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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas knitting round-up

Now that all the chocolates are eaten and the remainder of the turkey is frozen I can take a moment out from the non-stop consumption that's been going on around here to catch you up on the knitting (I occasionally put down my knife and fork for long enough to pick up the needles).

We have, in order of completion:

Cashmere little pyramid scarf.

Cashmere scarf

This is the perfect scarf for anyone who has a relative who wants a plain, flat scarf, but who doesn't want to be bored out of their minds whilst knitting it. The equal numbers of knit and purl stitches mean that it's perfectly balanced and it blocks a treat. Lesley's Devon cashmere yarn is deliciously soft and just gets softer with age and wear - I knit my sister (who is modelling the scarf here) one of these two years ago and this year she commissioned one for her sister-in-law. You can get a little scarf that will wrap once around the neck (with knot) or twice (without) from just two skeins of cashmere 4-ply

Stitch pattern: Little Pyramid from A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara G. Walker
Needles: 3mm
Yarn: Devon Fine Fibres cashmere yarn (2 skeins)
Ravelled: here
Recipient: Jane (my sister's sister-in-law)

Sheep Yoke baby Cardigan by Jen Little

Sheep yoke cardigan

This the the fourth of these that I've knit. I rang the changes a bit by knitting the sheep in stocking stitch (not an entirely successful idea) for than in garter stitch and putting in a fence for the sheep. I added about 4 extra rows and 16 extra stitches to the yoke so that it would fit a two year old. The fit was pretty good although I did forget that Laurie would be wearing long sleeves underneath it so it's a tiny bit tighter in the arms than desired. Anyhow, the parents like it (which is the main thing and Laurie, when asked what was on her cardigan, said "sheep" and "Lizzy cardigan" which was rather gratifying*.

Pattern: Sheep Yoke baby cardigan
Needles: 3.75mm circular
Yarn: British Breeds Yarns Blue Faced Leicester DK in Natural (2.5 balls), Denim (0.5 balls), Sage (0.5 balls), Sienna (0.5 balls), Lilac (0.5 balls)
Ravelled: here
Recipient: Laurie (niece)

Stripey mittens for baby Joshua

Stripey mittens for Joshua

A quick knit for Christmas night. Just about finished in time to visit my uncle, aunt, and cousins (including my new baby first cousin once removed) on Boxing Day. These make a very neat and pleasing last minute gift!

Pattern: Djevel mittens by Sigurlaug Eva Stefansdottir**
Needles: 3mm
Yarn: Rowan Cashsoft 4-ply
Mods: Worked over 28 sts rather than 32 to make newborn size.
Recipient: Joshua (baby cousin)
Ravelled: here

Cirrus sweater for baby Joshua

Cirrus sweater

I was so happy when my cousin produced a little baby boy for whom I could knit this lovely sweater designed by the very talented Katie (longtime Bluestocking). Again this is a very quick knit (two evenings at most). Knitters will like the subtle stitch pattern and cunning colour changes at the yoke and mums (and dads) will like the button placket at the shoulder - so much easier to get over baby's noggin!

Pattern: Cirrus by Katie Hanrott from Petite Purls
Needles: 3.75mm
Yarn: British Breeds Yarns Blue Faced Leicester DK in Natural (just under 1 ball), Denim (just under 1 ball)
Recipient: Joshua
Modifications: I accidentally carried the garter stitch edging of the bottom tabs all the way up the sides of the sweater (oopsie!). Still it give the sweater a nice tunic-y look I think!
Ravelled: here

* she has also (completely unprompted) asked "where Lizzy knitting?" on one of the rare occasions when I didn't have needles and yarn in hand.

** check out her patterns - I love the Nemo mittens!

Friday, December 25, 2009

On the night before Christmas ...

... my true love gave to me!

Twelve ends to darn in.


Nine sheep to duplicate stitch.

Eight buttons to sew on.


Four seams to stitch.


Two sleeves to graft.

And a Sheep Yoke cardigan to wash and block.

Sheep Yoke cardigan

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fetching the turkey

Fetching the turkey

We're very lucky in that that snow hasn't prevented any of the family who were coming to Bolton from coming or really inconvenienced us in any other way than necessitating a little more travel by public transport or on foot than usual. Of course if we were fetching the turkey in true Dickensian fashion then for starters it would be a goose and we'd have it lashed down to the sledge, possibly on a bed of highly toxic but decorative evergreens. Alas you can't even see the turkey in this photo because it's in the rucksack on my back (and I'm taking the photo)!

I'm starting to feel a little bit tense about the Christmas knitting. I didn't have much to do - two scarves, one pair of socks, and one toddler cardigan - and the only thing outstanding is the toddler cardigan. I'm sure Laurie wouldn't even notice if she had one parcel less to open (especially if it doesn't contain toys) but I would feel like I'd failed as an aunt and as a knitter if it wasn't under the tree by Christmas morning. If you're feeling similarly tense about your Christmas knitting I suggest you pop over to Franklin's blog, laugh hollowly, and then get your nose back to the grindstone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The slippery slope

I'm not talking about the one I helped to dig out yesterday, or the one I went sledging down today. Of course I love independent craft stores but a big crafting supermarket whose name begins with "H" just about saved my bacon yesterday when I finally decided that there weren't any nice family cards (for under a fiver) to be had in either Manchester or Bolton.

Rudy card

Although I went in with the intention of making some beaded Christmas tree cards a la Petit Filoux but these kits looked just so fun and easy (NB: I didn't actually buy this kit - the ones I chose were considerably less cheesy).

I am rather concerned that it may be downhill all the way to decoupage and scrapbooking from here on in!

Talking of downhill we have had perfect snow for sledging (it's about six inches deep on the road now). Earlier in the day Laurie had her first sledge ride down the driveway.

Laurie on sledge

Then, a bit later on, whilst Laurie was having her nap her Aunty Lizzy went out with the sledge to a slightly bigger hill (you really can't tell from this photo but this is a proper good hill for sledging).

Mountain Peak

The snow conditions were excellent and I had about a dozen goes before coming off quite hard and deciding that the next go should be the last. It's difficult to walk up hill with a sore arse! No photos of me (as I was on my tod) but I'm hoping to persuade Laurie's mummy out later on!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Appliqued leaf

The group quilt project has been taking a back seat over the past few weeks, what with dress-making and Christmas knitting, but I got a gentle reminder in the post that I should be working on my Celtic applique block in the shape of an acknowledgement of our registration for the 2010 Festival of Quilts at the NEC. I'd stalled a little bit on the second leaf so it was nice to finish that in Eleanor's company (it's always good to have moral support for the tricky bits) and the third leaf seemed to go much more easily. I'd learnt (the hard way) that it's a good idea to line the outer edge of the piping up against the outer edge of the leaf to ensure that all the layers of fabric are caught down by the stitching.

Appliqued flower

It's still over 5 months until we even have to send in the entry form so we should have plenty of time to finish the quilt, especially as after Sally, Eleanor, and I have finished our current blocks the remainder should involve a lot more machine stitching and a lot less applique by hand.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mmm, cashmere

Mmm, cashmere

I'm knitting an absolutely plain and simple cashmere scarf in natural coloured 4 ply yarn from Devon Fine Fibres. Now I know that the cashmere goat is not a native breed** and so strictly speaking falls outside my yarn buying rules (only British breeds bred in the UK and Ireland) but A) it's a commission (for my sister to give to her sister-in-law) and B) they're my rules anyway and C) the cashmere from Devon Fine Fibres ticks every other box relating to ethical farming and local produce. Not only are the goats farmed in Devon but the fibre is spun there too at Coldharbour Mill***. So the only yarn miles on my yarn are the postage miles between Devon and here! I love Lesley's blog too - it's so lovely to know a bit more about the animals that provide this beautiful fibre.

** [EDITED TO ADD]: In fact it seems that I'm wrong about this and that Lesley's cashmere goats can be classed as a British breed (see Lesley's comment below). And of course "the rules" really are about supporting British sheep (and goat) farmers and trying to show that you can do every kind of knitting you can think of without buying imported yarn or fibre. All that said there is now absolutely no reason for us all not to haul off and snaffle as much of Lesley's beautiful yarn as we can lay our sticky little mitts on!

*** Lesley has pointed out that this batch was actually spun up in Lancashire but it's still all produced in the UK.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Buttons (and a bonus)

Apparently virtue is its own reward. I went out at lunchtime on an errand for Mum to Crabtree and Evelyn (and frankly that's no hardship either!) and as a result happened on a great stall selling buttons and notions and handmade brooches and other lovely trimmings in the Antiques and Craft market (every Thursday from 9am-3pm) at Gloucester Green. I had a lovely chat with Jo from Darnit and Stitch (great name) and I hope I've persuaded her to come along to Bluestockings in the New Year, especially as she's interested in hooking up with local yarn producers with the idea of selling their yarn on her stall. And then I couldn't resist these beautiful vintage buttons.

Vintage buttons from Darnit and Stitch

And the bonus? Well aside from making a lovely new crafty contact when I turned over one of the cards I discovered this needle still attached. Jo, if you want your needle back then you'll have to come along to the knitting group.


A Very Bluestockings Christmas

Everyone had a fantastic time at the Bluestockings Christmas party last night. Thirteen (13!) knitters turned up for knitting and mulled wine, crackers and a Yankee Swap which was just brilliant. At one stage Ellen, who organised it for us, was a bit concerned that everyone would be too nice and there would be no "stealing" - I think she regretted saying that when I "stole" a fabulous hat with crocheted flower from her! The pub was brilliant too - they even gave us mince pies on the house - and didn't mind about us making loads of mess with the knitting-themed crackers and gift exchange!

Bluestockings Christmas party

[Felix, Melanie, and Meaghan]

I'm not sure how much knitting got done with all the eating and cracker pulling and playing with Poppy-the-prettiest-dog-in-the-world - who seems to get withdrawal symptoms if she goes for more than 30 seconds without someone telling her how lovely she is. I managed to finish off the bloke socks and cast on a pair of knee socks for me - I'm so excited about the idea of knee socks - in Megan's Wellington sock yarn in the Scarpantoni colourway - soo pretty.

Bluestockings Christmas party

[Eugenie and Abby]

It was lovely to see everyone, especially those who for various reasons - Clare (baby), Abby (new bloke and insanely busy job) - can't make it so frequently!

Bluestockings Christmas party

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Doing, not blogging

Hey there! It's been one of those weekends where I've been so busy doing bloggable things but not finding a spare moment (when I'm awake*) to blog about them. I had a fabulous day on Friday. In the morning, whilst waiting in for the man from the garage to come and collect the car for repair**, I finally tackled the huge mound of yarn, fibre, patterns, fabric, and needles that I (affectionately) and the boyfriend (not so affectionately) liked to call Mount Stashmore. It felt so good to tidy up that corner and I found a lot of stuff that I had forgotten about (or at least had no idea where it was) in the process.

As soon as the man came for the car I dashed off to get the bus and train to Reading for some Christmas shopping. I had a lovely time in John Lewis buying fabric for a party dress although I was slightly fazed by the amount of choice when buying gold satin. Eventually I emerged with 2.5 metres of silk satin in new gold, a matching zip and thread, and special machine needles for stitching silk. I also managed to sort out pressies for my sister, the boyfriend, and my new second cousin once removed. Then, around 4, I met up with Felix and we headed over to Mark's to wait in again (this time for the man for the boiler). We had a gorgeous afternoon and evening sitting and knitting and drinking tea in front of the fire.

On Saturday I went for a run, tidied up a bit around the flat, and then steeled myself to cut into the silk with my new serrated dressmaking scissors. Cutting out the dress pieces was a nightmare, the silk just slips away from the scissor blade, the pattern, and the pins every chance it gets and it wasn't until I'd cut out most of the pieces that I realised that the rotary cutter, used frehand, is the best way to cut out silk.

I was really scared that if I stopped working on the dress I would lose my nerve and pack it away somewhere to languish so I just did it (as a leading sportswear brand) would say. Thankfully the stitching was considerably easier than the cutting and I managed most of the sewing by Sunday morning. Now I just need to hem the outer dress and the lining and I'll be all set for the work Christmas party next Thursday. I'll try to get someone to take some pictures then for the blog.

Sunday I had a cross country race in the morning followed by a leaving do (my friend Katie has got a nw job in Nairobi) in the afternoon. The cross country was great. All the training I've been putting in really seems to have had an effect - I came 60th out of a field of around 150 (which is pretty good for me. After the race I had the best shower ever round at my friend Lizzie's accommodation - I'd forgotten just how much hot water you get in student buildings - and then headed for the pub and Katie's leaving do where I had the yummiest drink in the work, hot apple and cinnamon toddy. At £5.20 a mug it's an expensive taste to acquire but I watched the barman closely the second time around and I think I can make my own now.

OK, I'm falling asleep as I type this so I'm off to bed with a skimmed milk hot chocolate and Dorothy Wordsworth's journals - they are just delightful.

* I've been feeling very sleepy in the evenings, possibly due to all the running!

** I got rear-ended at a roundabout the Saturday before last - the boyfriend and I were both fine (if a little shaken) but it wasn't the most pleasant of experiences.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Random Thursday

I cannot not wash my hair when taking a shower. Even if I get into the shower wearing a shower cap if will be taken off within about 10 seconds of turning on the water. Trying to keep your hair dry in the shower just takes all the fun out of it.

I frequently sing whilst running. Sometimes in my head. Sometimes out loud. It's cheaper than buying a lightweight MP3 player and running headphones.

I fit into my skinny jeans (the ones I've been hanging onto for two years so that I know when I'm the "right" size again) on Saturday. It'll be interesting to see if I still fit into them after last night's Brakspear and hot chocolate extravaganza.

I'm thinking about making another Cabelona dress for the work Christmas party. It depends on whether or not John Lewis have any gold coloured satin in stock.

I love how when you're nearly thirty you can cut your own fringe and no-one can tell you off*. Remember how when you were little cutting your own hair (or the hair of others) with the scissors at school was the ultimate taboo?

* don't worry Mum, I've been doing it for a while now and no-one's pointed at me in the street yet!

Knit night

Brakspear o'clock

Beer and yarn, it's a winning combination.

I love my knitting group. As soon as I sit down in the pub and pull out my knitting on Wednesday nights it's like my soul takes a big sigh of relief and says "... and relax". We had a lovely evening. We cooed over the big pile of Megan's yarn and admired Ellen's stocking and petted Poppy-the-prettiest-dog-in-the-worldTM and smelled Tineke's Shetland fibre beasties sweater (no, really). I love our mad little knitting world where no one thinks it's (too) weird to sniff yarn. I got loads of knitting done too - I'm almost down to the toe on the first bloke sock in Megan's Wellington sock yarn in Stringbark, at this rate I'm on for a new sock knitting PB although as with marathons, so with sock knitting, the second half is always slower.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Christmas mugs

The boyfriend and I tend to spend a lot of time over Christmas with our respective families so we need to get our own Christmas stuff out early in order to enjoy it before we head off to Kent and Bolton. We've already had two cups of coffee out of the Christmas mugs and I'll be putting up the decorative twigs (with their new Handm@de ornaments) on Friday.

Christmas knitting is underway too. I've finished one scarf for a colleague and I'm a quarter of the way through a pair of socks in Megan's gorgeous Wellington sock yarn in the Stringybark colourway. I love this yarn, there's a real complexity and subtlety to the colourway which totally does not show up in this photo!

Stringybark sock

Proper daylight photos when we get some proper daylight around here!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Handm@de Oxford

my gorgeous haul from Handm@de Oxford

I had a completely gorgeous time looking around the Handm@de craft fair in Oxford this afternoon. This was such an amazing craft fair - all you could hear as you browsed round the stalls were people murmuring "that's so sweet" as they looked at the beautiful things on display. If you are near Cambridge next weekend I urge you to check out the fair at the Guild Hall on 5th December.

The little pink heart earrings* are my favourite thing from the afternoon. They and the black and white hairslides are both from Button Moon. The little robin tree decoration (which is filled with cloves and smells delicious btw) is from Fabric Nation and the felted soap is from Funny Banana.

If you can't make it to a Handm@de Fair there's a list of all the Handm@de designers online at the Handm@de site and I'm pretty sure they all have etsy or folksy shops.

* I have to confess that I have a totally soppy reason for loving these - they remind me of the pink candy heart which Gilbert Blythe gives to Anne in Anne of Green Gables.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rest day

Blenheim mosaic

Blenheim, Water Terrace, hot chocolate, knitting, no one else around - perfect.

Believe me, I know, I mean I really know, how lucky I am to have a place like this right on my doorstep. I even did a twirly dance on the Vanbrugh Bridge at how gorgeous everything was. Then I had to stop because I got dizzy. There was even a marquee put up on the Water Terrace so I could sit right by the fountains without freezing my ass off. I am now feeling much more relaxed.

RSPCA Christmas Bazaar tomorrow

Just a quick plug for the RSPCA Christmas Bazaar at the Methodist Church Hall in Woodstock tomorrow between 2-5pm. I'll be manning a stall on behalf of Oxford WSD. We'll be selling gorgeous hand-dyed yarn and fibre by The Thylacine and Yarnimals, beautiful recycled tweed brooches in the shape of little houses, and there'll be a few of my little owls. I'm hoping there'll be lots of bird lovers who would just love a woolly little friend to perch on their coat.

Big bag of yarn

[check out these jewel coloured (somewhat over-exposed) lovelies]

Megan dropped off this big bag of yarn last night. The colours are so pretty it's taking all my self-control not to just snatch the lot and flee the country.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

You can't have too many bras*

Or rather, I have had to buy yet another bra to go with the new dress I bought at John Lewis at the weekend. It's one of the things you don't remember to think about in the shop when you're sizing up the price or how "high maintenance" a new dress is likely to be. They should put it on the care label after the laundering instructions: "Handwash at low temperatures. Do not tumble-dry. Oh, and you'll probably need a new bra with that neckline." Either that, or on the price label "£69 (€92) + £20 bra-tax". The thing is that I thought I already had all the bras - white, black, nude, strapless, multi-way, padded, not-so-padded, fancy, plain - obviously I was wrong.

Still, the new bra is an engineering miracle - there are allegedly over 100 ways to wear it. If only someone would tell me what they all are because I can't get much above twenty, not including "as improvised earmuffs" or "emergency airline pillow".

* I am clearly the anti-Harlot on this point.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Champagne moment

Champagne moment

I don't want to start enumerating poultry and I'm keeping skin contact with the wooden desk at all times as I type this but I think that the work project we have been planning and sweating over for the past few months and which has been keeping me awake at nights for the past couple of weeks (culminating in yesterday's night of total insomnia) is just about completed. I'm sitting here with a glass of Sainsbury's finest champagne (it really is very good) just about to head downstairs for a steak dinner and Strictly Come Dancing. Life is good right at this minute.

Plus I have a kick dress (as Buffy would say) and shoes which I bought in John Lewis this morning. Photos tomorrow maybe.

Pain, I can't sleep*

I know that I can claim time in lieu (i.e. leave) for work done at the weekend but do you think I can claim a lie-in in lieu for project-related sleepless nights? On the plus side I have managed to knit a whole mitten in a pattern I've been trying to work up since Woolfest in the summer (when I had my last bout of insomnia - although that time it was mainly because I was high on caffeine and wool fumes). I got a lot of knitting done that night too. Not that my knitting doesn't suffer a bit under these conditions. For instance I just made a beautiful spit splice to an entirely random bit of yarn under the impression that it was the piece I had broken off at the thumb.

Talking of Woolfest reminds me that my work stresses are very small beer compared to the misery of the poor people in Cumbria who have been flooded out this weekend. It's heartbreaking to see Cockermouth, where Kate (and Tom), Lara, Felix, and I had such a lovely time in the summer, submerged under feet of water and Keswick and Kendal too - places that I know really well.

* just to say, there's no any actual pain involved - it's a lyric from a song which I have on my ipod.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Random Thursday

I scraped my knuckles on an extremely vicious bit of hedge whilst running on Tuesday. If anyone asks I'm going to claim I was in a fight and you should see the other guy.

I get intensely annoyed by cyclists who cycle either in the road or the bus lane when there's a perfectly good cycle path right there! If there's a 50mph speed limit and your name's not Mark Cavendish then you shouldn't be in the road holding up the traffic.

I've been out running three times this week already and I hope to make it four on Saturday. I may have to buy yet more running socks as the laundry is not keeping up with this schedule.

I'll be knitting more tiny owls this weekend as I'm manning a stall for the OGWSD at an RSPCA fundraising fair in Woodstock on Saturday the 28th. Hopefully there'll be lots of bird lovers there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is this the weirdest looking sock you've ever seen?

Ribbed sock

So weird in fact that Lien had to ask what it was at Bluestockings this evening! Trust me, it looks a lot more sock-like on the foot. I really wanted to design a sock where all the shaping was created by the stitch pattern and the only way I could do it was with a very small, pointy toe. There was quite a bit of sock knitting going on round the table. Ellen was working on her niece's fabulous Christmas stocking and Jenny had completed her first sock in the lovely red yarn.

I came home to find that the boyfriend had created a masterpiece in shepherd's pie form. He was so proud of his beautiful pie that he thought it deserved a mention on the blog.

Shepherd's pie

The potatoes are light and fluffy, the sauce is full of flavour, and it's as pretty as a picture...but is it good enough for the quarter-final of Masterchef?

Monday, November 16, 2009

De-stressing, two knits and two purls at a time


Nothing quite like 2x2 rib to take your mind off things. Work is not the most stress-free environment in the world at the moment and the knitting is pretty darn necessary to take the edge off. This sock is a prototype for a design I have in mind. It's not perfect as it stands but it's going to be lovely and cushy and perfectly wearable.

You know what else is good for stress? Cuddling babies. I went round to see Aliki and P after work today. P is such a sweet little thing, very smiley and very relaxed about being held by random friends of his mum. Hurrah for babies, I say.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tiny and cosy

I might have mentioned, once or twice, that I have the cutest niece in the whole world. She turns two on Saturday and already she is totally the little mother. Whenever we take her to the park she'll have a quick go on the swings and slide herself and then spend the rest of the visit putting dolly on the swings, pushing dolly in her pram, changing dolly's nappy.

I had the idea to make dolly a gro-bag (baby sleeping bag) of her own after one afternoon in the park when Laurie spent the whole time tucking dolly into her own pram and covering her with her own gro-bag.


It's just a rectangle with armholes and a neckhole and a zip up the front. I used the rest of the snail and peapod fabric for the outer and a beautiful blue fabric with flower print for the lining.


The bias binding is the fabric I used for my needle roll.

Dolly's gro-bag

When I saw Laurie at the end of October she had really got the hang of adjectives. She would hold up a Cheerio between her little fingers and say "TINY" at the highest possible volume and pitch. She gets very excited by things that are tiny. The other thing that she would do is to tuck dolly and mousey and Jane dolly into her pram and say "cosy". Hopefully she'll find this both "TINY" and "cosy" and she'll have a wonderful second birthday.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Flipping awesome

Stripey mittens

Another project, this time started way on the train from Les Houches to Geneva at the end of August, to which I put the finishing touches—a button and a crochet buttonhole apiece—last week.

Felix very kindly took some photos in the glorious Sussex sunshine.

Stripey mittens

I love the way the sunlight catches those sproingy little Shetland fibres. As you can see I'm wearing the mittens here with the flip-tops buttoned back. Funnily enough I have been wearing them with the tops over my fingers ever since - it has just got so bitterly cold in the mornings and evenings - and they're splendidly practical. I just flip back the tops whenever I need to fumble for my keys or my bus pass and then it's back into the lovely warm mittens as soon as the need for manual dexterity is over.

Pattern: my own (not written up yet)
Needles: 3mm dpns (I think - must make more notes)
Yarn: about 1/2 ball of cream and 2/3 ball fawn fingering weight Shetland from Garthenor Organic Pure Wool. (You should pop by to their site just to see the galloping sheep!)

I'll do my best to knit another pair and make better notes this time.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Where did you get that hat?

Purple lace hat

What, this hat?

Purple lace hat

Pattern: 115-12a - hat with lace pattern by Drops Design
Needles: 3mm and 3.5mm circulars
Yarn: Buttersoft DK (1 skein)

I finished this up on Friday evening at the Studio. Once I finished the decreases the hat, which had been assuming quite alarming proportions, wound up being a quite reasonable size - fabulous for keeping my ears warm. Now I just need the matching gloves.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Down on the farm

I've just got back from a fabulous trip to East Sussex with Felix and Ruth. On Friday afternoon I met Felix and Ruth at Reading station where we all piled into the Felix-mobile and drove to Beech Hill Farm near Rushlake Green in Sussex where Julia Desch keeps a flock of coloured Wensleydale sheep.

The Studio

[The Studio (exterior) at Beech Hill Farm]

The Studio

[Felix and Ruth making supper]

It was pitch dark and raining when we got there but we soon got the wood burning stove going and we had a lovely cosy evening eating butternut squash and ginger soup and watching Autumnwatch. One of the assignments on this week's show was to help the British Trust for Ornithology monitor the numbers of Tawny Owls for their Bird Atlas. When the rain let up later on we went outside to listen for Tawny Owls and were very excited to hear three! I've already added our "hearings" to the Tawny Owl coverage map.

The next morning was gorgeous so we headed out to meet the sheep and get some provisions for dinner at the Redlands Farm shop.

Hens at Redlands Farm shop

[Happy chickens at Redlands Farm shop]

Julia's black Wensleydales are so beautiful.

Coloured Wensleydale sheep

I love their mad dreadlocks and sweet little faces. These guys are six month old rams.

Coloured Wensleydale sheep

And this is Old Grey Owl. He's a bit lame and so Julia is moving him to another field to stop him being picked on by the other sheep.

Coloured Wensleydale sheep

On Saturday afternoon we had a spinning lesson with Wendy. Ruth and I are already pretty good spinners but wanted to learn to spin thicker yarn. Felix was more or less a beginning spinner so this was a great chance for her to get some 1-1 coaching and lots of time to practise on the wheel. I think she's hooked now.

Felix learning to spin

[Felix on the Ashford Kiwi]

Ruth and I both had a go on the Ashford Country Spinner which is for spinning really thick yarn. Ruth managed to ply some of her yarn using it but I just couldn't get used to the weighted wheel which kept going after I stopped treadling.

Ruth plying on the country spinner

[Ruth on the Country Spinner]

What I could get used to is the double treadle Ashford Kiwi that I used. So much easier to control the speed than my single treadle Wee Peggy. Having used a wheel with Scotch tension I'm now inspired to sort out the Scotch tension on my own wheel. It can be used with both double drive and Scotch tension and so far I've only tried double drive. I just need a new spring and to replace the existing thick twine with some nylon thread I think.

By the end of our session I felt much happier spinning a thicker yarn and had spun and plied three skeins of grey Romney from another local flock. I'm really looking forward to spinning some more heavier-weight yarn on my own wheel.

Today, once we'd tidied up at the Studio, we headed over to Lewes to spend some of our English pounds. The weather had turned bitterly cold overnight so we were more than happy to keep diving into the lovely little shops that we passed on our way to the Needlemakers craft centre. It was a good thing for our wallets that the patchwork shop was closed but Ruth and Felix still managed to spend a fair amount on buttons, I Spy books, and an incredibly hammy radio dramatisation of The Sea of Adventure which kept us in stitches for the first half hour or so of the drive back. Personally I was most tempted by a near complete set of Arthur Ransome first editions - the former property of an F. C. Baden-Powell of Hinksey Hill, Oxford - but couldn't quite kid myself that I could afford even one. If I was a collector then I probably wouldn't blink at £30 for a first edition but it's a bit much for a book that I just want to read (and re-read). I did get quite a way into We didn't mean to go to Sea whilst Felix and Ruth were browsing and I may have to make a quick trip to the bookshop tomorrow in order to finish it!.

I don't have any photos of the Aladdin's Cave that is downstairs at the Needlemakers but I'm sure Ruth will be posting hers soon. After all that rummaging we were very ready for a lovely lunch followed by cake at the cafe upstairs before heading back to the car for the drive home.

I did get some, although not much, knitting done over the weekend - there were about equal quantities of knitting and ripping - so there'll be a couple of finished object posts coming up in the next day or so.

Friday, November 06, 2009

By the river

I went for a wonderful run this lunchtime. I feel so lucky that I can get up from my desk and 15 minutes later I'm running along the River Thames with geese and ducks swimming on the river and cows and horses grazing alongside. It's a great way to relax in the middle of the working day - when I'm out running in the sunshine along the river or canal it feels like a holiday, it's so different from the regular lunchtime routine. It's also a great answer to the problem of early evenings in the winter - normally at this time of year I hardly get to run off road in the week - it's so nice to get away from the roads and the traffic and run in the daylight.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Treason and plot


I've always loved Bonfire Night. For the past few years the boyfriend and I have been going to the fireworks night at Somerville College. There's always a really nice atmosphere with lots of kids (the families of the younger Fellows) running about. We don't have any of our own as yet but we "borrowed" a couple by inviting Kathrin and her two along - I think they had a good time. The fireworks really were fabulous - they must have blown the JCR budget for the whole term on them - but I do miss family bonfire nights, it's much more fun with a bonfire and a guy and deciding which firework should be lit next. We always had fabulous bonfire nights when I was little. Our family would join together with our next-door neighbours on each side. The mums would make hot dogs with fried onions and baked potatoes and Bryn's (our neighbour on the right hand side) famous black peas and the dads would sort out the bonfire and fireworks. There were a couple of really memorable nights - I remember one where it chucked it down and we all huddled under polythene sheeting while the bonfire smouldered in the damp. Another time we put the old table tennis table on the bonfire and we all had to retreat inside away from the intense heat it gave off. Happy days!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More like it

There, that's a much better photo of the lace hat. I managed to snap this at lunchtime just before the heavens opened and my hat got an impromptu blocking.

Purple lace hat

I really am enjoying knitting with the Buttersoft DK. I don't know whether it's the fibre or the way it's spun but it has a lovely velvety texture. There should even be enough leftover for matching gloves and I'll need them soon. The weather front that the boyfriend and I saw on Sunday evening has brought some really nippy weather and my fingerless mittens aren't quite cutting it anymore.

It's making for very good TV knitting. I worked through the ribbing and the first few increase rows whilst watching Into the Storm with the boyfriend on Monday evening. Quite apart from the excellent performance of Brendan Gleeson as Churchill we enjoyed playing "spot the British character actor" as the cast was packed with familiar faces. It was rather a potted history of WW2 - kind of like those iphone adds "sequence has been shortened and some steps removed" - but very entertaining overall.

A hat with no name

Or as good as, anyway. Even if this were the prettiest hat in the world there's virtually no chance of it sweeping the nation with a name like 115-12 a - Hat with lace pattern. It's just not memorable enough. I'm already knitting the pattern and I can't even remember it - it's why I'm putting all these links in the blog posts, just in case I lose my print-out and need to find the pattern again on Ravelry.

If a pattern has a name you can always find it again or find someone who knows it. Even if you get it slightly wrong and go around saying that you want to knit Damozel by Ysolda Teague or Forest Glade or Fern Grove from Knitty - someone's bound to know what you mean. If I get a digit wrong in "115-12 a - hat with lace pattern" I'm lost.

Purple lace hat

All that said, it is a very pretty lace hat pattern and it's knitting up very nicely in the lovely Buttersoft DK. Now that I've finally worked out how to wear hats without turning my hair into a complete bird's nest I forsee lots more hat knitting this winter.

Stuck on sleeve mountain

I am stuck halfway up sleeve mountain. I have been knitting on the first sleeve of the Arisaig cardigan for the length of a bible.


I'm a bit further on than this now but it feels like I'll never reach the top. Some people might say persevere, struggle on. Me, I'm taking a little break and knitting a hat instead. I'm knitting the lyrically named 115-12 a - Hat with lace pattern from Drops Design using some of the beautiful Artist's Palette Buttersoft DK that Juliet gave me earlier in the year. It's not that I don't love the grey (at the moment I'm wearing grey tights, grey shoes, grey skirt) but it's lovely to be knitting in technicolour again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Victory is mine

new sports bras

For I have nabbed the last two 34B high-impact sports bras in the whole of M&S Oxford. I decided that I needed a new sports bra when I forgot to take my running t-shirt to work today (it was OK - I wore my jacket) and realised that even if it had been the height of summer and I had a stomach like Erin Boag there was no way on this planet that I could go running in just my skanky, grey (originally white) sports bra. New support was definitely required.

I really do like that M&S stocks proper sports bras (no more changing in a tiny cubicle in JD where you have to be let in by a fifteen year old) but they do suffer from the typical M&S phenomenon of being sold out of all sizes smaller than a 36C or D. After searching through 4 racks of bras in every size from 34FF to 40G I finally came up with two that I could wear. I know that women of all shapes and sizes play high impact sports but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that maybe a larger proportion of them are on the smallish size and that maybe they should order in more. It's almost as annoying as the one-size-fits-all policy adopted by the London marathon organisers when it comes to post-race souvenir t-shirts. Whilst I might fit *inside* an XXL t-shirt it most certainly doesn't *fit* me. Even if they can't manage the enlightened policy of some race organisers (thank you Dublin and Manchester) of handing out goody bags by size couldn't they order them just a couple of sizes smaller. Surely even the largest runners will have slimmed down to an L by the time they've run 26 miles.

OK, enough grousing. The main thing is that I have my lovely new bras - there's nothing like new kit to motivate you to get out there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Posh tea break

I received a lovely parcel in the post yesterday from Kate containing not only my beet heid (which she had been photographing) and a sweet little card but also some gorgeous pink champagne truffles and some posh leaf tea which is apparently a Newcastle specialty.

Posh tea break

I was so excited to find out that the truffles actually are pink and so yummy. I shall be having posh tea breaks all this week.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Z" is for zipper

Striped zipped cardigan

I finally got around to putting a zipper band and zip onto Laurie's striped cardigan this weekend, just in time for her to take it back with her. This was my first zipper and it wasn't terribly easy. I managed the first side OK using the sewing machine but the second side was a nightmare. On my first attempt I broke the needle (turns out I was stitching over the teeth). On the second attempt the tension was completely out and I had to take it all out. For the third attempt I stitched it on by hand and made such a good job of it that I was nearly tempted to take out the first side and redo that by hand too.

Doesn't she look cute in it? I hope she'll enjoy zipping and unzipping the zipper too.