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Monday, April 30, 2007

Feeding the birds


I got home from work to find one of the downstairs neighbours feeding the birds thus solving the mystery of why there are quite so many pheasants hanging around the close. I haven't been able to get a close up of any of them yet. They're quite twitchy and I'm wary of sneaking up on them since I startled one of a pair poking about on the lawn early one morning. It rocketed off at far too low a trajectory and rebounded off the first floor windows of one of the neighbouring flats. Luckily the glazing is very tough around here.

There are lots of other birds in the trees around our flat. When I came into the back room to upload these photos I spotted what I suspect was a lesser spotted woodpecker drumming in the pine tree.

Lesser(?) blurred woodpecker

On the finished objects front we have the Posy bootees from the Jaeger baby book. Sadly they're not quite identical (one of them has a couple of extra rows and I didn't have the heart to rip back) but it's not hugely obvious (I hope).

Posy bootees

Pattern: Posy from the Jaeger baby book
Yarn: Jaeger Matchmaker Merino 4 ply

Sunday, April 29, 2007

One FO and two new WIPs

I finished the Pomatomus socks (my "bus" socks") on Thursday. I had plenty of time to knit on them, what with two round trips to London plus a lot of travel around the capital. I didn't quite feel up to knitting on them during the marathon, unlike Susie Hewer who managed to whip up a scarf whilst running 26.2 miles. Thanks to careful annotations made during the first sock on my by now very tatty copy of the pattern I even managed to reproduce what I had done for the toe creating two more or less identical socks. I'm very pleased with the result and will definitely be buying solid Regia again, it's an excellent value yarn.

Pomatomus socks

Meantime I have a couple of new projects on the go. Ever since I saw Katie's copy of the Jaeger baby book I've been itching to knit something from it. Whilst I was in London a week last Wednesday to go to the opera I picked up some yarn for a present for the new granddaughter of one of Mum's friends (and my favourite primary school teacher!). I haven't decided yet whether to do the pom-poms, I;m worried they might be a choking hazard.

Posy bootees

I also had a sneaky trip to Stash in Putney to pick up some yarn for me. I got some Trekking XXL in a great heathery purple colour and some gorgeous Knitpicks lace-weight in charcoal (see here for a pic).

I'd relly like to create my own patterns for these two yarns. There are a couple of lace stitches in my Harmony guide that I'd love to try out.

Elfine's socks

Finally, having finished the Poms, I needed a new pair of socks for the bus. I chose the pattern Elfine's socks by Anna Bell and am using up the rest of the Schaefer Anne socks yarn. I cast these on on Friday lunch time and made some good progress into the lace pattern whilst queuing for the changing rooms in M&S in the annual quest to find a size 10 white t-shirt.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Shoes - £69.99, cap - £6, entry fee - £26, finisher's medal - priceless

I'll put up a better picture as soon as I have one.

I got around (in case you're interested) in 04:25:03, which is somewhat slower than my best (and only other) marathon time of 04:04:52, but considering the heat I was just pleased I finished and didn't collapse or have to walk at any point. Considering that I ran in shorts and a t-shirt and was immensely relieved every time I could throw away my used water bottle I was incredibly impressed by these guys and this bunch. I also passed the guy dressed as Darth Vader and the runner dressed as Fred Flintstone who was carrying his car. I used to think when I saw them on TV that the fancy dress runners weren't serious about running, in fact it's the exact opposite. I didn't see Susan Hewer who was knitting a scarf whilst running but I'm amazed at her achievement, given that I have just about enough hand-eye coordination after 15 miles to lift a bottle to my mouth and drink. Abby (who somewhat overestimates both my knitting and running skills) suggested that I should have a go at breaking her record for my next marathon. I don't think so somehow. Besides, in order to get a scarf of any decent length I'd have to use some sort of aran or chunky weight. That's 100 extra grams to carry round!

Friday, April 20, 2007


Ok, now I'm getting properly nervous about this race. It's not the distance (well, it's not all the distance), it's the weather (the BBC is having a distressingly difficult time making up its mind about whether it's going to be a scorcher or not), and the travel arrangements (I've never been to Blackheath before what if I get on the wrong train?!), and the people, so many people. Actually I coped fine in the Reading half marathon (about 10,000 I think). This is only three times as many runners. It's just that everytime they run a trailer with the music and the overhead shots it all just gets a bit too much.

The unseasonably warm weather also means that I'll have to buy a cap, which means running in an untested bit of gear (which you are really not meant to do). On the other hand, it's not like my head has too many moving parts (on the outside at least) to rub. I was going to buy a cheapo job from JJB or suchlike that I could throw away if it was annoying or if (by some miracle) it clouded over but I think I'll use this as my excuse to buy a marathon souvenir at the expo*.

* One moment of panic about what if they'd sold out, or I didn't like them, or they were way too expensive, what would I do then. Then I remembered that I'd be travelling back through the centre of London where, apparently, they have shops!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Race week

I've not really posted too much here about the progress of marathon training so it may come as a bit of a surprise to find that I'm running in the London marathon on Sunday (I know I'm surprised at how soon it is every time I look here).

I've thought out plenty of posts about running (e.g. about the similarities I find between running and knitting) during training--there's not much else to do on those long training runs apart from planning my future yarn shop in my head (I can spend half a mile figuring out how to arrange the sock yarn)--but I generally find that when I get back from my run I'm more concerned with issues like baths (hot or cold) and a cup of tea and a biscuit than sitting down at the pc and typing out my beautifully composed post.

However, as race day is nearly upon us, I thought I'd note down a few handy hints for those of you out and about in the capital on what is and is not acceptable to call out to marathon runners.

Things you can say:

"Well done!" This is always a safe bet.
"You're looking really strong!" All runners like to be told this. Even if they're feeling like wet lettuce at the time.
"You're running really well!" Ditto
"You can do it! Remember the training!" This is a helpful thing to shout to your runner - it reminds them that they have run the miles in training to enable them to complete the course (unless of course they didn't do the training, which is really their problem rather than yours).

Things we'd really rather you didn't:

"Run Forrest!" Nothing really ojectionable about this, at least not the first 10 times you hear it.
"Come on 118!" Ditto
"Not much further!" We've seen the course map, we know that this is a black lie.
"Just one more hill!" Ditto. In addition, what may not look like a hill to the naked eye, definitely feels like one with 17 miles in your legs.
"You're nearly there!" Again, don't shout this unless the runner is nearly there, i.e. less than a mile to go.

And the killer:

"Keep running!" Possibly the least helpful thing you can shout out to a runner. We entered the race, we did the training, we get the idea, really.

I'm really looking forward to the race. Whilst during training I try to let my mind wander as much as possible (with the occasional result that I end up running along the canal with no memory of getting there) in races I like to concentrate on the course and on running and of course London is extra special in that sense. There'll be no second chance to take it all in whilst running over Tower Bridge (not without a detour and serious detriment to my race time). However, if it gets really tough, I'll have a secret weapon. Tomorrow I'm heading to Stash to pick up sock yarn (very possibly Trekking XXL but we'll see). The plan is to save it until Monday and then spend my race recuperation day on the sofa (or balcony if fine) knitting socks and generally putting my feet up. So during the race, if it all gets too much, I can spend at least 6 miles debating lace versus textured knitting, toe-up against top-down, heel-flap against short-row.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

WIPs update

I'm about 4 repeats into the Print O' the Wave stole (hereafter to be referred to as POTW in the style of the Da Vinci Code trial). It's going pretty smoothly so far and I'm really happy with the way that the variegation is working with the pattern. I think that this is going to be a very pretty and useful addition to the summer wardrobe. You can see how it's coming on here.

My other current WIP is a pair of Pomatomus (Pomatomi??) in the blue Regia from Amsterdam. After my initial shaky start I'm about 5 rounds short of the heel so should be there by the time I get home this evening. I'm doing three repeats of Chart A for the leg which should make a reasonable length ankle sock. I'd do another repeat but I don't want to risk being short of yarn near the end. Also I want to get on quickly so I can wear them before it gets too warm.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lessons still to be learned

First attempt at full scale yarn dying.

At this point it was fairly clear what I'd done wrong. Far too much blue dye had gone straight on to the yarn at one end of the pit, at the other end the purple was much too patchy. The result was this.

Debbie Bliss Merino DK

It's not horrendous but it's not what I had hoped for. In my tests with the mini-skeins I had suffered from the dyes mixing together in the pot before they had had a chance to fix on to the yarn, I think due to too much dye and water in the pot. Here I had kept water to a minimum, the yarn was barely submerged, and had soaked the yarn overnight in the vinegar solution with the result that the dye barely hit the water before it was soaking into the nearest merino fiber and then clinging on for dear life.

I didn't despair straightaway. I waited for the yarn to dry and then knit a couple of swatches from the skein*, just because yarn sometimes looks much better knit up than in the skein. This yarn didn't. It's patchy and too bright in places and too bleached in others.

The plan now is to get some more food dye (I'm all out of red and blue) and over-dye the skein in some sort of deep red. I hope that the overdyeing will either work with the existing colours to create a more harmonious effect, or that it will blot them out completely (though I feel that this is unlikely).

I also plan to be much more scientific about this overdyeing, to the extent of weighing out a mini-skein, and measuring the dye and water and vinegar (yes I know, it would have been a good idea to do this in the first place), and then keeping the ratios the same for the rest of the yarn. I may also need a bigger dye pot.

* This led to a lot of annoying questions from the boyfriend along the lines of: "Why are you pulling the yarn through the ties, why don't you just untie them?", "Why don't you wind it into a ball before you knit it?", "Didn't Katie bring the winding thing on Saturday?", "Why did you dye it such horrible colours?". I answered each question with great patience and tact, considering.


If it's good enough for Paula Radcliffe... Luckily I only had one tray of ice cubes, still it was pretty darn cold in there for the 20 seconds I managed to stick it.

I did my last big pre-marathon training run on Easter Sunday, a 20 mile loop along the main road, down the canal, down the river, back up the canal, through the meadow, back up the river, back up the canal and down the main road.

It was a really lovely morning for a run (at least for the first 2 and a half hours) and there were lots of friendly people to say hello to. I think that country living is rubbing off on me. I never (when in the south - up north we're much more friendly) ususally say hello to walkers whilst I'm running and only usually speak to runners when we've passed each other 2 or 3 times.

I managed to keep prety well hydrated and Katie had fixed me up with a couple of Go-Gels for an energy burst (thanks Katie). I shall definitely be stocking up on those at the pre-race expo. I also (after about 18 miles) started to think that some pain relief gel would be a good idea, however, I won't really have a chance to try it out pre-race and I know that you should never try a product for the first time mid-race. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for a cloudy day though. Last year's conditions (light drizzle) looked perfect for the runners plus it will be an excuse for the parents to take along the high visibility BWFC brolly so I can spot them more easily.

Knit warming

On Easter Saturday I invited the knitting group round to the flat for a Knit Warming (I really didn't try very hard with the event name). Aliki and Katie arrived first bearing the ball winder and Swift in a floral print cover which confused me somewhat (to the extent that I nearly asked Katie if she'd brought a parasol). The Swift got some action shortly afterwards as Kate arrived with Abby, Felix and Helen and a vast quantity of yarn to wind. If I hadn't seen the speed at which Kate knits I'd wonder where she was going to find the time to knit it all. I used the Swift to wind four balls of cream Debbie Bliss merino DK (which I'd bought that morning in a mad yarn dash into town) for dyeing purposes. I wound it into two 100g skeins, with the intent of creating enough yarn with the same variegation for a smallish project. This may not have been such a great idea in retrospect (see here). I also cast on the next largeish project, Eunny Jang's Print O' the Wave stole. I've knit this pattern previously for a scarf, however, I want to knit the full scale version and I also want to be able to keep the result (the scarf was for a gift). Fortunately I remembered how to do the version of the crochet cast-on where you crochet the stitches straight onto the needle (I hate picking up stitchs from a chain).

Victoria sponge

I forgot to take any photos during the Knit warming but you can use your imagination and picture this baked, layered with jam and rapidly disappearing inside hungry knitters.

Easter yarn dyeing project - part 2

Once the yarn was dry (and occasionally whilst it was still the teensiest bit damp) I knit some swatches. I may be gaining more enthusiasm for the process of swatching after listening to Christa Giles talk about using a whole skein for a swatch, I even did the thing of making nice garter stitch borders.

UK Alpaca dk in foxy

This baby swatch was my first attempt. I tried to do a bit too much, going for a brown/yellow variegation. What I got (due to too much dye and too much water) was a really gorgeous solid, fox colour with loads of subtlety.

Rowan 4-ply soft in blue/purple

My next attempt, a slightly larger mini-skein of Rowan 4-ply soft, was the only one that really worked to plan. Right amount of dye to yarn and water evidenced by all the dye being taken up by the yarn.

UK Alpaca dk in gold

UK Alpaca dk in turquoise

Two more successful failures. I wanted the top to be a mix of red, green and yellow. For the second swatch I was aiming at jade and turquoise. The first time round the colours were too different, the second time they were too similar. I'm really happy with the results though.

Handspun in green/yellow

Again, more variegation gone astray. This actually does have some places where you can see the original yellow.

I learnt a few things from my experiments.

I really like dyeing yarn.
You can get some incredibly subtle shades using just red, blue and yellow food colouring.
If I want variegation I need the different colours to be further apart in the dye bath and to use less dye.
Alpaca works really well for hand dyeing.
I need to be more scientific about the ratios of yarn to water and to dye.
Vinegar really smells when you heat it. Yarn dyeing is something I can do only when the boyfriend is away for the weekend and I have time to air the flat afterwards.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter dying project - part 1

I took advantage of the first really fine day yesterday to dry some clothes outside. I came home to dry clothes and this taped to the outside of the front door of the little block of flats where I live.

Personally I think that what a girl dries on her baloney is her own private business, don't you.

Do you think that there are any rules against this?

On the left is Rowan 4-ply soft (originally white) and on the right is UK Alpaca DK weight (originally cream). I Was aiming for both mini-skeins to be bi-colored but there was a bit too much water and dye for the amount of alpaca and everything kind of swooshed together before it had a chance to cling to the yarn. I (more or less) followed the tutorial for hot dying from the Spring Knitty. The dye is Supercook Natural food colouring in varying amounts of red, yellow and blue which I had hanging around from a decorated cake some time back. I don't really like using food colouring in baking (both the appearance or the faff) so this works out nicely then. The tutorial on Knitty didn't say whether malt vinegar would be OK for the fixing agent so we'll see how that turns out when it's dry. It's good for for lots of other things though.

AFter about 45 minutes I fished out both mini-skeins and they were looking prety good. I'll post pics once they've dried and I've knit them into swatches. Full of enthusiasm I started hunting through the stash for other yarn that I could practice dying on and came up with another small ball of the cream alpaca. That's now soaking with the last of the vinegar. I'm off out now to buy more vinegar so I can dye this baby.

Cream top bought from the Knitting and Stitching show back in November and spun on the drop spindle.

A couple of belated FO pics.

Monkey socks knit from Schaefer Anne sock yarn in the colourway Milly.

Birch leaf socks knit from Regia sock yarn.