Here in Edinburgh the other day I heard Joanna Trollope at the National Gallery of Scotland talk on a novelist's view of portraiture. "Our faces are our shop window to the world," she says, and a portrait is "the ultimate tribute, the final monument ... having a majesty a photograph can seldom achieve." As a judge of the BP Portrait Award last year she has studied and appraised more 'likenesses' than most of us, and as a contributor to the Imagined Lives exhibition at the NPG in 2011/12 she created fictional biographical material for the unknown sitters of 16th- and 17th-century portraits.
As a novelist, she has always looked at faces very intently - people are her stock-in-trade - and she works with a strong (mental) visual image of her characters, although she has never created a character based on a portrait, as Tracy Chevalier has so successfully done. In her lecture she looked at four famous portraits*, discussed the faces their sitters are presenting to the world, the eloquence of their expression as captured by the artist, and the messages - implicit or overt - they convey.
I was in Oxford for a few days last week* and I popped into Oxford Yarn Store for a look, coming away with a wonderfully soft skein of handspun Jacob from a local flock. Mr. C. has already nabbed this and asked for a neckwarmer or short scarf, and his wish is my command.
From the artisanal to the mass-produced, and a ball of West Yorkshire Spinners Bluefaced Leicester DK 'Owl' which I found at Maple Tree Yarns. I've seen so many people making socks out of the WYS Country Birds range lately, and very nice they are, and as I've never used self-patterning yarn before I thought I'd start with this one. Incidentally, Maple Tree Yarns gave me extremely speedy service and their postage charge was very reasonable.
"Writing held little interest for me before I began this memoir; I always found its melody too linear. In music, the composer can make several voices speak at once. Beneath the upper register that sets the tone, there may be a concurrence of other melodies, signifying sadness or reflection, gaiety or religious devotion, like those dazzling In Nomine pieces by Bull or Sweelinck: in these, the solemn plainsong, played in the lowest register with the left hand, may be heard beneath the variations, fantasies, trills and flights of fancy expressed by the right hand. With writing, it is difficult to make several voices heard at the same time; perfect chords in literature are the work of rare geniuses, and even they cannot be relied upon: Master Shakespeare achieved it in Hamlet or Lear, Messire de Montaigne on a few of his pages, Francesco Petrarca, Torquato Tasso and Thomas Wyatt in some of their poems. But one rarely finds such complex melodies on the written page.
Now that I have myself begun to write, I understand much better how hard it is."
Socks for Mr. C. He has big feet, so I took the speedy option and used a heavier weight yarn, the very cushy Cash DK from Mellifera. The colour is Terra and looks olive green in some lights and a rich loamy brown in others, and the pattern is Cabin Socks from The Knitter's Book of Wool by Clara Parkes, shown in earlier iterations here and here.
The Snældan yarn from The Island Wool Company in the shade Midnight is a true dark blue, captured best in the picture directly above, and a brief soak in Navia Wool Care has made it soften and bloom without losing any of its character.
I spoke to Karina Westermann, the shawl's designer, at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival the other day and thanked her for such an enjoyable knit; I'm tempted to make another straightaway as it was such a soothing, rhythmic piece to work on and I love the end result.
I went to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival this morning. It's the first wool extravaganza I've ever attended so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I was as prepared as I could be with a list of shops I especially wanted to visit and yarn requirements for specific projects in mind.
Here's my haul:
Whistlebare Yeavering Bell 4ply (Fine Kid Mohair/Wensleydale), All's Shipshape.
Not true to colour - in reality it's more of a teal/turquoise than it appears here - this is the Present Cowl by Mademoiselle C, made in Lord of Silk Aran (merino/silk) from the Countess Ablaze Odyssey Trail collection, colourway He will not long be absent*.
Karina describes it as "a simple, rhythmic knit designed to give you comfort both during its making and afterwards", and I can attest to the soothing, meditative qualities of the knitting, as once the pattern is established it's intuitive, and as Karie says, rhythmic, and that appeals greatly to this maker.
I'm using the suggested wool, Snældan 2-ply from The Island Wool Company in Midnight Blue which is very characterful, and pleasant to have running through the hands, and I must be around the half way point now, keen to finish but just as keen to cast on another.
"... is an inventory of factors that never change. I think that skill with one's own hands - whether it's tilling the soil or building a house, making a piece of furniture, playing a violin, or painting a painting - is something that doesn't change with the vicissitudes of life. [Woodworking is] a kind of therapy, but it's also a stabilizing force in my life - a total rest for my mind."
That's former US President Jimmy Carter, a very accomplished woodworker, quoted in Max Adams' book The Wisdom of Trees. Mr. Carter has a fully equipped joiner's shop at his home, and the pieces he makes command high prices. His point about working with one's hands is well made.
Until the 1400 bulbs begin to flower, this cyclamen in a trough is all the colour we have in the garden just now.
In The RHS Companion to Scented Plants Stephen Lacey says of cyclamen, "To have a patch of them in the autumn garden should be the goal of every gardener. Not only are they in bloom for a long time but their patterned leaves remain in evidence throughout the winter and spring, making another lovely foil for snowdrops. To encourage a wider colonization you can transplant seedlings in the early spring; one gardener I know scatters the seed by going over the seedheads with a strimmer as they are opening, and this has proved highly successful. There are scented strains of C. hederifolium, but a richer scent comes from C. purpurascens - and also C. persicum, but this needs to be grown in pots and brought under cover when the weather turns really cold."