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. ❤






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…


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

Off to a good start

Well now, hello blogland! My mind just boggled at the many events that have happened on  the 9th January over history https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_9 – really quite something. Not the most important, but Steve Jobs introduced the iphone 10 years ago today and that HAS had a direct impact on my life and my photography (I just uploaded all my most recent photographs and we’ve recently had varying degrees of struggle to set three different iphones up…). Anyway, this is the photo that inspired today’s post: img_1622This little pile has accumulated on my coffee table so as I can say something about each one, I thought I’d take advantage!

  1. The Idea of North by Peter Davidson – I haven’t delved into this one, yet, but was attracted by the title and the introduction blurb on the back. Among other things Nordic, from “hygge” to knitting patterns, I’ve recently read The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life by Anu Partanen (which I highly recommend, incidentally – a comparison between life in Finland/Scandinavia and the USA in so many areas including birth, education, health…) and have long had a hankering for Scandinavia/Northern Europe/the North generally; it seems like it’s going to be a good choice and promises “cultural history at its best”…
  2. Peacock & Vine by A.S. Byatt – This is a beautifully written essay comparing man-of-all-trades William Morris with the Spanish fashion designer Mariano Fortuny, who spent much of his life in Venice. Very much a “compare and contrast” work, A.S. Byatt explains where these two men had similar inspirations and in which respects they were very different. It’s a small book, a fascinating read and I read the original recommendation on Cornflower Books’ blog at http://www.cornflowerbooks.co.uk/2016/01/looking-forward-to-reading-.html.
  3. Mit Kindern durch das ganze Jahr by Peter Gogen – Apparently something of a classic children’s book in the 1970s, there are dozens of copies for sale second-hand (I probably picked it up at a Brockenhaus years ago) but I can’t find anything about the author. It’s one of those books with an activity for every day of the year, relatively few illustrations and where the tone expects that children between around 8-12 (my personal estimate) are independent and curious readers and are getting a thorough education – I’m afraid it is that which dates it most, as I imagine that age group these days has most often been dumbed down and is used to everything in digital multicolour comic style. Sad. I still think it has loads of interesting information and lots of ideas of things to do, make, experiment with and so on, and I like to look at it now and again. Occasionally I filter something from it to use with my grandchildren. I’ve always loved this kind of book myself, an only child who spent hours of the 1970s poring over something similar in English. I’m old-fashioned like that!
  4. SPQR by Mary Beard – Obviously, this is going to be about the Romans. Mary Beard is well known as a specialist in this field and I’ve enjoyed several TV series of her enthusiastic explanations of all things Roman. My mother and daughter have already got through this tome and now it’s my turn – I hear it’s very “engaging”! Quite apart from the subject matter, I sympathise with Mary Beard, who is criticised by the media for believing that appearances aren’t everything and lets her long grey hair blow around (as I do)!
  5. The Vikings by Jonathan Clements – Ah now, this one I have already listened to as an audiobook several times. Alone, with my daughter and son-in-law while they painted the house in Brittany, with my husband, daughter again, alone again – and again and again. There is so much in it and I can’t seem to remember it from one listen to the next so I got hold of a paper copy to give my daughter and now I get to borrow it and hope that reading a real book might make the stories sink in better (I have a very visual memory, especially for names – this is why I actually read The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan while I listen to it and knit, which freaks my husband out a bit but it’s the best way for me to retain even a fraction of the myriad stuff going on! If only the two texts were identical…). In my view, history books are enormous value for money! This one is well-written and entertaining and in the audiobook version, so well read you don’t doze off (my opinion of the reader of the Silk Roads is less charitable, since he doesn’t seem to recognise punctuation :o).

Well, that is 5 for January – let’s see how well I do with them this month, alongside everything else! We do still have snow (and more forecast!), the evenings are still dark, but some of the days have been stunning – I caught this behind the station just as the sun went down last Friday on my way home from an excellent exhibition in Zurich about the Japanese artist Ito Shinsui (http://www.rietberg.ch/itoshinsui_en and https://www.artelino.com/articles/ito_shinsui.asp): img_7574



A New Year

Our year was wrapped up en famille, which is always good – over several days and in several different combinations, as well as several different places, we got everyone together – img_8509 img_7418 img_7436 img_7485…and toasted the end of a difficult year, but one which does seem to have gone very fast! img_7489So here we are in 2017 – the tree has been taken down img_7568and we have snow! img_7513I love snow – as do the dog and my grandson, who came to stay – img_7547 img_7537 img_7534That was shortly before the snowball met its target – me 😮

Indoors, things were quieter img_7565 img_7570 img_7506 And all the while, the baby seems oblivious in a cloud of pink – aaaaah! img_7566Which rather sums up January, as this illustration from an old German activity book (1976…) shows! img_7502

Nearly there

Advent is almost a whole week longer this year, so ample time to check out the decorations around town – img_7345 img_7347 img_7350 img_7352I definitely like simple and pretty!

Reindeer live here – just behind this frosted tree (it’s not snow, just frozen fog up on the hill!), in a big stable very prettily hung with lights as you approach from below, and the restaurant across the road is about the wildest it gets around here in the way of deco – food and staff are lovely, too. No, we don’t eat these reindeer, they are the owner’s pets! The grandchildren were taken in last year when, just before Christmas, the reindeer weren’t there, off on their world tour…

img_7329 img_7330Our tree is up, with each of these sweet girls representing one of our three daughters 🙂 img_7358A very happy holiday season to everyone out there, enjoy your families and take a moment to prepare for 2017! img_7390