Cardigan with Fair Isle Yoke and ballet

Cardigan with Fair Isle Yoke 6-9 months (Pattern: Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, pub 2002 by Designer Yarns)

I’m on the verge of running out of tiny babies to knit for which is a shame because I love these sorts of  garments that progress rapidly and show results in no time at all. Small cardigans like this (for a baby 6-9 months) take just over 2 balls of yarn, not counting the strands of colour for the Fair Isle. I have exactly the right amount of the colour called silver which is tempting me to just get on and knit one of the smallest sizes anyway on the off chance a baby will appear and you know, one usually does! But then again I have committed myself to knitting for bigger children, so perhaps I’ll just have to resist. Oh, the trials of marrying the urge to do one thing in the face of good reasons to do something else !

Back view: Cardigan with Fair Isle Yoke 6-9 months (Pattern: Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, pub 2002 by Designer Yarns)

I happened to notice in yesterday’s Times that British ballet dancer Beryl Grey (Dame) was 94 on Friday and I had a sudden flash of memory as I recalled seeing her once in a shop about 30 ago. All that collecting of ballet cards free with Judy as a child (or was it Bunty?) obviously paid off as I recognised her immediately. I stood stock still and probably slack jawed , marvelling at such the diminutive, immaculately dressed and chignon-coiffured individual before me. I remember nothing of the where or when of the occasion but the image of HER is as vivd today as it was initially. Even 30 years ago, it was unusual to see someone turned out with such elegant perfection – it was as if I’d walked into Audrey Hepburn, filming ‘Charade’, divine in Givenchy.

Detail of front: Cardigan with Fair Isle Yoke (6-9 months Pattern: Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, pub 2002 by Designer Yarns)

I think it was the costumes that drew me into liking ballet.  I was enchanted by a world that contained acres of frothy tulle, tutus that defied gravity and stuck out horizontally from the body and the baroque embroidery which drew attention to tiny waists, delicate shoulders and impossibly long bird-like necks. Then opera trumped ballet. While the children were little, theatre visits dropped down the list of priorities, but then we had the good fortune to know someone through the children’s school who had a job at the Royal Opera House. The ROH was going through a difficult patch – something to do with booking problems caused by the complexities of  debenture holders having first dibs of the tickets – so sometimes quite large numbers of tickets could suddenly become available as seats needed to be filled. Saturday matinees were the usual problem times which were perfect for those of us with children who didn’t like to disrupt tea time and bed time. On one occasion we hauled my 89 yr old father (living with us) to see Giselle and though he had no great desire to watch ballet dancing, he embraced the experience enthusiastically, sat face shining with pleasure, occasionally shaking his head in disbelief and patting the children’s hands with delight. On the way home, he couldn’t get over where he’d been and would say to anyone who let him “I never expected to be doing that at 89!”

Sampler swatch

I can’t remember how many times we benefited from this largesse but I do remember one particular Saturday matinee when the bookings had been so lamentable that we had seats in the stalls not many rows from the stage.  This must have been disastrous for the ROH as the afternoon’s programme was a world premiere of 3 new ballets. Unfortunately daughter No 3, who must have been under 5 at the time, found it all too much and ended up asleep, somehow spread across more than one of the plushest of plush red velvet seats! Fortunately she slept silently, but how dreadful it must have looked from the stage.

We never made any attempt to get my son to join us on these outings to Covent Garden for I had learned early on in his life that he wasn’t at all keen on the theatre. Aged 3, he and I accompanied daughter No 2’s school class to a dramatisation of the Meg and Mog books at the Unicorn Theatre which used to be just off  Charing Cross Road and which specialised in children’s entertainment. He wasn’t noisy but he made it quite clear early on in the performance that he wasn’t happy and was getting no joy from what was going on on the stage. I know when not to back a dead horse, so he and slipped out. It was a winter afternoon just before Christmas. The streets were sparkly, animated by an imminent Christmassy feeling and proved to be a much better place to be in his mind. He was much happier walking around Covent Garden’s theatres for a couple of hours than actually sitting in one. I was exhausted by the time we met up with the rest of the school party!

Yoke detail: Cardigan with Fair Isle Yoke (Pattern: Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, pub 2002 by Designer Yarns)

While knitting this cardigan (and the jumper before, seen here) I decided I didn’t like the colour  – I think it’s called Denim. Fortunately as I photographed it today I saw it in a different light and came round to liking it. Perhaps it’s the sun. Perhaps I’m more fickle than I realised. This is the tenth cardigan I’ve knitted with a Fair Isle yoke.

Fair Isle Design No 143 from Mary Jane Mucklestone’s 200 Fair Isle Designs (Search Press, 2011)

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Anthea Craigmyle, painter of scenes to step into

A glorious few days in a sunny Yorkshire saw us ferreting around in remarkable churches, strolling through surprisingly uncrumbly abbey ruins (Whitby Abbey and Rievaulx), wandering wide eyed in and around the very best of  Elizabethan prodigy palaces (Hardwick Hall) and visiting one of the finest seaside towns that the north has to offer (Whitby). Unfortunately for the seaside bit, with Covid restrictions eased, foreign travel reduced and school half term holiday, England and his wife, plus family and dogs had also decided to go coastwards at the same time. Love of my fellow man was put to the severest of tests and I had to remind myself not to be hasty to judge others just because they too had given in to the same urge to rush to the seaside as we had. Others in our party who had been to Whitby before, lamented that so many visitors overwhelmed a what was essentially an overgrown fishing village, whose ruined abbey happened to have been the touch paper to the flame of inspiration that fired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. (The abbey is 199 steps up from the harbour – or for the lazy, infirm or spoonfed (us) some 15-20 minutes away in the coach!) Sadly, the little museum of jet artefacts and the handful of craftsmen working this semi precious stone which outcrops locally had few visitors, though at least one in our party bought a substantial piece set in silver hanging from a silver chain. We lingered in Whitby no more than we had to, retreating inland and back to the attractions of the sedate little market town, Pickering, our home for the week. Fortunately, the hotel, built around a Georgian manor house had a stone courtyard opening  into a semi-meadow lawn of  not overly manicured  grass. Some sat chatting with drinks in the courtyard while others, like my husband, took themselves off to seats under trees to enjoy a book and a pipe. Birds sang and insects thrummed their way from flower to flower. Daylight  extended long into the evening and even the nights were never really dark. Little can match early June in England when the weather is on your side. Coats and jackets stayed in the hotel. At night windows were left open and no doors banged nor curtains fought to get loose of their moorings. All rather wonderful.

Anthea Craigmyle: Woman reading

Then home. I’d packed knitting,  a cardigan to finish and a new one to begin, but little was done. Back to my sewing position by my window I picked up the cardigan to add the buttons  but was distracted by two postcards I have tucked into the frame of a little Venetian mirror in our bedroom. They came from the same friend years apart and it was only when I received the second card that I looked at both of them properly. (Coincidentally, today is my friend’s birthday.) The woman engrossed in her book came first and how I relate to those broad Tudor feet, unsocked, unshod, toes free of restriction. The cat has a fierce look I recognise of one not truly settled as the woman, trying to maintain one handed hold on her book, attempts a half hearted stroke, while at the same time probably hoping the large tabby will soon jump off so she can access the tea in the substantial tea pot at her feet.  The book must be good as she has her back to a vast window through which trees writhe, a pond sits glassy with ice and a curling pathway carries figures  hurrying towards a lighted doorway. Outside suggests winter. Inside are bare legs and short sleeves, spring flowers and pussy willow twigs. Perhaps the backdrop is a painting, not a window.  The painting’s title ‘Girl reading, last light’ suggests the window option – perhaps before 4pm on a late winter/early spring evening. Inside must definitely be very warm to account for the bare limbs –  surely such a large window must be triple glazed or the central heating must be working overtime. Curious.

Anthea Craigmyle: Woman ironing a Russian Tablecloth

Card number two is of a similar composition. Here too, half the picture shows a very painterly view through the window and once again, this too could be a painting.  This woman is deep in concentration as she grapples with ironing a large unwieldy tablecloth.  Quietly domestic, she has her back to the window; in contrast nature beyond the window is full of bluster and action. The cat is  surely the same as in the previous painting and has the same pent up energy as if she won’t be occupying the shelf on which she sits for long.  The tea pot is similar, possibly smaller. The rug looks identical – shabbier or less well lit.  ‘Ironing the Russian tablecloth’ tells the viewer exactly what to look at. I don’t envy the woman at her ironing but I do rather enjoy watching her doing it.

Both paintings are by Anthea Craigmyle whose life started out in St Nicholas’s vicarage, overlooking the Thames at one end of Chiswick Mall and who died at her home (the last house in Chiswick before you tip into Hammersmith) a few hundred yards away, 83 years later in, 2016. Taught at school by Mrs Henry Moore (Irina), she went on to Chelsea Art School where her tutors included Ceri Richards and Julian Trevelyan. (Later she was to have Trevelyan and his wife Mary Fedden his wife as neighbours when she returned to Chiswick). All are the painters I love, friends and associates of  Romantic Moderns as Alexandra Harris terms them in her book of the same name. During the war, Anthea’s mother, Molly Rich filled the vicarage with refugees along with her own children. One of the refugees, a young Austrian called Otto, stayed in touch and in 2013 Anthea collated the letters between him and Molly Rich into a book ‘A Vicarage in the Blitz’. Anthea’s painting on the front cover shows her mother sitting absorbed at a table typing; behind her the Thames flows lustily on while barrage balloons fly over Fuller’s Brewery.  Once again the woman is completely absorbed with the task in hand and has her back to the world  – even when that world is one where bombs are dropped and buildings go up in flames! Now there’s a role model!

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