Category Archives: Design

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. 🙂

What to sew, what to sew…

Like I mentioned last week, I started knitting up a second wool sock for a pair I’ve earmarked for my stepmother. That small act gave me a boost of knitting mojo. I’ve knitted about four inches of the cuff/leg, and with steady progress the socks should be ready for when we see her over spring vacation in two weeks.

My sewing mojo, on the other hand, has not only left the room, but it seems to have high-tailed it out of Dodge!

It’s not for lack of patterns, fabric, or ideas–I’ve got plenty of all three. What’s tripping me up is–and I’m ashamed to say this because I detest any whiff of body shame–my weight.

Last October I ended up in the hospital with a herniated disc, followed by DVT, with both conditions curtailing my cycling routine. Cycling is my exercise of choice, and it does a good job burning calories and keeping me fit. Not only was riding out, but walking was, too, because of all the ice and snow. (I had to be careful of falls or I could “bleed out.”) As a result, I put on 25 pounds through lack of exercise and not watching my eating when my activity levels dropped.

Now…I’m completely confident that those pounds will come off now that spring is here, my disc injury has healed, the DVT is gone, and I have an awesome trike to cycle with. But I keep thinking, “Do I want to cut into this gorgeous shirting/Japanese selvedge denim/expensive wool boucle for a Grainline Archer/pair of jeans/couture fringed skirt when in six months I’m going to be three sizes smaller?” Yes, I could alter the fit at some point, but to be honest, I don’t like doing alterations, especially on anything I’ve made. Is that weird? I don’t mind hemming Levi’s or taking in the sides of a RTW blouse, but when it’s my own creation, it somehow annoys me and the garment never again looks as good as it did during the original fitting. It looks, I don’t know, wonky.

The mature and rational side of my brain says, “Sew for the body you have today. Use the expensive fabric; you can always buy more. Test out that pattern you love. There’s no guarantee that when you lose the weight, you’re going to get a perfect garment anyway. And if you do love what you create for the ‘bigger me,’ you can ask a professional to alter it.” (Geez, listen to me. I should listen to myself more often!)

But then Lazy Easy-Way-Out Di chimes in: “Why not sew a bunch of knit things to wear around the house? like t-shirts and yoga pants? That’s how you dress anyway.” Princess Di calmly interjects with, “Dahling, I thought you were trying to upgrade your wardrobe and not continue down the path of fashion dereliction? Yoga pants,” she sniffs. “Really.”

So I do nothing but pet my fabrics and gaze longingly into my sewing room.

What would you do?

In the meantime, here are some more pretty pictures of Newport. Last weekend I took another trip down there, this time with my son, and we were able to see the boat my brother is building at IRYS up close.

Matt's boat


See the lemur?

Steam box

Curved pieces of wood get shaped in the steam box.


The view from Brenton Point State Park


My boy.


The surf was crazy wild that day!

Thistle stole



(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.

Car-less in Suburbia update

So … I’ve passed the three-month mark of my car-less in suburbia experiment. By now, I figured I’d be missing my Subaru, but it hasn’t happened, even with the holiday snow and bitterly cold weather that kept me off my bike. Even when I have use of my husband’s car on the weekends, I tend to stay put (if it’s bad weather) or use my bike or walk (weather permitting).

DH bought me some nice Christmas gifts for my biking — a high-powered rechargeable headlamp that I can attach to my front handlebar, handy for when I’m biking down the trail after sunset, and LED clip lights I can attach to the spokes of my wheels, so that people can see me better from the side.

The only thing I really dislike about biking is being in traffic, a necessary evil for some trips. Bedford’s a bike-friendly place, but inevitably I run into what I call “road hogs” — ignorant drivers who think they own the road and that bicyclists should be up on the sidewalks. I wish states would require drivers to review the rules of the road when it’s time for license renewal as so many drivers don’t understand that bicyclists follow the same rules and are afforded the same rights. When I’m biking on a road with a left turning lane and I need to make that left turn, I have to get my bike over to that lane, making sure I’m not cutting off anyone in the right lane. (I’m equally peeved by bikers who do stupid things like dodge out into traffic.) Now and then I’ll get someone behind me who starts honking as I wait to cross the oncoming traffic to make my turn. Very frustrating, not to mention startling. God forbid the extra ten seconds I need to cross keeps them from their morning stop at Dunkin Donuts.

OK, I’m whining. I’ll stop. Really, it’s all good. I love biking and I love love love the money I’m saving by not having a car. My insurance premium has dropped to $22 a month, I went from two or three fuel fill-ups a week to none at all, and there’s no upkeep/maintenance bills to be paid. This weekend, DH and I discussed selling the Subaru and I’m about 90 percent there. He wanted me to think about buying a car for the summer — we’ve got an 11-year-old with an active social life — but I  want to stay car free until October 1. Not sure if I’ll be able to get through another winter without a car, but by then I’ll feel better/less guilty about buying a “new” car.

Speaking of which, here’s what I’ve been drooling over …


A Fiat 500. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know … Fiat stands for “Fix It Again, Tony,” but it’s so sexy. And cute. I’ve always been a sucker for Italian design, what can I say?


Knitted hot water bottle cozy

Like a Victorian, I’ve taken to the habit of bringing a hot water bottle to bed with me at night:

Hot water bottle cosy - closeup

I used to feel a bit geriatric about this, but no longer. I read an article in the Financial Times by British architect Ben Pentreath that rather than going out in the winter, he’d much rather snuggle up in bed with a hot water bottle and watch The West Wing … substitute Criminal Minds and that sounds like a good January evening to me! And recently author Jane Brocket blogged about not being able to go to bed without her hot water bottle warming her feet.

I detest electric blankets. First, the thought of falling asleep enveloped by a magnetic force field scares me. Second, around 2 a.m. I tend to heat up … I know because I wake in the morning with my bedclothes strewn over the floor and blankets kicked off the bed, and an electric blanket is simply overkill. Third, I worry about those blankets catching on fire. Or leaving the house with the blanket on. Hot water bottles can be placed where they’re needed — on a sore back, near icy cold feet — and there’s no danger they’ll fry my brain or other parts. (My only worry is that someday my son will jump on the bed and the hot water bottle will explode into the sheets.)

Last weekend I finally got around to knitting a cozy for one of my bottles. The hot water bottle can get quite hot against my skin without a buffer, plus wool is insulating and keeps the bottle warm all night long. I used a free pattern I found on Ravelry and modified it to accommodate the leftover yarn I had from one of my Christmas projects (to be blogged about later). This cozy is knit from the bottom up, which means it has to be seamed, so next time I’ll knit it from the top down so I can graft the stitching at the bottom closed. The wool — a dark olive — is very drab, so the next cozy I make will be bright and pretty.

Hot water bottle cosy

Are you a fan of hot water bottles or do you associate them with cramps, Charles Dickens, and bruised knees?

Deep romance?

A couple nights ago, my son and I were watching television and my attention was drawn to this commercial:

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. “A cheap necklace to commemorate the sinking of a ship, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 people?” (The Sterlington Collection, the purveyors of this fine silverplate necklace — and if you order now, a ring, too! — calls them “souls aboard.”)

The commercial is ridiculously hilarious — from the photocopied Titanic tickets to the watery background behind the jewelry being showcased. What is romantic about a steamship filled with passengers sinking in the middle of the night in the cold north Atlantic? I think they’re thinking of Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet smooching on a soundstage. And frankly, I didn’t think the movie was all that romantic. I’ll take a Merchant Ivory production, thank you.

Perhaps the Sterlington Collection has a long-term plan to develop jewelry to commemorate tragic events in human history. What’s next? A bracelet called Waves of Desire, which honors the people who perished in the Boxing Day tsunami? Towers of Power, a faux onyx brooch that recalls the deadly September 11 attacks? Or maybe they see the romance of Pearl Harbor? Perfect, because they don’t even have to think about the right fake jewel.

So yes, I will be passing on the Deep Romance necklace, matching ring, and photocopies of the doomed Titanic’s last menu and a boarding pass, thus depriving my descendants of this classic heirloom. My loss could be your gain, though.

What I’ve been reading (and a giveaway)

My right hand has been giving me some trouble (too much knitting?), so I’ve been catching up on my reading while giving my poor hands a break.

First up is Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, a book I’ve had on my Goodreads list for a long while. If you’re the type of person who walks into a friend’s home and studies her bookshelf for clues about who she really is, you’ll like this book. Hill, the author of the The Woman in Black (yes, the scary film starring Daniel Radcliffe is based upon it), decided to spend a year reacquainting herself with her personal book collection rather than shopping for new books. Hill is a lovely, evocative writer; my only quibble —  keeping in mind that I haven’t yet finished the book — is that it reads more like a book of essays than a flowing narrative, which I’d prefer. On the other hand, since I find myself dipping into the book in the few short minutes I have reading in bed, I can get through a chapter and know that when I pick up the book again, I won’t have to backtrack to pick up. I’ve found myself making mental notes of books I’d like to read or re-read: Great Expectations, Enid Blyton’s children’s books, and yes, The Woman in Black since I don’t like watching ghost stories on film (too scary!).

I’ve written here about my enjoyment of Jane Brocket’s The Gentle Art of Domesticity. It’s a book where I like looking the pictures more than reading the text: Brocket has a habit of dropping reference to her advanced degrees that I find a little offputting. I got to the point where I said to the book, “I get it! You’re educated! Give it a break!” She reminds me of a friend who cannot get through a conversation without mention of her Ivy League degree.

But I digress. So if you’re like me and like Brocket’s book sans copy or you hated Brocket’s book, you might like the book I picked up last week called Homemade: 101 Beautiful and Useful Craft Projects You Can Make at Home by Ros Badger and (the late) Elspeth Thompson. The book is set up by seasons, which I love, and most of the projects can be completed with found objects around the house. There are recipes (elderflower cordial, spicy chutney, pumpkin soup), as well as simple knitting projects and even household fix-its, like instructions on how to restore garden furniture, create planters, and build a pebble garden. But what I really love about this book is that none of the projects have that “cutesy” look I detest in so many modern-day craft books. Everything looks stylish, but organic if that makes sense. It’s the kind of book I can flip through to give me inspiration on decorating my home on a tight budget. For example, we have some dreadfully ugly floor registers. My hope was to replace them with some brass registers but they’re prohibitively expensive. While glancing through Homemade, I got the idea to clean them and give them a good coating of spray paint. I was going to do them in an antiqued brass, but decided to paint them glossy black to match the thresholds. I just finished the project this a.m., and while the registers don’t look as pretty as brass ones would, they’re 1000% better looking with a coat of paint.

Last week the publisher of The Real Elizabeth by journalist Andrew Marr sent me a couple review copies. I’ve been itching to read this biography as I’ve heard that the Queen gave many of her staff and intimates permission to talk to Marr as he researched the book. I’ve also read excerpts on the web, which piqued my interest in Elizabeth’s 60-year-reign as Britain’s monarch. Last week marked the beginning of her jubilee year so in celebration, I’m giving my other copy of The Real Elizabeth away to one lucky Hail Britannia reader. All you have to do is tell me, in the comments below, what you admire about the Queen … even if it’s just her corgis. I’m sorry but with this giveaway, I can only ship to addresses in the U.S. or Canada. The giveaway closes on Friday, February 17, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. ET, and I’ll draw a name at random early next week. Good luck … and thanks for entering!

Light Traffic Only mug

I was reading through Ben Pentreath’s garden and design blog last week (o i’m so in love with his gardens) when my eye fell upon these delightful china mugs featuring typography from old-style English village signposts. So much more clever and stylish than china emblazoned with Will’s and Kate’s mugs, don’t you think?  You can also get the design imprinted on tea towels. The mugs are just £10 ($16.30 U.S.) inclusive of shipping in the UK; call for international shipping. — 59HIGHSTREET Gallery