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Thursday, November 15, 2012


Elizabeth from Bluestockings arrived this week with a great idea for a stash busting project. St Margaret's Church, Oxford have put out a call for 200 of these little sheep for their knitted nativity. The nativity is going to go on a journey throughout Advent, stopping at a different house each night before arriving at the church on Christmas Eve, and they want to give a knitted sheep from the nativity to every child in the congregation. I think this is a really sweet idea, plus I have a lot of half balls of cream and white wool to user up!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

All the W's

Wovember is all about wearing and celebrating wool. Luckily I have a brand new woolly Warriston to keep me warm throughout the month.

Warriston front

Pattern: Warriston by Kate Davies
Yarn: Studio Donegal Soft Donegal in Shade 5230 Orange; 5 skeins*
Needles: 5.5mm circular throughout
Size: S
Mods: knit body to 16" and sleeves to 17" to get the right length and knit a funnel neck instead of cowl neck.

Warriston back

I had a bit of a Hermione Granger in Prisoner of Azkaban moment looking at this photo ("is that what my hair really looks like from the back?"**) but at least I'm pleased with how the sweater looks.

I ended up knitting both the body and sleeves a bit longer than specified in the pattern in order to get the right fit and this led to me running perilously short of yarn by the time I got to the neck. By the time I'd done the two sets of decreases in the reverse stocking stitch section of the cowl it was clear that I wasn't going to have enough yarn to be able to knit the neck as written. Of course I could have ordered more yarn but I was really impatient to wear the sweater and besides, for some reason, even though I'd tried on the sample and looked at the pictures I'd kind of remembered the neck as a funnel rather than a cowl. So I knit a funnel as follows: once I got to the end of the raglan shaping I worked two more repeats of the raglan decreases to get down to 80 sts. Then I knit 4 vertical repeats of the Warriston stitch pattern and topped it off with the i-cord bind-off.

Warriston neck detail

I'm really happy with the result. The funnel neck fits really nicely inside the collar of my coat (no need for a swarf with this sweater), it's still cosy but there's not too much fabric round my neck.

The Donegal Soft is lovely too - as the name suggests it's a much softer yarn some other Irish tweeds and the colour is fantastic. I bought it at Kate's stand at Woolfest on a ridiculously cold and wet Cumbrian day and the bright orange yarn just seemed to promise that I would be warm again at some point in the future.

* NB I ran a bit short hence the neck alterations
** I tried to find the clip but You Tube suddenly turned into a very scary place

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wee blog post

It's been a busy summer. I've been to Germany, I've been to the Olympics, I've walked 50 miles with a pack on my back. I've knitted a few things, and I've been spinning. My new found love for drop spindling lasted after I got back from Woolfest. I got a little sidetracked with knitting cushions for Woolsack and a ballet cardigan for my niece but here and there I put in some time on the drop spindle and I'm now spinning up my third braid of fibre. This is a beautiful braid of hand-dyed Blue Faced Leicester from Blackbird Fibres which Felix gave me earlier this year. It's perfect seasonal spinning with warm reds, oranges, and purples. The plan is to spin 4 super skinny plies which should add up to a thin 4 ply or sock yarn. In fact since I have 160g of fibre there may be enough to make enough 4 ply for gloves and then make a heavier weight yarn for a matching hat.

Friday, June 29, 2012

New toy

One of the things I love about yarny gatherings is that I usually learn something brand new, either a technique or a tool, or both. This time round I learnt how to wind yarn balls using a Nostepinne (or Nosty). Although I have a ball winder and swift which are fabulous for winding balls of yarn the ball winder is a bit brutal for winding singles (especially as fine as I like to spin them). The Nosty on the other hand is just perfect.

Nostepinne and egg


My first introduction to the Nostepinne egg (the little ball of yarn that you can wind with the Nosty) came at Cecilia's house early on in the week. Cecilia has the most delightful wool room at the back of the house with spinning equipment, fibre, skeins of yarn hanging up, and little Nostepinne balls lying everywhere like little Faberge Easter eggs.

Nostepinne and egg

[Nostepinne egg]

The really handy thing about winding singles on a Nostepinne as because it creates a centre pull ball, once you've wound your ball you can then rewind it as a double ply ball (i.e. taking the inside and outside ends of your first ball and holding them together to wind a second ball). This makes it much easier to use for plying as you don't then have to worry about the inside unravelling more quickly (or in lumps) than the outside.

It wasn't until I started Googling Nostepinne tutorials for this post that I realised that, should you want to, you can also use the Nosty to wind flatter yarn cakes, such as you get from a mechanical ball winder. There's a great article on "nosting" here and a good YouTube tutorial here. I may refine my technique in time but for now I'm happy with my eggs. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

This is the way we wash the fleece

I bought many exciting toys at Woolfest this weekend but the ones that I am most eager to play with are my new, highly lethal (at least in appearance) wool combs.

Wool combs

Although these look like a medieval instrument of torture they are in fact used to turn this:

Gotland locks

into this:

Combed Gotland

which can be spun into this:

Tiny Gotland skein

[world's tiniest skein of yarn]

Unfortunately before I can start playing with my combs I have to wash and dry at least one of my fleeces. When I emailed my husband to let him know that I would be coming home from Woolfest with not one but two fleeces he said that was fine, his only stipulations were that I should wash them on a fine day and when he wasn't around. Since the sun was out today and he was at work it seemed like an ideal day for prepping the Gotland fleece.

First I spread it out on the lawn to pick out the mucky bits:

Washing Gotland fleece

I'd usually refer to this as skirting but since it was impossible to see where the skirts of the fleece were it's not really appropriate in this case.

Washing Gotland fleece

It's a lovely fleece I think, mostly silver coloured locks with a few light brown and grey patches, and pretty clean. There were only a few locks that I had to discard.

Washing Gotland fleece

I put the fleece through four or five changes of hot water with a little bit of liquid detergent in the first bucket with long soaks in between then spread it out to dry.

Washing Gotland fleece

The rest of this half of the fleece should be dry by tomorrow and then I can start combing!

Whilst the fleece was soaking I was getting on with spinning and plying the Freyalyn's Fibres bfl from Woolfest. I wound the fibre from each spindle into a double ply Nostepinne ball and then plied it.

Handspun 4 ply

After plying I had just under 100 metres of a lovely 4 ply yarn and lots of fibre still to spin up. I should definitely have a decent amount of yarn for socks or mittens afterwards.

Handspun 4 ply

A present from Estonia

Just before Felix returned from her epic trip to Estonia I received a highly coloured card which cryptically indicated that a gift would follow. And follow it did. There will be no need for me to knit mittens this year as I am now the very proud owner of a pair of handknit Estonian mittens, dyed with natural colours.

Handknit Estonian mittens

These are so beautiful. I love the combination of colourwork and lace at the cuff and the butterfly motif, not to mention the fact that they are toasty warm.

Handknit Estonian mittens

Of course eventually they will wear out but when they do I can knit my own pair of Estonian mittens from this amazing book.

Turi mittens book

All the text is in Estonian but since the book doesn't actually contain any patterns, just photos and charts, that's not a problem.

Turi mittens book

I love the fact that Estonian mitten patterns just consist of the chart, it's assumed that everyone already knows how to knit a mitten.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Back with a bang

Yesterday at Woolfest I bought an IST Crafts drop spindle and a parcel of dyed BFL from Freyalyn's Fibres. Today my drop spindle looks like this.

Freyalyn's Fibres

I blame Felix for taking me to visit Cecelia Hewett (Woolclip member and handspinner extraordinaire) earlier in the week. The peer pressure of Felix, Mel and Cecelia all spinning away whilst I plodded on with my Woolsack cushion was just too much to bear and I immediately mentally added drop spindle and fibre to my Woolfest shopping list, just so that I wouldn't have to wait until I got back home before I could start spinning again.

I haven't really got on very well with drop spindling in the past as I've always worried about not being able to produce a decent quantity of a consistent lightweight yarn. However, now that I've been spinning on a wheel for a few years I'm more confident in my ability to draft the yarn consistently and to be able to judge the right amount of twist needed and, hopefully, reproduce it. My aim now is to spin up the whole of this fibre using the spindle, wind it into at least two little eggs using a Nostepinne (I very much hope that Felix will have been able to pick one up for me today) and create a 4 ply yarn that will be suitable for socks or mittens. If this is a success then I'll be spinning up more fibre in this way as the drop spindle is definitely more portable and more sociable (i.e. quieter) than the wheel for spinning out and about and in the evenings.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Swatching for Woolsack

It's not too late to start knitting a cushion for Woolsack. There are stuffing events at Woolfest in Cumbria the weekend after next and at Fibre East in Bedford on 14th and 15th July to which you can bring your cushion plus yarn and needle for finishing to be stuffed with pure British wool.

Woolsack swatch

I've just knitted the swatch for my cushion. It's going to be knitted from pure Shetland yarn from Black Yarns with honeycomb and simple braided cables. If you're travelling to either Woolfest or Fibre East then a Woolsack cushion would make the perfect in-car project.

Never heard of Woolsack? Read all about it It's a fascinating project undertaken by British knitters with the aim of giving a handmade cushion, made from British wool, to every Olympian and Paralympian who wants one. They're leaping over the hurdles presented by the stringent LOCOG restrictions and now are sprinting towards the finish line thanks to recent publicity on BBC Radio 4, BBC Breakfast Television, Look North, and in Private Eye.

If you'd like to make a cushion for an Olympic or Paralympic athlete the main things to remember are that it must be made from 100% British Wool, be 16"x16", and not feature any of LOCOG's list of restricted expressions or marks - the full details are here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

This week I have mostly...

...been watching The Wire. I missed this the first time round and am now watching it courtesy of a colleague who couldn't believe I'd never seen it and brought in the first season on DVD the next day. I'm now up to the start of season 4 and am hooked.

...been knitting toy clothes. Last week niece #1 announced that she thought it would be a good idea if I knit some pyjamas, a skirt, and a hat for Mousey (her inseparable  sidekick). So far I've made the pyjamas and a dress. Mouse clothes are even quicker to knit than baby clothes.

...been reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. This is a book that I've been meaning to read for the last 14 years and I'm really enjoying it. Next up, Anna Karenina, as soon as it's available in the library again.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

A very NT weekend

A couple of weekends ago the husband and I had a weekend in Shrewsbury. No particular reason other than we wanted to go away somewhere and Shropshire was far enough away to make the trip worthwhile and close enough that we wouldn't spend all weekend driving. I'd never actually visited Shrewsbury or even Shropshire before but the county seems very familiar to me from the novels of Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael is actually the reason I decided to study medieval history at university). Of course this meant we had to visit the abbey of St Peter and St Paul (now a church). There's very little of the original Norman buildings left thanks to Henry VIII and Thomas Telford respectively but the church that stands there now (a lovely red sandstone building) is still beautiful.

Shrewsbury Abbey

We felt that Shrewsbury could probably cash in a little more on its most famous fictional inhabitant but the abbey did at least have complete set of Cadfael novels for sale plus this very lovely modern window celebrating the Benedictine history of the church and the Ellis Peters' novels.

Benedictine window, Shrewsbury Abbey

After visiting the abbey I did try to pick up a yarn shaped souvenir from the very jolly looking Solo Alpaca but unfortunately the owner was out at the post office when we first walked by and still out at the post office after we'd finished our coffee - queues, eh. I was really sorry not to be able to pop in as from what I could see through the window it looked like a very nice yarn shop.

In the afternoon we drove out to Attingham Park, a National Trust property, a few miles east of Shrewsbury.

Attingham Park

We arrived at around half past two, just after the deer feeding time and just in time to see the deer reasonably close before they wandered back to the less accessible areas of the deer park.

Fallow deer, Attingham Park

They have a herd of around 200 fallow deer and as a result of seeing them I now have the difference between fallow (pale, broad antlers, and spotty) and roe (darker brown, white bums, and pointy antlers) firmly stuck in my head and can now be much more authoritative when pointing out deer to the husband on our bus ride into work.

The interior of the house was as fabulous as the outside. My favourite rooms were the drawing room and the birdcage room - both in the feminine wing of the house. I could quite happily settle down for afternoon tea and knitting in either of them.

Drawing room, Attingham Park

As it was we had our tea outside the stable block before heading off to see the walled garden and orchard which had a flock of very free range chickens.

Chicken, Attingham Park

On Sunday we visited Carding Mill Valley, a beautiful area which is also looked after by the National Trust. We hadn't really packed our walking shoes and I definitely wasn't shod for serious walking but we made our way up the valley for half an hour before heading back for more tea in the cafe. It was a really idyllic landscape, very reminiscent of Cumbria (fells and little rivers), and at one point all we could hear was the gurgling of the stream and the bubbling song of the skylarks.

Carding Mill Valley

I'm really happy to have found such a lovely place for walking so much closer to home.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Totoro mittens

I admit up front that I know very little about Totoro other than he's cute, Japanese, my friend Jenny really likes him, and he translates really well into a Norwegian style mitten pattern. These mittens from Brella are adorable and a lot of fun to knit.Although the non-regular nature of the pattern does mean that (for me at least) you need to check the pattern on every row it also means that it doesn't get boring and there's a great sense of progress as you watch the cute little character emerge.

These are knitted from one ball of  cream Shetland 4 ply and one ball of blended fibre in maroon from Blacker Yarns. They're a little on the snug side add I used 3.25mm needles rather than the recommended 3.5 but I think they'll relax a little bit with blocking. At any rate I'll block the first one and see how it goes.

The only other modification I've made is to knit the thumb plain and then embroider some  diamonds onto it using duplicate stitch. I thought of doing the colourwork in the pattern but it was just a bit too fiddly in the end.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Something for the galanthophiles*

Today we took advantage of the lovely sunshine to do something very seasonal and very British. We went to look round a garden. But not just any garden. Welford Park is open for just 28 days between late January and early March as part of the NGS so that people can enjoy its amazing display of snowdrops. The website promises a "magnificent carpet of snowdrops" and it doesn't disappoint. Even walking from the carpark to the entrance I saw more snowdrops than I'd ever seen in one place before.

Welford Park

There are snowdrops all over Welford Park. Along the sides of the paths, in the rose garden, on sunny banks but the real star of the show is the snowdrop wood. It's breathtaking, like it actually snowed.

Welford Park

Welford Park

I had a great time playing with my new camera. I love the zoom lens and the macro function.

Welford Park

HD snowdrops.

After the snowdrop wood we visited the tearooms for delicious homemade cake and tea.

Welford Park

Welford Park

Being married means you get to share your husband's chocolate cake.

You can find all the snowdrop openings at the NGS website. If you've not made plans for tomorrow or next weekend and you're in the vicinity of Welford Park or any NGS snowdrop garden I thoroughly recommend a visit.

* i.e. an expert on snowdrops.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the possibilities in your stash? It happens to me all the time at the end of a project. I've just finished a pair of Muckle Mitts and the 16 Sixteen Cables hat and I haven't a clue what to knit next. I've got 4 ply Shetland in sufficient quantities for a hat and mittens and lots of laceweight and plenty of other bits and pieces but I'm struggling to match the yarn to a project. So any ideas would be most welcome.  I'm looking for a non-lacy lace project or something in colourwork that isn't another pair of fingerless mittens!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

It's a bit late but ...

Happy Valentine's day!

Valentine's cupcakes

The great thing about these fancy cupcakes from the Maison Blanc bakery in Oxford is that they actually taste of something. The pink one has strawberry flavoured frosting and the white one is coconut and they were both totally delicious.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Woolly hat weather

I started this hat about a week ago when the recent cold snap was at its very frostiest. It's not so much that I needed another hat but I definitely needed a warmer hat.
After a quick trawl through Ravelry I settled on the 16 sixteen cables hat by Circe Belles Boucles. It looks stylish and cosy and a few people have already knit it in my chosen yarn, Rowan Lima. It's my first time knitting with Lima and I really love it. It's basically an aran weight icord which makes it very lightweight for an alpaca yarn.
Of course the weather's now getting warmer which is great but I hope it will stay cold enough to get a couple of wears out of my new hat before Spring really sets in.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rainbow Battenberg cake

No, that's not the version of Android that my new phone is running but rather my birthday cake. I first saw and tried this cake at Teacup in Manchester and immediately wanted to try and have a go at making it for myself. I followed the recipe for Battenburg [sic] cake in Leiths Baking Bible but made one and a half times the quantity of mixture and of course added colouring.

I created the different layers by first dividing the mixture into three and colouring it red, green, and blue. I don't know the exact quantities of food colouring used, just that it was enough to get a satisfyingly vivid shade of each colour. I then took roughly two quarters of each colour and combined them separately to make green, orange and purple. I then put the mixture into two square 20 cm tins with three stripes in each tin. I didn't bother to separate them in any way, just put them in carefully and hoped they wouldn't mingle too much. I baked the two cakes at 180°C for around 20 minutes.Once the cakes were cooled I cut each cake into three, sandwiched them with apricot jam, trimmed the edges and wrapped the whole thing in marzipan. I should warn you that the cakes will not look rainbow coloured when they come out of the oven, their technicoloured tendencies will only appear once you cut into them.

I will definitely be making this again. I'd like to make the division between the colours neater and (although it tasted fine) I'd like to do a little more to promote flavour over colour, maybe by using natural fruit colours.

Written on my shiny new Android phone.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Greetings from Prague

U Karlùv most, Praha

[photo credit: Hélio]

Having a lovely time with Jenny and Nadine in Prague - home tonight. Liz x

Thursday, January 19, 2012

o w l s sweater

I finally finished my first* o w l s sweater the week before last and I love it. It's like a great big cuddle from the wool fairy (to paraphrase Greg Wallace) and I've worn it several times already. Before I finished it I was worried that it might be too warm, thus limiting opportunities for wear, but it's perfect - just the right amount of cosiness for the office and it will definitely keep me warm during my Prague trip** this weekend. I've left the owls eyeless as I tried about half a dozen different buttons in John Lewis and none looked better than without buttons.

o w l s sweater

The sweater is knit from almost 600 grams of Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds chunky weight yarn in grey Suffolk. I really like this yarn, it's soft enough to be wearable next to the skin but is sturdy enough to be characterful and it has excellent stitch definition - very important for making those owls pop out. It's the same yarn which Kate Davies used to make her original owls sweater and in fact the yarn was a gift from Kate when she was destashing before Christmas. It seemed like there was only one sweater which I ought to knit with it!

o w l s sweater

Pattern: o w l s by Kate Davies
Yarn: Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds chunky in Grey Suffolk (600g)
Needles: 6mm and 6.5mm circs
Size: Medium to Small (i.e. started off knitting the medium but realised at the yoke that the number of stitches I had was nearer to the small - not really quite sure how).
Modifications: missed out short rows below the yoke
Location: Somerville SCR - I must do more photoshoots here, I love the decor
Ravelled: here

* note there is another one on the way.
** of course if Jenny is also planning to take her sweater too we may end up looking worryingly matchy matchy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wee cardigans

I got a commission over Christmas to knit two more of these wee short sleeved cardigans for my little niece Kate. Apparently she's nearly grown out of the last two that I knit due to (i) her growing and (ii) my sister achieving what I thought was the near impossible feat of felting Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino.

Drops baby cardigan

The pattern is (once again) the snappily titled 0-684 Baby Cardigan with Short/Long Raglan Sleeves. The first one is knit in Artesano Merino dk (I only just found out they do wool as well as alpaca) and the second is in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino in a rather fabulous red.

Drops baby cardigan

The buttons are from John Lewis and are clear plastic with a tiny flower design which makes them very easy to match to any yarn.

Drops baby cardigan

I'll try to get pictures of Kate wearing these once they're delivered. In the meantime here's a shot of her with some of her bunny friends.

Kate and bunny

Favourite things

I seem to remember that Maria von Trapp sang about warm apple strudel under this category but that's probably because she never tried rhubarb sharlotka.

Rhubarb sharlotka

Earlier in the week I made apple sharlotka following the recipe on Smitten Kitchen. Given that I was down to my last slice of that and that my husband had brought home rhubarb from the supermarket there was really only one course of action.

Rhubarb sharlotka

I loved the apple sharlotka but I think this might be even better. The tart rhubarb contrasts wonderfully with the sweet meringuey sponge and visually the pink rhubarb is fantastic. I served this wolfed this down with a dollop of half fat creme fraiche (because there is absolutely nothing that doesn't taste better with a dollop of creme fraiche on the side).

Somehow three sticks of rhubarb don't seem to bulk up quite the same as 6 Granny Smith apples so rather than making a single 9" cake I made two cakes using 5" ramekins and two thirds of the mixture. Obviously if you have more rhubarb then feel free to make the full size cake following Deb's directions over at SK.

3 sticks rhubarb
2 eggs
2/3 cup/133g sugar
2/3 cup/83g plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
ground cinnamon and ground sugar for powdering
butter to grease ramekins

Line two 5" ramekins with buttered greaseproof paper and pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C.
Chop rhubarb into half inch slices and divide between ramekins.
Beat eggs and sugar together until thick and moussey then beat in vanilla extract.
Stir in flour until just combined then pour batter over the rhubarb.
Stir rhubarb and batter mixture around a bit so that some bits of rhubarb poke out of the top.
Put ramekins in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until top of cake is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


It still counts if it's in cake form, right?

apple sharlotka

As soon as I read this recipe on Smitten Kitchen (my absolute favourite cookery blog) I knew I wanted to make it. Actually I have that response to most of the recipes on Smitten Kitchen but this has so few ingredients and looked so straightforward that I picked up some apples on my way home from work and a couple of hours later had my very own apple sharlotka. It's delicious with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Christmas knitting

Hi everyone. Hope you all had a lovely Christmas and Happy New Year! I had a lovely time over Christmas - presents were given and received, we had a lovely Christmas dinner, and my nieces were little bundles of Christmas joy (well most of the time anyway). More of my most exciting new toys (including a new pasta maker and ravioli tray and some gorgeous fibre) in the next post. In the meantime here are some of the things that I made as Christmas gifts.

Christmas baking

Christmas tree biscuits - made from a recipe in Nigella's Domestic Goddess with added Christmas spices. It's funny I only added a few gratings of nutmeg but it's the most dominant flavour in them. Obviously 'tis the season to make Christmas cookies as I handed a bag of these over to Ellen in exchange for a bag of yummy homemade gingerbread and chocolate covered marzipan.

Next up a Damson shawl knit from less than one skein of Malabrigo laceweight in Snowbird. No modifications other than going down a needle size as I was using a finer weight yarn than specified.

Damson shawl

Damson shawl

Mum was very pleased with this. It even came as a surprise despite the fact that she picked out the yarn for it in Manchester a couple of months ago.

And finally two pairs of Ritzy mittens for my cousins. I came across this pattern when Liz G. brought a pair that she was knitting to Bluestockings a few weeks ago and we all raved about them. I then forgot about them again until Liz brought another pair to our last meeting before Christmas and this time I remembered for long enough to make a note of the pattern name.

Ritzy mittens

Ritzy mittens

Cousins also very pleased with mittens which makes it almost a clean sweep. The only bit of Christmas knitting that I've had to make adjustments to are my niece's cosy bedsocks. She was happy enough with them but they kept slipping off so I had to retrieve them to add an extra half inch of length in the foot to each one. Although I measured her feet myself I still didn't really believe they were 6.25" long!

More knitting to come. I've just sewn in the ends on my o w l s sweater. It's fantastic and I love it but it's also grey so I need to wait for a less grey day to photograph it. It also needs blocking and eyes. Luckily I'm off to London on Saturday so I can visit Button Queen in search of some lovely buttons.