Beautiful Houses (and a Spectacular One)

Hello!

Today I’d like to take you along for a bicycle ride. The traffic signs can be slightly confusing, but don’t worry, I know the way.

My foot injury is healing really well now, and I’m able to go for short walks, but my daily exercise still mainly takes the form of cycling. I’m so glad I’ve been able to continue doing that – it keeps me fit and healthy.

The countryside around here is not as flat as most parts of the Netherlands.

It is slightly undulating and riding an ordinary (not electrically assisted) bicycle like mine, is a good workout.

While I’m cycling, I love looking at beautiful houses, like this one basking like a cat in the late afternoon sun.

Or this one with its cheerful shutters.

Or this one in a lovely sheltered spot.

Or this one with the day’s washing drying in the wind.

My family is always laughing at me, when I show pictures of beautiful houses like these on my blog, saying, ‘People around the world reading this will think that we lead charmed lives and all live in picturesque thatched cottages or farmhouses!’

They are right, we don’t. Our house and most others are more modern and modest, and we get our fair share of woes and worries. Only last year a crystal meth lab was discovered in a picturesque house along today’s route (not in any of the photos) and a cocaine laundry in a farm building along one of my other routes.

But I’m not fooling you. It IS true that there are a lot of these lovely houses around here. Just like it is true that we really have windmills, although most of them are no longer working.

It was late afternoon. Taking pictures along the way slowed me down, and in the end I had to hurry to reach the best house of all before the light had gone. It’s not just a beautiful house, but a downright spectacular one!

This is its front door.

And here it is in its entirety.

From a distance it looks like an age-old castle, but it was built in recent years. From reclaimed materials.

The castle has lots of whimsical details – let’s zoom in on a few of them.

Here is one richly decorated turret, with coloured bricks, tiled squares, a spider’s web stained-glass window, and a couple of golden ‘girls’.

A fierce looking bird on another one.

While I was looking at the castle, I was wondering what the things sticking up in the air on the battlements of the north tower were. Zooming in on the photographs at home made me laugh out loud – they were the legs of upside-down mannequins.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it was spectacular, was I? The owner/builder must be a person with shedloads of focus. And a great sense of humour!

On the way back, I saw the first newborn lamb of the year. I don’t know what breed it is.

The light was fading quickly.

It was good to come back to our own unspectacular but beautiful-to-me house.

In addition to working on, ahem, ‘several’ other knitting projects, I’m knitting rows of beautiful blue-green houses for another Thús 2. More about that when it’s finished.

Thank you for coming along!

Advent Calendars and Seasonal Drinks

Hello! Do you have an Advent calendar? A home made one? A new one, or one you use year after year? A paper one, or one with ‘real’ gifts?

Advent calendars are not a tradition I grew up with. My Dad did not believe in Christmas. My Mum’s belief in Christmas was very strong, but of a kind that did not approve of such things. This year, however, there are no less than three Advent calendars in our home. It seems like I have some catching up to do.

The first one is the one you see at the top – a fir tree that is gradually filled with birds, nest boxes and animals. It was a gift from our daughter last year and can be used again and again. It is a small treat to hunt for that day’s ornament in their box every morning and add it to the tree.

The second Advent calendar is a traditional paper one with a door to open every day. It is next to my bed and the first thing I see in the morning when I turn on the light.

It was a gift from a dear friend. I found it in our letterbox on December 5th (our traditional gift-giving day), in a large envelope that also contained a pair of beautiful ‘pre-loved’ earrings and a bag of tea from Germany with the brilliant name Warme Socken (I don’t think I need to translate that).

It is a delicious seasonal blend of rose hips, apples, almonds, cinnamon, cloves and more.

The third Advent calendar was, in a way, also a gift from the same friend, because she recommended it to me. This one is in the shape of a book, The Alternative Advent Calendar: Secrets of the True Spirit of Christmas by Gillian Monks.

The book gives ideas for things to do for every day of the Advent period that are, in the words of the author, ‘universally relevant, regardless of geographical and genetic origins, social, academic or professional status, cultural background, religion or belief.’

All of the ideas in it are small and enjoyable ways to offer of yourself to the world. Most of them can easily be done even during the strict lockdown we are now finding ourselves in, in the Netherlands. Some require a little creativity under these special circumstances, but so far I have only found one that seems well-nigh impossible: ‘Open your door to all. Invite all your neighbours to supper – and I mean ALL your neighbours… as many as you can sensibly fit inside your house.’

Although the book was only published in 2019, this now sounds like a bizarre idea from a very distant past or for a far-off future, almost like an indecent proposal. But with a bit of creativity… a Zoom supper, perhaps?

Behind another ‘door’ there is a more doable suggestion: ‘Make someone a hot or cold drink’. My friend did that from a distance by sending me Warme-Socken-tea. In my turn, I am offering you a virtual hot drink.

Cinnamon-and-Orange Cocoa

For one small mug, you’ll need:

  • 10 grams of chocolate (I use a very dark chocolate, but think any kind will work)
  • Finely grated zest of half an orange
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • 200 ml milk (I’m allergic to cow’s milk and use plant-based ‘milk’ – the rice-and-coconut variety is my favourite for this recipe)
  • Sugar or honey to taste

To make the cocoa:

  • Break the chocolate into chunks and put them in a small saucepan, together with the orange zest, the cinnamon and a little of the milk
  • Heat, stirring until the chocolate has melted
  • Add the rest of the milk and bring to the boil
  • Pour into a mug, add some sugar or honey if you like, and enjoy!

You’re welcome to virtually join me on the veranda in front of our garden shed. I don’t usually go to the trouble of outdoor decorating in winter, but in this special year I’ve made it into a cozy corner.

Our garden bench is overwintering there. It should of course have a beautiful hand knit blanket hanging over the back instead of this Ikea one, but nobody’s perfect. Maybe next year.

I’ve placed a few candles next to it on a rickety old footstool. One of the glasses has a felted sheep’s wool jacket, bought at a fair a few years back.

And in the back our little laurel tree is protected from the elements.

It looks happy there, and for the first time ever has flower buds.

According to the Alternative Advent Calendar, I should have asked you what you’d like to drink first. I didn’t know how to do that here, so I’ve chosen cocoa. For our friends in the southern hemisphere – please pour yourselves a cold drink from us! And for anyone who doesn’t like hot cocoa – maybe you’d prefer some Winter Tea instead? You can find my recipe for that here.

Monogrammed Guest Towel

Hello!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember that I’ve inherited two samplers – an embroidery sampler and a knitting sampler. The embroidery sampler was made by my Mum, aged 8, in 1941. I don’t know anything about the date or the maker of the knitting sampler.

The samplers spent decades in my parents’ attic, and after that, over twenty years in a deep dark cupboard in my home. High time to give them the attention they deserve. I’ve been studying them closely and thinking about the people who made them, and I’d love to find out more about the knitting sampler. But first and foremost, my hands were itching to DO something with them.

The word ‘sampler’ is related to ‘example’, and that is exactly what samplers like these were meant for. To provide the girls who made them with examples to be used later in life, for useful and beautiful textiles for their families and homes.

For my first sampler-based project, I’ve stayed close to that idea. Combining and adapting elements from both samplers, I’ve designed and knit a monogrammed guest towel, using the yarn left over from the monogram for a small face cloth.

For the first version that I made, I also stayed close to the original colours.

From the knitting sampler, I borrowed the second stitch pattern from the bottom – mini-blocks. That was simple.

Translating the embroidered letters into knitted ones was less straightforward, because a cross stitch is square while a knit stitch is a flat rectangle. You know what it’s like when your tv screen has the wrong picture format and people’s faces get squashed? That’s what would happen if the letters were simply copied from the embroidered examples in knitting.

So, to begin with, I stretched the letters out. As a result some of the ‘legs’ looked wrong, and I had to alter those. When I tried knitting them, I found out that the letters still didn’t look quite right, and I tweaked a few other details until I was happy with them.

The second problem I ran up against, was that my Mum’s sampler didn’t have a complete alphabet – it had only 19 letters. It did have an M and a D (for Merula Designs), but it lacked several other essential letters. Looking at similar samplers, I finally pieced together a complete knittable alphabet. Phew, problems solved.

Or so I thought. Because when I started knitting more swatches, I soon realized that the back of the monogram wasn’t going to look very attractive. Uh-oh.

In the end, I solved that by adding a nice little surprise to the back.

I tried out several loops and decided on a bit of I-cord. Then I knit another towel, and another one – each with a matching face cloth. Here is a close-up of the loops…

… and one of the monograms.

Each towel & face cloth set was knit in a different yarn.

I’d like to go greener in my knitting, but that isn’t always easy. First, because there are some old yarn friends that I’m strongly attached to. Second, because the choice in organic yarns is still very limited. And third, because organic yarns can be rather expensive. In the end I came up with 3 options:

  1. An old friend: Rowan ‘Handknit cotton’ (linen/red version)
  2. An affordable organic yarn: Lana Grossa ‘Linea Pura Organico’ (cream/taupe version)
  3. An inexpensive sustainable yarn: Drops ‘Paris Recycled Denim’ (blue version)

If I’m honest, the organic version is my favourite. It is very soft and supple.

But the other ones are really nice, too.

I’ve written out the pattern for anyone who would like to make a monogrammed guest towel of their own. Personalized with the recipient’s monogram, I think a guest towel & face cloth set would make a lovely Christmas, Birthday or Wedding Anniversary gift.

The pattern includes:

  • Clear knitting instructions and charts for towel & face cloth
  • A complete knittable alphabet
  • Instructions and an empty grid for designing your own monogram
  • Tips for knitting the monogram and the I-cord loop

The Monogrammed Guest Towel pattern can be found here on Ravelry
(available in English & Dutch, also to non-Ravelry members)

Now, what else could I make based on my inherited samplers? Hmmmm……

As always, thank you for reading and take care! Xxx

Treasure Hunting

While I was folding laundry at our dining table, my eye was suddenly drawn to the wicker chair on the left. The sun slanting through the back of the chair made a lovely pattern of small triangles on the seat.

I grabbed my camera and took a few pictures.

Wow! Maybe I could translate that into a piece of knitting. Lace, perhaps, or some colourwork?

This period of staying at home has made me look at my immediate surroundings more closely.

The wooden fence at the back of our house had always been just that – a wooden fence. Until recently. Looking out, I suddenly noticed how the grazing light made the patterning in the wood stand out beautifully.

Again, I see potential for knitting in it. What if I tried to replicate it in two-tone brioche?

In the living room, I looked at the feathers on the back of a wooden raven through the lens of my camera.

Wouldn’t those look wonderful as cables in a tweedy yarn?

Walking around with a camera in hand, can be like a treasure hunt. On the spectrum of hunter-gatherers, I’m much more a gatherer than a hunter, as I wrote here. I usually just take pictures of things that draw my eye, and then sometimes a pattern or a theme emerges afterwards. That was what happened when I wrote, for instance, Shades of green.

But it can be fun to actively go hunting for treasures, too. One day they could be things in a certain colour, the next day things with interesting patterns, and the day after that things with a particular shape, say circles.

Bread rising basket
Old pudding basin

I don’t know anything about photography. I have a small camera that easily fits into a jacket pocket. It’s of a type that’s often called point-and-shoot, and that’s what I do with it – point and shoot. Although it has lots of other features, I always have it on AUTO and only zoom in or out. For the rest, I let the camera do the work.

I don’t know anything about photo editing either. The only editing software I use is the programme provided by Microsoft. I don’t even know what it’s called. I can straighten the horizon if necessary, rotate photos, make them darker if they’re overexposed, and cut off bits I don’t like. That’s all.

Being a seriously good photographer takes a lot of dedication, practice and know-how. But enjoying taking pictures doesn’t. Photography can be a lot of fun, even for somebody who doesn’t know anything about it. You don’t need any fancy equipment – a small camera or even a smartphone will do. And you don’t need to travel far, either. I didn’t leave the house for any of the pictures here.

Standing in the front door opening, I photographed the roofs of the terraced houses across the street.

The tiles make an interesting pattern in themselves. But when I closed the door and looked in the same direction through the frosted glass the result was simply amazing.

It made me think of the lozenges in Argyll knitting.

Treasures (and knitting inspiration) can be found everywhere and anywhere.

Take care! xxx

3 Reasons for Knitting Dishcloths

There aren’t many taboos left in this country. We Dutch are a broad-minded people in general. If someone were to say, for instance, ‘I’m a dominatrix in my spare time,’ people will in all likelihood go like, ‘That sounds fascinating! Tell us all about it.’ But there are still some subjects that we avoid talking about.

When people ask me what I do in my spare time and I tell them that I knit, their eyes tend to glaze over. They say things like: ‘Oh, ah, my Nan used to do that,’ and then the conversation falls flat. It’s the same with housekeeping. We don’t talk about it. It isn’t considered sexy.

Cheryl Mendelson, a former lawyer and professor of philosophy, knows about this taboo. She starts her informative and entertaining book Home Comforts with the words: ‘I am a working woman with a secret life: I keep house.’

When she told people she was writing a book about the nitty-gritty of housekeeping, the reactions she got were not undividedly enthusiastic. And she writes that even for herself ‘the subject was actually something of a hot potato’ (p. 4).

I’ve kept quiet about two such ‘hot potatoes’ for a long time. My nearest and dearest knew about them, but I usually avoided these subjects with strangers. Starting this blog has felt like a kind of coming out with regard to knitting. And with today’s blog post about knitting dishcloths I feel like I’m getting to the next level, because it’s about housekeeping, too. Another subject that makes us cringe.

Handknit dishcloths = knitting + housekeeping = double cringe

(Or is it just me? How do you feel about this? Do you knit dishcloths too? How do people react? Do you mind?)

So, why knit dishcloths anyway?

For me, the seed was sown in Norway in 2006, when I bought Vinterlappar og annen vintermoro, a crafts book with many great ideas for things to make and do in winter. There is also a knitting pattern for a dishcloth in it. It was the picture of the stacks of dishcloths in shades of blue and green that did it for me. How lovely!

But knitting dishcloths? No, no, no, I wasn’t going there. Too twee by half!

I came across more handknit dishcloths in Scandinavian magazines that made me sigh ‘how lovely’, but always a feeling of embarrassment held me back.

Early this summer a knitting friend showed me the dishcloths she’d knit. Again I thought ‘how lovely’. And this time, I  finally caved in. Why? Well, for several reasons.

Reasons for knitting dishcloths #1: Choosing the yarn is fun

Choosing yarn is always fun. In this case you’ll need cotton, a material available in many, many colours, which makes it even more fun. And the advantage with choosing yarn for dishcloths compared to items to wear is that you can choose any colours you like – bright or subtle. They don’t have to look good with your clothes, your hair or your complexion.

As I don’t have a lot of experience knitting with cotton yarns, this opened up a whole new world for me. I browsed around in shops and on the internet until I hit on a yarn that came with a shade card. (I love shade cards!)

I chose 3 shades of blue and cast on for my first dishcloth. And that brings us to

Reason for knitting dishcloths #2: Scope for trying out stitch patterns

Dishcloths are ideal for trying out and enjoying the rhythms of all kinds of stitch patterns. I started with one in broken rib:

Lovely in all its simplicity, but the edges were rather loose. Hmmm – something to do differently next time.

I immediately cast on for the next one. This time in broken basket weave, a pattern that required a little more attention.

Even nicer than the first, because it has a border in garter stitch that gives it stability, and because the stitch pattern is more interesting to knit and look at.

For my third dishcloth I chose a stitch pattern called Cable Stitch in the booklet I used. At home we call this stitch ‘Coffee Beans’. I had my doubts about this one, because it is a very stretchy stitch that I would normally rather choose for something like sock cuffs. It looked really nice in the photograph, though, so I tried it anyway. But I ended up with a long and narrow dishcloth, which was not what I was aiming for:

After washing I was able to block it to a square cloth…

… but I’m not happy with the edges, and I wonder what is going to happen when I use it and wash it again. I definitely don’t intend to block my dishcloths every time I’ve washed them.

By this time I was so taken with these simple little cloths, that I asked our daughter to get some more yarn from a shop she passes every day on her way to work. ‘Please choose some harmonious shades,’ I said. And she picked these:

Nice and subtle, aren’t they? While you’re reading this, there are more dishcloths in the making. I’ll write about these, about the yarns, and about my experiences with using and washing them in another post.

Ah, dishcloths are such great little projects. And that brings us to reason number three.

Reason for knitting dishcloths #3: Portability

A dishcloth would make an ideal travel project – small, lightweight, not too difficult. But…

… what if I’m knitting on the train and someone asks me what I’m making? What do I do then? I can’t just admit I’m knitting a dishcloth, can I? Way too embarrassing!

Still, one day, with a long train journey ahead of me, I put my embarrassment aside. I didn’t have anything else suitable to take along, so I grabbed my current dishcloth and stuffed it into my backpack. But when the guard who came along to check our tickets asked me, ‘What are you making? A scarf?’ I was only too relieved that she hurried on without waiting for an answer. Phew!

Will there ever come a day when I can say, ‘I’m a dishcloth knitter and proud of it’?