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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mountains, Gandalf!

I've been having a serious craving for mountains ever since Felix told me about her planned walking holiday in Scotland and lovely as mine and Mum's Christmas day walk around Entwistle was it didn't come close to ticking the box. I therefore persuaded my parents to drive up to south lakeland on the Saturday after Christmas. We went for a lovely walk near Rydal Water and Grasmere that had just about everything.

Lakes ...


Views of mountains ...

Beach at Grasmere

Little rivers ...

Water falling

and an excellent cave, the sort that might have almost anything lurking in it (wargs, orcs, trolls, giant spiders) ...

Rydal cave

Enough to satisfy the most demanding hobbit.

It was a beautiful morning, very clear, very crisp, very cold. I enjoyed listening to all the different sounds my footsteps made: the crack of ice, the crunch of frozen mud, the whisper of frozen leaves, and the creak and groan of the ice swollen ground. There were some amazing ice formations.

Hoar frost like angel-hair pasta.

Hoar frost

Ice-bubbles in the puddles.

Ice bubble

Ice-crystals on a gate-post.

Ice crystals on gate post

After the walk we had lunch at the Low Sizergh Farm tea room near Kendal. The tea room overlooks the milking parlour so if you arrive at the right time (as we did) you can watch the organic cows being milked whilst you eat, either through the big window or on cow cam!


On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me ...

... some decent light for photography. And on the sixth day I even got some time to blog about the stuff that I photographed.

I got such a lovely surprise when I opened my parcel from Felix.

A present from Felix

I love the little birdie buttons ...

A present from Felix

... and wool fat soap happens to be one of my favourite things. So much so that I bought I whole load more of the stuff to store up for knitterly gifts when I saw it in the Low Sizergh Farm shop last Saturday. If you know me and you like sheep you can be fairly sure that you'll be getting some of this over the coming year.

Other highlights among my Christmas presents included Mmmmalabrigo sock yarn and a set of Knitpicks Harmony dpns from Socktopus (along with the customary complimentary sachet of Eucalan)


Knitpicks dpns

The Harmonies are a delight to knit with, I just love watching the sharp little points dig into the stitches. I've already knit half a glove and one and two-thirds socks with them since I unwrapped them. Unfortunately, despite being really really careful about putting the needles back in their little case when not using them, I've already managed to lose one of the 2.75mm needles when I dropped it into the innards of my mum's friend's car on the way to Manchester last night. However, since the set includes six of each needle size this hardly qualifies as a disaster and I'm trying hard (although not entirely successfully) not to dwell on it.

My haul of goodies also included Free Range Knitter by Stephanie Pearl McPhee and It Itches by Franklin Habit, both available for borrowing, should you wish, as soon as I am back in Oxford. I also added another practical knitting book to my library today. I went into Waterstones to spend a Christmas gift card and didn't think that I'd be buying a knitting book given that they had a miserly three shelves devoted to craft (although to be fair it is a small store) however, I spotted a copy of Design Your Own Knits in Five Easy Steps by Debbie Abrahams. The main selling points for me were the comprehensive sizing charts for men, women, children, and babies (no more scouting through pattern books to work out the circumference of a 18 month old's neck) and the detailed instructions for designing and knitting various types of sweater (raglan, saddle shouldered, set-in sleeves, etc.). I'll try to write a review in a couple of weeks or so once I've put it to use.

On the knitting front I've been working on a pair of gloves for my Mum in Artesano Alpaca 4 ply to match the scarf I gave her for her birthday (this was the present not finished, or indeed started, in time for Christmas) and a pair of man Monkeys for Jon, my brother-in-law in navy blue Rowan 4 ply soft.

Man Monkeys

There are just one and a bit repeats to go before the toe on the second sock so they're a bit further along than the gloves, which are missing one hand, two thumbs, and seven and a half fingers.

Mum's gloves

I thought of writing up the pattern for the gloves but as they're really knit to fit my Mum like, well, a glove I'm not sure that they'd fit too many other people. So long as I remember enough of the details to knit the second one that'll be just fine.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mr Tweedy

Yet more of the Christmas knitting can now be unveiled although truth be told I was knitting this pretty openly in the two days before Christmas. It was either that or wrap up an unfinished hat*!

In the run-up to Christmas I couldn't find a hat pattern to knit for my Dad that fit all the criteria (to fit a man, heavy dk, dead quick, dead easy) so I improvised this and then wrote up the pattern. I've named it Mr Tweedy (after the beleaguered chicken farmer in Chicken Run) mainly because it's a bloke's hat knit from Rowan Scottish Tweed (I have got to come up with better stories for how I come up with the pattern names).

I used mistake rib as it's very forgiving size-wise due to its stretchiness, not to mention very cosy.

FO - Mr Tweedy

Mr Tweedy

Pattern: Mr Tweedy (available as a free Ravelry download)
Size: adult male
Yarn: Rowan Scottish Tweed DK; colour: Lewis Grey; 2 balls
Needles: 4mm circs (60 cm using magic loop)

Dad very kindly agreed to model this for the pattern photos during our lovely walk in the Lakes today (more of which later) after I pointed out that all he had to do was change his hat and look at the ducks.

* or be completely anti-social in the run-up to the big day which is kind of missing the point.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

O Christmas tree(s)!

Merry Christmas to you all - I hope you had a lovely day whatever you were doing!

Our own Christmas day followed a well-worn pattern, breakfast followed by presents (yay!) and a visit to our old next-door neighbours after which Mum and I took a walk around a nearby reservoir whilst Dad cracked on with the tea and my brother fell asleep on the sofa.

We had a lovely walk which was considerably enlivened by numerous sightings of that rare beast, the wild Christmas tree. Of course most people are familiar with the domesticated Christmas tree which can be found in many a living room, shopping centre, or hotel lobby at this time of year but the wild tree is less common and altogether harder to track down (although once you have found their territory they're fairly easy to spot due to their shining baubles and spangly tinsel!).

Christmas trees in the wild

People have been decorating trees around Entwistle Reservoir for the last few years but it's really taken off this year. Two years ago, when Mum and I were last there on Christmas day, there were half a dozen or so, mainly memorial trees "to Nan" or "to Dad". This year (judging by the number of photos and I didn't get them all) there were around 40, and although some were memorials, others were decorated for the people who walk around the reservoir. It's a lovely new tradition and long may it continue.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Twas the night before Christmas...

...and I'm a knitted item short. However, as I'm under a strict injunction that I am not to stay up crafting until the early morning in a mad rush to finish Christmas gifts the intended recipient will be receiving their (extremely nice) bought gifts* and an I.O.U.

In the new year I will be making resolutions to exercise more, eat less (or at least better), and start my Christmas knitting in September.

click here to see what's behind door number 24

* I always have back-up

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Block party in my airing cupboard

I celebrated finishing my brother's Christmas present (Ravelled here) by holding a little blocking party in my airing cupboard.

block party in my airing cupboard

Pictured are Laurie's toasty topper and baby James' Owl vest. Ste's present was also hanging out in there but was a bit camera shy. I'm now halfway(ish) through the next present which means there are one and a half to knit before zero hour. Still I mean to get up early tomorrow for an hour of Dorothy L. Sayers on the Alibi channel (the channel designed expressly for me) so here's hoping.

click for today's advent image

Monday, December 22, 2008

Recession, what recession?

In an act of seasonal foolhardiness Mum and I ventured out to the Trafford Centre this lunchtime so that I could complete the last remnants of my Christmas shopping. Luckily we are privy to the best kept secret in the north-west, how to get into the Trafford Centre 3 days before Christmas without queueing*, so getting in and finding a space was easy. Alack, we were so excited at spotting a space at the end of the carpark nearest to John Lewis (always an important consideration) that we didn't think that parking near the exit would be a sound move - it took us 40 minutes just to get out of the carpark. The centre itself was packed and the queues in some of the stores were immense. If this is what it's like in a downturn I'd hate to see it when the economy's booming! Of course a lot of the frenzy was caused by the 30 and 40% sales that had already started in a lot of the stores. Anyway, I managed to pick up gifts for my brother, dad, sister, and brother-in-law and even a little something for myself.

4 ply soft

I'll be casting on in this for a pair of Woodsmoke socks as soon as all the Christmas knitting is done. Just, can't, wait!

Door number 22

* no, of course I'm not going to publish it here. If any of you really want to know I'll tell you in person after Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kee-eep knitting!

Door number 20

Christmas for me always kicks off with the Halle Carol concert at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Quite apart from anything else it's an absolute treat to watch James Burton conduct. We always sit in seats to one side of the auditorium, level with the orchestra, so we can watch the interaction between the conductor, the orchestra and the choirs. There's a hugely fun element to the Halle carol concert. The orchestra and choirs all wear festive headgear which is turned up a notch for the second half and audience interaction (e.g. jingling of keys and clapping in time with the whip cracks during Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride). Unfortunately the ride there and back, squashed into the back of a Skoda Fabia (which really does not hold five people), was less enjoyable. There wasn't even enough elbow room for knitting in the round! This means that I'm at least an hour behind on Ste's present and I've not even started knitting yet for Mum and Dad. With only three knitting days until the big day it's looking pretty damn tight I can tell you.

Door number 21

Friday, December 19, 2008

Home for the holidays

Last day at work today and boy am I ready for a break. As soon as it hit 12:30 I saved the half-finished email I was writing, put on the out-of-office assistant and headed for the Christmas lunch in the canteen. It was a very jolly meal and I snagged a great present in the secret santa lucky dip, The Corpse Bride on DVD. Sadly I don't know whether or not the recipient of my gift, The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling, was chuffed as she turned out to be one of those hardcore people that won't open even their secret santa gift until Christmas day!

The train journey up north wasn't too bad. I caught an earlier train than planned to make up for the expected delays in Cheshire caused by some idiot who didn't put the handbrake on properly on his 4x4 yesterday or, as the ticket inspector put it, "dropped a car on one of our trains". The first half of the journey was fairly lively - the lad sat opposite me was watching The Running Man (that 1987 Schwarzenegger classic) with one of his friends without headphones. Sadly I couldn't see the screen but I could hear the audio track. I was amazed at how much of the plot I remembered given that I saw the film once about 17 years ago (what were my parents thinking letting me watch that at such a tender age?) - it must have made a very deep impression. A quick look at Wikipedia informs me that the film (which involves convicted criminals fighting for their lives on live TV) is set in 2019 - well it does look as though reality TV will be headed that way by then.

No bloggable knitting today although I got tons done on the train. It's amazing how much you can get done when you're just knitting round and round (and round and round).

Click on door number 19 for today's advent image

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Everything but the kitchen sink

Click here to see what's behind door number 17

I'm just taking a quick break from finishing up my Christmas yarn packing* which is much more complicated than my Christmas clothes packing - yarn - check, needles - check, notions - check, patterns - check, emergency yarn - check, fibre - check, drop spindle - check. I'm going to be away for 17 days which is a very long time in knitting.

First into the knitting bag are the presents to be knit and the presents in progress. I picked up yarn for something for my Dad and for my brother in John Lewis in Reading on the way to see Felix at Sticks 'n' String on Tuesday night. I had planned to also get two skeins of Noro Silk Garden to make one of those striped scarves for my brother-in-law but it looked like everyone had the same idea first as there were no manly contrast colourways left in stock. Luckily I have a fallback position (see * below).

I'm well into my brother's pressie. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that he'll read this so I'm not going to post about it but you can find the details here on Ravelry. It's the first thing I've ever knit for Ste so I really hope he likes it (no pressure, bro).

Whilst in John Lewis I not only found the picture for Door number 17 of the Advent Calendar but also the perfect final picture for Door number 24. No sneak preview though - you'll have to wait until Christmas eve.

knock knock

* actually I'm meant to be checking hat patterns on Ravelry so that I know what size needles to take with me. Hang about, isn't Ravelry meant to be the thing that distracts you from that other stuff you're meant to be doing?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The march of the Christmas FOs

FO - Lengthways garter stitch scarf

Tapestry scarf

Yarn: Rowan Tapestry in Highland (2 balls)
Needles: 4.5mm circular
Time: 5 days
Giftee: my aunt Carole
Ravelled: here

I didn't take a note of the dimensions but this scarf is long enough to either wrap once round your neck with a single knot (as above) or to wrap around twice and tuck into the collar of your coat. I knit it by casting on 160 stitches then knitting every row until my yarn gave out and finished with a sewn bind-off. Tapestry is notoriously difficult to sew with but I managed OK with this by dint of adding a bit of extra twist to the yarn every ten stitches or so to compensate.

FO: Toasty topper

Toasty topper

Pattern: Toasty topper by Alexis Riggs
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran (1.5 balls)
Needles: 5mm and 4.5mm dpns, 4.5mm circular
Time: <1 day
Giftee: my baby niece Laurie
Ravelled: here

This was a very quick and easy knit. I was a bit thrown at first by the instruction to knit until work measured 6" (that seemed huge for a baby hat) but the finished object looks to be the correct size. I just need to block out the scarf portion.

FO: Fern Glade hat

Fern Glade

Pattern: Fern Glade by Megan Marshall
Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed (<1 ball)
Needles: 3.25mm circular and 4mm dpns
Time: 1.5 days
Giftee: the boyfriend's sister Clare
Ravelled: here

Winter Knitty came out just at the right time for me to knit this for the boyfriend's sister. It only took a day and less than one ball of Rowan Felted Tweed to make the smaller size so it's perfect Christmas knitting.

I'm now at 6 gifts knit (including the three pairs of gloves/mittens knit in advance) and 4 to go. This favourable progress report may have led me to get slightly over confident as I cast on for a monster project last night at Sticks and String in Reading. I'd cross my fingers but that's hardly productive.

Advent calendar catch-up

I knew I'd get behind on this!

Door number 14

Door number 15

Door number 16

There'll be a proper Christmas knitting FO post later in the day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Take a bow

I wanted a large-ish black bow for my hair for Abby's party this evening. Rather than traipse round all the accessory shops looking for the right one I thought it would be quicker and easier to make my own. And it was.

Hair bow

Hair bow

In fact to demonstrate how quick and easy this is I just whipped up another bow to provide pictures for this little tutorial. If you don't want a bow for your hair you can always make some for wrapping Christmas parcels!

To make your very own hair bow you will need:

60cm of 2" satin ribbon (obviously you can use different sizes and types of ribbon to create different effects)
Needle and matching thread
A plain hair slide

Cut the ribbon into two 25cm lengths and one 10cm length.

Making a ribbon bow

Form one of the 25cm lengths into a loop with the ends overlapping by about 1.5cm, squash it flat with the overlapping ends in the middle and pin in place.
Repeat with the other 25cm length

Making a ribbon bow

Place the two squashed loops together with the sides with the overlapping ends in the middle and pin.

Making a ribbon bow

Secure the two loops together with a U shaped line of running stitch.

Making a ribbon bow

Pull taut to cinch the middle of the bow and secure.

Making a ribbon bow

Fold the 10cm length into thirds lengthways and wrap it around the middle of the bow to form the knot. Pin in place and trim ends as required.

Stitch the ends of the knot in place using whip stitch and secure it to the bow at top and bottom.

Making a ribbon bow

If using the bow for a hair slide either stitch or stick it in place (depending on how much time you have and the type of slide you are using) or just slip one side of the hair slide through the knot (see below).

Hair bow

what's behind door number 13?

Friday, December 12, 2008

One off, one on

There were moments when I felt that I would be working the sewn bind-off of the lengthways garter stitch scarf for the rest of my natural lifespan but it is finished at last and is currently blocking on the living room floor.

It's so beautiful that I had to tear myself away, otherwise I'd still be sat there stroking it. This means that my aunt, uncle and cousins' parcel will be on its way as soon as the scarf is dry and the other things are wrapped and the postal workers of Oxford have come off strike. There will be pictures of the scarf tomorrow once it's unpinned and there's some decent light for photography.

With the scarf safely blocking I was able to move onto the next item on the Christmas knitting list, a hat for the boyfriend's sister. I was going to knit another scarf but the Winter Knitty arrived just in time with Megan's Fern Glade pattern.

Fern Glade hat

I'm knitting the smaller size in Rowan Felted Tweed from my stash in a very ferny shade of green. It looks a bit small on the needles but Felted Tweed does wonderful things when wet so I'm confident that it will block to the right size.

Door number 12

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Party time

I'm just off out to the Christmas work "do". For those of you who were intrigued by the description of my frock (black with gold swirls and kind of plasticky but not in a bad way) I'll try to get a decent photo or two of it. I certainly feel very glam!

click here to see today's advent surprise

Toasty winter knits

Ooh, ooh, ooh! Winter Knitty is up including Megan's beautiful Fern Glade pattern. I can't belive I know someone who has a pattern in Knitty - so exciting!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One (nearly) down, umpteen to go

NFO* - lengthways garter stitch scarf

Lengthways garter stitch scarf

Just a couple more rows to knit before I attempt the nerve-jangling exercise that is attempting a 160 stitch sewn bind-off with a loosely spun single that has a tendency to drift apart if you even look at it the wrong way! The mad thing is that I want to knit another of these as soon as I'm done. It's just so pretty and would make a perfect gift for the boyfriend's sister, who deserves a good Christmas gift since she brought me back yarn from Italy last year!

Today's advent surprise

* Nearly Finished Object - sounds so much better than UFO or even WIP.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How do you make a baby sweater even cuter?

FO - Felix's cardigan

My finished Felix cardigan

Pattern: Felix's cardigan by Jacki Kelly.
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Rialto DK (2 balls green, 1 white)
Needles: 4mm circ and dpns (vital for the sleeves)
Modifications: Pattern knit in 6 row stripes with contrasting button band. Increases made using m1 (rather than kfb for raglan and yo for front increases). Also front increases were made 5 stitches in, rather than in the garter stitch edging.

Here's how...

Finished Felix cardigans

I'd left my cardigan spread out on my desk to finish drying and when I came back from a meeting another had appeared alongside it prompting a chorus of cooing from my colleagues. There's just something irresistable about the two of them together.

Aliki's finished Felix cardigan

The two cardigans are as nearly identical as can be. Aliki's front increases are done slightly differently from mine (totally my fault for going off piste without telling her first) but otherwise the only difference is in the colour of the stripes. I think that Meraud's twins will look fantastic in these.

Door number 9