Friday, 15 March 2019

...16 days off (I)

Day One.

We went out for breakfast and spent a leisurely hour chatting and planning some of the things we'd like to do over the next two weeks. Day trips and spring cleaning were high on my list, bike maintenance and several sporting fixtures on my husband's. 

When we got home I spent a couple of hours dusting, cleaning and tidying in the bedroom (the easiest room in the house!) and went through the contents of my trunk - old drawings, prints and photos from my college days, handmade birthday cards from when the children were little, and the Christmas tree (plus wrapping paper, lights and decorations). It also holds quite a big cardboard box full of fabric scraps and remnants which I peered into and then closed again - a job for another day. I made a start on filling a bag for the charity shop, having managed to discard a pair of hardly-worn shoes, a scarf and a cuddly toy elephant that I like but just don't love.

I did a bit of titivating in the pots outside the kitchen window, where lots of last year's experimental (planted and forgotten about) bulbs are already coming up - hyacinths, crocuses and narcissus. I added some jolly red and yellow tulip bulbs bought from Ikea a couple of weeks ago and a couple of cheap and cheerful punnets of violas (impulse buy at Aldi on the way home from breakfast). It's a pity they're not perennials though - I've decided that bulbs are definitely the way forward for a lazy gardener like me.

In between these bursts of activity I continued work on the scarf for my mother-in-law. It needs to be ready for Tuesday...
Day Two.

Started with a rainy morning walk at the park. The XXSCat dog was absolutely caked in mud by the end of it, but nothing a quick shower in the kitchen sink couldn't fix (probably the biggest advantage of having a very small dog is that the mess she creates is also small-scale). Lots of lush green moss, and buds and shoots - I'm so glad to be leaving the dark winter months behind.
I did some tidying in the front garden when we got home (removing dead foliage and cutting back the brambles that will not give up the fight for survival). Despite my aching back and very creaky hip I managed to fill half a wheelie-bin before a sudden hail storm drove me back inside to deal with the laundry pile.

My mother-in-law's scarf is nearly complete. I've bought a set of long blocking wires so that I can (hopefully) give it a really professional finish, but will have to do a bit of research first into how to use them properly!

Day Three.

Another day, another park. This one is a 15-20 minute drive away, but well worth the effort for the walk around the lake and the fruit scone with jam and cream at the cafe afterwards! It gives the XXSCat dog a chance to practice her people skills, as it is much busier than our local park. The XXSCat dog loves other dogs and adores her human family, but has a profound mistrust of everyone else and a bad habit of growling and barking at passers-by who don't have a dog with them. Most people just laugh at our miniature guardian, but it is not a habit we encourage, as it would be far less amusing in a bigger dog. A combination of redirection and rewarding of good behaviour seems to be doing the trick, and she managed to disregard all but a couple of the most suspicious (in her eyes) characters. Even the swans got a free pass today.
The scarf for my mother-in-law is finished, and is currently being blocked (after a quick YouTube tutorial). The blocking wires are doing a wonderful job, but I didn't enjoy the painfully slow process of threading them through all those edge stitches whilst kneeling on the floor. My poor old joints are still complaining half an hour later!
Day Four.

The day didn't start terribly well, as I had a phone-call from the GP with x-ray results for my hip. "Severe osteoarthritis" with bone now rubbing on bone rather than cartilage. Which I guess would explain the constant pain and stiffness...

The GP is going to refer me to the hospital because she seemed to think hip replacement surgery might be on the cards - a scary prospect for someone in their mid-fifties. But it's also a relief to know what's causing the pain - it's been so consistently bad for so long that I've been getting bored of hearing myself grumble about it, and even wondered at times if it was all in my head! Now, rather than continuing to hope it will "ease off" or go away if I walk far enough, I know it's probably here to stay and can find other ways to help myself - like getting a walking stick to take some of the pressure off the bad hip. A snazzy blue folding walking stick!

Meanwhile, the scarf for my mother-in-law is finished. Blocking really brought it to life - it is soft and airy and oh so pretty with those deep rainbow tones.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

...February fog and flying fingers

In stark contrast with 2018's 'Beast from the East' blizzards, last week we experienced some of the hottest days on record for a British February - long misty mornings followed by sunny afternoons - which gave our weekend walk at the park a dreamy, ethereal feel. I can't really cope with the feelings of anxiety that plague me if I dwell too long on the underlying reasons for this extraordinary weather, so I've been trying to think along the lines of the Serenity Prayer - 'change the things I can' and 'enjoy one moment at a time'. In other words, I'm doing what I can as an individual to look after and respect this planet we live on (and hoping that if enough others do the same then we will all be ok) which, in turn, allows me to really enjoy the unexpected beauty of a foggy - not frosty - day in early Spring.

Quick knits continue to occupy most of my spare time at the moment. For a friend's new grandchild I adapted this dear little garter-stitch jacket pattern slightly, with an i-cord edging down the front (to create a neater finish)...
...and this charity shop rescue doll received a new cardigan too. I'm going to sew her a matching dress and have been pondering a facial repaint to make her look a little less scary. I think her expression is meant to convey 'mischievous and feisty' but given that people seem to instinctively recoil when they see her, I think 'menacing and  formidable' is possibly more accurate. She has scrubbed up very well so far (her hair was a matted mess when I bought her) so a friendlier expression to accompany her new clothes might just give her an even longer lease of life.
I've broken my own (self-imposed) rule about always finishing one thing before starting another, and have two projects currently on the go: on the left is a scarf for my mother-in-law's birthday this week (she admired the colour of my 'Around the corner' shawl and hinted very heavily that she would like something in the same yarn), and on the right is the start of an adult sized Beloved bonnet, requested by my mother. I love them both - the colours are just gorgeous!

Saturday, 2 February 2019

...winter wool-gathering

I've been knitting like a woman possessed for the last few weeks. I completed another Norrland hat for myself (identical to the one I made for my Mum) only to discover that, lovely as it was, it didn't really suit me. It functions perfectly well, but (as my daughter kindly confirmed when I asked her) it makes my head "look funny". Some people's features are enhanced by the addition of a hat, but I have never been one of them - there is something about the shape and proportions of my larger than average skull that means that (more often than not) they just make me appear rather odd. Since I'm still vain enough to feel that if I'm wearing an attention grabbing garment I want to look good in it, I'll be giving the new Norrland to someone it actually suits, and have consoled myself by whipping up a nice chunky cabled not-a-hat headband to keep my ears warm instead. 
Another satisfyingly swift January project was the "Around the Corner" shawl designed by Brian Smith. It's a gorgeously cosy but light-weight thing, knitted in rainbow-hued Debbie Bliss Rialto sock yarn. I'm struggling slightly to find the "right" way to wear it, because I'm more accustomed to scarves than shawls and the asymetric shape makes it trickier to drape, but I will persevere and get the hang of it because I love it so much!
At the park the lichen has come into its own, glowing vibrant turquoise and gold on bare branches under the cloudy sky. I love that there is always something beautiful to see here, no matter what the time of year.

At the end of December I completed my collection of woodland path photos, taken over the course of the year. The four below reflect the different moods of the changing seasons rather well, I think.
Below is the view I've chosen for this year's collection. It remains to be seen if this is going to work from a photographic perspective, as there are issues with light and shade due to the angle of the morning sun (we normally walk first thing in the morning) - but then again I'm not trying to be a professional photographer. I just like the symmetry of the composition, and think it will be lovely to watch those flower beds come to life. They will be full of roses in the summer!

Friday, 11 January 2019

...warm and cosy

  • I finished the Norrland hat for my Mum a couple days after Christmas, but struggled to find a good location in which to take a picture of it before giving it to her, as the light was so poor and my house was still awash with festive detritus, cluttering covering every surface. In the end I settled for a spot on the kitchen counter (complete with a reflection of the orchid on the windowsill) as it offered a more accurate rendition of the colours used. Such a beautiful pattern! I am definitely going to make another just for myself.

  • Almost as soon as the Norrland was finished I embarked on a 'make it up as you go along' project for my husband's grandmother, who is in her late 90s and still going strong. When we visited her after Christmas she was complaining that her hands were always cold, and I noticed that she was keeping them wrapped in a shawl for warmth. I decided to design something cosier and brighter to make her more comfortable and cheer her up, so when I got home I set to work on a kind of elongated muff. I knitted a 35 cm tube using Sirdar Snowflake fleecy yarn, and then continued for a further 35 cm using assorted DK oddments from my stash. I turned the fleecy half  to the inside and finished by grafting the live stitches to the cast on edge. The fleecy lining was soooo soft, and the rainbow stripes were soooo cheerful, and the double thickness fabric was soooo warm! I popped it in the first class post, and received a phone call the following day from a very surprised and happy Grandma, who said it had made her feel really special. Well worth the effort!

  • The XXSCat dog is the Queen of Warm and Cosy, especially now she has inherited the old snuggly blanket from my daughter's bed (she got a new one for Christmas). Doesn't she just look the picture of contentment keeping a sleepy eye on things from the corner of the armchair?

Friday, 28 December 2018


  • A rainy walk at the park. Flecks of orange glowing against neutral greys and browns.
  • The annual collaborative Christmas Card design made by our Service User Group at work. An array of jolly snow-people out for a midnight stroll, one perhaps a little too full of the festive spirit...
  • A custom-designed, made-to-measure Christmas jumper for a friend's daughter's teddy bear/best friend - 'Dominic'.
  • Bare trees casting long shadows in the pale winter sunshine at the park.
  • A city centre meeting near the German market provided an unexpected chance to stop and admire the fabulous over-the-toppery of an old-fashioned carousel.
  • Prepping this year's crafty gift for family and friends. Little slices of wood, complete with bark, decorated with tiny snow-globe style trees. I used a mixture of acrylics, watercolour pencils and paints, and irridescent acrylic medium to create a frosty moonlit winter scene. Added a couple of coats of gloss varnish and a magnet glued to the back and 'hey-presto!' - seasonal decorations for the fridge!

  • Two completely different hats from the same pattern - the Antler toque by the fabulous TinCanKnits - made for my two sons. I can't stress enough how much Magic Loop has transformed my knitting life. No more fiddling with double ended needles, no more tedious seams - hats are an absolute doddle these days!
  • Just to hammer the point home, take a look below at what's currently on the circular needles - a complex, cabled beauty of a fair isle hat - the Norrland hat by Sara Huntington Burch.  Now, I'm not normally a fan of fair isle - I always struggle to get the tension right - but I fell madly in love with this design the moment I saw it, and I think the snowflake motif I incorporated into the front of Dominic's little teddy bear jumper gave me the confidence to believe I could at least attempt it. I'm teaching myself to use two handed fair isle knitting which is making my tension a lot more consistent, but working the cables definitely interrupts the flow. Even without those pesky double-ended needles it is still quite fiddly and slow going. Not so much a 'switch off and watch telly as you knit' type of project, more a 'concentrate, focus and double-check' style of thing, but it will all be over soon (I've just started the decreases) and it is absolutely beautiful! I'm making it for my Mum and secretly thinking I might have to make another one for myself...

  • Just to round things off, here is the picture my friend sent me of Dominic in his festive finery on Christmas Day. He's a bear of few words, but, as you can see, his bestie is delighted by his smart appearance!

Saturday, 1 December 2018

...pinafores for pigs and bonnets for babies

I 'rescued' this Peppa Pig toy from the charity shop the other week. After a thorough wash and a little bit of loose-seam-fixing she was nearly as good as new. All she needed to bring her fully back to life was a pretty floral pinafore and a yellow cardigan to match her little yellow boots. I have to say that Magic Loop is fabulous for tiny toy sleeves. No more fiddly seams - hooray!

I also reprised the Wee Morrie pattern to make a couple of fancy bonnets for my friend's twin grand-daughters using some novelty yarn from my stash to create a soft feathery border. This is such a quick, easy knit (Magic Loop strikes again), and looks so old-fashioned and sweet on a tiny baby.
Christmas is just around the corner and I'm worried I may have left it a little late for gift-making. I will be knitting furiously for the next three weeks, possibly pausing to make some personalised pebble fridge magnets (I inherited a bag full of self-adhesive magnets recently, and that is the direction my mind has taken with them). Watch this space...

Saturday, 17 November 2018

...autumn leaves and knitting for twins

Our weekend park walks have been lovely recently - or perhaps that should be 'even more lovely than usual'. I really don't know how we managed before we properly discovered the woodland trails and wide open spaces hidden just up the hill from our house. Living, as we do, within a mile or so of the city centre I feel we're very fortunate to have somewhere like this to escape to whenever we feel like it. 
My friend has just become a grandma again, to two tiny identical twin girls, who were born very early at 33 weeks. There were times during the pregnancy when the doctors weren't sure if both babies would survive, and they are still undergoing tests for issues with their hearing and vision, but everyone is very thankful that they are here at last, gaining weight and doing well. Of course I have been busy knitting things to keep them cosy and warm: dear little bonnets (Wee Morrie pattern, slightly adapted with a plain stocking sttich back) and cardigans. The great thing about baby clothes is that you can make them so quickly; with simple top-down patterns and magic loop they literally fly off the needles. Seamless knitting all the way!

I took the two photos below on a late afternoon walk with the XXSCat dog. Outside a local primary school swathes of vibrant yellow leaves had accumulated in piles and puddles in the gutter, creating accidental abstract patterns on the road. I'm not sure what passers-by made of the crazy lady taking photos of the pavement, but it was far too beautiful to resist.

Last weekend's park walk was all about the fallen leaves as well. We arrived after the frost had melted, to find everything bejewelled with tiny beads of water. I kept stopping for "just one more photo" every few yards, until my poor husband and the XXCat dog started to grumble at the snail's pace progress we were making. I think it's the hoarder/collector in me that can never get enough!