To say I am overwhelmed by the positive response to the Kaleidoscope blanket would be rather understating it. To be honest, I’m quite gobsmacked by how many people have joined the FB group, or contacted me, or bought colour packs! It’s so lovely seeing so many of you choosing colour packs or your own colours, and sharing in your excitement as we creep closer and closer to the beginning of the CAL.
I promised to tell you all about my inspiration for this blanket, so that’s what I’ll talk about today. Bear with me; this is a bit of a meandering story 😛
It began, as so many of my blankets do, with a book.
It begins with ‘The Children of Green Knowe’, and indeed the other five Green Knowe books, by Lucy M. Boston.
I don’t remember when I first read these books, but I must have been young – five or six, perhaps. Some books are like that – you simply don’t remember a time when they weren’t part of your life. I have known and loved them always. They are, quite simply, magical books that, for me, form part of the foundations of my love of literature. Like Narnia, they have always been there for me. Even now, as an adult, I go back and re-read them often, particularly if I’m feeling a little worn down by life and need to remember how magic the world can be.
The first book begins with young Tolly Oldknowe, sent for the Christmas holidays to his great-grandmother’s house Green Noah (formerly Green Knowe), in the fens of East Anglia. He arrives to a flood, discovers his ‘ancient’ and magical-seeming granny, and slowly begins to uncover the secrets of a very old, very interesting house.
The house in the book is based on a real house – The Manor, in Hemingford Grey, not far away from where I live (it’s in a village between Cambridge and Huntingdon). It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in the country – built and in use since the 1130s! Lucy Boston moved there just before World War Two, and all six wonderful books (as well as several of her other children’s novels) are set in and around the house.
I’ve been there on several occasions, and it’s absolutely incredible, as a lover of the books, to walk into the house where the stories actually take place. Things described in the book actually exist: outside, a statue of St Christopher carrying the child Jesus; carved wooden cherubs in the corners of the entrance hall; an enormous fireplace big enough to stand in; an embroidered picture made from human hair (which features in the second book, ‘The Chimneys of Green Knowe’; and, when you climb a winding stair up to the attic, Tolly’s bedroom, complete with bird cage, rocking horse, wooden chest of toys and a replica of a carved wooden mouse that plays an important role in Tolly’s discovery of the magic of the house.
The garden, too, is magical. It’s famous for its roses and irises, but when my grandma took me there, as a child, to an open garden day, all I was interested in was the yew animals that I found – the Green Deer and Green Squirrel that exist in real life as in the books (although, unlike in the books, in real life they don’t come alive and start wandering around of their own accord!).
Not seeing the connection so far? Bear with me 😀
Because Lucy Boston isn’t just famous for her children’s novels – she also created some incredible patchwork quilts.
This is another connection to my grandma, who was also a quilter. Never quite on Lucy Boston’s scale, but she definitely knew about and had seen these quilts, many of which are on display in the Manor.
They’re very carefully looked after, separated by dust sheets and handled only with gloves, to keep them in good condition, but when you go to visit, sheet after sheet is removed and quilt after beautiful quilt is revealed. Even to a non-quilter, the display is incredible. Lucy’s skill in matching colours and fabrics, her tiny stitches, and frankly her unending patience, are all immediately evident!
And, bringing it back to the novels, patchwork also features heavily in the second of the Green Knowe books, when Granny Oldknowe tells Tolly stories of previous inhabitants as she uses their old clothing to replace sections of worn-out patchwork for the curtains that, in the novel as in real life, hang in many windows around the house.
The quilt that I love most of all the ones I’ve seen in the house, and in the above book, is one called ‘Kaleidoscope’.
‘This patchwork nearly drove Lucy made with its complexity’, writes Diana Boston. ‘On the other hand she found it the most exciting to make.’
I began thinking about reproducing patchwork quilt effects in crochet some time ago, but for a while it was just that – a vague thought in my mind. Then I remembered these beautiful quilts and, last December, I bought myself a copy of this book and settled down for a good, hard stare at the pictures.
It really is incredibly complex, and I understand completely how driven by it Lucy Boston must have been, when she made it. There are no circles in it – it’s entirely made up of squares and triangles. Can you imagine how much work Lucy put into this? The colours, the patterns, are all perfect matches, and she worked all of this as paper pieced patchwork in the proper English tradition.
I knew I couldn’t replicate this exactly. I needed to use fewer colours, and I thought that I would replace some of the triangles with octagons, to simplify things a little. So I looked carefully at the shape of it, and at colour placements, and slowly began to sketch out my ideas.
After drawing out the shapes I needed, I started playing with colours, working out ways to replicate my favourite bits of the patchwork blanket in a way that would be translatable into crochet. It took a little trial and error, but eventually I ended up with something that, on paper, felt to me like a success. It’s definitely ‘inspired by’ rather than directly replicating Lucy’s patchwork, but I was happy with it.
As usual, I worked up my shapes in a single colour first, to concentrate on the pattern rather than the colours. Then I began to work it up in colour, and it was only then that I decided I would run this blanket as a CAL, rather than simply offering the whole pattern at once as I normally do. That decision made, I realised I should offer more than one official colourway. A little more playing around with colouring pencils and yarn pegs ensued! Luckily I had photocopied the blank sketch before I started colouring, so I had spare copies to play with 🙂
The three official colourways then came into being.
And that, as they say, is that!
The Manor is now owned/occupied by Lucy’s daughter-in-law, Diana, who runs tours to help support the running of the property – no National Trust here, just a cosy, well-loved family home. You can sit, in the music room, where airmen sat in WWII when Lucy ran music evenings for their entertainment. You can explore ‘Tolly’s bedroom’, and touch and hold the things so familiar from the books. You can’t touch the patchworks, but you can see them and marvel at them. And in the garden, you can ramble around four acres of beautiful ‘cottage’ style garden for as long as you like.
It truly is a very special place to visit, even if you aren’t familiar with the books, and I do urge you all to go if you’re close enough.
If you’re in the UK and fancy reading the books, having read me ramble on about them, you can buy them directly from the Manor, which helps Diana Boston keep up the house.
I hope you all enjoyed hearing about my Kaleidoscope journey; I’m so looking forward to seeing all your blankets. Don’t forget the CAL starts 3rd January, and colour packs are available now 🙂