For One Night Only

For good or for ill, I am one of Nature's Collectors - right up there with the bowerbirds and magpies.  But instead of amassing a collection of, say, blue pen caps or shiny bits of foil, I go for something a bit more elusive: 19th century British ceramics (the earlier the better.)  As it stands I have gathered a tidy little hoard for myself (thank you, ebay,) and with each new (to me) addition I find myself falling ever-deeper in love.
 Recently I acquired one object that seems to me to be a rather remarkable piece indeed.  It is a moulded Staffordshire jug, c.1840 glazed in a fetching sky blue.  On it we see a man, decked out in Roman dress, effectively surrounded by a series of leopards, lions and…is that a sheep?

The man doesn't appear to be in any danger; he rests his hands on the beasts' heads as if they are friends.  One even drapes his forelegs around the man's shoulders and peers out from behind in a calm and friendly manner.  Just above this scene there is a series of coats of arms and above those, heavy draperies complete with fringe and tassels.  What's going on?
 "Who put the dude in the toga in charge?"

Everything might make a lot more sense if I tell you that the man shown here is the American animal trainer Isaac A. Van Amburgh and that this jug is a sort of Victorian souvenir - a memento of one of his shows.
Van Amburgh was the first trainer to introduce big cat shows into circuses and, as some may see it, the Root of the Problem with many travelling shows today.  When he came to the UK in 1838 Queen Victoria herself was a huge fan, as was the Duke of Wellington.  And who could blame them?  Here was a man who stuck his head in lions' mouths and commanded the beasts to lick his boots - which they did.  He even did a snappy little number where he actually made a lion lie down with a lamb, as per the Bible (which he cited often to justify his - Man's - role as Master of the Beasts.)
"I'm VERY FIERCE for a sheep, you know."

From all this one would suppose that Van Amburgh loved and respected his critters - but that was, sadly, far from the case.  He used loathsome techniques to gain mastery over his big cats (which I really do not wish to reiterate here) and it was scared and broken animals that helped him gain his great acclaim.  Even the Victorians thought his practices were unusually cruel for the time.  Somewhat oddly - and mostly infuriatingly - Van Amburgh met his death not by his jungle beasties but by heart attack in his bed at the age of 54.  Sorry, lions. 
 "Hey, you - down in front!"

He lived long enough, however, to hear his name immortalized in a song entitled "The Menagerie," written by Dr. W. J. Wetmore, M.D., the first verse of which runs as follows:

"Van Amburgh is the man, who goes to all the shows
He goes into the lion's cage, and tells you all he knows;
He sticks his head in the lion's mouth, and keeps it there a-while,
And when he pulls it out again, he greets you with a smile."   

A scene reminiscent of the Tarot's Strength trump
Poor lions.  He'd have been nothing without them!

PS --> I was also very, very pleased to discover that the V&A has my exact jug in its collection.  Sure, their handle-lion still has his tail attached, but who's counting?  There's more information on the piece there, too - click on over and have a look!

Doomvember: You Never Know

"The end" - two quick, punchy words signifying what?  Closure and finality - or maybe release and a chance to begin anew?

Add a few more punchy words like "of the world" to those first two and you get yourself any number of nightmare scenarios that few people can scarcely agree upon, let alone be willing to live (or die) through.

But is there really such a thing as "THE end?"  I myself subscribe to the belief that there really are neither beginnings nor endings, but let's say, hypothetically, that there IS an End at hand.  One of the "of the world" variety.  It's a pretty big thing and it raises some very important questions, most notably the ever-important "What on Earth (well, what's left of it,) are you going to wear?"

Well fret no more my (potentially) sartorially-stranded (potential) End-timers, especially if you're a knitter.  I've got something to show you.

Yes, it's Doomsday Knits, the twisted progeny of Alex Tinsley's sharp and pointy mind and a number of devastating end times scenarios.  This collection of 32 patterns promises to be your go-to source whether you're looking to dress for, say, a particularly chilly nuclear winter or that first meeting with your new alien overlords (among others.)  Conveniently available for pre-order, this portentous tome is going to be unleashed upon millions of unsuspecting innocents come December 2013.  Consider yourselves warned.

I myself have a mitten pattern in this doomy book, in the cheerily-titled "Kill All Humans" section.  Sure, the robots have risen and want you dead, but that doesn't mean you have to have cold fingers while hiding out in that abandoned factory.

Meet Circuit - a pair of mittens sure to inspire you to look within yourself.  Sure the lights are out (both literally and metaphorically,) but your circuit-emblazoned mittens tell a different story.  See that ancient Egyptian-style cartouche nestled into the circuitry on the backs of the hands?  Those seven symbols represent your seven main chakra centres through which Energy surges and flows.  Yes, the Power has been within you all along - and no rust-eaten bucket of bolts can ever take that away from you.  Plug in.

Circuit is worked in Shibui Knits Sock, a fingering-weight yarn that is wonderful for use in colourwork accessories.  All photos from the book, courtesy of Vivian Aubrey. The Doomvember blog tour rolls on tomorrow over at A Pile of Sheep.  Looking for the full blog tour schedule?  Right this way.


Hello, and welcome to GNOMEWATCH.

Here at GNOMEWATCH we are dedicated to ensuring YOUR SAFETY in the presence of - while not malign, still really nosy and rather irritating - GNOMES. Gnomes are (mostly) harmless and (mostly) well-meaning, but there is just something about, say, an open tub of cinnamon butter that your average gnome CAN NOT RESIST having a tread-through and then leaving sticky, greasy, cinnamon-y footprints across your counter, down your kitchen floor, up the bedroom stairs and across your duvet. It’s not their fault - they were BORN THIS WAY.

 PLEASE REMEMBER: gnomes can not help themselves - unless, of course, one is speaking about a freshly-baked plate of brownies. THEN they’ll help themselves - and then they’ll help themselves again. Then they’ll ask you to put on a pot of coffee so they can help themselves to that.

 IF YOU EXPERIENCE ANY UNTOWARD GNOME-BEHAVIOUR, please report it to GNOMEWATCH AT ONCE. Please keep in mind that, while we here at GNOMEWATCH will do everything within our earthly power to ameliorate your run-in with the gnomes we can not be held accountable for their behaviour. Seriously, HAVE YOU MET THESE GUYS?? THEY’RE NUTS!

 Are you guys here for the conference?

Regardless, we here at GNOMEWATCH seek to provide you, the end-user with a safe, enjoyable environment for everyone and everyGNOME concerned. Together we will be able to…erm, what are you doing? REALLY? I don’t think I’ve EVER seen ANYONE use a jam-spoon like that before…is that a snail? DID YOU GET HIM DRUNK? CALVADOS?! I bought that for my uncle’s birthday!! IT WASN’T CHEAP!! YOU PUT THAT BACK, you three-inch-tall weirdo!! WOO, YOU LITTLE FREAKS ARE FAST! GET OUT OF MY SATCHEL! What does a gnome want with a half-knit sock?!! GET BACK HERE…!!


...that every 10 minutes A GNOME PEES IN A FLOWERBED? 

...that every 4 out of 5 snails with a drinking problem WERE INFLUENCED BY A GNOME?

...that 80% of all socks that go missing are taken by GNOMES?

Have you seen these gnomes?

If you would like to contribute to GNOMEWATCH's efforts you may wish to join us at GNOMEWATCH HQ, aka. SpillyJane's Group on Ravelry.  This is a (relatively) safe and (relatively) gnome-free (not really) space where gnome enthusiasts can discuss the little f(r)iends.  GNOMEWATCH needs YOU.  Please - join today.

New SJK Mailing List

Hey Nice People,

I’ve got a shiny new mailing list! Please join if you’d like to get news and updates on new pattern releases, SNEAKY PREVIEWS from my forthcoming book (that WILL be out before the year is,) fancy info and exclusives that will ONLY be available to Mailing List members.
It’s me in your mailbox - you know you want to.

Ok, back at it. Happy Thursday!

Police Box Mittens

As was hinted at in my last post the second of my Doctor Who-inspired mitten patterns has just been released.  They do concern that most iconic of blue boxes - the Doctor's indispensable mode of transport (and some might say colleague,) the TARDIS.

I call them the Police Box Mittens so as not to upset any of the Nice People at the BBC (Hi, Nice People at the BBC!) and so far they (the mittens, not the BBC people) have been very well-received.  I, however, believe that they could go so much further - to the heights and depths of Time and Space, perhaps?  We shall have to wait and see.

If you like them you can get your copy of the pattern here on Ravelry or here in my (surprisingly well-maintained and up-to-date) Etsy shop.*

And now, the details: 

Mittens featuring everyone’s favourite travelling blue box with the broken chameleon circuit. I call her “sexy.”

Instructions are included in the pattern to produce both mittens and fingerless mitts.

Never knit colourwork before? Since these mittens only use one contrast colour these ones would be a great place to start!

Know a Time Lord or Companion with larger hands? These mitts are easily sized up by going up in yarn weight and needle size. Please note that in this case additional yardage may be required.

It was during the making of these mittens that I was suddenly reminded of just how much I truly love producing colourwork things - both mittens and socks.  This can only bode well for all of you - there are others on the way.

And that elusive first book of mine too - oh yes.  I haven't forgotten. 


* Etsy now offers INSTANT DOWNLOADS on .pdf knitting patterns, which just might be the BEST THING EVER.  My three newest patterns (Lobsters, Bow Ties and Police Boxes) are currently available as such and I'm in the process of converting the entire stock of my Etsy shop into instant downloads as well.  Just something to think about.

The Accidental Enthusiast

It's difficult to keep track of time when it's so wibbly wobbly-like, but as such things are conventionally reckoned I am a relative newcomer to the grand British tradition of Doctor Who. That said, though I jumped right in to the middle of Series 6 of the revived version I wasted no time (hah) and am now fully caught up and anxiously awaiting the Series 7 finale this Saturday. So what does this all mean, anyway?

Well, the ENTIRE idea OF Doctor Who has gotten into my head. I also feel that I must impart that my approach to the entire franchise is from a decidedly Anglophilic place rather than one of geekery - whatever that means anymore.  And we all know what happens when things get stuck in my head, don't we?

They say you never forget your first Doctor and they are so, SO, right. Continuing in the Timey-Wimey tradition, the Eleventh Doctor - portrayed by the brilliant Matt Smith - was my first.  He remained strongly so even as I tagged along following the exploits of the Ninth and the Tenth.  The Ninth wasn't around long enough, and the Tenth was a little too lovestruck for me.* Whereas the ELEVENTH, now..!

It seems to me that this "youngest" of Doctors is - by far - the best of the bunch.**  He's very young and very old, very silly and very wise, very familiar and very alien ALL AT THE SAME TIME, and he is absolutely brilliant. When it comes time for the Eleventh Doctor to regenerate, I will be the soppy mess weeping my eyes out over there in the corner.  And those bow ties...

It was really only a matter of time (again, hah,) before Doctor Who mittens*** happened. Here's the first ones.  Oh look, they've got bow ties on - because bow ties are cool.

Allow me to introduce my newest mittens - the first(!) of my Doctor Who themed patterns - called Bow Tie Mittens are Cool.  You can grab your own copy here on Ravelry and  here in my Etsy Shop.  Care for some details?

Everyone's favourite time traveller just wouldn't be the same without his iconic neckwear.  Capture a little of that timey wimey magic with these mitts festooned with bow ties in classic, masculine colours - the same as those worn by the Doctor himself.

Instructions are included in the pattern to produce both mittens and fingerless mitts.

Never knit colourwork before? Since these mittens only use one contrast colour at a time these ones would be a great place to start!

Know a Time Lord or Companion with larger hands? These mitts are easily sized up by going up in yarn weight and needle size. Please note that in this case additional yardage may be required!

I have been dropping hints all this week on my Twitter about the second(!) of my Doctor Who patterns to be released.  They might have something to do with a certain large blue box...


* I was fully expecting to be swept away by David Tennant's brooding Scottish glare, and while this DID happen, he just never seemed all that Time Lordy to me.  I just kept seeing a pretty Scottish dude with dark, shiny eyes.

** Yes, I know you like David Tennant better. He is very pretty.

*** Socks forthcoming!

Rock Lobster Mittens

Since I've been working on my knitting book-in-progress I've been effectively forced to keep any and all new projects secret. As such, the SJK patterns haven't been flying as fast or as frequently as they used to, but I am hoping to change that - RIGHT NOW - with the help of some of my little crustacean buddies.

I have always, ALWAYS loved lobsters, and I find them impossibly adorable. And while there's something cruel and tragic about keeping them in tanks in grocery stores I always did love visiting them while doing the weekly shopping. I suspect I've annoyed and/or confused more than one seafood counter assistant in my time by talking to them (the lobsters, not the seafood counter assistants) in the middle of the store. Can you see where I'm going with this yet?

And so, Nice People, I give you a new (and salty) pattern - the Rock Lobster Mittens. I do hope you'll like them!

You can catch your own copy of the Rock Lobster Mittens here on Ravelry and here in my Etsy shop.*

You all remember the B-52's song by the same name, yes? I don't know how I ever would've gotten through high school without their debut record. Perhaps a wee refresher is in order? Followed by all the mitteny details that you're dying to know, of course?

Well, here you are:

Somebody went under a dock
and there they saw a rock
it wasn’t A ROCK

-‘Rock Lobster,’ The B-52s

Get out the beach towels and sunscreen, it’s time for the biggest beach-themed mitten this side of Frankie Avalon. Or grab the melted butter and plenty of paper towels, this could get messy…

Whatever your approach to everyone’s favourite crustacean these mittens - or fingerless mitts - are set to cause some motion in the ocean. Adorable lobsters cavort every which way over both the palm and back of hand. The perfect reminder of Summer and beach-ier times when you need it most.

Instructions are included in the pattern to produce both mittens and fingerless mitts.

Never knit colourwork before? Since these mittens only use one constrast colour these ones would be a great place to start!

Know a larger-claw’d lobster lover? These mitts are easily sized up by going up in yarn weight and needle size. Please note that in this case additional yardage may be required!

AND a note on yarn requirements: 2 balls of Knit Picks palette - one Main Colour (and one Contrast Colour - will give you one complete adult-sized pair of mittens (or fingerless mitts.) I used Finnley Heather as my Main Colour and Salsa Heather as my Contrast Colour in the sample mittens shown. As for what's next? Well I've recently watched Series 1-6 of Doctor Who and am currently enjoying Series 7. If you're into time travel and bow ties as I am you might be in for a couple of very pleasant surprises. Stay tuned.


*A MAJOR re-stock and update of my Etsy shop is currently in progress/on the way.

Travelling back

I was in Toronto this past weekend to see Revealing the Early Renaissance at the AGO.* If you have been around here for a while you'll know that there's nothing I like better than a good hotel - "good" in this context meaning either very old or very new - but I must admit that there is also a place in my heart for the faceless mediocrity and "luxury" of large hotel chains. Anyway.

This time around I had the pleasure of staying at the Gladstone Hotel. The Gladstone started off life as a Victorian inn and has had a long and chequered history. In its current form it is a boutique hotel and each of its 37 rooms has been designed and decorated by a different artist. There are gallery spaces that feature rotating exhibits on each floor. It's like sleeping in the middle of an installation and it is wonderful.

The aforementioned gallery spaces - the common rooms on each floor - are all pleasingly white walls broken up by a series of identical black-lacquered doors. The space has a delicious nowhere-ness to it - like it only exists to move you on to the next place. Like something out of a C.S. Lewis novel you're very aware that you're about to enter an entirely new and fantastic world.

Fate had clearly stuck a finger in the psychic soup that night because when I opened the door and flipped on the lights I saw this:
I often muse (out loud) about Science one day offering me a door - here, in my own home - with Central London on the other side of it. Well, it seemed that I had found such a door - and one that opened up onto a Victorian parlour to boot. Not quite though, because despite the faded photographs and heavy decor I was merely in Room 402 - Rayne Baron's** Victorian-inspired room called "Echame Flores."

What an absolute delight - and terror - for me. I have been slightly…uneasy around Victorian antiques as of late and this is probably because I am currently reading The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was poisoned at home, work and play. Naturally I've been looking at all Victorian items askance since. I am sure I am just being silly since I don't own very many antique Victorian pieces (yet) and I am not in the habit of licking the ones that I do. But still - in the golden glow of the (anachronistically) electric fixtures - the way that those deep green velvet curtains catch the light…well. I never did trust a curtain.

*If you're going to the AGO you simply MUST SEE Patti Smith: Camera Solo. I saw it this past summer in Detroit and it completely blew me away. If you fancy a bit of ring structure, check out this AGO blog post where Patti Smith herself tours the Revealing the Early Renaissance exhibit and offers her insights on both St. Francis and the mystic-influenced work of Pacino di Bonaguida.

**You might be more familiar with Rayne Baron's other incarnation which is that of the incomparable Ladyfag. I knew I had heard the name somewhere before and I was delighted to learn that the room was hers.

Spicy Birds

If you'd have asked me this morning, I'd have told you that laziness is the Mother of Invention. As it turns out, I was wrong. It is, in fact, soup.
At least it is in this case - soup in general and the canned tomato variety in particular. I had grown weary of my usual lunch (a ploughman-ish affair of saltines, good chutney, good cheese and sweet pickles) and found myself craving something warm in my belly. I was just getting really excited by the ensuing midday meal when I realized that there was not a cracker to be had.

Well there goes lunch, I thought - but wait! We have always wanted to bake our own crackers - why not take this opportunity to whip up our OWN handmade crispy, munchy crackers? How hard can it be?!

Turns out it is dead simple. A couple of cups of flour, add liquid and fat and mix until dough just starts to hold together. Roll thin, cut out, pop in oven - and you've got a cookie sheet's worth of the crunchy little darlings in 20 minutes.

Now flavourings - that's another kettle of fish entirely. I have never been one to opt for "normal" flavours, especially when left to my own devices. Combine this with the fact that I am a completely LAPSED baker and, well - you end up with such food-fiascos as the lovely-sounding Pine Nut Brittle with Lavender Blossoms. That time I managed to over-toast the pine nuts and was heavy-handed with the lavender. The entire affair tasted like burnt soap, and five years on it continues to engender comment.

Since I wanted to actually consume these current crackers I opted for the classic flavour combination of olive oil and freshly-ground pepper. Not being one to completely buck "tradition" I used a blend of multi-coloured peppercorns and edible flower petals. Old habits, etc.
Then it was time to roll and cut the crackers and with it another chance for customization. For the first batch I cut them into penguins; the following two I opted for less-intensive squares. I couldn't believe how nicely they turned out - sweet and flaky from the olive oil, with just enough peppery kick - and they don't taste soapy in the least. And just look how cute!
I toured one of my crunchy penguins around the parlour in a celebratory victory lap.
He was delicious!