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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.