I will take up my pencil

Hello All

While we are enjoying* this extended period of warm weather here in the UK it is good to get out and about. I fear all too soon we will be saying ‘Do you remember the summer of 2018?’ Much as we used to say ‘Remember the summer of ’76?’ (you perhaps have to be longer in the tooth for the latter … check with your parents … grandparents).

So at the invitation of my friend KS and her son AB I jumped on one of my favourite buses – you guessed it Stagecoach 555 – to Keswick with one destination in mind.

It is years since I visited this little gem of a museum and in the meantime it has moved out of the old factory site – production has now moved to Workington a short-ish bus ride away – to a purpose built unit in the old factory grounds.

If you wondered where pencils came from ponder no more! The first pencil was made in Keswick, here in good old Cumbria – once called Cumberland around these parts – over three centuries ago. Glad they have kept the Pencil Museum in Keswick as it is ever popular with visitors of all ages and it seems only right to keep it in the birthplace of the pencil.

For the outing I became part of KSs family (ticket) and enjoyed the delights within for free. The staff were super friendly, we all got pencils (which we kept) and opted to share a quiz sheet.

We crouched through the replica graphite mine adjusting our eyes to the darkness and watching out for the ‘miners’ frozen in their perpetual task of extracting graphite for our beloved HBs. Then all was light as we emerged into the bright and airy exhibits’ hall.

Keswick Pencil Museum boasts many quirky artefacts. Such as ….

The longest pencil in the world. It is true, it is verified by that bible of such peculiar facts The Guinness Book of Records. There is even a certificate to prove it:

Along with the huge are the small. There is a fascinating display showing how MI5 commissioned specially hollowed out pencils – to carry maps – topped with rubbers (erasers) that hid a handy compass. I learnt a lot about the humble pencil: how many are made a year (lots and lots); what sort of wood is used (clue: it comes from a tree) and what was used as an eraser before the rubber (who would have thunk it!).

Amongst the displays were many wonderful collections of pencils

The damage to this lovely old example tells a more recent tale of Keswick’s history. It shows how high the flood waters rose during Storm Desmond in 2015.

Now to another gem…literally

To commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 Derwent crafted a special Diamond Jubilee Pencil. Only two were made one was presented to the Queen (money always goes to money!) and the other is displayed at Keswick.

The Diamond Jubilee Pencil is a work of great skill. It is made from graphite taken from the original mine and was crafted by means of the traditional methods used before 1832. To top it off the crown is encrusted with 60 diamonds supported by white gold lilies to symbolise royalty. KS and AB wondered whether the Queen uses hers to write her shopping lists. I do hope so…I hope she writes all sorts of lists,’tis the simple pleasure of us humble folk!

We finished our tour with one of the Calvert Trust sheep which was commissioned by Derwent and formed part of the Herdwick Trail in 2016. Derwent’s sheep was decorated to resemble a dry-stone wall. A very colourful wall! each of the ‘stones’ were coloured using Derwent’s Inktense blocks and the lines between them were made with Inktense pencils and blocks.

One final look back:

before browsing the wonderful shop, drooling over the colours, pencils, brushes, pastel blocks and inks and then toddling over the road to Kat’s Kitchen for some cold drinks supped while viewing the beautiful landscape that surrounds Keswick.

I opened with a part quote from Vincent Van Gogh in the title. To close I bring you one from Stan Laurel:

You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must always be led!

Until next we meet

Moke xxx

* The sunny weather is not bringing joy to all. My heart goes out to the numerous firefighters, soldiers and volunteers that are working day and night in awful conditions on moors and heaths to douse and control numerous fires. Mx

Comfort blanket

Having been averse to technology I had to question my sudden rush to blog and I think I have hit on why I turned to my keyboard. It was the end of Wool ‘n’ Stuff a group of  local woolly people to which I belong…sniffle…belonged…Let me tell you a little bit about this marvelous group of craft-y women.

The initial impetus to set up Wool ‘n’ Stuff had been to explore wool crafts in the ambient surroundings of Kendal Museum. The museum was facing hard times, even the threat of closure and we hoped to lend it some moral support. We gathered for the first time in the autumn of 2006 to the strains of Viking music – creating the mood for the ancient Scandinavian craft of tablet weaving – in the midst of medieval and Roman artefacts and since then we have continued to celebrate the woolly textiles that are our Cumbrian heritage, after all ‘Pannus Mihi Panis’ (“Wool is my Bread”).

While based at Kendal Museum each activity was run by a Wool ‘n’ Stuff member and between us we covered tablet weaving, drop spinning, knitting, and prodded rag-rugging. In addition the owner of  ’Spinning A Yarn’ from Ulverston  visited us and gave a wonderful talk on the History of Knitting. Did you know there is a North-South (class) divide in how you hold your knitting needles? Apparently Northern working knitters like the Knitters of Dent who knitted to earn a living kept one needle firmly tucked under their arm while ‘middle class’ Southern hobby knitters  knitted with both needles free. Being a born and bred Northerner my mother always clamped one needle tightly under her armpit. Consequently I do the same…but I have yet to earn a penny from knitting!

The museum remained safe but at the time a reduction in staff and hours meant we had to find a new home which we did in Kendal Library where we resided for a couple of sessions – looking at different fleeces  and holding a quiz on our woolly friends. So many breeds of sheep! Unfortunately we are a mucky lot and sought out our next venue the YWCA because we could branch out into the messier crafts of natural dying, felting (textile artist Annie Coxey visited us for this one), and tye dye.

In our YWCA home we held sessions on easy-weaving, tubular tablet weaving, hooked rag rugging, spinning wheels and crotchet. Thanks to The Brewery Arts Centre we were supplied with marvelous teachers and three funded sessions through their ‘Motto’ (you remember “Pannus mihi Panis”?) project.

When building work meant another move we found ourselves in the grand surroundings of Kendal Town Hall and finally we have been ensconced in the Art Room of Castle Street Community Centre where we could again indulge ourselves with wet wool crafts like felting and its beautiful cousin Nuno felting.

Wool ‘n’ Stuff-ers are a smashing bunch. Each session has been rich with laughter and probably more biscuits than are good for us. It’s been a privilege me dears.Flowers, yarns and wreath2

During our years together we created a beautiful handmade archive. Our felt covered  book is currently being brought up to date. Once it is looking its complete best I’ll take some photos to show you. So watch this space.

I don’t know if the end of Wool n Stuff has anything to do with this but I’ve started a ‘comfort blanket’.

Crochet is relaxing – most of the time – working round and round and round an ever growing granny square is almost meditative and starting this blanket has kept me sane over the last week. In using up my stash I am hoping to have a snuggly cover ready for the chilly winter nights.

Meanwhile back in ‘sunny Cumbria’ (yes summer’s still here) it was a very strange morning. As I toddled in to the library there was something special in the air, shops were open that would usually be closed for at least another hour, the town was very spick and span and the good folk of the Auld Grey Town were gathering along Stricklandgate.

I don't think this was meant for me!

I don’t think this was meant for me!

Bunting was everywhere,

Flying the flag in Elephant Yard.

Flying the flag in Elephant Yard.

So who was it all for? The Queen and Princess Anne who visited Kendal today (thanks to ST for taking the photo for me).

And the Queen seemed happy to be here!

And the Queen seemed happy to be here!

It all felt very jolly. And it continued to be very jolly as I was invited out to lunch with a couple of my bestest buddies. It was well worth the climb…Stoney Lane

No need for the comfort blanket tonight. Sleep tight.