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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Elderflower cordial

Elderflower cordial

I've been thinking about trying to make elderflower cordial for some time. There is a glut of elderflower trees around our neck of the woods and the mention of making elderflower cordial in the latest episode of Cast-On was the only impetus I needed to buy a funnel and muslin strainer and set about picking elderflower heads.

I may have left it too late this year to make any serious amount as I had real difficulty finding many elderflowers. Where last week there was a cloud of white flowers this week there was a mass of unremitting green! Still, I think I picked enough to make a pint at least - just enough for me to check that it's worth a more serious investment for next year.

The recipe (I used this one but they're all pretty similar) is simplicity itself. There's no cooking involved - just some slicing and stirring and you've got to boil the kettle*. The cordial mix is now steeping in the fridge. It should be ready for me to strain it tomorrow evening when I get back from running and am in need of a delicious cool drink.

Elderflower cordial

This has to be the prettiest drink that you can make at home.

* Felix - we could so make elderflower cordial on the primus whilst camping!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Heds up

FO - Hedera


Pattern: Hedera by Cookie A.
Source: Knitty Spring 2009
Yarn: Rowan 4 ply soft
Needles: 2.5mm
Ravelled: here

These socks have been finished for a while but I only got round to taking a finished object shot whilst camping in Cumbria for Woolfest this weekend.

I had an amazing time in Cumbria and I'll be blogging about it in exhaustive detail over the next few days, once I've had time to process all my thoughts and experiences into coherent HTML. In the meantime I'll be posting my photos on flickr tomorrow or the day after.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is it a top, is it a skirt? No...

Introducing the Barcelona/Cabo halter dress.

Barcelona/Cabo dress

Putting the Cabo halter top and the A-line Barcelona skirt together to make a dress was a bit of a gamble for me, especially as this is my first dress, but it's really paid off.

I'd seen the Cabo top on the blue blog (Ellen - check out the non-halter version) a few weeks ago and thought at the time that it would make a great top half to a dress. I really wanted a new dress to wear to the Encaenia garden party and so when I saw the Cabo pattern in Liberty at the weekend I snapped it up along with some beautiful Amy Butler for Rowan fabric.

I'll go into more detail when I make the next one but basically I overlapped the two patterns at the point where the width of the lower halter top pieces was the same as the width of the top of the skirt pieces, pinned everything together, shortened the skirt and stitched it all together as per the two patterns and voila (it really was bizarrely straightforward).

I really like Amy Butler's patterns - the designs are great, the layout is clear and the instructions are easy to follow - and her fabrics for Rowan as soo pretty, there'll definitely be more dresses and skirts to follow this one. The Cabo halter looks like it should be complicated (curved neckline, overlapping pieces, etc.) but was really simple to make and the fact that all the pieces are cut on the fold means that you don't have to wrangle your brains to make sure that you cut out mirror image pieces.

The only thing that I'd change ever so slightly is the length of the dress - it's about half an inch shorter than I'd ideally like it. Still, that'll teach me not to measure the length by holding up the pattern piece against myself and saying "about there" and sticking a pin in.

Barcelona/Cabo dress

The idea was to get the boyfriend to take some pictures in the St. Hugh's gardens but we were too busy eating strawberries and trying to guess which raiment belongs to which university.

Encaenia 2009

We've been debating about this chap (with the hat like a lampshade) for about four years - we think it's either Salamanca or Córdoba.

Encaenia 2009

The navy blue gown with giant mortar board is definitely the University of Georgia (Tbilisi not USA).

I managed to miss the photo opportunity of Philip Pullman showing off his scroll but I did get this shot of him in his D. Litt. gown-no, really, it is him, promise.

Encaenia 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hard graft

The Oriel handspun scarf is finished. Once I'd knit the two halves I grafted them together in pattern. I swear you wouldn't be able to see the join - except that there's a distinct colour change (not visible in the photo) at the join. Still - that's handspun for you!!

Oriel scarf

The scarf is deliciously soft and squooshy and is making its way straight to the (metaphorical) Christmas presents basket (I have really got to get me a real basket).

Oriel scarf

No matter what light I try I can't get a good picture of the true colour of the yarn. It's much more of a raspberry than it appears in this photo.

Pattern: Oriel lace from the Harmony Guide volume II.
Needles: 4mm
Yarn: my handspun from Artist's Palette fibre.

At the moment I'm busy spinning the Shetland fibre dyed by Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt that I bought at UK Ravelry day. I love the subtle variations in the colour and I think it will be perfect for another lacy scarf.

Once that's done I have another gorgeous combed top from The Thylacine to spin into some more sock yarn.

Charlotte's Cove by The Thylacine

This is a blend of superwash merino and seacell (the silvery bits) in the Charlotte's Cove colourway. This time I'm going to try really hard not to knit the socks in my size as it would be really great to have some handspun socks in the Christmas gift basket this year.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Knitting in public (transport)

On Saturday I headed off to deepest, darkest Croydon to help Felix celebrate her birthday.

This is what my journey would look like if you could put the whole thing into the tfl journey planner. Note the sneaky pit-stop at Liberty on the way back.

Journey to Croydon

Of course a journey that long does allow you to get a lot of knitting done. I cast on for a Pomatomus sock in the Old Maiden Aunt sock yarn from Ravelry day on the first train. By the time I'd drunk two-thirds of a pint of beer at Felix's i had this much.

Pomatomus sock and beer

And by the time I reached home again I'd completed two whole repeats of the pattern.

Pomatomus socks

I love how the scaly pattern looks in this yarn and I love how the yarn looks in this pattern - they're really a great match.

We set up a mini-knitting circle at Felix's party with myself, Gemma and Ruth and later Kirsty and Felix herself whenever she could spare time from being the birthday girl.


Ruth knitting a 'round the world' hat.

Felix and yarn ball cake

Felix photographing the ball of yarn cake.

Felix and brass quintet

Felix being serenaded by brass quintet.

It was a lovely afternoon with good ale, a lavish barbecue, and two kinds of trifle - fabulous.

I had to leave around quarter past five but quickly realized that I wasn't going to make the 6:20 train and so made the best of it by making a stop off in Oxford Circus to visit Liberty and John Lewis (only because Liberty doesn't have zippers). I came away with some lovely Amy Butler fabric and a Cabot halter pattern.

Cabot/Barcelona dress

It's not actually a Cabot halter - it's a bit more than that and I'm thrilled with how it's turned out. Proper pictures on Wednesday when I'll be wearing it to the Encaenia* garden party. I only hope that I haven't put the mockers on the weather in the same way that I did for Ravelry day by making something specially for the occasion.

* Oxford University's honorary degree ceremony.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We have a winner!

Back in May I offered the chance to win a pile of goodies to anyone who sponsored me via this blog for the Great Manchester Run on May 17th.

Yesterday was the deadline for my sponsorship to be in. The competition is now closed and I can announce that the winner is Clare.

Clare, just drop me an email the next time you're going to be at Bluestockings and I'll bring your prize to the pub!

Many thanks to everyone else who entered and sponsored me. I was really overwhelmed by the generosity of my friends and colleagues. With their help I managed to raise a total of £314 for Mind UK - over double my target.

Smitten with my socks

I'm done with my handpsun socks and I absolutely love them to the extent that progress on the second sock was slowed by the fact that I kept picking up the first sock (front) to admire the beautiful colour progression at the toe. It is pretty isn't it?

Handspun socks

I'm so happy with how these turned out. There are one or two very minor issues. One sock is very slightly shorter than the other due to the changing weight of the yarn and the heels are somewhat pointy thanks to my starting the short row decreases right in the centre of the heel but neither of these things are at all apparent when the socks are on.

Handspun socks

I really like the pattern too. It's Medrith's Little Lace from A Gathering of Lace. It was perfect for a slight heavyweight sock yarn and the 52 stitch round meant that these just flew by with plenty of yardage to spare.

Handspun socks

Pattern: Medrith's Little Lace
Source: A Gathering of Lace by Meg Swansen
Needles: 2.75mm
Yarn: Handpsun from Hartzview sock fibre (70% superwash merino/30% nylon) from The Thylacine
Ravelled: here

Now I just need to get on with the Old Maiden Aunt Shetland that I got at Ravelry day. The sooner it's all spun and plied, the sooner I can get started on my next sock yarn from The Thylacine.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The big reveal

Patchwork blanket

At last - I can show off what some of the Bluestockings and I have been working on for the past few weeks. A patchwork blanket for Aliki's baby.

Pattern: Garter squares blanket
Source: Baby knits for Beginners by Debbie Bliss
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran (and a bit of cashsoft)
Needles: 5mm
Modifications: 10 row garter stitch log cabin border.
Knitters: Abby (pink), Clare (yellow), Ellen (border), Felix (peach and burgundy), Kirsty (yellow and green), Liz (me) (blue and border), Megan (aqua), and Sarah (beige) - sorry I can't remember who contributed the brown squares!

It's been lovely doing another collaborative project. It was very exciting receiving people's squares either in the post or in the pub and trying to work out how they should all fit together. Then, once all the squares were sewn together and all the 200 odd ends darned in it was very satifsying to add the dark brown border which kind of ties it all together.

I presented the blanket to Aliki this lunchtime along with this from me:

Cardi for Peter

Pattern: V necked cardigan
Source: Baby Knits for Beginners by Debbie Bliss
Yarn: Rowan Handknits cotton
Needles: 3.75mm
Ravelled: here

It's turned out very nicely and it looks to be a good size for the baby but I need to remember in future that I do not like knitting in cotton. The decreases and seams are always so bulky and there's a complete absence of the squish factor.

Smelling the roses

The rose garden at Blenheim is finally in bloom.

Blenheim Palace rose garden

I love these golden ones with the pinkish tinge at the edges.

Blenheim Palace rose garden

And these frilly pink ones.

Blenheim Palace rose garden

And the icebergs are just gorgeous.

Blenheim Palace rose garden

Blenheim Palace rose garden

Looking at the grey clouds outside now it's hard to believe the sky was this blue on Saturday.

Blenheim Palace rose garden

After the rose garden we visited the secret garden - I love this sunken knight.

Bleinheim Palace secret garden

Polliwogs in the pond.

Bleinheim Palace secret garden

Seeing the water boatmen and pond skaters brought back memories of pond dipping when I was at primary school.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The formula for sock knitting happiness

1 sock <= total sock yarn/2 = happiness
1 sock > total sock yarn/2 = misery (or at least some careful thought about contrasting toes/cuff depending on which way you're knitting the sock).

Medrith's little lace

I have finished the first Medrith's little lace sock in my inaugural handspun sock yarn and I have more than half the yarn left. Hence, joy!

I did have thoughts about putting these in the (imaginary*) Christmas gift-basket but then I tried the first one on and they fit me perfectly so I'll be keeping them ;-)

* the basket is imaginary, the contents are, or will be, real.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Medrith's little lace socks

I finished my second 3 ply yarn and first attempt at sock yarn on Sunday.

Handspun sock yarn

I'm really pleased with this. It's a tiny bit thick and thin in places but not so as you'd notice once it's knit up.

Once the yarn had dried I set about swatching. I worked two swatches (by which I mean I started and ripped out two different patterns) before I found the right combination of pattern and needle. I first of all started to knit a pair of Monkeys on 2.5mm needles and only stopped when I realised that I was risking breaking a needle everytime I tried to k2tog.

I finally remembered this pattern in A Gathering of Lace (Aliki - remind me to give you your book back!) which is knit over 52 stitches on 2.75mm needles, perfect for a slightly thick sock yarn.

Medrith little lace sock

Medrith little lace sock

The length of the repeat (24 rows) means that you only need to knit 3 repeats for the leg and so the sock is knitting up really quickly - I'm already part way down the foot.

My success with this sock yarn means that I'm definitely going to try a fingering weight with my big bag of grey Shetland fibre.

FO - Handspun Fetchings


I'm trying to knit up the handspun as soon as possible (after all, that's the point of spinning it) so I turned my Spindlefrog yarn into a pair of Fetchings. I tried to make the cuffs a bit longer so as to use up more yarn but they're evidently not long enough as I still have half a ball of the yarn.

Sunday, June 07, 2009


I had a super time at the UK Ravelry day in Coventry. Even the dismal weather didn't put a dampener on things (although the Toft alpaca looked a bit fed up).

Toft alpaca

My first stop of the day was to see Lilith at the Old Maiden Aunt stall. I've been reading her blog ever since she assassinated me in Sock Wars in 2006. To show there were no hard feelings I took along some chocolate which appeared to be very welcome.

I attended the Toft Alpaca felting workshop with with Helen, Kate, and Sarah which was good fun and full of interesting alpaca facts.

Felting with Toft Alpaca

We made some knitted beads for felting and then used needle felting to embellish some pre-felted beads. I'm now very keen on the idea of felted baubles for Christmas.

Feliting with Toft Alpaca

In the afternoon I sat with Ruth, Clare, Katie and FB (resplendent in duck trousers) for Meg Swanson's talk. She read two extracts from The Opinionated Knitter, did a bit of a Q&A and then showed us some classic examples of EZ knitting including a baby surprise pullover - so cute.

Jared Flood

Jared Flood introducing Meg Swanson

Meg Swanson

Meg Swanson in EZ rib warmer

Between the workshop and talk I shopped and talked to the vendors and exhibitors - I had a lovely chat with Rachel of Rachel John Extreme textiles who knits and crochets rugs, carpets and throws using 26mm (and larger) needles and hooks using multiple strands of yarn. There was a wonderful inch thick 2m square piece knit using brown carpet wool and a beautiful throw knit at a much looser gauge using many stands of blue mohair with one strand of red and one of gold thrown in.

Want to see what I bought?

Louet Gems 100% merino yarn

I wasn't planning to buy commercial (rather than indie) yarn but I just love Louet Gems and I couldnt' resist these colours.

Old Maiden Aunt combed top

100% Shetland combed top in Moody from Old Maiden Aunt

Old Maiden Aunt sock yarn

Superwash merino sock yarn in Gothic from Old Maiden Aunt

I also bought 500g of grey Shetland as I'm really keen to make a non-sock garment from handspun. I was going to go for the black but then decided that I wanted to do cables and thought that they'd show up much better in the grey.

The only thing now is to decide what to start playing with first.

Friday, June 05, 2009

All the pretty fibres

I am really looking forward to Ravelry day on Saturday. There's going to be lots on offer for spinners - spinning and the Coventry Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers are going to be there, there's a demonstration of long draw spinning, and, of course, there'll be fibre. The Toft Alpaca shop will be there and Fyberspates and Lilith from Old Maiden Aunt.

With this FEO (fibre enhancement opportunity) so close at hand I thought I'd better getting busy on Megan's Hartzview sock fibre:

The Thylacine sock fibre in Hartzview

Before starting I split the fibre into three sections in order to spin a three ply. I've now spun two and a bit so I'm over two-thirds of the way there. The superwash merino/nylon blend is very easy to spin fine and I'm getting it pretty even too. I can't wait until I can ply it - plying is like the spinning equivalent of blocking lace, the point at which you see just how good the thing you've made is.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The daisy chain effect

I feel I should apologise for putting the mockers on the weather for the UK Ravelry day in Coventry on Saturday. You see on Tuesday I was in John Lewis in Reading and thought that as it would be way too hot for knitwear at the weekend it would be really nice to have a new skirt to wear to Ravelry day. I chose 1 metre* of gorgeous Amy Butler fabric from her Daisy Chain collection in deco rose/brown and a matching zipper and thread.

I mentioned my plan at Sticks and String that evening and got one or two raised eyebrows at the idea of whipping up a skirt in time for Saturday. Thanks to my insanely competitive nature this meant that I had the fabric washed, the pieces cut out and the zipper sewn in before I went to bed (admittedly very late) that night and the whole skirt finished the next night.

Sadly my actions have obviously caused an areas of low pressure to form over Europe which, heading north, will mean heavy rain in Coventry by Saturday. I'll still be wearing my skirt though (maybe I could get matching wellies instead of flip flops) and I suppose this means that everyone gets to wear their knitwear after all.

A-line skirt

Pattern: a-line skirt from Barcelona skirts by Amy Butler
Size: M
Modifications: I shortened the skirt length from about mid calf to above knee, partly because that's how I like my a-line skirts, partly because that's how much fabric again.

My only regret (apart from the weather of course) is that I didn't buy another metre in a different print to make two skirts.

* at £9.50 per metre with a zipper and thread that's still a pretty cheap skirt (I already had the pattern).

Monday, June 01, 2009

For the love of handspun

Phew what a weekend! It was almost a relief to get back to work so I could have a rest, sometimes there's a lot to be said for a sedentary job ;-) On Friday evening I had plans to go to the theatre with Helen to see Othello. We met in town after work and debated a while over whether to go for the cheap and cheerful Mexican place or a blow-out dinner at Jamie's. Jamie won hands down, yum! Happily we'd met up really early so there was time for dessert and the play was great too.

On Saturday I got up early and caught up on the episodes of Springwatch that I'd missed during the week. It's sad that Bill Oddie isn't presenting this series but the birds and animals are still fabulous. Plus there's Simon King who I've been a little bit in love with ever since I realised that David Attenborough was a bit too old for me :-) It's especially exciting for me this year as I was able to take part in a Springwatch survey - normally I've never heard/seen the thing they're asking about - about cuckoos. I just left my comment on the Springwatch blog (please note that if you click on this link the page will take sometime to load as they've had 11027 responses!). Felix and I heard two cuckoos (or at least one cuckoo in two places) on our walk last Monday.

Anyway I was rewarded for my early start by a parcel from the postie containing some gorgeous sock fibre which I had ordered from The Thylacine on Thursday. I'd mentioned to Megan on earlier in the week that I'd spun all my fibre and she just happened to let slip that she'd updated her Etsy shop - she's such an enabler! It was hard to choose between all the colourways, I really liked this and this but as I wanted to try spinning some more sock yarn I plumped for this blend of superwash merino in the Hartzview colourway.

Hartzview sock fibre from The Thylacine

Megan also included a couple of samples of superwash merino/seacell and undyed superwash merino/bamboo which I spun and plied to get my hand in before tackling the sock fibre.

Spinning samples from The Thylacine

I wanted to try a 3 ply yarn with the undyed fibre and thought that I could save time and fuss by spinning each of the singles onto the same bobbin in a different position. Not such a cunning plan as it turned out. The third ply kept breaking and in the end I got more of a 2.5 ply! I shan't be trying that trick again. I did end up with two cute mini skeins though. I loved both the merino/seacell and the merino/bamboo. They're both really silky and shiny and I love that shade of blue.

Samples from The Thylacine

Between all the spinning I've been working on a lace scarf in the Artist's Palette fibre that I finished spinning and plying last weekend.

Oriel lace scarf

Oriel lace scarf

I've been blocking on the needles as I go to get a better idea of the size of the scarf and how the lace is working out. The stitch pattern is from one of the Harmony guides. I've been wanting to try it out for ages but was intimidated by the 28 row repeat. Turns out it's not so scary once charted and it has a natural scalloped edge - love that! I'm also loving knitting with this handspun, it's really soft and blocks like a dream.

On Saturday we went for a walk around the gardens at Blenheim. Sadly, although I remembered my camera I forgo the the memory card and batteries so I can't show you pictures of the swans with six cygnets that we saw on the way there, or of our latest discovery, the Secret Garden - although I'm not sure that you can really call a garden "secret" when it's both signposted and marked on the map. I'll get pics next time though.

On Sunday we made up for a lazy morning spent knitting (me) and marking proofs (him) whilst listening to The Archers omnibus and watching Andy Murray in the French Open by walking all the way from Wolvercote to Folly Bridge along the Thames and then into Oxford (about 5 and a half miles). We then undid all that good work by diving into a brownie with vanilla icecream at G&Ds - gorgeous!