What April showers?

Well. Didn’t March and April simply whizz by?!
As I mentioned in February, losing my granny meant some time spent in England, mainly to celebrate her very long life and her legacy of close friends and family. It was wonderful to see so many dear people who had loved her much as we had. Her tiny terraced house warmly welcomed a large party of 10 (8 sleeping there) family members and there was vibrant life and bustle of all ages: she would have loved it! We remain four generations who get on well together and so we began as we meant to carry on and after returning home again, a slightly altered composition of 8 of us – plus dog – then spent two weeks together in Brittany… I can confirm that much fun was had by all.

Not to mention that we have been pursued by plenty of fine spring weather throughout and our seaside holiday suffered no more than a combined 15 minutes of rain on two brief occasions, April or no. Children, adults and dog played on the beach, around the property and in the small house, everyone was always busy with something, even if it was just sitting in the sun, and relationships were cemented between the oldest and youngest members of the family as well as new adult relationships between sisters.


The camellias were still out…

…as was the wisteria!

So ssssh… here’s a secret: northern Brittany in April and September is not to be sneered at! It’s just as nice the rest of the year, but more likelihood of rain in winter and tourists in summer – as you can see, we didn’t have to share the beach with many people! The children wore warm clothes and hats on their top halves and skipped around just as happily in the waves as if they were in swimwear, in fact, the sea temperature is much the same the year round thanks to the Gulf Stream that passes by. Kite-flying was another hit – rarely a shortage of wind! Another thing is that dogs are allowed on the beach outside the high season (June-August), so assuming you are a responsible dog owner who scoops the poop, it’s no holds barred in digging for Australia…

Even the odd overcast day offered some rock climbing

while sunsets are breathtaking at any time of year!

The baby grew as we watched and progressed to her rightful position in the high chair 😉 She seemed to be telling us “finally!”

We also got to mess around in a boat and enjoy the view from the “other” side!

Plus everyone helped with jobs, in this case repotting and then demolishing the old rotted planter (a satisfying task for the 8 year old!):

Of course, while we were gone, spring sprung at home in Switzerland, too –

BUT… it is April, after all…

Advertisements

Acquiring yarn. A long yarn.

It all sounds so innocent, doesn’t it? As if yarn just sailed breezily into the stash one fine day, unasked and as a pleasant bonus, ready to go, begging to be used and as if everything was totally above board. “Acquisition: an asset obtained” – another such innocent word, “obtained”. What, just floated in? img_2829

It isn’t really innocent, though! It’s sneaky, addictive stuff that writhes its way around your brain and immobilises everything but your greedy eyes and the finger that presses the buttons (either on the card machine or your computer…). Wicked, dominating yarn!

The poor animals we get our yarn from (well, maybe the plants, too), they happily give up their fleeces without a thought for the emotional rollercoaster caused to knitters and crocheters. The hours spent perusing Ravelry and endless files and books of patterns to find just the right combination of instruction and fibre to produce the most fantastic shawl/hat/sweater/mittens/insert item here: xxx! The convoluted attempts to remember the pattern you’ve just seen and if it needed worsted, sport or fingering yarn because you’ve just gloated over all three kinds and in your mind, in your mind you’re imagining the finished object and not the WIP that will sit with the pile of other WIPs for months or years because the next yarn or pattern came along and entangled you.

Will it be worth the precious skein/s sitting there beckoning seductively? Will the tension be right? Will I have to make three gauge squares (oh no!)? Will I knit it and then hate every stitch and frog it? Will I knit it and then not be able to bear to rip every last loop out and start again? Questions and thoughts upon questions and thoughts, it’s all such a harrowing process, so exhausting! img_0023April 2012 – of this yarn, only the blue has so far been knit up (though it is a much-worn Marin shawlette!)… The lace has had two false starts, lovely though it is 😮 

Despite all the agonies, we commit to our craft over and over again. I have recently found that I’m picking yarn up all over the place, with only the slightest of triggers necessary. I used to think I didn’t have stash. I certainly didn’t have the “sweater’s worth of XYZ” lying around, as you hear from some knitters who seem to go in for bulk-buying. Yes, I had a couple of ball’s worth of sock yarn hanging around and a few leftovers, occasionally a whole unit (hank, skein, cake, ball, whatever). That changed when I discovered excellent value-for-money yarn, perhaps coincidentally Scandinavian – Norwegian and Icelandic – and inexplicably started buying in larger quantities! And picking up another pretty hand-dyed skein here, or a lace – so budget-friendly – there, where one is enough for a pair of socks or a shawl. Or a hat or a pair of mittens. And then the sales, oh dear, woe betide there is 10, 20 or even 35% off, how could I possibly not dream and press those buttons that deplete my funds?! Gluttony! Hoarder! img_3055Most, if not all, of these yarns have been knit up, and pretty successfully, I’m happy to say!img_3979This, however, languishes still…such a pretty light blue…

Not forgetting the category of those wonderful people, enablers. Those who think of us and get an extra because they know we’d love it (and know our favourite colours). Who very rightly just know we will be thrilled to get fibre in the post, loot, wheee. The ones who give us yarn for breakfast, so to speak. And the ones who encourage us to try out this or that and tell us where to go and when there are good deals! Great community, great friends. Oh, lovely friends 🙂

Which brings me to (some of) my recent and not-so-recent acquisitions. Ahem.

Just before Christmas, there happened to be a sale of the now discontinued Lang Alberta at my favourite online LYS… Two lots of the infamous “sweater’s worth” of this lovely yarn jumped into my basket and hey presto, arrived in the most enormous box one fine December day (much to the amusement of my visitor friend Helen and my daughter – both knitters…) as we sat chatting. What were my plans, they asked? No idea! But a few late nights after Christmas I got my act together and started avidly on the first colour, imaginatively called “Schlamm” (sludge…). It was supposed to be a dark green but although my mother said it definitely was, I still think it’s more dark brown than green, but I digress. A pattern I already had looked to be the ideal one, Alana Dakos Buds and Blooms cardigan has an attractive portrait collar that looked cosy and overall the shape looked as if it would be just right for me. I cast on and sailed away with it, a worsted weight yarn (with cashmere, no less!) on large needles, simply a breeze. After redoing the collar 5 times, I finally finished, and… meh. Yet again I had followed a pattern according to bust size and again, it had turned out large and shapeless, swamping me and just – not what I’d envisioned! Oh no! Sorry to say, that quick incarnation was promptly frogged and now awaits a new and better idea – the yarn is delicious and more importantly, it blocks to a gorgeous drapey fabric. Perhaps a big heavy shawl is in order? I still maintain it’s brown. img_7693It definitely photographs brown, anyway! I’m looking at a ball of it right now and struggling to see any green, though I have done before now – fleetingly.

Disheartened, I picked up the same needles to start on the next batch of Alberta (and no, of course I wasn’t influenced by the fact that one of my best friends lives in Alberta, now would I?!). A lovely soft light blue-grey that would become a fantastically practical throw-over-anything sweater and this time, I had already got the pattern sorted out in advance. It was to be Joji Locatelli’s Lemongrass, a twist on the classic grey cabled sweater with split, curved sides and hi-lo hem, it was going to be my go-to for the really cold months, cuddly and warm and a coccoon…. it was all there in my imagination.

Now I am someone who enjoys knitting on pretty thin needles. After a cardigan’s worth of 5 and 5.5 mm needles, I really didn’t have much patience left with them and craved something finer. After a botched start, I got impatient (it happens) and promptly sent the whole batch of wool down to my daughter, who loves grey, and quality yarns and whose sister was about to travel south to see her, yay, a good deed (enabler!). She’d just had a birthday, too, what a good excuse… Needless to say, said daughter promptly cast on and whoosh, soon had the best part of a really useful cardigan sorted – except she ran out of yarn on the button bands 😮 Did I say, the yarn is discontinued? I feel so guilty.

Therefore, back to the thin needles. Having discovered the knitting podcasts (look back a couple of posts) and being susceptible to suggestion, my halo was shining as I dug out some stash that had been hanging around for a while. Drops Baby Alpaca and Silk was sold for an embarrassingly low price AND a discount for ages (and even though the price has now risen it is still a more than reasonable buy and a wonderful fibre) and I’d thoughtfully bought three “sweater’s worth” – only it’s so fine you can practically get two sweaters out of each colour… This time I chose the icy blue (also already mentioned in the last post) and set about Waterlily by Meghan Fernandes on 3mm needles, a light spring top with short dropped sleeves and a lace yoke that seemed just right – plain and mindless for ages and then a pretty and simple lace over the shoulders. I took it to Stuttgart with me and knitted happily for hours. Soft, soothing and utterly content.

Then a message came from one of my enablers. A request for some extra-wide socks for a pair of swollen feet. Well, what choice did I have?! 🙂 A quick visit to the town craft shop (be still my beating heart… every craft you can imagine is represented at Idee) and the low price of generic yarn (plus it’s a different currency and always seems cheap, right?) meant I came away with sparkly, fluffy yarn for the socks in beige and more of the same in pink because I knew my granddaughter was coming to visit and might like something out of it (come on, pink and silver? Every 5 year old’s dream!). But wait, there was also a lovely, thicker variegated sock yarn in great colours, and what if I made some of those simple soft, stretchy slippers, too – another podcast influence. Done. The sparkly, fluffy yarn turned out to be a great success – there was far more of it than I’d bargained for, so a single skein made a pair of the required socks, while the other made a generous cowl for my mother-in-law’s sensitive neck, while although my granddaughter showed not the least interest in the pink yarn, my eldest daughter noticed both colours with “that look” in her eyes and promptly inherited the pink but also got more of the beige the next time I was in Stuttgart lol. img_7679

Ah yes. I had to return to Stuttgart. So why not take advantage? Those slippers had been so quick and easy to knit, surely a couple more pairs in the other tempting colourways would be a quick inbetween sort of project? Go on. Plop. Plop. A greeny colour for me, a blue version for my youngest daughter. Done. But look, the generic wool selection includes some other plain sock yarns that are very well priced – haven’t I been wanting some thicker, red socks for ages? Plop. And that grey and yellow – gosh, wouldn’t it be fun to have some that match my new hat? Plop. (Turned out there is actually enough left from my hat so now I have double the amount of yarn in the same colours – I suffer.) Oh look, they’ve all been raving about speckled yarns and that peachy-pink sock yarn would make a change, wouldn’t it?! What, sale to sell?! Take 2. Plop. That grey alpaca is soooo soft, and only one ball left, perfect for a pair of wristlets? Plop. Oooh, they’re selling off the pompoms with the spring stock sitting waiting for its space on the shelf – yes, one for my friend, it’s “her” colour, and why not, one for me… And so it goes. Blush. img_7775

As if that wasn’t enough, more enablers got to me. Both those dratted podcasts and my darling daughter unintentionally paraded various yarns across my mind’s eye. I wondered vaguely if they were available in Switzerland (oh the rabbit hole of the internet…) and lo and behold, click click, I had not only ordered two lots of yummy British wools – because I’m loyal like that – but also needed to support some of the very few local producers here in Switzerland, which has a long tradition of silk production. I might also have bought a Latvian mitten kit… And some minis. Pardon, what? img_7759Blacker Yarns Tamar in colourway “Tiddy Brook” – I was expecting spring yellow but it’s a superfresh bright light green, which is fine…img_7761Spinnwebstube sold me a Latvian yarn kit in one of my favourite colourways as well as an irresistible set of merino minis produced, spun and dyed in Switzerland – haven’t a clue what I will do with them, yet – a trend I have cluelessly followed 😮

The other parcel held silky hand-dyed Swiss silk-merino – one for a friend (of course!) one for me, and why, look, it’s a Valentine’s Day special, individually dyed… Add to this a trip to the actual local yarn shop for buttons where a couple of sock yarns jumped completely suicidally onto the counter (in addition to the boxful that has already accumulated…) and I should be set for life. img_7767Baa Ram Ewe’s Titus is a beautiful Yorkshire yarn (my grandparents were both from Yorkshire is my excuse!) – a blend of 50% Wensleydale Longwool, 20% Bluefaced Leicester and 30% UK alpaca and in the colour White Rose, which my Granny truly was! The Swiss Siidegarte (silk garden) yarns are hand-dyed with plant dyes: Fideel in Valentine and Hasleriis – the latter I assume is dialect for hazelnut (it’s a different dialect to the one we speak). There is a blog in English at https://www.siidegarte.ch/blogs/news. img_7788

Unblocked and not at the best angle at all but I was so delighted with the result! I’ll have to do a better photo… img_7855

Again, unblocked, but I love it and I was surprised how the blue pops – I hadn’t expected this either from the skein or the wound ball! img_7852The colour has photographed badly in the winter light, as it’s a very definite icy blue, no grey about it… this is the Waterlily top by Meghan Fernandes in Drops Baby Alpaca Silk and I’m extremely pleased with it! This one is blocked, but I need to make icord across the back neck for stability as the original solution in the pattern didn’t work for me.

To be fair – the Shetland hat is finished. The seasonal Unicorn winter wool Constellate hat is finished. The Waterlily top is very nearly finished – that is, blocked but needs the back neckline adjusting. The alpaca mitts are nearly finished. New socks are on the needles (ahem, a free pattern, Hermione’s Everyday Socks, I keep seeing on the podcasts…). The Tamar had a couple of false starts because I found I don’t like the fabric on the suggested needles so it’s developing in a different direction. The Titus has plans – and is so yummy I’m wondering if I shouldn’t get more (slap me).

Up North

As someone living in the centre of Europe and who has frequently been mistaken for an Italian (i.e. short, dark…!), it’s perhaps interesting that while most people around here seem to gravitate geographically towards the south – sun sea sand – my natural inclination always seems to have been directed to the North. My maternal grandparents were both from the north of England and we’ve discovered that some of the ancestors came from a little further northeast (though not Scotland, where I’d love to go!) so perhaps of some Nordic origin (the others are more western Celtic, Wales). Hardly any of my family has ever gone south, even we moved to central Europe. For years and years I have wanted to go to Scandinavia and last year finally made it to Oslo in Norway, which I loved and where I felt very much at home despite not speaking the language. I’m fascinated by how the Nordic languages are all related and intertwined with English. The clean aesthetic and design that is typical appeals very much, too.IMG_6591

Mind you, I like where live, too, in the north of Switzerland! Reading Peter Davidson’s The Idea of North (even right at the beginning) has made me aware that north, of course, is relative to any other location – strictly speaking, where we are in Brittany is also the north both of Brittany and to some extent, France, with the Atlantic flowing past and connecting to the North where the North-Men came from to colonise Normandy, not too far away at all. There’s certainly the cool water, rocks and cool colours you’d associate with the “far” north, anyway! img_0785

Inspired by one of the video podcasts I mentioned in the last post (Melody in Latvia – north again!), I decided to use some Norwegian yarn I had in my stash to cast on for a summer top, Waterlily by Meghan Fernandes (probably not Nordic!). I chose a cool icy blue for a top that I will only be able to wear in a cool marine climate, I think, since it’s a baby alpaca/silk mix that would be too hot when it hits 30°+ in our surprisingly warm Swiss summers, but that suits me – I can take it to northern Germany in the late spring and Brittany in the summer as well as England this year, so it will get worn. It’s a plain body without shaping and with a pretty lace yoke that needs some concentration but is not too difficult to do with something else going on in the background. img_7828

The yarn is Drops Baby Alpaca and Mulberry Silk and the pattern is Waterlily by Meghan Fernandes from the PomPomQuarterly Issue 8 Spring 2014. The tea is Orange & Ginger Yogi tea…

The delicate transparent china was painted with its pretty blue bows by my mother-in-law, of northern German origin, many years ago as a wedding gift. She was a marvellous and meticulous porcelain artist who was very skillful with a fine brush – sadly she is no longer able to do this kind of work for health reasons. Her work lives on – she also etched the water jug with the same motif. The tea should have been a Lady Grey with cornflowers to follow on with the blue theme. It isn’t, though!

As you can see, I haven’t got very far into the book, yet but so far – it looks like it’s going to be an absorbing and thoughtful read to really enjoy.

While we’re on blues, here’s the progress of my first seasonal knit with the Malabrigo Mechita yarn in colourway Unicorn… img_7834Yes, it’s not a shawl. It was. It no longer is. After all the shawls I’ve made, I managed to mess this one up and it came out utterly wrong – I did make the whole thing and even tried to block it but it was so wrong it wouldn’t actually block, that’s how bad it was! Very frustrating. So I frogged the lot and started all over again. I love this pattern’s effect – it’s not difficult but a bit fiddly on one row of 6, so not too bad. It’s the Constellate hat pattern by Hunter Hammerson from the Pantsville Press. It’s warm, cushy and cuddly and amazingly soft.

That star pattern – I hope it symbolises the starry skies and in some way will remind me of my lovely Granny who died last week aged 100 3/4. I’m sure she’s looking down on us with love, relief and a little laugh after a very difficult last year – rest in peace, Granny. ❤

img_5958

 

 

 

Knittin’ all over the world

I’ve been knitting for a long time, most of my life, in fact, and have tried a lot of knitterly things over the years. Originally because I didn’t know they were supposed to be “difficult” and because, like recipes, I reckoned I could read and therefore would be able to follow a pattern… mostly it worked out pretty well. Meanwhile, knitting has become something of a sophisticated science in many ways and with the advent of the internet, it’s become a worldwide phenomenon that I much appreciate. I am fascinated by the history of knitting in different places, the traditions, the commonalities and differences, the styles, the fact that (contrary to what most Swiss women will tell you!) there is no right or wrong, just a wide variety of ways of doing the same thing. And the yarns – the wools and silks and all the rest of the wide array of fibre people have knit with all over the world! A treasure trove. img_7767Recent stash enhancement – British wool and Swiss silk/merino…

To my delight, about 10 years ago and shopping for a birthday gift, I discovered a book of short essays, often very funny, by a knitter calling herself the Yarn Harlot and intriguingly, the blurb on the back of the book said she had a blog of the same name. Ever since, I’ve been hooked and laughed and cried with (Canadian) Steph as she has become something of a Queen of the modern knitting community all the while bringing up three daughters and living an increasingly crazy life on the knitting road as she promotes her books, raises money for charity by cycling across Canada and knitting and she is practically the godmother of knitting retreats all over North America. A pattern she chooses to knit is bound for fame and fortune as hundreds of knitters clamour to follow suit. While many other beautiful and entertaining knitting blogs have emerged, many have also died away, so I’m delighted that this one is still going strong. I don’t have a blog roll as such here, but some others I enjoy are

  • Dancing with Wool (Lene Alve in Finland)
  • Knitting Bliss (Julie Crawford in Canada)
  • Yarnsmithery (my friend Elaine Morris in England)   

img_7721Ysolda Teague’s Saudade hat kit in Jamieson & Smith’s 2-ply jumper weight – love it! (courtesy of my friend Helen at Runquiltknitwrite blog – shout out!) 

Let me give an honourable mention to Kate Davies and her blog, a knit designer (with her own line of wool)  I love but whose essays on knitting history are a rich and fascinating mine of information – she’s a northern English girl with an interesting personal story and living in western Scotland, with a focus on Scottish places like Islay or Shetland which are mirrored in her work. Her husband Tom takes really amazing photographs of those landscapes. Stunning. img_8845Zygopetalum orchid in my mother-in-law’s conservatory and in a cachepot she made when my brother-in-law was a child

For a while, I fell into audio podcasts, which was a whole new genre at the time. Many hopped onto this bandwagon – but sadly, many fell off it again or simply quit. There are 100 episodes of Alana Dakos’ Nevernotknitting podcast you can listen to, a Californian who has become a noteworthy designer of botanically inspired knits over the course of her podcasting years but has now stopped recording. I spent many a comfortable hour knitting or in the bath listening to Brenda Dayne’s Cast On, a quirky and knitterly chat each time she popped up, but who again, now rarely if ever records. She’s an American living in South Wales… (I think these episodes can still be found on iTunes) img_7710Travel Cardigan by Nancy Eiseman in the luscious and adorable West Yorkshire Spinners Blue-faced Leicester DK – I wore this for the first time today and the buttons alone gave me pleasure in the sunshine! 

And then just recently, I was made aware of a new kid on the block, knitting podcasts on YouTube. Why these aren’t just called knit vlogs I have no idea, but no, they are known as knitting podcasts. So far I have discovered several (and bingewatched…) and love them all – they are all gentle and chatty, sometimes a little repetitive (just like when you’re talking to a friend and have forgotten that you already mentioned such-and-such last week…) and all have their funny and amusing moments. Most entertaining (much better than telly!) Oh, and so far, they all drink tea – yay!!

Let me count the ways…

  • Firstly, I found The Gentle Knitter, Nicole from Canada. A keen nature-lover who works in a museum, she has a soft and pleasant manner when chatting enthusiastically about her knitting and yarns – I love that she can pronounce the French names properly!
  • Then Melody at Mandarine’s popped up on my screen. Melody is French and living in Latvia after a stint in China – she has grown from a beginner knitter to experienced and working as a knitwear designer in a very short time and has a lovely aesthetic that has evolved slightly in the course of her work but which has always had a distinctive style, also very connected to nature and ecology. As I’m interested in the Baltic tradition and have a connection with France, these videos claim my attention every time. So relaxing.
  • Last but not at all least, I then discovered Eli at Skeindeer knits. This charming and bubbly Norwegian doing a PhD in London is a pleasure to follow. I love how she sometimes rambles and rants but find I generally agree with her! Her speciality is colourwork, in which she shines, and it’s to her credit that she has begun publishing her patterns – hurray. As a huge Scandi fan, I have always admired the traditional designs and have tried my hand at one or two. With Eli’s encouragement, I will be doing more – in fact, I’ve just finished a Fair Isle hat knitted in Shetland wool that I thoroughly enjoyed knitting and my Norwegian wools (a souvenir from my trip last year) are just waiting for a Norway-inspired moment which will not be too long coming! I also love her Schnauzer dogs back in Norway and the episodes she made while she was there…

IMG_5674

Drops dog sweater made in Drops Baby Merino – looks impressive, wasn’t that hard! 

All of these lovely ladies have Instagram accounts you can follow (and probably Twitter, too, but I don’t do that!) so I’d encourage any knitters out there to give them all a try, just as good (if not better) than a boxed set next time you settle down for a cosy hour with the needles (or hook, crocheters…!). No links because WordPress just kills me sometimes and you all know how to google :).  Bonny's jumper 2And just because I enjoyed the first one, I made a different one for my friend’s pup, again a Drops pattern and mostly Drops Baby Merino… suitable for Valentine’s week!

 

Home and away

I must admit, Stuttgart is not one of my favourite cities. It probably can’t help it, since it was badly bombed in WW2 and there will have been some urgency in rebuilding it and wanting it to be “modern” with little regard to taste or aesthetics. I am more disturbed by the general filth in what used to be a country with a reputation for cleanliness, but as ever, I was determined to make lemonade out of my sour lemons and concentrate on the most interesting bits! alte-zeichung-des-alten-schlosses-stuttgartimg_7634

In the middle of town, a few older buildings and the old palaces have survived – Stuttgart was the capital city of the Kingdom of Württemberg until 1918 and the Altes Schloss (old castle), which dates from the 16th century, still stands (alongside the new castle from the 18th century). Originally surrounded by gardens and orchards and a number of follies, there is now a very busy road running underneath it and a busy city around it. However, I found the architecture to be quite remarkable and unexpectedly mediterranean, unusual for a German palace, something more associated with Baroque glamour! img_7639

The castle houses a fairly large and interesting exhibition of the history of Schwaben (Swabia, southwest Germany) from the very earliest humans up to the end of the monarchy and the death of Wilhelm II and I enjoyed several hours getting acquainted with a region that, to be honest, is on our doorstep and which we don`t really know very well. It’s actually quite as pretty as where we live, much of it an ancient volvanic landscape without the drama of our mountains but with famous and beautiful rivers in the wine-growing areas that are so popular, rolling hilly landscapes all the way down to the northern, German border of Lake Constance and its view over to Switzerland. schwaben-vulkanlandschaft

Stuttgart itself is built rather confusingly over a number of hills so it’s quite difficult to work out exactly where you are at times – we took a drive around some of the pretty wine villages that often feature half-timbered houses much like the little washhouse, with the bonus that they are surrounded by lush vineyards. I’m sure it’s beautiful in the green season! We also visited the famous television tower up on top of the hill called Bopser, a true representation of German engineering (Stuttgart is the home of Mercedes-Benz and Daimler, among others) and the “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic recovery) of Germany in the 1950s. Even on an icy winter’s day, it was busy with visitors keen to go up to the top for a view over the countryside. fernsehturm_stuttgart_amk

Back in town, there are other cultural offerings – theatre, opera and a series of buildings housing history and art. I decided to take in the Staatsgalerie, the state art gallery. The collection of all periods is rather fine and coincidentally, a new exhibition has just begun (from February 1st) of paintings belonging to Hedy and Arthur Hahnloser-Bühler, a Swiss couple from Winterthur (only 10 minutes from our own little town). “Aufbruch Flora” will be on until mid-June and comprises the post-impressionist collection the couple amassed in the early 20th century – I hope to see this on one of my next visits. On this occasion, I headed for my favourite art period, the German and Dutch masters of the 14-17th centuries. staatsgalerie_aussenansicht

Perhaps you’re familiar with Albrecht Dürer’s meadow flowers – this garden of Eden is full of equally realistic and recognisable flowers and fruit and is considerably earlier (1416)! img_7652

A lot of mediaeval art is religious, and there were several depictions of the Three Kings – in one, they looked like boys with fake beards, but I rather liked this gallant and colourful one with beautiful horses and if you look closely in the middle, a gorgeous, eyelash-batting camel… I fear the artist wasn’t quite as familiar with camels as with horses 🙂 img_7653

Saint George and the dragon (in the darkness there on the right!) – the sheep in the lower left corner looks rather bored and the expressions on the human faces are amusing, too. They almost call for cartoon speech bubbles – “oh no, he’s off on another dragon hunt…”, “bye then…” – or is it a Gilderoy Lockhart moment as he tosses his curls while mounting his horse?!  I like these colours, though.img_7660

What about this chap, who looks as if someone had put their face through a hole in a different painting for a photo opportunity?! I love how he is casually putting out a raging fire in a burning house with a bucket of water… (I’ve forgotten who he is and my picture is too blurry for me to read the description, but it’s from the Kirchberger Altar!) img_7658

There were very realistic still life paintings, too, which look ready to eat img_7649

– this reminded me of paintings we saw at the Ashmolean in Oxford, juicy lemons and oranges like the small painting that hangs on my mother-in-law’s dining room wall! img_7430

The highlight (for me) was a family portrait img_7646

Initially I was again attracted by the colour palette of black, grey, white and red, which often appeals to me (see The Cholmondeley Ladies below, one of my favourites!), a combination of simplicity and intricacy. I was also fascinated by the skill of the painter in capturing what are surely excellent likenesses of the family and making it obvious that this couple produced these children resembling them. I think the older lady is the paternal grandmother, don’t you? The detail of this painting is incredibly rich, with black-on-black embroidery and the tiniest of brushstrokes making for intimate realism. I could have looked for hours.

the-cholmondeley-ladies-1600-1610https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cholmondeley_Ladies – Tate Gallery London. Spot the differences!

Following on with the more sombre colour palette, I also enjoy architecture in art, so this depiction of an Amsterdam church (I think!) was very pleasing to the eye. Despite the strictness of the Low Country religious views of the time, I was interested to note that children and dogs were apparently acceptable, even breast-feeding in public, and that the gentlemen are apparently using the church as a meeting place and one has dozed off in his pew ;). img_7648

Here are two with that reduced palette, perhaps surprisingly so – img_7651sorry they are so blurred, but it’s more about the (lack of) colour here! oops

and to finish, a topical one of clear lines and true colours showing the recent birth of Christ and the care and attention mother and child received – I feel there’s something very satisfying and “finished” about this painting. img_7656

Our own tiniest family member has taken her turn in the Christening gown that is a family heirloom, made in 1913 for my great-uncle! We’ve lost count of the number of babies in the family that have worn it… img_7632She’s also lying on my mother’s baby blanket…

As I left the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, there was a beautiful shot of the sun going down over the Operaimg_7661And the following morning, the dog and I investigated St. John’s church at Feuersee, in the middle of town and yet surrounded by a pool (frozen over at this point) – just to prove that there are plenty of nice bits in this city, too!! img_7663 img_7669 img_7670

The Four Seasons

Not the band – though they were good, too! “Jersey Boys” is something I’d love to see sometime… four-seasonsAnd Vivaldi, that’s beautiful and evocative. But we’re going somewhere else, here!

As I mentioned in my last post, even as a child I enjoyed browsing through activity books and if they followed the course of the year, so much the better. I know one was a lovely nature book, just a small paperback, but it had so many interesting observations, drawings and ideas for things to do as the months go by that I particularly liked it. I’ve even tried to find it again secondhand, as my copy somehow disappeared, but as I can’t remember the exact title circa 1975 I’ve not had any luck – I’d need to flip through to see if the content rang bells, so online shopping isn’t very helpful, despite good resources for secondhand books. The publishers of Waldorf books, Verlag Freies Geistesleben, brought out a beautiful book called Das Jahreszeitenbuch (the book of seasons) about 30 years ago when I was a young mum and I bought it for myself as much as for my daughter as a treat – it’s still on my bookshelf. That aspect of the Waldorf philosophy appealed to me, adapting and flowing with the seasons and traditional holidays and this book has a very nature-inspired approach for young children, including some special songs for different times of year, baking, crafting and so on. It’s still available, too.das-jahreszeitenbuch

So perhaps it was no surprise that I inadvertently ordered this selection of yarn recently! img_7608

It was only when they were lined up like this that I realised they represent the four seasons – a cool early spring with the purple of irises and crocuses in among the light grey and  a few specks of sunshine (Llluvas), a bright and cheerful summer palette (Aniversario), an autumnal riot of rich, warm oranges with some remaining leafy green (Piedras) and finally, a wintry and stormy blue-purply-grey (Unicorn) – and all Malabrigo Mechita, Uruguayan single-ply merino in a fingering weight. I made a “Boxy” jumper by Joji Locatelli last summer in the Pearl colourway of this yarn and it’s a pleasure to knit. In fact, I then made a simple cowl to match from the leftovers.

I had chosen them purely for their colour merits and appeal to my tastes (I’m obviously a rainbow!) and with no particular project in mind, but now that they’re here and resting next to me on the table, I have decided to make them into a 2017 project and knit one each season. Inspiration can be from the colour, the colour name, the season or just because a project is particularly typical – or particularly unusual – for me!2017-calendar(this is a free downloadable and printable calendar from Calendarpedia.com that I have used in past years!)

How fitting to be starting the year with a yearlong project! That was unplanned lol. So much in our lives is not planned so let’s go with the flow.

I’ll be starting with winter (there’s still snow on the ground and bound to be more, yet),  Unicorn… hm, now what does that inspire? I’m thinking perhaps Rosewater by Janina Kallio Design, a crescent or rounded shawlette/scarf that picks up on the fact that I go by Swissrose online ;). Well, we’ll see.

And coincidentally, if there are any Gilmore Girls fans out there (oh so many parallels to my life in there, oooh…!!) you will have been watching the recent release of four new “seasons” of their lives like I have (and then bingewatching the 150 old episodes :o). Were you knitting, too?! gg-year-in-the-life