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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Olympic fever

I'm getting very excited about the Olympics over here. I went online on Tuesday evening to apply for tickets to the tennis, athletics, and canoeing, and I fully intend to watch the marathon and cycling road races (hurrah for free sport).

However, I hope there'll be time between all the sport to take part in Mark and Felix's Walk2012 project - an epic 180 mile walk from Weymouth to London over the duration of the games. Mark and Felix are mad-busy at the moment finalizing the walk route and trying to raise money to fund the walk. If you want to support them you can do so via their Crowdfunder page and you can sign up for the walk itself here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spinning up a storm

Whereas I knit every single day my spinning wheel only comes out to play every once in a while. I'm not quite sure why this is as: 1) I love spinning - so satisfying to be actually able to make yarn; 2) it's not like I'm short on materials, whilst the fibre stash is nowhere near the size of the yarn stash (thank goodness) at the moment I have one braid of bfl/silk from Old Maiden Aunt, one braid of bfl from The Thylacine, and a goodly bump of Shetland left over from my sleeveless Arisaig; and 3) my spinning wheel is not tucked away in some obscure corner where I can forget about it, it's on full view next to the telly in our living room.

When I do start spinning though it's like I've flicked a switch and I can't stop. This week I finished spinning the third ply of a braid of blf/silk blend from Old Maiden Aunt which I bought at Knit Camp in Stirling last summer (and which has been on the wheel for almost that long) and plied it.

bfl/silk handspun

Fibre: 70% Blue Faced Leicester/30% Tussah silk from Old Maiden Aunt in (I think) Sherbert
Yarn weight: 3 ply fingering weight
Yardage: 347 metres/100g

Once I finished that and got it soaking I moved straight on to a 50g bump of hand-dyed merino that I picked up  in a lovely knitting and quilting (plus a load of other crafts) shop in Bellingen, New South Wales. The fibre was dyed in Coffs Harbour (where we had stayed the night before) so it was as local as you can get (and a bargain at AUS$4!).

Hand dyed merino

I tried to spin this up a little bit thicker, more of a dk weight. In retrospect this wasn't such a smart idea as it means that I ended up with only just under a 100 metres of yarn - not completely sure what I'll do with it but I'm sure I'll think of something. I don't have a picture of the spun yarn but I'll put one up when I start to knit something with it.

Fibre: 100% merino, hand dyed in Coffs Harbour, bought in Bellingen, NSW
Yarn weight: heavy dk
Yardage: 97 metres/50g

Once I'd finished that I dug out a braid that I'd almost forgotten I had (to be fair I've got married and been on honeymoon since I bought it).

bfl handspun

I'm spinning this up in a similar style to the bfl/silk above. The fibre is from The Thylacine and the colourway (I think) is Wild Dog Creek. Should be very pretty when done.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter treats

I have a couple of mitten patterns underway - one fingerless and cabled, the other a pair of closed mittens with colourwork.

I can't show you the cabled ones as I'd like to try to submit them for some sort of publication, however, if anyone would be interested in a sneak preview, then I am looking for a test knitter!*

The colourwork mittens, on the other hand, are aimed at using up some of my stash (which mostly consists of odd balls and half balls) and I'm more than happy to show off how they're coming along.

Green fingered mittens

Although I'm just using up colours from my stash they're somewhat inspired by some of the spring flowers that have burst out everywhere - especially the wisteria which looks and smells amazing.

Wisteria in Woodstock

I hope you're all having a lovely Easter weekend! I'm continuing to work on my mittens whilst watching last week's Lewis and munching on Easter egg then later we're off to the Reebok to watch the Whites take on Arsenal. Hoping (probably somewhat naively) for a backlash after our 5-0 tonking against Stoke last weekend.

* you can get in touch through the comments.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Some other stuff I did on my honeymoon

So I didn't just hold a koala for the entire three weeks I was in Australia (I might have done if they'd let me though). We did lots of other amazing things too.

We went sea kayaking in Byron Bay and saw bottle nose dolphins and turtles.

Dolphin in Byron Bay

The coastline around Byron Bay is just stunning (to be fair this can be said for most of south east Australia).

Byron Bay

Cape Byron

Mainland Australia's most easterly point - next stop South America!

We saw kangaroos and wallabies in the wild!

Wallaby and joey

We went wine tasting in the Hunter Valley.

Wine tasting in the Hunter

McGuigan winery

We visited the Blue Mountains. I was completely blown away by how lush Queensland and New South Wales are. Rainforest as far as the eye can see.

The Three Sisters, Katoomba

We had four fantastic days in Sydney. It was amazing to see icons like the Sydney Harbour bridge and opera house and I loved looking round the weekend market at the Rocks. There were some great craft stalls and I bought a fabulous dress to wear to the three weddings I'm going to this summer!

Sydney Harbour bridge

After Sydney we drove down the Sapphire Coast via Kiama, Merimbula, and Metung to Phillip Island where we saw the penguin parade. This was just an amazing experience - I feel so lucky to have seen these wonderful birds in the wild and I have to say they are beyond cute. We weren't allowed to take any photos but just look on You Tube for little penguins and Phillip Island.

Sapphire coast

It's called the Sapphire Coast for a reason!

Right, now it's back to the serious business of yelling "Come on Rory!" at the TV.

Finished object - Spring Garden Tee

Spring Garden Tee

Pattern: Spring Garden Tee by Alana Dakos at Never Not Knitting
Size: 3 months
Yarn: Rowan Calmer (1.5 balls)
Needles: 4mm and 3.5mm circulars

I am such a fan of Alana Dakos' knit designs but this is the first (though definitely not the last) that I've actually knitted. I downloaded the pattern on Thursday evening when my current colourwork project ground to a halt and I needed something to knit for the weekend. It's now Saturday evening and the project is done and blocking and ready for my parents to hand over to my sister on Sunday. It's destined for my new niece (who is just now over 2 months old) and hopefully will be a useful and pretty addition to her summer wardobe (yes, I know it's only April but it was 22 degrees C today!).

Spring Garden Tee

I used the two balls of Rowan Calmer that I picked up at the Sticks'n'String yarn swap in Reading back in March. I was originally planning to make the 3 year old size for my older niece, Laurie, but was worried i wouldn't have quite enough yarn. It's all fine though as I can always pick up some more Calmer for a t shirt for her when I'm in London for the FA Cup semi-final next weekend.

The only downside to whipping through this project so quickly is that I'm now a bit stuck for what to knit on my journey back home tomorrow. After spending an hour or so trawling through Ravelry I'm still none the wiser so I might just have to improvise.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Mystery diners

Just after Christmas this year my lovely dad bought me a bird feeder and some seed balls. When I got back to Oxfordshire in the new year I wanted to put them up straight away. The trouble is we live on the second floor and there's no space on the balcony to put up a bird table and no trees or other projections from which to hang a bird feeder. However, we do have some fairly stout railings around the balcony and I figured that in a pinch they'd do.

So the bird feeder went up, the first lot of seed balls went in and we had lots of little feathery visitors. We had blue tits and sparrows, long tailed tits and coal tits, robins, even the odd gold finch - it was fantastic. And as well as the birds on the feeder itself we had blackbirds and wood pigeons picking up the stray seeds from the edge of the balcony. Before we went away to Australia I filled the feeder up so that the birds would keep coming whilst we were away.


[sorry for the blurry pic - they tend to fly off when I get too close to the window]

I was a bit surprised when we got back to see that all three seed balls had vanished during our absence (they'd not been going down that fast before) but we bought more feed and filled it up again.

This time three seed balls went in as many days - we refilled it and again the seed balls diminished bizarrely quickly. I couldn't think what was going on. Were the RSPB seed balls just much more tasty than the first lot we'd bought?

Then on Sunday morning I got the answer. I woke up to a dull, low, irregular clanging sound from outside the living room. When I went to investigate I found two cheeky jackdaws* clinging on to the balcony railings and pecking away at the feeder (resulting in it repeatedly swinging against the metal railings) whilst a very plump wood pigeon hoovered up anything that fell onto the floor.

They flew off as soon as I came into the room so I didn't have a chance to take a picture but I came home today to find the three of them at it again and this time the jackdaws didn't take off until I tapped on the glass.

Jackdaw on birdfeeder

I've now moved the feeder to a new station hanging from a nail below the guttering so we'll see if that foxes them. I'm not confident they're beaten yet as jackdaws are famously smart birds.

* btw I have nothing against jackdaws - I love them - but they're a bit big for the balcony and it's not really fair on the neighbours to have them ringing the dinner bell first thing in the morning.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Crafty hens

I had an amazing crafty time yesterday afternoon at the Make Lounge in Islington where Amy had arranged for us to have a bath and body products class there for the lovely Jenny's hen day.

hen day nibbles

The cupcakes were made by your truly btw - I was very flattered when Jennifer from the Make Lounge said she thought they were professional. I still need to brush up on my piping skills before MasterBaker starts though.

After lunch at the Candid Art cafe we were met at the Make Lounge by Jennifer and Emily who set out all our eatables and showed us how to make massage bars, bath bombs, shower scrubs, and lib balm from cocoa butter, shea butter, beeswax, almond and rape seed oil, honey, sugar, and various essential oils. There was lots of sniffing, melting, stirring, blending, and pouring and we each had a goodie bag full of lovely stuff to take home at the end of the day.

busy hens 1

Clockwise from top left: Jenny, Anna, and Jennifer from Make Lounge making massage bars; Jenny and Cat making bath bombs; Emily smelling essential oils; Emily, Claudia and Zoe making bath bombs.

My favourite activity was making the massage bars and lip balms as there's lots of melting and mixing involved but my favourite products were the bath bombs - they just look so cute when popped out of their little heart shaped moulds.

I made the following:

1 x massage bar with sweet orange and ylang ylang essential oils.
1 x massage bar with cocoa powder and black pepper and sweet orange essential oils.
12 x mini bath bombs with lavender flowers and lavender and black pepper essential oils.
12 x mini bath bombs with rose petals and rose geranium and ylang ylang essential oils.
1 x lip balm with rape seed oil and honey.
1 x shower scrub with grapefruit and black pepper essential oils.

The flat smelt like a branch of Lush this morning when I unpacked it all!

busy hens 2

Clockwise from top left: Claudia and Zoe melting cocoa butter; Anna and Janina making bath bombs; Amy making bath bombs; Tash melting cocoa butter; Jenny making bath bombs; Emily making bath bombs.

hen bath products

Clockwise from top left: finished bath bombs and massage bars; massage bars poured into moulds; bath bomb mix; finished lip balm.

I had lots more fun today packaging up the various things as gifts - there's far too much for me to use up myself. I can really recommend the Make Lounge for a lovely afternoon out. It's a fantastic crafty space and we were made to feel really welcome there.

Now it's time for another left over cupcake and maybe a soak in the tub with some of my products.