And yet another Fair Isle jumper

Jumper with Fair Isle bands (basic jumper without Fair Isle is from Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino Book 5)

Knitting Fair Isle designs is about the closest you can get to embroidery – that is without actually embroidering the knitting, which you can do but which is an add-on process rather than integral to the knitting. Anyway, I just love Fair Isle. For me the combination of short bouts of intense concentration required for the pattern bits and the prolonged sections of plain knitting are an excellent adjunct to childcare and I only wish I had discovered this 30 odd years ago.

Jumper with Fair Isle bands (basic jumper without Fair Isle is from Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino Book 5)

Jumper with Fair Isle bands (basic jumper without Fair Isle is from Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino Book 5)

The small person has not been well this week. Nights for his parents have been interrupted by intermittent coughing and the cries of one with the sorest and snottiest of snotty noses. As designated night time nose blower, his father gallantly rolled out his bed beside his child and grabbed what sleep he could in between administering the handkerchieves, soothing words and reassuring cuddles. Small person’s heavily pregnant mother took her place by the bedside last night. Both parents are exhausted and looking forward to small person visiting his other grandparents in the Lake District next week.  No doubt they will both be in bed by 8pm every evening. I have had the easier job of caring for him during the day when we had gentle chats, bouts of Lego construction, book reading, scrap book making and, treat of all treats for both of us,  sessions watching past episodes of ‘Private Life of the Zoo’, Channel 4’s wonderful behind the scenes glimpse into animal life in Chester Zoo. Plain knitting on this jumper advanced in inverse proportion to the slow pace of our days and even sewing in loose ends seemed less of a chore when your world has shrunk to the sofa in the living room and when your best friend is a 3 year old.

Details of Fair Isle band

Design for Fair Isle band

Jumper with Fair Isle bands (basic jumper without Fair Isle is from Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino Book 5)

I don’t suppose my band of Fair Isle is unique but it  was the result of playing around with a few coloured pencils one evening. I have since brought the book shown below (200 Fair Isle Designs by Mary Jane Mucklestone; Search Press, 2011) and, like a child in a sweet shop, find I’m spoilt for choice by the gorgeous patterns shown there. I have also been reading Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Without Tears which has made me realise some of my Fair Isle shortcomings, when I wasn’t being stunned by her somewhat  gung ho, throw the rule book out approach to knitting.  (Thank you, Caro for being the catalyst to me buying this much wanted book).

Jumper with Fair Isle bands (basic jumper without Fair Isle is from Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino Book 5)

In my own novice way, I was quite proud of the fact that I had worked out the the Fair Isle band across the bottom of the jumper so that the pattern was symmetrical. But the Debbie Bliss pattern I revert to again and again includes a bit of increasing just at the point of my Fair Isle band and this caused problems with the pattern, which I don’t really want to show you, but probably should (and I do, see photo below). Next time I do a similar band, I think I will make sure there’s no increase throughout the Fair Isle by casting on just a few more stitches in the beginning. You live and learn – it’s either that or going the full Elizabeth Zimmerman hog and doing the whole thing on circular needles – and perhaps I will do that… though I think I’ll revert to separate front and back when I get to the arm holes. I can only learn so much at one go. I have a pair of already knitted sleeves in search of a body, so maybe the time is right for a new approach…

Side seams on Fair Isle jumper

The pattern I used is Debbie Bliss’s “Two Colour Raglan Sweater” from her Baby Cashmerino Book 5. The pattern has a garter stitch hem with side slits  but I prefer to do 10 rows of rib which I think fits more snugly. I would really like a higher neck as it always gets looser and wider during wear but all I can think of doing is using smaller needles and making the rib here deeper. I did both with this jumper, s we shall see if these tweaks make any difference.

200 Fair Isle Designs by Mary Jane Mucklestone, Search Press, 2011

The small person – no longer so small for a 3 year old as this jumper should fit a 4-5 year old – kindly pottered about the garden this morning so I could take photographs. It was even lovely enough to have a brunch pancake outside.

Small person christening new jumper and pancake with maple syrup





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A & M whitework wedding monogram

A & M wedding monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Out of the blue, old friends from America emailed to arrange meeting, as they do whenever they come to the UK which is pretty often. Last time they took me to the National Gallery for lunch and then whisked me off to the Savoy (where they were staying) for tea, although truth to tell we had so much to catch up with that we scarcely gave more than a glance at our environment. This time I invited them to our packed little house, which was already swollen by the (welcome) addition of daughter No 2. They were themselves staying at George Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras Hotel and I was quite tempted to say we’d go to them, but it was our turn to be hospitable and coming to us they would also see other members of the family so, to Islington they came.

Embroidered initial A from A & M wedding monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Embroidered initial M from A & M wedding monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

We first met them when my children were at primary school in west London. They appeared at the school en famille while the father was completing his doctorate thesis at UCL. Both of us had daughters called Allegra and both had so named the girls after one of Byron’s daughters. We try to forget that Byron’s poor little Allegra (daughter of  Claire Clairmont, step sister of Mary Shelley) had been hived off to live in an Italian convent where she had died aged 5. Fortunately both our Allegras passed the 5 year mark and are into their thirties, thriving and with offspring of their own. But our meeting on Chiswick Back Common forged a bond which has lasted even after the Americans returned to California and my first marriage had broken up.

A & M wedding monogram: work in progress, showing design in running stitch and felt padding for letters

American Allegra had married 6 years ago and I owed her and her husband a wedding present. I had long ago designed a monogram for the couple, so I needed to waste no time with pencil and paper. (My design was based on a scrapbook picture of a pearl and silver necklace which is shown below. The little silver twig reminded me of mistletoe, so I drew my leaves and berries to look a bit more mistletoey.) With a deadline 5 days away I set to, feeling confident that the task was quite easily doable. Then the drains intervened…and after their unblocking,  the ensuing backlog of piles of clothes washing and the general dross of temporarily disordered lives loomed large – so loud and unavoidable was their siren call, that all other activities were cast aside including my monogram with the tight deadline.

Shell with monogram letters. The A is very similar to the A in A & M wedding monogram but stitching is slightly different (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Of course the monogram was not finished and framed in time for our friends to take with them. It is, however, finished now and can be packaged up ready for their next visit to the UK.

A & M wedding monogram before framing (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

On a practical note, I’d like to record that I used Anchor No 2 – a slightly yellowy white – which gleams with a light gold sheen on white linen. People often ask to see work in progress so I enclose a photograph of  the start of embroidery. I had copied the design from a pencil drawing using a light box. Having zigzagged the edge of the fabric, I backed the design with a stabilising fabric like Stitch N Tear to give a firm base for embroidery as I don’t enjoy using a hoop. The design was then picked out in 2 strand embroidery thread running stitch. Next it was washed with special attention to removing the pencil lines.  Rolling the wet fabric in a clean tea towel, I follow this by ironing it between two clean tea towels while still damp and I then leave it lying flat to really dry out for a few hours. When I come to embroider I might embroider over the lines I’ve already stitched but I often remove these threads as I go, using the stitch holes for guidance. When the embroidery is completed, I cut or pull away the stabiliser fabric.

Silver and pearl necklace which inspired my A & M wedding monogram

6pm last Friday we thought we were heading out of the house for a hotel as a day of digging and prodding by an army of workmen failed to discover the source of the blocked drain. The whole of the front garden had been dug up and earth removed down to  a metre or so and still there was no sign of a drainage pipe. Old fashioned action with multiple rods continued via the  flooded drain inspection hole in the back garden and suddenly, hooray, they were through to the main drain in the middle of the road and life as we knew it could resume. How relieved we were to be returned to C21st living.

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