Monday, September 7, 2015


“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”
-William Blake

        Last week I finished knitting a shawl named “Vendanges,” a design by Zabeth Loisel-Weiner (available as a free Ravelry download).  Anyone who has taken a French class probably remembers learning about la vendange, or the “harvest of grapes,” but the plural of vendange, translated, means “harvest time” (according to Wikipedia anyway), the season when grapes are picked in France, typically anywhere from July to October, depending on the region.  It seems fitting that I chose this shawl pattern for my end-of-summer project, as, even though the temperatures have lingered in in the 90s for months (in my part of the US) and an occasional day in the 80s feels like the onset of winter, school is back in session, mums are for sale outside of every supermarket (so pumpkins can’t be far behind), and everyone seems ready to put this searing, dry summer behind them.

These are scuppernongs, a species of grape native to the southern United States.  This vine is on my ninety-year-old mother-in-law's property.  (Above:  my shawl hangs from the scuppernong arbor.)

        I, too, am primed for change.  Last year I was a new employee at a large public high school, one with an excellent reputation for a strong academic program.  I spent ten anxiety-ridden months jumping jump through every new hoop, dotting every new “I,” learning every new protocol and procedure, filling out new forms, and logging into interminable numbers of new websites, but all of that newness coupled with functioning under inevitable scrutiny as a stranger (albeit one who was then in my 23rd year of teaching) contributed to my feeling more than a bit uneasy inside.  Each day seemed an exercise in not making mistakes and in hoping that, when I did, no one would notice them.  And the past school year and summer were fraught with family troubles that I’d like to put behind me.    I'm excited about infusing some of my old creativity and passion into my classroom.  

Pomegranates are in season now in the South.  

       With the impending change in season, for the first time in a long time, I have dusted off my packets of graph paper and have played around with some original designs.  Typically the fall is when I am prolific, either in terms of learning new skills, concocting new projects for students, or making things, so I hope that with a routine established at school, I can squeeze in more time for personal creative endeavors.

This is a school-inspired original design (in school colors), a cowl, knit on circular needles with a provisional cast-on made with Berrocco Vintage.  The project ends will be grafted together when it is finished.  

       I also am exploring ways to help young people learn to knit.  At my previous school, I sponsored a fiber arts club and found teaching a hands-on skill a welcome respite from instructing students in the intricacies of grammar or literary analysis. I am not starting a knitting club per say at my high school because administrators are not sure whether its membership could be sustained, yet knitting clubs do abound at learning institutions, some of them quite prestigious.  Harvard has several knitting groups.  In an article in the Harvard Gazette entitled “Harvard in Stitches,” staff writer Corydon Ireland states, “It’s something (knitting) people do in surprisingly large numbers at Harvard, where at least 20 informal knitting circles meet once a week.”  And Columbia University has its “Gosh Yarn It” group that meets every Sunday night.  Check out the group's blog with articles by erudite writers on global knitting techniques:   Even some of the nation’s top boarding schools such as St. Andrews (ranked number 18 of the MIT Harvard Yale Placement 2015 Ranking Top 30 USA Boarding Schools) offer knitting clubs (Boarding School Review).  And some schools have used knitting to help students with ADHD or to engage at-risk youth.  (See Stitchlinks for more information.)  So knitting does seem to have a place in education.   

My shawl was made using lace-weight mohair-and-wool yarn by Touch, a New Zealand company.  This photograph was taken outside of the old smokehouse on my mother-in-law's property in Wingate, North Carolina.

        As a new season of teaching and learning begins and as the thermometer dips, in addition to exploring my own creative endeavors, I will look into possible ways to help young people discover the pleasures of plying needles, even if they do so outside of the auspices of a formal school organization.  More to come later.  

Another change I'd like to usher in this season is weight loss.  I gained twenty pounds last school year.  I don't love this picture of me with the added poundage, but do like the sense of freedom my outstretched arms convey.    

Ireland, Corydon. "Harvard in Stitches." Harvard Gazette. N.p., 16 Sept. 2010. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.

"Knitting Club at Boarding Schools." Boarding Schools Offering Knitting Club. Boarding School Review, n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

London Calling

England Trip:  Part III 

After a week in Oxfordshire and several days spent heading to and staying in Cornwall, my husband and I made an early Sunday morning train trip to London from Truro.  The  ride afforded an opportunity to have one last look at the western countryside and coastline.  While the train left Truro at 9:15 in the morning, by the time we had dragged our luggage through Paddington and rode on the suffocating Tube, we arrived at our hotel in Southwark around 4:00 p.m. 

Tired and hot and both still a little stunned, not entirely over the shock of my driving mishaps, we were relieved to clean up and rest in a fresh, contemporary room at the London Bridge Hotel and then walk along the Thames to have dinner at the Albion, a restaurant with a modern take on British cuisine. 

The next day, we headed on foot to The Museum of London.  In this relatively modest-sized museum, we weren’t overwhelmed by acres and acres of rooms, so we had time to read the information placards about many of the artifacts we viewed.  

This is a part of the original Roman wall that marked off the boundaries of London.  It is adjacent to the Museum of London.  

I couldn't resist taking pictures of some very old knitwear on display at the Museum of London.  

Had I been wise, I would have planned to have a leisurely lunch after the museum trip and then to return to the hotel to rest up before heading out to the theater and dinner.  But, of course, I couldn’t visit London without a trip to Loop, even if I’d already exhausted my yarn budget.  So after more consulting of Tube and street maps, we headed north, only, after much wandering, to discover that the shop is closed on Mondays. 

Exhausted and hungry, we rode the Tube again to Sloane Square, where we went to John Lewis.  What’s not to like about a department store that, along with the usual housewares and clothing, sells fabric, yarn, and craft supplies?  On the top floor there is also restaurant with a panoramic view of London’s rooftops.  After lunch, my husband and I shared a scone with more clotted cream!  My cholesterol must still be sky-high. 

This is the craft department at John Lewis.  There was some great yarn on sale, but I had to resist.  

I did indulge in a small purchase at John Lewis.  

We headed to the hotel after our very late lunch, rested a bit, and went to the National Theater to see The Beaux’ Stratagem, a hilarious 18th century play replete with disguised identities, gold diggers (both male and female), and, of course, lots of jabs at the French.  After the show, we walked along the Thames, soaking in the twinkling lights over the river.  We were both too tired to go out to eat, so we snacked on an unhealthy late-night meal of crackers and cookies we’d picked up along the way in our earlier travels.    

The next day, I wanted to visit Liberty of London and Fortnum and Mason, but Piccadilly almost got the best of us.  After much hot Tube riding and dodging people on crowded sidewalks, we were both worn out, so our visits to the stores were relatively quick—although I’m sure my husband would disagree!  I didn’t even buy anything in Liberty but found some creative inspiration there, and a tea towel was all that I emerged with from Fortnum and Mason.  

Liberty sells a wide selection of Rowan Yarn and pattern books.  

I loved these whimsical trays at Liberty of London.  
There was too much fabric and not enough time, or money at this point in my trip!  I have to order some Liberty fabric online sometime.  

Fortnum and Mason offered a plethora of delights. 

We headed to the National Gallery but, hungry and tired, we only viewed a few rooms before heading to Ye Olde Cock Tavern on Fleet Street for a satisfying lunch of fish and chips.  I generally avoid eating fried food, but felt I’d certainly burned off enough calories walking to compensate for this indulgence.  Next, Dennis wandered off on his own, and I headed to Loop once again. I did not need to purchase more yarn (What knitter truly does?) but felt I'd be letting down folks back home, if I didn't make a pilgrimage to this well-known shop.  

At Ye Old Cock tavern, I enjoyed a Pimm's cup, a sweet drink I'd been introduced to in Oxford two 
years ago and hadn't had since.  

Meeting back at the hotel, we began to pack for our departure the next day.  For dinner, we planned to meet a woman whom I’d met on my last trip, when I participated in the Oxford Experience.  Another hot Tube ride!  We ate at a Chinese restaurant that was bursting at the seams but had very good food.  We walked part of the way home along Hyde Park, on crowded sidewalks in an ethnically diverse neighborhood.  I’d never seen people actually smoking a hookah before, but there were quite a few restaurants with people outside gathered around, puffing away.  Deciding to walk so far was a mistake, as it ended up taking an hour and 40 minutes all told, including the Tube ride, to return to the hotel.   My feet were blistered and we had no energy to go out to have a farewell drink along the Thames—something we’d planned to do.

Camden Passage, where Loop is located, offers boutiques and vintage shops.  

I made a modest purchase at Loop--two skeins of Jamieson's Shetland to use to knit Kate Davies' Sheep Carousel.  I'd purchased this pattern at the Oxford Yarn Shop at the beginning of the trip.   

The next morning, after a marathon hour and a half riding the Tube and dragging heavy luggage (laden with jam, lots of yarn, new homemade espadrilles, and other purchases—mine, of course) through Tube stations, we arrived at Heathrow to begin our journey home.  Once again, as after each trip I’ve made overseas, I was filled with pleasurable memories and told myself that next time, I will rest.  Next time, I won’t overdo it.  Next time, I’ll pack lighter and take taxis.  Maybe I’ll learn someday.  

A blouse at Liberty of London with 3/4-length sleeves inspired this project.  I bought a simple
pattern for a unisex top and then made some alterations.  I haven't added any darts but might
do so, for a more feminine shape.  

Making a blouse wasn't too difficult, although the buttonholes were tedious at first.  

Sewing a blouse led to sewing a skirt.  The two pieces create a fairly conservative-looking outfit.  I think I like the look on the right the best, although I might want to find a wider belt.  (Note:  the dress dummy is very old and crooked.)   

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Wild and Woolly: Journey to Cornwall

Clotted cream from Cornish dairies is one convincing reason to visit Cornwall.  

For several weeks before my recent trip to England, I had a niggling sense that my notion to rent a car was, perhaps, not wise.  Despite my gut feelings, however, ultimately, I was enticed by the prospect of the freedom a car could afford and stuck to my initial plans.   

After saying good-bye to our friends in Oxfordshire, my husband and I headed westward in a Ford Focus rental. I was initially optimistic, as the major motorway we took wasn't too difficult to navigate.  But I soon learned that driving in England is not just an exercise in paying attention.  It tests a deeply ingrained understanding of movement and space.  Driving also requires some magical knowledge of how roundabouts function—a fact I learned in a terrifying way when I decided to take a detour from the motorway to view Exeter Cathedral.  A roundabout there provided so many confusing stimuli that I had to just give in to the chaos, weaving around the circle, stopping abruptly in the middle, and generally being a menace to other drivers.  

Like some doomed couple on Reality TV Marriage Boot Camp, my husband and I failed this trial (one much more difficult than those presented on the TV show), although I think Dennis was a little too frightened and well aware of my position of control (or lack thereof) as driver to verbally unleash all of his pent-up anxiety and aim it toward me.  After much tense time spent in city traffic, we made it out of Exeter and were soon on winding country lanes that provided roughly four inches of clearance between cars going opposite directions—in the sections where more than one car could actually squeeze through stone walls, hedges, and vines.  Facing whizzing cars and trucks in the center of the road triggered a startle reflex in me, similar to the one I experience when, white-knuckled and hanging onto the door handle, I am in the car while one of my teen-aged sons drives. 

On English country roads, it was nearly impossible to avoid hugging the left side, so much so that Dennis was ashen-faced, in horror of having his door—and perhaps his head—taken off by a tree or rock wall.  At one point a speeding “lorry” came around a curve and, reflexively, I yanked the wheel to the left, to be met by a series of loud crashes of rock against metal.  Dennis shouted, “Keep driving!” and I did, thankful that I’d taken out extra insurance on the vehicle.  There was no room to pull over anyway!

We made it to Moretonhampstead, a charming country village and were serendipitously within site of The White Hart Inn, where we had reservations for the night, when a clunking noise told us that we couldn’t delay pulling over any longer.  Miraculously, the body of the car was unscathed, but the left rear tire was virtually shredded.  I don’t know how we’d made it as far as we did. 

Europcar sent out a service person, with a charming local accent, who quickly put the temporary spare on the car and told me that I had to take the car to a service station for a new tire. 

“Do I have to do it today?” I implored.  It was already late in the afternoon, and I didn’t think I had the strength or the sanity to drive again, and my husband’s vision wasn’t up to the task. 

The man said I could undertake the task the next day, so we checked into the inn, for some much needed rest.  There in the dining room, my husband and I  were able to eat a hearty and delicious meal, rounded off by sticky toffee pudding (my new favorite dessert), sustenance for the next day’s challenge.  I needed energy, as when I’d been researching our trip, I’d located a web site for a yarn shop that isn’t far from Moretonhampstead.  Terrifying driving required or not, the siren song of a yarn shop was too enticing.

This is a charming lane leading out of Moretonhampstead.  

Of course, reaching the shop meant losing our way in Dartmoor National Park.  Like something out of Lord of the Rings, with mist, ferns, rocky outcrops, sheep, and wild ponies, Dartmoor, albeit a bit eerie, was a delight to our senses.  With no GPS signal, we saw quite a bit of it, too, as, after driving aimlessly, we stopped at an isolated bed and breakfast for directions and learned that we had to turn around and head back seven-or-eight miles before turning off to wend our way through tiny villages to reach our destination, the yarn shop in Bovey Tracey, a village not far from Newton Abbot, where we had to go to have the tire replaced.      

Dartmoor provided lots of moving obstacles to navigate.

When I finally parked the car in Bovey Tracey, an elderly man working at the visitor’s center informed me that Spinayarn was only a short walk away.  So I left my husband to regain his composure and begin to breath normally again and headed for this well-stocked shop.  I bought some Bluefaced Leicester Aran by West Yorkshire Spinners to use to make a friend a pair of mittens.   And I also found a whisper-soft skein of lace-weight mohair-and-wool yarn by Touch, a New Zealand company.

Ultimately, my husband and I made our way to the tire place without incident.  While waiting, we met an animated man seated next to us.  He had a heavy Cornish accent, but claimed to have worked around the world for MI6.  He freely shared his political opinions—a bit of a heated rant about rich, corrupt politicians—but also gave us excellent directions for getting out of Newton Abbot and gave me a pep talk when I expressed my hesitation about making a right turn across four lanes of traffic to exit the shop parking lot.  He was correct when he told me that people were polite and would let me go.

After a very long day, my husband and I arrived in Saint Austell and found our inn (another White Hart).  While online sites talk up Saint Austell as a tourist destination, it is more of nineteenth century industrial city, built on china mining, a place that is graceful in its way but also, I imagine, a bit more faded around the edges than some of its tourist-destination neighbors.   One motivation for my choosing Saint Austell is the fact that my great-great grandfather hailed from the area and was christened in the church there in 1829.  Our inn sat adjacent to the church, which was locked each time we attempted to enter it, but we did enjoy its pealing bells marking the time.  We also appreciated our quirky hotel, with its lobby smelling of ale and its evening entertainment—a singer and a guitarist—who performed American tunes.   

The next day we braved the roads again—but even though there is so much stunning scenery to see around the Cornwall coast, my hesitation to drive much made me limit our sightseeing to a town just a few miles away—Mevagissey, a fishing village and tourist destination.  From there, we took a small ferry to Fowey, another fishing village where I had a crab sandwich for lunch.  We had one day soaking up the atmosphere, as we were heading to London on the train the next day.   The following morning, a Sunday, we checked out early, and the empty roads to Truro made for almost pleasant driving.  But, amenable driving conditions notwithstanding, my husband and I did feel as if the albatross around our neck had been removed when I dropped the keys into the after-hours box at the rental place. 

The White Hart Inn in Saint Austell displays lush flowers that grow so well in the Cornwall climate.    

We stopped at a tea shop in a garden on our way into Saint Austell.  

The fishing village of Mevagissey afforded us a brief glimpse of Cornwall's coastline.  

Our stay in Cornwall was cut short due to driving mishaps, and the long way there was fraught with tension.  But, we would have missed charming Moretonhampstead, the amazing yarn shop, and mystical Dartmoor, and other off-the-beaten-path stops had I given into my initial and however well-founded reservations about driving in the UK. 

Home and tired from my trip, I sat still and was able to knit these mittens in two days.  The color here looks different than the picture (above) I took of the skein of Bluefaced Leicester.   

The flaps on top allow the wearer to use her fingers, when necessary.