The Outsider View

This week’s blog is brought to you by Mr RustyRenault, who features in the saga of the green cabled cardigan part 1 and part 2. You can read more of his ramblings on The Datsuncog Blog.


My grandmother knitted.

In just three words, this pretty much sums up my prior experience, and preconceptions, of yarncraft.


Two steel  needles, the grey paint worn away at the tips, clicking through a slow accumulation of blue acrylic matter (in a shade I’ve yet to encounter on anything else) drawn from a gingham patchwork bag, on its way to becoming another teacosy or bed jacket or some other domestic  item, both feminine and faintly pointless.

Until quite recently, knitting as a pastime existed for me through that haze of memories, mixed in with the faintly musty smell of the ‘good room’, the slow tick of a casement clock, and reading through the Sunday Post cartoon pages perched on a footstool while nibbling at a slightly chewy shah biscuit.

It appeared a placid, sedentary, and ultimately grandmotherly activity and – to me – about as exciting as putting together a jigsaw composed of nothing but identical interlocking pieces. What was the point? Couldn’t you just, like, buy a tea cosy? Like most other things in my grandmother’s old-fashioned house, it fascinated me but ultimately struck me as belonging to another era.


My aunt also knitted.

In contrast to her mother’s choice of muted, almost-cornflower-blue yarn, here we had Wacky Yarns. A riot of primary colours spilling from a basket, waiting to be transformed into Jean Greenhowe knitted clowns and jumpers featuring bold paint splodge designs and colourwork cartoon characters.

While these knits were maybe more appealing to my seven-year-old self – and indeed, my brother and I benefited from some of these jumpers, and the clowns too – they didn’t really improve my perception of knitting as a hobby. Like whittling spoons, I would concede it was both possible and theoretically useful – but why the hell would you bother? The time and effort did not seem to equal to the end result; the output merely appeared to be the result of some productive twitching.  And that was that. Opinion: FORMED.


It would be fair to say that I didn’t give knitting very much thought for the next few decades. Other than walking past those ‘wool shops’ on provincial high streets (which, I now know, sell very little in the way of fibre which ever existed on a sheep’s back), knitters and yarncraft mainly occupied a separate sphere from my own. A sphere populated by elderly ladies, teapots, and a certain respectable viewpoint of industriousness for its own sake – rather than the usefulness of the finished article.


I suppose I had a vague awareness of the vogue for yarnbombing in the early 2000s. Living in Brighton around that time, I’d be walking to work and suddenly notice that a postbox had been enrobed in a clashing nightmare of stitched-together squares. But hey, it was Brighton – like tourists posing beside Banksy graffiti, paying obscene prices for a pint, and scrawny old men with massive beards going for a swim in the briny soup by the ruined West Pier, it was just one of those things that happened. Those crazy art students from the college, amirite?


And so I bimbled along in supreme ignorance for a few more years, never suspecting that yarncraft and I had a date with destiny. Almost literally – although at the point I started dating my wife-to-be, she wasn’t yet  a knitter. Yet.


I’m still not quite sure the point at which that changed. About five years ago, perhaps? I think it began for my SO as a joint project with a friend; some mention of learning to crochet together, just for fun. It was a logical follow-on from a series of quilting projects, and I found myself standing around, with some bemusement, looking at hooks and things in Dunelm and places like that. A wooden odds-and-ends bowl was repurposed as a receptacle for what I still thought of as ‘wool’, and evenings started to involve patterns balanced on chair arms, the appearance of crocheted coasters and tissue-box covers, and some mild cursing.


Although I was absolutely impressed at the creation of actual objects from what looked like a bundle of pretty string, it wasn’t quite enough to grab my imagination. I did however quite enjoy looking round the few yarn shops that existed in the locality – the different colours, thicknesses and textures of the bundles that lived on the shelves. Gradually, I became aware that not all yarns were wool, and that not all yarns were equal – a Debbie Bliss tweed 4-ply in Lighthouse Yarns was a world away from a lump of solid-colour acrylic doubleknit from Poundland; and in turn this was different from West Yorkshire Spinners’ Blueface Leicester sock yarn.  I was learning. Slowly.

At some point, I became dimly aware that crocheting had now morphed into knitting – though I still confused the two sometimes and referred to the wrong one, so it remained a learning process. (I learned, for example, that if the tool hurts more to pull out than when it’s stabbed in, then it was crocheting rather than knitting…)

Other things started to appear around the house, beyond mug cosies and mitts – now shawls, hats, socks. And as we stopped frequenting the shops that sold the bright acrylic stuff, the names of certain brands started to flit into conversations. And designers. Dyers. Retailers.

I can vividly remember picking up a skein of deep purply Juniper Moon, a merino silk blend, in the Textile Studio in Ballyhackamore, and finally making the connection that while Drops and the like was undeniably good, this stuff was actively sublime. There was a lustre and fineness to the fibre I’d never before encountered.

We’d levelled-up.

In time, the projects became more ambitious – and some of the end products were directed my way. First came an orange cowl and matching mitts, then a Flax jumper – the first fitted garment off the needles (the needles, by the way, were no longer the grey Pony pins redolent of my youth, nor even the KnitPro bamboos, but now an impressive set of HiyaHiya interchangeable circulars). One of the best of the early knits gifted to me was a Stephen West ‘Clockwork’ shawl, knitted using a rather marvellous Dublin Dye hand-dye in a fantastic petrol blue shade, procured from This Is Knit in Dublin…


I should point out that I’ve never asked for anything to be knitted on my behalf; rather, a prospective knit just seems to be bestowed upon me on occasion. It’s sort of a Divine Provenance kind of moment; and while I may be permitted a degree of latitude in colour selection and design, it’s only fair that the knitter gets the ultimate say. Hey, it stops me asking for knee-length coat done in Hedgehog Fibres laceweight, for one.

Not that such an honour is without risk, of course. Whenever a project undertaken on my behalf seems to be going awry, I have to confess to feeling hideously guilty because of, y’know, having arms and stuff. A cableknit jacket (it’s way more than a cardigan) designed from scratch entailed more applied mathematics than a NASA rocket launch to get it to completion, while a current v-neck jumper project – another scratchknit, this time using some phenomenal  Hebridean Knight overdyed in orange by Countess Ablaze – has caused a fair amount of heartache, tear-back and consignment to the Naughty Step for extended periods – all occasionally garnished with the sort of colourful language that might make a docker blush.

But I really do appreciate the effort, the dedication and the properties of the yarn itself that goes into each of these projects. I’ve been present for nearly every stitch created, and I’ve contributed (in a minimal way) through providing tea, chocolate and (sometimes) gin on demand.

In addition, I’ve greatly enjoyed learning not just about the actual skill, but the context of yarncraft in an historical and anthropological sense; in the conservation of heritage breeds, and passing on of ancient techniques; in the experimentation of local dyers and their marvellous products. I often have to provide reassurance that I’m not bored when looking round yarn shops and shows – I genuinely enjoy it. And apparently I do have a reasonably good eye for selecting colours that combine well, or spotting something particularly exquisite amongst a table of coiled colours.

I should perhaps also point out that I did try my hand at knitting, just the once. Despite expert tuition, my somewhat furrowed freeform efforts were not even suitable for cleaning the floor with. I’ve no doubt that, given enough practice, I could manage to produce an acceptable floorcloth – but then again, is it a good thing to get into a competitive-knitting scenario with one’s other half? Hey, someone’s got to make the tea…

And so, with the fruits of one of the summer projects gracing my neck every day – a hugely lofty and warming Stephen West ‘Rockefeller’– I’m forever surprised and grateful at the endless invention, dedication and history behind the art of the knitter. Conservative or outrageous, functional or frivolous, there are yarns, stitches and patterns for all, forever. And I haven’t even touched on the community and activist side of knitting and yarncraft, on which I could probably prattle out another few thousand words. Another day, perhaps.

I really do wonder what my grandmother would make of it all…



Gone dippin’

In my last missive I promised a departure from the ‘misery memoir’ narrative.  I am pleased (and more than a little bit relieved) to be able to keep that promise. My life has been relatively trauma free (except for the tiny matter of the house being broken into and the car stolen – but as it did not actually involve a trip to A&E I’m considering it a mere wrinkle).

A while back we saw an advert for Dippy at the Ulster Museum.  Now, as every middle class, Blue Peter watching child on earth knows, Dippy is the diplodocus skeleton which normally resides in the natural History Museum in London.  At this point, I feel I must nail my colours to the mast and own up to calling this particular genus of dinosaur a ‘dip – low – do – kus’ rather than the more fashionable ‘di – plod – eh – kus’. Enabling me to sing ‘ hocus pocus diplodocus ‘- with abandon.

When the news of Dippy’s visit became known among SNB – the phrase ‘Kippy at Dippy’ was coined and an outing was planned.

So.……………. at 11.30 knitters, kids and a very brave husband pitched up at the museum for our slot. The exhibition was wonderful which explored local geology and fossils. Then, quite suddenly we turned a corner at got a glimpse of the ‘big girl’. The skeleton was within a cordon surrounded by displays and several cabinets filled with stuffed dead things! Our youngest companion spent a long time totally absorbed in the creation of a detailed drawing of Dippy and her surroundings – it was enchanting.

Once we were all Dippyed out we repaired to the café to knit and chat (or stitch and bitch if you will). As always the conversation soon drifted from, ‘what are you working on?’ to ‘what do you call those islands up north where they kill things?’ (The Faroe’s), Can a earthenware pot containing a stew topped with a pastry lid be considered a pie? (most definitely not!!) – and most pertinently, why did Andrea knit all those rows without increasing like the pattern said???? (the jury is still out on that)

All in all it was a ‘lovely wee day’, a gentle, highly irreverent,  laughter filled reminder of why we plan these events.  More of the same please!!

ps. Since my phone ‘upgraded’ it has steadfastly refused to send pictures so apologies for the lack of images.  Don’t worry, its only a matter of days before I drop this one down the toilet too and go back to my old phone and normal service will be resumed.


It’s Almost Halloween! (AKA Cats in Hats)

I know this post might be controversial for some, so if you’re in any way squeamish, look away now.

If you’re lucky enough to be owned by a fabulous feline, you’re already well aware that many are excellent at performance art. Some even excel. Like Gus the Theatre Cat in T.S. Eliot’s poem, some cats are born for the limelight, and as owned humans, it is our duty to oblige.

A couple years ago I was given a pattern book by a friend who understands me, my cats, and how we roll here as Casa McColgan. This book, Cats in Hats, was exactly what I was looking for. Bangs, my all-black, polydactyl, used-to-be-feral-but-now-domesticated shorthair, was thrilled.


Bangs, with the book Cats in Hats by Sara Thomas

Let me digress a moment. Bangs has always been a bit of a diva. Here he is several Halloweens ago with Osa, his kitty housemate:


And last Halloween, as Bat Cat, and the Halloween before that, as a lion:

He’s always been a bit of a goofball.


Anyway, back to the hats. First, I made the dinosaur hat, cause duh, DINOSAURS. Merri was particularly fond of that one. D02056F5-2427-475F-BB20-6320EC2B39AB

This year, due to the popularity of the song Baby Shark in our house, it was only fitting that I made the shark hat. The whole house was delighted – especially my 3yo, of course!

So there you have it. Cats sometimes do wear hats. If your feline fancies a little something for his or her wardrobe, this book offers lots of options in both knit and crochet. And since almost all the hats are worked around a similar base, they’re easy to adapt too, in case you don’t find that special something you’re looking for. In the meantime, we’ll just be over here, rockin’ out to Baby Shark…


It’s a mystery

We all love a mystery. From the moment we were plopped in front of the TV with Scooby Doo to entertain us, we’ve been hooked. Who was the mysterious ghost that the Scooby Gang were hunting down! And from those early moments, the thrall of the mystery has stuck with us. How many TV shows do you watch that are mysteries? From Colombo, NCIS and Bones the love of a mystery has stuck with us (not to mention the many many incarnations of the Agatha Christie stories!)

Even crafting has its mysteries with the various MKAL/MCAL’s that are going on (mystery knitalong/crochetalong) where clues are released over a set period of time. You only see the full project once you’ve finished making it!
But if a MKAL/MCAL isn’t for you, there’s always the Mystery of the Yarn Box. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for a yarn box. The dyer picks a theme and creates a box of goodies around that theme.
So far, I’ve had boxes from Dye Candy, Unbelievawool, Rosie’s Moments, Yarn for the Soul and EweMomma and I was thrilled with each and every one of them.
I’m going to make you all jealous and show you the contents of the latest yarn boxes – Yarn for the Soul and EweMomma.
Let’s start with Yarn for the Soul shall we. Well the box is Afternoon Tea themed and cost about £45.00 including postage (I think)
Look at all the lovely things!!!!!

In this box you got 2 Skeins of sock yarn in the Club Sandwich colourway which is just so funny, a cute little cucumber sandwich stitch marker, macaroon, posh napkin, delicious scented candle, tea and teapot biscuit. Everything you need for an afternoon tea!
This was a luxury box (given the price) but there are boxes that start at £17.00 – I’ve one on its way which combines yarn and stationery! The perfect combo!

Ewe Momma’s yarn box was part of a new monthly club – The Readersheep Mob and is based on a different author per month.
October’s author was Sir Arthur Conon Doyle and could only mean one thing – SHERLOCK! If my memory serves me correctly, this was £30ish.

In this first instalment, I picked it up from the post office on the way to meet 2 friends, so the unveiling had an audience! We got sock yarn in the Victorian Creeper colourway (as that’s what Conon Doyle was nicknamed apparently) a bookmark showing the 221B Baker Street front door, Hound of the Baskerville’s themed badges, your very own copy of the Hound of the Baskervilles (Ok, so it’s a mini book stitch marker, and I tell you, I’m building up quite the library of them!) and a pocket mirror! I love everything and will be definitely signing up for future boxes…. The current one is JK Rowling and the sign ups close on Friday.
So these are just two examples of mystery boxes. As I’ve already said, I’ve loved each box I’ve received and basically snap it off the postman when he delivers it. The anticipation of delivery is nothing compared to the slow unwrapping the boxes get and the ohhs and ahhhhs as each items is revealed.
Who do you get your yarn boxes from?
Who should I try out next?

A Pilgrim’s Progress, or The Evolution of Stash

My first foray into yarncraft as an adult (we’ll ignore the failed attempts at knitting from primary school…) was crochet, using a plain Pony hook and some cheap acrylic yarn. After a period of frustration watching Youtube videos, the process did eventually click and I was able to make some simple things. I only had the one hook, and fairly soon I wanted to try something that required a different size. As it happened, my LYS had a good range of Clover hooks with a wide handle so I bought one of those, instead of the plain, thin style. Right away, the difference was clear – the wide, flat handle style suited my hooking style MUCH better, and I could crochet faster and longer.

In terms of needles, once I got on to knitting, I again had the grey Pony brand monstrosities. This, coupled with the aforementioned squeaky acrylic nearly made me give up knitting altogether. At some relatively early point though, I didn’t have the right size of the plasticky needles and I bought a set of KnitPro Zings. Metal, a bit sharper – definitely more my style! From there, I tried out a set of HiyaHiya Sharps (super-pointy, super-slick), and I’ve been using those pretty much exclusively since.



Back when I was buying knitting and crochet magazines fairly often, I noticed every issue had yarn reviews. I must confess (avert your eyes, those of a sensitive yarn-snob disposition!) that I actually couldn’t understand this at the time – sure all yarn is the same, is it not? I had been fortunate enough to have purchase Stylecraft acrylic as some of my first yarn, so I hadn’t appreciated how truly awful – and squeaky – acrylic can be. And I hadn’t yet experience animal fibre, or cotton, so it was just pure ignorance. My first skein of luxury yarn was some orange Arucania Lace (which is actually about fingering weight). I didn’t have a swift or winder, so the winding of this was a nightmare. But it got me into fibres other than acrylic. From there, I experimented with all weights and colours, and a variety of fibre content. My current favourite yarn to knit with is something non-superwash and about fingering weight. Whether I want the super-smoothness of merino, or something a bit toothier depends on my mood. I still don’t mind crocheting with acrylic (as long as it’s something decent, like Stylecraft), but I hate knitting with anything except wool or alpaca.



What are your favourite yarns and tools? Has it changed over time?

The Stroke, The Horse and The Hot Water Bottle

One of these days i’m going to write a blog that doesn’t read like a Frank McCourt ‘misery memoir’. However, recent events mean that this is not going to be that blog!

As you know from previous missives, in June I had an episode, a strokette if you please (THE STROKE). I wrote then about the struggle to get my head back around crafting, which I was managing well and enjoying until……..

Middle Child (MC) and I were walking in the Glens of Antrim in order to spend some time together and to loose a bit of weight and improve my levels of fitness. MC is a keen horse rider, so as a surprise I booked a ‘horse picnic’ for us (At this event you ride the horses and meet the food, as opposed to eating the horse). The trip was amazing and we hacked up the mountain, enjoyed our picnic and hacked back down. Flo (the horse) and I had formed what I felt was a strong bond. Back at the stables there was a bit of time left and the stable girl asked if we wanted to trot around the ring for a while. MC enthusiastically agreed and I followed in a slightly less spritely manner into the sawdust.  While not an accomplished horsewoman, I considered myself competent in the rising trot. Unfortunately, the relationship between (wo)man and beast was far from symbiotic and before too long, Flo was cantering and I was struggling. First I lost one stirrup and then the other and somewhere in the middle of this I also lost the reins. Without these three points of contact remaining in the saddle proved impossible. Now at this point the story blurs slightly, I maintain that once I had started to fall I may have suffered from some ‘light bladder weakness’ (i’m 45 and have had three children). MC insists that the moist gusset was instrumental in the fall. Whatever the facts, within a very short time Flo was cantering off into the distance and I was lying on my back ‘pure scundered’ in the sawdust. Thankfully I didn’t do any major damage, but I have been left with a very ‘twingey’ back, (THE HORSE)

Fast forward to September. Sunday three weeks ago I was filling a hot water bottle to ease the pain in my back. It was one of the long snakey ones with a beautiful blue cashmere cover. Unfortunately it also must have had a kink or an air bubble in it. As I attempted to put the stopper in, the boiling water burst from the top all over my face and chest. What followed was a scream (me), a wet towel (MC) and a ride to the hospital reminiscent of the latest iteration of Grand Theft Auto (a very enthusiastic taxi driver).

Once in the hospital I received great treatment, although it wasn’t my best look. english patientIt was an homage to  The English Patient. Over the next few days, due to the fact that much of my nose had landed in MC’s hand during the ‘incident’ I bore a close resemblance to Voldermort. I’m hoping to make my way right through Ralph Fiennes’ cannon of work by the time I recover!

Over the last couple of weeks there has been pain, peeling and lots and lots of ointment. There have also been a few small victories:

  1. Being able to fit my glasses over my very swollen nose and eyes
  2. The restoration of my ‘foundation garments’  – there had been unfettered chesticles for a few days due to some strategically positioned blisters
  3. The moment where the face recognition on the laptop ‘recognised’ me again nearly brought a tear to my still peely eyes.  (THE HOT WATER BOTTLE)

For nearly three weeks I wasn’t able to do any knitting, not through a mental block or PTSD…… quite simply the burns on my chest were severe and made moving my arm tricky and rather sore. However even that horror has receded and in the last few days I have been able to lift my sticks again.

So, as things stand I am still happily working on my wrap in the lovely ‘Birth of Venus’ birth of venus yarn.

Hopefully, shark attacks and nuclear winters excluded, the next time I lift my quill, the wrap will be finished and my next project will be well under way!






Autumn already, where did the summer go!
The last time we met I was boarding a plane to come home from Florida. If you remember, I had a lovely selection of cotton neatly stowed in my case… the picture I had posted may not have been an accurate reflection of what I took home.

For the sake of honesty, 20 balls of cotton made it safely across the Atlantic. While I was mighty chuffed with my purchases, what on earth was I going to do with all that cotton!!!!

An idea formulated slowly in my mind – what is the cotton meant for?Dishcloths. What do I like knitting? Dishcloths. What do I need more of? Time. Yeah, that doesn’t quite work but anyway.
So the plan went like this, I have 26 balls of cotton total in stash (including pre Florida stash) and a dishcloth takes a ball or less. My brain worked out that I could probably get about 5 cloths out of scraps so totalling 31 dishcloths total.
I bounced into work, all eager for lunch time when I could peruse Ravelry and print out a LOAD of patterns. I stole a folder from the stationery cupboard, polypockets and dividers. I created a “system” of dead easy, slight concentration required and never going to knit this again.
I got cracking!
I’m not going to lie. The enthusiasm from August waned very quickly…. So quickly that 3 cloths were knitted. 3. All from the dead easy section. I didn’t even rescue the leftovers when the puppy ran off with them.
My dreams of a series of dishcloth pattern reviews, comparing cottons and using stash went up in a puff of “ugh! Not another dishcloth!”
Want to see my efforts so far?

I’ve still got a lot of cotton, so no doubt there will be more random dishcloth related posts from me, it seems that a quick cloth is all I can finish these days without adding to the WIP pile!

Meanwhile, Somewhere in Antrim…

Some hijinks I got up to on the 1st Annual Spinning Yarns Festival a couple weekends ago. Enjoy!

A Million Paper Stars

Today I had the pleasure of accompanying my friend Emma from Top Floor Art to the Spinning Yarns Festival at Antrim Castle. This was the first year the festival has taken place, and there has been much chatter about it in the various crafting circles that I frequent. Overall, everyone was pretty excited that Northern Ireland was going to see another celebration of craft – particularly yarn! – following the successful second annual Yarnfolk Festival in Whitehead in August.

So along we went, and when we arrived, we were stunned by the beauty of the grounds. Seriously, the gardens are amazing. But more on that later. First we had a snoop round the tents. There were the usual suspects: a tea & scones tent, a marketplace, several stalls offering yarn, craft-related notions, tweed fabric, workshops, demos, or information about any and all of the above, plus more. The Ulster Guild…

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Siga Siga (slowly slowly)

A few months ago the bolter announced that she (along with Mr Bolter and the twins) were relocating to Cyprus.

Well, naturally my first response was, ‘It will be like My family and other animals’ (I know that was Corfu – but despite an honours degree in Geography, my sense of place is not that great).

I envisioned a home bursting with excitement and love into which I would waft in a high waisted trouser and marcel waved hair (I may have a slight pash on Keely Hawes in The Durrels). Naturally this idyll would also include animals – pelicans in particular. Rather selfishly The Bolter made it clear that two pet pelicans would not be purchased on their arrival on the island. Humph.

There was only one thing for it – I would make them. A conversation with Anja (the guru of crocheted creatures) revealed that the go to pattern for pelicans was Huck from Toft. She kindly offered to let me ‘keek’ at her copy of the bird book – but I was determined to get my own copy as I was confident that a whole aviary of wooly feathers would soon be on their way across the sea.

So…..with my book, my hook and the necessary yarn (generously supplied by Anja) I set about creating the new additions to the Bolter clan.

Things did not go well. To be fair it was a very stressful time at work, I had had a teeny tiny stroke, and i’m crap at crocheting animals.  The kindest way of describing the first attempt would be a slightly bewildered bowling pin. Attempts two, three and four descended from bewildered through distraught and finally reaching the bottom ring of hell at hopeless. There was only one thing for it – Amazon. A couple of clicks later a two very lovely plush pelicans were on their way to North Belfast.

Not content with buggering up that project I went on to insist that I could, in the now limited time available, create a beautiful but rather large pashmina to wear on my trip. I had chosen the Louisa Harding, Birth of Venus colourway. A pretentious choice I agree given the location I was heading to – but allow me my flights of fancy.

One week before departure, the Pelicans were parcelled up, along with some tea and Tayto cheese and onion crisps and sent to the Bolter – as a pre visit thank you. I was bemoaning the fact that the pashmina was more like a string and I hadn’t lost enough weight to look anything like Mrs Durrell.  The Bolter did observe with an exasperated sigh that the temperature at 10pm was hitting 30 degrees so I would probably be ok.

After a long journey I arrived at the house expecting to see two poppets clutching pelicans. I had planned to sweep them all up in my arms and laugh uproariously like a character in a Richard Curtis film. In reality, I was tired, sweaty with hysterical hair, the Poppets were fast asleep and the pelicans were mired somewhere in the Cypriot postal system.

After this less than promising start I had a wonderful holiday and I learn the phrase in the title.  My heart rate slowed, my blood pressure came down and I got lots of lovely cuddles from the twins. My hair did not respond well to the climate and Mr Bolter did suggest, not unkindly, that I get on to Amazon and have a Babyliss Big Hair waiting for me on my return to Ireland (and I did ). In terms of crafting, I footered about a bit with some soap cosies and when I had had enough I stopped.

As craftswomen we often drive ourselves to distraction and beyond in order to meet self imposed deadlines, and there is a lot of value in this. It generates a frisson, creativity and some beautiful projects. But for the meantime, in my ‘post strokette’ reality – I’m going to take things, slowly, slowly.


PS The Pelicans and tea did eventually arrive and have been made very welcome in Casa Bolter.




…and now for something completely different…

Well, a bit different anyway. This blog post will take a diversion from my usual report of me swearing at knitting. Instead, it will focus on some vintage embroidery and, er…me swearing at that instead… I’m not actually totally grouchy, all the time, despite what this suggests. Well I am. But that’s neither here nor there, and anyway, this is Stitch ‘n’ Bitch – the embroidery brings the stitching, so it would be rude from me to neglect the bitchin’.


The embroidery in question is a rather lovely piece depicting a peacock in a garden, done by Mr RustyRenault’s (cf. The Saga of the Green Cabled Cardigan) grandmother. We think it was probably made somewhere around the 1940s or 1950s. It was framed and hung in Mr. RR’s family home, in a ‘delightful’ pine frame. I think a minimum number of orangey-coloured pine items per household was the law in the 1980s. At least it burns well so we need never run out of wood for the fire.



The original frame

Despite current fashion trends, I do not want the 1980s to reside in my house. Also, the embroidery was showing some marks and stains which it had apparently accrued during its time in its piney abode. The decision was thus made to break it out of the frame, clean it, and reframe it in something a bit subtler – and with UV protective glass ideally – so it can come out from hiding in the attic and show off its glory in the house. This piece is not especially old, nor is it of any real value apart from sentimental, so my conservationist streak had no issue with remounting it. Of course, we had no real idea what state the embroidery was actually in behind the glass, or how it had been mounted. A load of watercolour paintings from a member of the same family who was an accomplished painter were ruined some years back when they got damp and could not be rescued and dried because they had been GLUED. To. Cardboard…


The frame was a professional job, so the first stage was to open it up. This was easy enough with a sharp blade and small screwdriver to pry up the metal prongs.




Now what have we here? Is that….glue…?



Ugh, look at that glue… and…nails?!

Yes. It’s glue. At some point in its life, somebody has used some kind of extremely hard-drying glue to adhere the (rather roughly cut) edges of the fabric to…cardboard. The rusty-looking dots have holes in the centre, indicating that it was previously nailed onto something. Hard as it may be to believe, nailing fabric onto stuff doesn’t actually do it much good. So the fabric is both frayed from the nails, and brittle from the glue, which has been applied in a fashion I can only describe as luxuriant. Oh, and the cardboard it was glued to? Had the name of the watercolour artist mentioned above on it, so it seems that Gluing Stuff To Cardboard was a bit of a Thing with this lot. Thank all that is holy that closer inspection revealed that it was only glued on the edges that wrapped around the back , and NOT pasted down all the way across the front…


Surgery time. I treated myself to a brand new blade, and set about releasing the fabric from the board. If there had been adequate excess fabric, I might have just sliced the edges off completely, but it was a bit scanty, so I was going to have to lift the edged from the board, keeping as much fabric intact as possible. The glue actually came away relatively easily in some places – others were a bit more difficult and slower going, but the end result was pretty satisfactory.


Released from its cardboard shackle, the embroidery now needed cleaned – there were a few marks and stains on it, and it generally seemed a bit grubby. If it had been really old and/or fragile, I wouldn’t even attempt such a thing. I snipped a tiny piece of as many colours of thread from the back (thankfully, the maker was not especially neat!) and blotted on a piece of kitchen paper to check for dye running. It did not, so into a warm bath with OxyClean it went. A bit of research had indicated that this Oxy powder is a pretty good multi-purpose product that isn’t too harsh. After its first soak, the embroidery actually came out surprisingly well – I had expected multiple soakings to be necessary. A lot of the glue and bits of cardboard came off as well. I blotted it dry by rolling in a towel and pressing – same as I do for blocking my knits.


Look at the filth of that water – that’s the glue


I let it dry in the sun – it only took about 15 minutes.

The next stage was to press it – I dithered over this, in case it somehow damaged it, but decided it was unlikely to cause much harm to what is not an overly delicate piece. I used a thick piece of wadding and placed it face down, so the stitchwork could pop out when pressed. The quick press didn’t injure the stitching, but it did throw up an unpleasant surprise – the reappearance of the staining on the front of the work. Balls


With a faint whiff of panic that I had actually made things worse, the thought occurred to me that the heat had activated some sort of residue in the fabric – it definitely wasn’t scorched, and it was only in a couple of specific places. Hmmm….So I dunked it back in the Oxy, and…the marks immediately disappeared. I suspect, based on the location, and the enthusiasm for adhesive on the back of the piece, that the marks were the remains of glue, used to stick down a few areas on the front – the stickiness now long gone.

So, I have a wrinkled piece of linen, and using heat isn’t an option…time for some lateral thinking. Or rather, horizontal thinking.



After blotting as much water as possible from the fabric, I sandwiched it in a towel and laid it between the divan base and the mattress. 24 hours, later, I had a dry and acceptably flat piece of embroidery – with no stains.


The next stage will be to get it remounted and reframed. I am expecting the mounting of it to be potentially fairly awkward, as there is not a great deal of fabric at the edges of the piece, and what is there is rather chewed with glue and nail holes.


So what have we learned here?

  • Don’t glue things to cardboard
  • Oxy powder is actually quite good
  • Beds make pretty good presses
  • Seriously, don’t glue things to cardboard


Happy stitching, and happier bitching, people!

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