Category Archives: Anglophile

Knitting for Syria

The daughter of a friend of mine from my Thursday morning knitting group is embarking on a very worthwhile Gold Award Community Service Project for Girl Scouts, and when I learned about it, I volunteered to help spread the word … er, a month ago. (I apologize, K!)

But here I am, and here’s what she’s doing: it’s a charity knitting project called Warm Hands, where knitted items are sent over to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and other countries. Along with the knitted item — which can be mittens, hats, sweaters, blankets, socks, whatever — she asks that you include a handwritten note of encouragement for the recipient. The items will be sent to a school on the border of Turkey and Syria, where they will be gifted to families in need.

More details about Jules and her inspiring work here and specific details on what she’s looking for here. I have already completed one hat and am hoping to get to a pair of mittens within the next week.

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In other news … what a month we’ve had around here! I’ve been running back and forth to Connecticut to care for an ailing family member, managing my son’s busy social schedule, and trying to keep up with all the pressing household tasks that need doing, especially now that spring is officially here and I’ve got that burning need to tidy my life up. My knitting time has been reduced drastically, although I have finished a couple projects that I just haven’t had time to photograph, and now that warm weather is here, I find myself heading to my sewing studio (a/k/a a corner of my husband’s home office). I’ve sewn four tailored shirts so far, and this week started a pair of (drumroll) JEANS. Like I’ve been preaching here for the last year or so, I want to sew clothes for the life I have now, not the life I wish I had, so jeans make total sense for me. Plus, wearing an awesome pair of well-fitting jeans makes me feel like a million bucks.

Making jeans...the fly front.

I’ve finished the hard part of the project — the fly front — as well as the front and back pockets, so all that’s left to do is seaming and topstitching. Unfortunately, my Viking 400 started suffering some internal distress while I was zig-zagging, so I packed it up yesterday and brought it to the sewing machine doctor for some TLC. I could have continued the project on one of my–ahem–four other machines, but decided instead to carefully pin all the seams together so I could try them on. The bad news? They were huge on me. The good news? They were huge on me. I’ve got a fair bit of work to do to get them to fit me just right.

The pattern I’m using is from Angela Kane’s members-only website. I’ve been a member of her site for a couple years, and for $5 per annum, it’s a real value. I’m also augmenting the instructions by watching Angela Wolf’s jean-making class on Craftsy, which I also highly recommend. Angela Kane doesn’t get into distressing the denim, so I’ve learned a lot of good stuff from Angela Wolf, who is the Distressing Diva.

If these jeans go well, I plan to make another pair … with a decidedly Anglophile twist. 😉

Upward and onward

Has it been a month since I’ve posted?

In August the knitting bug hit hard. It was around the time I drove up to Bath, Maine, and spent a few hours at Halcyon Yarns. Since then I’ve knit quite a few items, not all of which have been properly photographed, such as this pullover:

Blank Canvas pullover

 

The pattern is Ysolda Teague’s Blank Canvas, a simple, close-fitting pullover with some flattering waist-shaping. LOVE IT! I was a bit worried that the 36″ size would be a bit snug on me, but I used a wool that has some alpaca in it (Valley Yarns Northfield in the color Tranquil Blue) so it developed a wee bit of drape after blocking. I have gotten so many compliments on this simple sweater — the color, the shaping — that I am making another in the same wool, this time in plum. I may even knit this sweater one size smaller since I’m still “shrinking.” More on that later.

The other project I finished and photographed is a pair of Monkey socks I knit for my stepmother’s birthday this month:

Monkey socks

I haven’t talked to her properly since I mailed them, but I gather through voicemails she loves them. They’re knot in Classic Elite Alpaca Sox. I think the color is Turquoise; I don’t have the ball band handy. My stepmother loves turquoise so I knew this color would be perfect for her. She also has Raynaud’s syndrome, which means in the winter she has to keep her extremities warm or else risk circulatory system damage thus I always have a happy and appreciative person for whom to knit warm socks, mittens, and hats.

Fall is chugging along. I have been dealing with a particularly rough case of Seasonal Affective Disorder for the past two months, which has zapped my energy. It was bad enough that my husband brought me to our doctor and now I’m on medication for it and sitting in front of a full-spectrum lamp in the mornings. I’m starting to feel a bit better, although I’m still not up to my 100% Energizer bunny speed.

I can tell my mood is improving because last night my son suggested I start a podcast and I got really excited as we talked more about it. He likes to do sound editing, and that he shows any interest in my knitting or talking about knitting is like, wow, really? Sign me up!!! So we did a test recording last night, and as much as I hate hearing my recorded voice, it wasn’t that bad so I’m thinking I’ll give this podcast thing a try. What do you think? I plan to talk mostly about my crafting (knitting/sewing endeavors) with a bit of real-life and Anglophilia thrown in.

A trip to Bath

Next month we’ll be hanging a left for our Mt. Washington climb!

Bath City Hall

I just noticed the sticker on this Subaru Outback!

Beautiful ghost sign on the side of this building

This sign reminded me of what signs used to look like when I was a child in the 70s.

Botanica Mittens, unblocked

Last week while my boys were in Houston — Texas in August? No thanks! — I took a short break and drove about three hours north to Bath, Maine. Bath is home to Bath Iron Works, a shipyard that builds battleships, cruisers, and destroyers for the U.S. Navy. What I didn’t know is that Bath is where the first boat the colonists built to make a return trip to England.

But I’ll be honest … I wasn’t in Bath to look at ships or 19th century architecture. I was there for Halcyon Yarn. I’ve always wanted to visit and it was well worth the trip. What I loved about it was while it was a large shop — they have not only handknitting yarn, but plentiful rug, weaving, and spinning departments — it wasn’t totally overwhelming like WEBS in Northampton can be. (My #1 piece of advice to knitters visiting WEBS for the first time … shop off a list or know what projects you’re buying for, otherwise you’ll wander around like a art-sick tourist in Florence. That’s Florence, Italy, not nearby Florence, Massachusetts.)

What I also liked about Halcyon is that the women working there were very helpful and kind. After I made my big yarn purchase (to be revealed in a future post), I needed a tea break so one of the women spent some time pointing out nearby cafes and other places I should visit. Fortified by a pleasant walk and a cup of very hot chai that wasn’t really appropriate given that it was in the mid-80s that day, I returned to the shop for Round Two, where I purchased some yarn I’d been thinking about during my ambles. It was at this time a sample pair of mittens caught my attention — I liked the colors and the picot edging — so I bought the pattern and the minute I got home, commenced knitting.

Two nights later, I had my own pair of Botanica Two-Way Mittens, which look very preppy in green and pinks. The mitten on the right was knitted by following the instructions exactly, by creating the picot edge in the round, which I found rather fussy. So with mitten #2 on the left, I knit the mitten flat until the picot edging was complete, then joined the yarn to knit the rest of the mitten in the round. I also knit this mitten on DPNs. I normally knit in the round on two circulars, but I do have to admit my stranding looks better when I use DPNs. This picture was taken before blocking; after blocking my stitches look so much neater.

I’ll post some pictures of my yarn haul in another post. I told my husband I hemmed and hawed about driving to Maine by myself — I worried about leaving our geriatric cat alone, worried about the car breaking down, worried about…what a wuss I’ve become! — then finally decided to heck with it! I’m going! And I’m glad I did. It was a wonderful visit. Next time, however, I’m bringing my boys with me. They can look at ships while I entertain myself with more yarn. 🙂

Oliver

Friends and acquaintances often ask me if I named my son Oliver because it’s a popular name in Britain. In August, Oliver was one of Britain’s top-ten names for boys, right after Harry. Harry? Who would name a kid Harry? Ah, that’s right.

Prince Harry

So who would name a kid Oliver?

Well we did, way back in 2001 when Oliver wasn’t a very popular name at all here in the U.S., and only a bit more so in the U.K. Here’s the story: had we a daughter, her name was already picked out. We were going to name a daughter after my beloved paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cairns Forrest. Everyone thought I was going to have a girl in the early months of my pregnancy, even the Chinese doctor who was treating me with acupuncture for my 24/7 morning sickness and who assured me she’d never been wrong predicting a baby’s sex. I, on the other hand, had a sneaking suspicion there was a boy baby jumping on my bladder.

An ultrasound around month five confirmed there would be no daughter named Elizabeth.

My husband and I spent months going back and forth on boys’ names. It seemed he loathed every name I liked: Andrew. (Too common). William. (Too boring, too many nickname possibilities). James. (“Di, what is it with you and Scottish kings? Give it up!”). And then there were his names: Calvin. (Syllables didn’t work with our last name.) Neal. (Eh.) I can’t remember the rest, but nothing stuck. We thought about our father’s names, but we were already using his father’s middle name (another long story) for our son’s middle name. As for my father’s name, it’s nice but I couldn’t go there for personal reasons that have nothing to do with my dad, who’s a great guy with a great name.

One hot late summer evening we were in bed with the baby name books and suddenly my husband said, “What about Oliver?” I was about to screech, “Oliver? OLIVER? Are you nuts? That’s a terrible name!” But just then, the boy in my belly gave me a god-awful kick and I paused. I poked my tummy to get his attention and said to it, “Hey kid, what do you think of Oliver Sheldon?” And he gave me another almighty kick. So that was that. Today when Oliver complains about his name (which isn’t very often, to be honest), I tell him, “We consulted and you approved.”

Most people said they loved the name, except two members of our family. One I won’t discuss here. The other was my mother, who has name issues because of her own moniker–Agnes. She insisted kids would make fun of him at school and call him
Ollie or Oliver North.

“Mom,” I reasoned, “Kids in ten years won’t know who Oliver North is. Kids today don’t know who Oliver North is!” She was so upset over the name choice, she actually hung up on me! (She insists she didn’t hang up on me, but I swear, she did.)

The night our son was born, nurses kept telling us, “He looks like an Oliver!” I still hear that today. I can’t imagine Oliver being anyone but an Oliver, and no one has ever called him Ollie. Oliver is a name that’s figured prominently in my ancestral family tree, and I love that its Norman roots come from the word for olive branch, signifying peace … and for me, good food. 😉

Last week he came home and said, “Hardly anyone at school calls me Oliver.”

“Oh really?” I said.

“When I walk into class, everyone yells, ‘Hey Ginger!'”

Thank God we didn’t name him Harry.

 

Thistle stole

DSCN6916

thistle_stole_1

(Photos posted with kind permission of Mary Scott Huff)

Like most knitters on Ravelry, I am constantly adding patterns to my queue. The problem is there’s not enough time in the world to knit everything I would like to knit.

But now and then, a pattern comes along that stops me in my tracks, and I tell myself, “I must knit that NOW. If I get to my deathbed without having knit that, I will enter the afterlife with a very unhappy soul.”

Thistle by Mary Scott Huff is one of those soul-stirring patterns for me.

Huff is one of my favorite knitting designers, so it’s not really a surprise that I fell in love with this gorgeous stole. She specializes in colorwork, and her patterns are stunning. I’m pretty sure the pattern for Wedding Belle in her book The New Stranded Colorwork got me back into knitting.

What I love about the stole of all stoles: obviously the colors–the bright green edging, the multi-shades of purple. But that it has thistles, the national flower of Scotland, made it irresistible to my Anglophile sensibilities.

Huff writes in the pattern headnotes, “Legend has it that during the King Haakon’s Viking invasion of Scotland, the Norsemen tried to surprise the sleeping Scottish Clansmen. In order to move more stealthily under the cover of darkness, the invaders removed their footwear. As they crept barefoot, they came across an area of ground covered in thistles and one of Haakon’s men unfortunately stood on one. Shrieking out in pain, he alerted the Clansmen to the advancing enemy. The Scots then defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Largs, saving Scotland from invasion. The important role the thistle played was recognized, and it was chosen as Scotland’s national emblem.”

And while I’m not a huge fan of tassels, here they work. My stole shall have tassels, too.

I have to wait until January to begin this project as I have so much holiday knitting/sewing to plow through in December. I’ve sent my mother a picture of the pattern, and I’m sure I’ll be getting a gift certificate for yarn in return. My mother is such an enabler; I, on the other hand, encourage her! 😉 Meanwhile, I continue knitting up my Christmas gift list of cowls, boot socks, and hot water bottle covers and dream of Thistle.

Operation Holiday Glam

Every year my husband’s company holds a holiday party and every year I find myself down at Marshalls or TJ Maxx desperately trying on dresses. In my early 30s when I was single and had a corporate career, I owned a closet full of party dresses. Now my closet is filled with jeans, stripey t-shirts and a whole lot of wool sweaters–clothing befitting of a suburban stay-at-home mom. Glamour gets short shrift at Casa HailBritannia. :-/

Last year a few of the women dressed to the nines: gowns! Sequins! Cleavage! By comparison I felt under-dressed in my sweater dress, tights, and boots. I made a vow that night for holiday party 2013, I’d dress in something a little more glam.

The original plan involved silk Shantung and a vintage 50s ballgown pattern, but I’ve had to scale back Operation Holiday Glam as I recover from my herniated disc. I’ve always wanted a long, swishy taffeta skirt, and since a skirt is fairly easy to make, plans have been modified. I had a Living Social gift certificate for Fabric Place Basement in Natick, so last week I braved the chill and pre-holiday shoppers so I could get a small jump on things.

It took me two hours of walking around the huge, cavernous store to decide. I really wanted a tartan plaid, but come on–that’s not glam, that’s just giving in to my Anglophilia. Then I fell in love with some gold double-weight silk charmeuse…until I saw the $49.99 a yard price tag. Yikes!

fabric for holiday skirt

I finally settled on three yards of iridescent gold/green taffeta. It’s not silk but the fabric manager promised me it sews “like cotton.” I even had enough money on my gift certificate to buy some gorgeous dark green Bemberg rayon to line the camel windowpane plaid wool cape I’m making…you know, so I can look like a female Sherlock Holmes out on my bike. 😉

The plan is to make the skirt over the next week — I’m pretty sure I can do it without a pattern. (Pattern? Who needs a pattern!?!) I’m thinking gentle gathers with a waistband–not too poofy–with a matching sash to tie around. I might even be able to get away with an elastic waistband, especially if I go with the sash.

As for the top, I have an Anne Fontaine blouse (white, of course) I bought in Paris: it’s pretty but a wee staid. So now I’m wondering if I have time to whip up a simple short-sleeved sweater out of something like Rowan Kid Silk Haze? Perhaps the wiser course of action is to look for an angora sweater I can buy off the rack before my 2014 ready-to-wear clothing fast begins.

 

 

Settling in

Has it been nearly a month since I posted? Unpacking has taken much longer than I suspected it would. We’ve moved to a house with less square footage, and although we have a large storage container on our 2 acres to hold our overflow of “stuff,” we’re stuck doing a lot of sorting and deciding. It seems that every day I’m dropping flattened cardboard off at the recycling center or donating household items to shelters. It never ends.

Some random photos:

My cookbook collection, about 80 percent of it. There are a couple more boxes of books out in the storage container. Sadly, this is my collection after culling — I donated roughly 100 books before our move.

The livingroom is looking a wee bit more settled, but still there’s a lot of work to do. This is the scene that greeted me this a.m. after my son’s raucous playdate from yesterday and some furious knitting (mine) from last night. The sofa has been stripped of its slipcover for a washing, thus contributing to the disarray. The rattan chest a/k/a coffee table is going to be replaced shortly, and our tv stand, which is not in the photo, is awaiting a coat of paint. I can’t wait to do the big reveal on this project!

Lastly, I’ve discovered our Victorian-style wall sconces are excellent tools for sock blocking! This sock is one half of a pair destined for my step-mother down in Connecticut, a pair of Elizabeth Zimmermann Woodsman’s socks.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of knitting but unfortunately most of it is holiday related so no pictures. I cast on Thea Coleman’s Irish Coffee a couple weeks ago, but had to put it aside to focus on gift knitting. However as a reward for knitting three four hats over the last week, I purchased Anne Hanson’s Fartlek hat pattern a couple nights ago and will be knitting myself a nice warm cap for the holidays. Ok, yes, I find the name “fartlek” amusing (and so does my son), but I really like the design and have the perfect yarn for it:

It looks a bit more colorful in the photo than it really is. The lighting today is quite poor.

In other Anglophile news:

  • My hopes for the coming season of Downton Abbey on PBS next month have been dashed by this review in the Telegraph. SPOILER WARNING: Read at your own peril.
  • Speaking of Downton Abbey, this Daily Mail article about Julian Fellowes’ decidedly unaristo ancestors is a fun read and shows us the class divide in England is still alive and well.
  • Did you know that November was Wovember, a time to wear and celebrate wool? (I know I dug out my woolies!) Here’s a fascinating expose of retailers who erroneously label clothing or fabric as “wool.” I think this mostly happens in England; in America, wool means fabric made from the fleece of sheep or other fleecy animals or it refers to yarns spun from animal fleece. Will double-check on this!
  • Lastly, I’ve been enjoying — nay, loving! — the CraftLit podcast, which I listen to when I’m slogging though stockinette hell or walking our local bike path. Why it rocks? Half the podcast is taken up with craft talk, mostly knitting, and the other half is a recorded book from the public domain … and yes, my Anglophile friends, the books are mostly British! Host Heather Ordover has the most evocative voice and spot-on delivery. I’d listen to her read the ingredient list on a spray bottle of Roundup. And the lady knows her literature. I love that she prepares a little introduction to each chapter, offering tidbits on the social history of the time, explaining political history and etymology of words. (Who knew that Bram Stoker got off on the word “voluptuous”? I didn’t.) Anyway, it’s definitely worth a listen, and I heartily recommend Dracula, even if you’re not a fan of horror fiction. The readers are excellent and it’s truly a scary book.

Thoughts on the royal wedding

Today my friend Peg wrote on my Facebook wall, “Why oh why have we not seen more from you on the royal wedding? Are you not buying into the hype? Too busy? Will you be watching LIVE at 5 AM?”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The truth is, I’m just not into it. But why? You’d think that a rabid Anglophile such as myself would be all in a tither over this — the fanfare, the pageantry as only the British can do, the sense of history being made, the fashions, and whether or not William and Kate/Catherine will smooch on the Buckingham Palace balcony as his parents so famously did in 1981? — but I’m not. And this week I finally figured out why.

You see, I was 16 when Charles and Diana got engaged and married and thought it was all so romantic. Diana was just a couple years older than I was, and seemed so innocent and yes, very princess-like in that there was a lot of talk about her excellent bloodline (because back then you had to be an aristocrat to marry a prince) and whether or not she was a – gasp! – virgin. And we all know how that marriage worked out. Thirty years later, the world has changed. William led a very different life from his father and his courtship of Kate was thoroughly modern. They lived together in college, have lived together after college and during their engagement, and while there’s some snarky talk about Kate’s humble origins, there’s no talk about her “purity” (or his, sheesh). They’re just a young couple, like many others, who seem well suited to each other.

When I was 16 and watching Charles and Diana marry, I was starry-eyed about men and marriage. Today, I know that marriage is a lot of work, even for royals. (Men, too, are a lot of work. Many are a piece of work, but I digress.) This week will be all pomp and ceremony, but the real road is ahead of them. I’ll be more interested in how they relate to the public in the coming years, given that anti-monarchy sentiment is high. Will they continue to live a normal-ish existence in the coming years? How will the monarchy change as a result? Those, to me, are the interesting questions … not who’s designing Kate’s wedding dress.

So will I be up at the crack of dawn on Friday to watch the festivities? Probably not. Instead I’m going to sleep in (my son has the day off from school) and I’ll come down and watch all the videos posted online at the BBC, CNN, and more. I’ll be in my jammies, drinking chai, and no Philip Treacy millinery in sight.

What about you? How do you feel about the wedding? Do you plan to watch it live or will you catch the highlights when it suits your schedule?

Following a domestic explorer

I’m not sure how or when I discovered Lisa Giramonti’s Anglo-licious blog, A Bloomsbury Life. All I know is that I was sad when she decided to take a break from blogging a few months ago.

But now she’s back from her sabbatical and will soon be offering a weekly webisode on her blog, sample above. Be still my Anglo heart! Her blog is already like a candy store, both visually and wordwise, so adding video? Heaven.