Barrington Court

barrington19On our way back from Devon last month, we stopped off in Somerset to pay a visit to Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house near Ilminster.

As the first large property acquired by the National Trust, in 1907, Barrington Court was a bit of an embarrassment for them, since the repairs and maintenance costs were just a bit higher than anticipated (ie astronomical). It was only in the 1920s, when the property was leased to Colonel Lyle (of Tate & Lyle) that sufficient funds were provided to make the house watertight and visitable. Colonel Lyle also used the property to house his collection of wood panelling – much of it rescued from the many other large old estates being sold off at the time.

barrington16Unusually for a National Trust property, the house is devoid of furniture (and so also teasels and, largely, room attendants). It was surprisingly engrossing to walk through big empty rooms; instead of quickly becoming blasé about heaps of Chippendale chairs, tapestries, chaise longues, silver cutlery, Rembrandts, Staffordshire ceramics, crewel-worked curtains, four-poster beds, and family portraits, I followed my camera’s excited nose, focusing on the patterns of light created by the old wibbly-wobbly glass windows, and the impressive display of Delft tiles in every bathroom.barrington17

barrington21barrington23barrington24barrington25barrington26barrington27barrington28barrington31On the top floor, quiet wood-paneled galleries branch off symmetrically into light-filled vistas – like some kind of Tudor sci-fi film set, or how I imagine one to look anyway. A warm, woody minimalism.

I think the space reminded me of something futuristic because it felt oddly history-less. Without the curios and knickknacks of past inhabitants, Barrington Court gives visitors few chronological markers, letting them roam around with just their own ghosts for company.

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Bye bye Wool Week


Wool Week is nearly over. As anticipated, I spent much of it knitting, talking about knitting and lusting after other people’s knitting.

Much of this indulgence went on in a couple of visits to the Oxford Street branch of John Lewis, which has been playing host to five days of knitting workshops. What a wonderful event! But woefully under-advertised by the store. Their beautiful and entertaining ‘live knitting’ window would have surely attracted many extra customers both into the haberdashery department and the rest of the store if displayed up front. Instead, it was relegated to the far side of the building, where few but staff on their fag break got to see it.

Ah well, at least I can show you here.


I bounded up the escalators with great zeal and camera/ knitting needles at the ready; slightly nonplussed to discover, on my arrival at the haberdashery department, a distinct lack of Wool Week activity. Shop assistant not sure where it is. Am I in the right store? I wonder on way back down to the information point on ground floor.

Directed up to first – through shoe section and into ladieswear, round to the right – and eventually find the woolly haven. It’s an admittedly intimate spot, squeezed between clothes rails; browsers step over balls of wool and beanbags, knitters make friends fast as they rub elbows on squashy sofas. I meet today’s knitting gurus – Norwegian duo Arne and Carlos  – and get to work on Magnus Mouse. Having expected a variation on the beginners staple garter stitch square, I’m pleased to discover Arne and Carlos’ mouse cuts an elegant, elongated figure, knitted in the round on double-ended needles. After nearly two hours I am still working up Magnus’ ankle and am well into a continental style (left-handed) vs English (right-handed) knitting debate with Arne, Carlos and accomplished Canadian crafter Natalie Selles. Time to go, unfortunately, but will return – soon.



I return on Thursday night, armed with a better camera and greater resolve to use it. Meet the designer of tonight’s workshop and pattern, Sarah Hatton, who kindly demonstrates her extremely efficient underarm knitting technique. Her design for Rowan’s workshop this evening cleverly comes in garter, stocking stitch and cable options for all knitting levels. DSC_4874

DSC_4877DSC_4876DSC_4880There was some awesome cable needle accessorizing on the part of fellow knitter/ blogger, Snowfox of I am Snowfox.

Look, look!

DSC_4906DSC_4894DSC_4889DSC_4898Wool Week on Make A GifDSC_4915DSC_4888

We wrap up the evening snapping away at the Toft Alpaca team in their glass tank of yarn. I leave with a warm fuzzy feeling.

Goodbye Wool Week! Until next time..

Odd socks

Last week I bought some beautiful Noro sock yarn from the Knitting and Stitching show.

DSC_4864Here’s the result of my first attempt at sock-knitting. It’s a much more enjoyable and interesting process than I’d previously thought, and made especially easy by Charlene Schurch and her book ‘Sensational Knitted Socks’. She’s basically done all the possible calculations you might need to knit a sock regarding guage, fit and pattern variations, and then put them in handy charts.

While I was teaching new knitters to cast on at Ally Pally, I got a lesson myself from a very kind Danish lady on how to knit continental style. Instead of holding the yarn in the right hand, as I was first taught, she, along with much of Europe, knits with the yarn in the left. Once you’ve got the hang of it, this is supposed to be the most efficient and fastest method, although I think I need to finish the other sock before my brain gets round the switch.DSC_4865

One side effect of the Noro yarn coming in beautifully graduated colours is the difficulty in making two socks roughly the same. Here’s my second attempt at starting sock no. 2 – which came with the realisation that ball no. 2 was wound in the opposite direction to ball no. 1.


DSC_4867But I figure that the colour scheme isn’t crazy enough to warrant worrying about matching them up. They’ll be odd, but in an endearing, eccentric way, not in a ‘where’s the other sock?’ way. Let’s hope my Dad* thinks so anyway when he unwraps them.

*don’t worry, he doesn’t read my blog so his Christmas present will still be a surprise

next week: Wool Week

Somehow, knitting season has taken me by surprise all over again.

You might say that the wool has been pulled over my eyes (if you were a desperate blogger after any opportunity to throw in cheap and cheesy cliches to appear effortlessly silver-fingered; not a writer feeling laboured and awkward, spending an inordinate amount of time nose-deep in the thesaurus).

Nevertheless, I’m pretty taken aback to discover Wool Week (14th – 20th October) is here again. It seems like only last week that the beautiful Wool House was on display at Somerset House, but, in fact it’s been a full six months.

© 2013 Campaign For Wool

This time, the Campaign for Wool team have hooked up with John Lewis to host a week of FREE knitting classes. Each of the six classes is run by a different supplier, ranging from Christmas jumpers with Sue Stratford to snoods with Rowan (full timetable below). You can either secure a place in the morning or afternoon sessions, or drop in anytime in-between. There’s lots more info here on the Campaign for Wool website.

William Morris Gallery at the London Antique Textile Fair

Tomorrow the William Morris Gallery is off to the London Antique Textile Fair at Chelsea Old Town Hall. We’ll be selling books and cards, as well as giving visitors the chance to try their hand at printing with some very beautiful little Indian woodblocks.

I’ve never been to the Antique Textile Fair, but from looking at this video of their show in Manchester last year, it’ll be a challenge not to drool on all the costumes and fabrics on show .

It’s run by the Textile Society, who promote the study of textile disciplines and provide museum and student bursaries raised from the door entry funds from the fair. So it’s for a very good cause too.

See you there!

London Antique Textile Fair

Chelsea Old Town Hall, King’s Road, London

Sunday 6 October 2013, 10.30 – 16.30
Admission £6, Concessions £4 (all profits made from the door entry funds the museum and student bursaries granted by the Textile Society)

Knitted Tudor Caps

In a recent post on the Tudor and Stuart Fashion exhibition at the Queens Gallery I mentioned the Museum of London’s amazing collection of sixteenth-century caps.

There’s little or no archaeological context for most of these hats; they’ve probably survived the past 400+ years thanks to being thrown into the city cesspits by fashion-conscious Tudor workers and businessmen, as they adopt the latest style. In the 20th century they were uncovered by workman building the city business district as we know it today, and then gradually found their ways into the collection.

Portrait of Sir William Hewett (d. 1564), wearing a split-brim knitted and fulled cap.

In the anaerobic conditions of layers of city waste their wool and even dye have survived remarkably well. The construction details can still be seen and recreated: knitted on the round, the hat then went through the ‘toughening-up’ process of fulling (washed, beaten and felted) and knapping (raising and trimming the pile, for a velvety finish). Then the cap might be dyed a bright red or blue, colours that have long-since faded. Presumably, the finished product shrunk thanks to the felting process, so would have initially been knitted on a much larger scale. The resulting hats were extremely tough and waterproof, so could have fashionable slashes cut into them without fear of unraveling.

So here are a few examples, skimmed from the museum’s excellent online collection. Click on the images to access detailed individual records on the MoL site. All images © Museum of London

The Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace

The London Knitting and Stitching show is on next week, 10th – 13th October. I’ve never been to any of the shows (two in London at Ally Pally and Olympia, as well as Dublin and Harrogate) so am looking forward to exploring as many of the stands, galleries and workshops as possible.

A few galleries that have especially caught my eye are:

the Knitted Textile Awards

the Graduate Showcase

‘Sewing for Survival: Arctic Stitchery’

‘A timeline of crewel work, 1630-1930’

I’ll also be helping out on the UK Hand Knitting Association stand, so come and say hello if you’re there on Thursday afternoon!

Visit the show’s website here for more information on tickets and how to get there.

A little trip to Devon

I’m just back from a family holiday on the north coast of Devon. We did lots of walking, eating and generally enjoying all the things London’s not so good for – like clear air and bouncy turf and multicoloured pebbles and SEALS.

I didn’t take many photos, and those I did were taken with an eye for future knitting designs. Here they are, with a few notes.barrington09

On the way, we stopped off at Montacute House in Somerset. This Elizabethan house is full of interesting textile pieces, including a collection of samplers and a beautiful crewel-work bedspread. Understandably, the lighting indoors is kept low to protect these, so I couldn’t take any bloggable pictures.

Montacute House

the famous lumpy hedges at Montacute – a result of one year’s heavy snowfall squashing the trees


beach grass-inspired knitting in green, yellow and tan?

a Missoni-like zig-zag striped sweater in subtle shades of sand?


a Missoni-like zig-zag striped sweater in subtle shades of sand?