Saturday, 31 October 2009

A Harrow(ing) Graveyard Experience

As a Hallowe'en special, here are some photos from a recent visit to the graveyard of St Mary's in Harrow on the Hill.

The cold sunlight reached through the trees and streaked the grass.

As we descended the hill, the ground was satisfyingly crunchy with fallen leaves.

Perhaps the young Byron mused on these matters from his favourite spot while a pupil at nearby Harrow school. This was here, on the Peachy stone, which is at the top of the hill, and offers an impressive panorama. Byron's young daughter Allegra is buried somewhere in the churchyard, in an unmarked grave.

Many of the gravestones have sadly been erased by time and weather, but this splendidly gruesome Victorian poem is still proudly visible.

It reads:
To the memory of

Bright rose the morn, and vig'rous rose poor Port.
Gay on the train, he used his wonted sport.
Ere noon arrived his mangled form they bore,
With pain distorted and o'erwhelmed with gore
When evening came to close the fatal day,
A mutilated corpse the sufferer lay.

 No one can 'o'oerwhelm with gore' quite like the Victorians. Happy Hallowe'en!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Coco Belle Cupcakes

Remember a little while ago I was bemoaning the dearth of nice places to have coffee in Cambridge? Yesterday I discovered the Coco Belle Cake Company, a little cafe which is an oasis of cupcake calm next to the Grafton Centre. Cambridge already has its fair share of traditional bakeries and tea shops, such as Fitzbillies, and Auntie's, both popular with tourist keen to tuck into a sticky slice of England.

Coco Belle satisfies a slightly different confectionary need. Though the cupcake is a less indigenous species than the Chelsea bun, the owners of this bakery have not attempted to transform this nook of Burleigh Street into a shrine to fifties Americana. The warm pine furniture (including a dresser!) encourage you to linger and enjoy your cake with cup of tea or coffee. I did wonder whether perhaps the colour of the walls was a sly nod to the well-spring of cupcake frenzy, the Magnolia Bakery in New York, but perhaps that's reading a little bit too much into things.

The cupcakes must be among the most photogenic of baked goods, and these ones lived up to their appearance in deliciousness. They were also very reasonably priced, at only £1.85 a cake. I do have two titchy quibbles, firstly that I wish their selection were more seasonally inspired. They had a very subtle take on Hallowe'en, with chocolate spiders on their chocolate cupcakes; while I can respect the choice to spurn the violent oranges and blacks that adorn most cakes at this time of year, surely a compromise might have been achieved by a sophisticated pumpkin, or autumnal spice cupcake?

The second gripe is not so much aimed at the proprietor of Coco Belle, but at whoever it is on the local council who made the decision that what the tiny centre of Cambridge really needed was five branches of Starbucks and several more of Neros and Costa. I would love to see a more proactive policy whereby interesting, independent businesses like this are encouraged into the centre rather than forced into the periphery. It is places like Coco Belle which make Cambridge different and special, and I wish they were supported as such. A monster branch of Primark is soon to open a few doors up from the cafe, so I hope it might benefit from the increased passing trade. If you live in or are passing through Cambridge, I would heartily recommend a visit to this cute little place.

Snow White in action: daily outfit #2

Jumper: Snow White, my own work
Liberty tana lawn Shirt: Cacharel
Bag: Miu Miu
Skirt: Paul Smith
Boots: Dune

Yikes, I didn't quite realise I was so swathed in designer - that was not intentional. I bought the skirt about five years ago with the money I made working crazy hours in an unpleasant shop in the run-up to Christmas; it is one of the things I love most in my wardrobe. The surprise lining still makes me smile, and I often rearrange the outer layer in crossing my legs to give 'accidental' glimpses. A lot of people I have flaunted my lining at (ahem) say I should wear the skirt inside out, but I prefer to keep its exuberance selfishly guarded.

One of the reasons behind this series of outfits was to 'road-test' my knitwear, and see how it holds up to different situations. I always wonder that about how much wear the handmade garments I read about on people's blogs get: something might look stunning for one artfully staged photoshoot, but then lose out to less stellar items  in the daily search for something to wear.

I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about Snow White in this respect. The neckline is so striking, but does not look its best with anything strappy or t-shirt-y, in my experience. After a lot of experimentation I have decided that I like it best with a shirt underneath, preferably this shirt, with its juicy Liberty print (Edenham, B, for any curious sewists). To my mind it matches both the crisp, tailored detail and the hint of feminine prettiness of the knit (and it hides the bra straps!).

I had planned to post about an outing I made today to Cambridge's newest (and only) cupcake cafe, but the image uploader seems to be as sleepy as I am, so I shall save that for another day. Oh, and I may make a Flickr set of these outfits, at the kind suggestion of a commenter, but that may take me a little while to get round to!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Audrey and Updates

I'm afraid there's no daily outfit for today, as I can't find a photographer. I have ordered a tripod, though, so will soon be able to capture my own vanity!

In the meantime, here are a couple of shots of my latest cardigan project, Audrey in Unst by Gudrun Johnston. I had been searching for a while for a pattern that would look good in black, and this definitely does. Incidentally, the yarn I am using is a rich, full-bodied black (called 'Liquorice'), as opposed to the half-arsed charcoal suggested by the photo above - closer to this:

This will be the first of the six sweaters I pledged to knit before buying more yarn. So far I have been surprised at my success in this vow. Not only have I stopped stashing like a yarn squirrel preparing for an especially harsh winter, but I have also really enjoyed thinking of creative ways to use all the yarn I already own.

On the subject of pledges, I have been woefully inadequate at mentioning my Year of Selfish Knits, but here too I have been doing rather well. I have not made a single thing for anyone else, and have been revelling in all the lovely knits I get to keep. This project was born out of a question I get asked a lot: 'Oh, you knit? Did you knit that?'; I am very happy that now my answer is almost always a resounding 'Yes!'

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


 Neep! Neeeeeeeeeeeeeep! No, that's not the sound of a lorry reversing, but the name of the colourwork tam I gave you a wee neb at in the last post.

The pattern is Neep Heid, by Kate Davies - best known for the Owls sweater - and is exceptionally clearly laid out and charted. It is easy to see how people get addicted to colourwork - it was ever so exciting to see the roots, then the neeps, then the leaves emerging from my knitting. I made this in the poetically named Shetland Spindrift by Jamieson's, in Grouse, Sunglow, Leprachaun and Chartreuse. While each of these colours  is beautiful individually, I was a little uncertain about whether they worked together. I initially did the i-cord at the brim and the crown in Sunglow, a pale heathered pink with an orangey undertone. Not only was this not a flattering shade to have next to my skin, but in the loop at the top it also looked uncannily like... well, a nipple. Or, rather, a neeple.

I carefully snipped off the offending bits, as though they were a couple of evil parasitic worms clinging to  my hat, and re-did them in Chartreuse. Much better!

Now I feel much happier about the whole thing. I wore it to a rehearsal yesterday, and someone pointed out that the leaves have a rather Orla Kiely feel.

I look forward to taking my Neep on lots of adventures as the weather gets colder.


Starting with this one, I thought I might do a small series of daily outfits as an encouragement to blog more - do say though, if you think this is terribly self-indulgent, and I'll stop!

Hat: My own work!
Necklace: b.b.Barry at Covet, Islington
Blouse: Boden (inspired by Emily Martin of Black Apple fame)
Belt: Charity shop find
Tweed Shorts: Jigsaw
Ribbed Wool Tights: John Lewis
Shoes: Pied à Terre

A friend once asked me if I stole these shoes from a Victorian midget, who is now mournfully wandering about calling for his lost brogues. I rather wish I had.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Peep at Neep

Here's a little sneak preview of something I've just finished.

Is that stranded colourwork? Why yes, I believe it is.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Regular readers may wonder at the fate of my Hungry Bees. Had they swarmed? Suffered the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder? Left to seek fame and fortune in the Versatile Bee category of the Ambridge flower and produce show on the Archers?

Thankfully, the answer to all those questions is no: they are safe and sound in Cambridge, keeping me toasty warm as I write. As I have probably mentioned before, this is an excellent pattern. My feelings about the Old Maiden Aunt merino/bamboo in which the socks are knit have been well-documented: I have now sported this yarn around my neck, on my feet and, all too briefly, around my torso, and it has always been a delight to work with and to wear.

What took me so blinking long to finish them, then? Why did they hover mournfully so close to completion for such an age? Well, it was mainly because it took me a while to make this decision.

The cuff as originally written featured an adorable combination of a honeycomb and honeybee stitch pattern. This looked as sweet as a gumdrop, but for some reason, in my hands, was about as stretchy as a stick of rock. In my original post on these socks, I had attempted to keep things apian with some double moss stitch, vaguely reminiscent of a honeycomb. This was better: now I could just about get them over my heel, but still with a good deal of wiggling.

Finally I snapped. I loved these socks, and I wanted to wear them a lot, without having to ease them cautiously on, or worry about tearing the cuff. So I ripped back both socks to before I started the honeybee lace, and did a simple 2x2 rib and picot cast off. I was sad to bid goodbye to two endearing features of this design, but ultimately am very happy with the finished socks. They are the perfect golden honey colour.

Oh, I mirrored the pattern on the foot, though I'm afraid I don't remember how I did it, as it was rather a long time ago.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Evolution Mitts

Since making that pledge to knit six sweaters from stash all I have been able to think about has been making little things. 

Like these.

They are the Evolution Mitts by Mimi Fenton, so-called because the lace pattern evolves as you progress down the glove, which made for an entertaining knit.  The yarn is Dream in Color Smooshy in the Gothic Rose colourway.

I like the contrast between the pretty leaf lace on the top side of the glove and the minimalist 2x2 rib on the bottom.

I have also finally finished my Hungry Bees socks (hooray!), but I think those poor neglected honey-makers deserve their own post so I'll just give you this sneaky peek for now.

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