcebook

Kate Davies Website: https://katedaviesdesigns.com/