Thursday, August 31, 2017

Glorious golden summer days...

... or at least that's what it's felt like, around here. The weather has been as indifferent as it usually is in the UK, but it hasn't mattered much to us. Because of boy #1's continuing struggle with his CFS we decided that this year we were going to take it easy and stay at home for the summer holidays. He'd had a bad run and really hasn't been in school much this year, which in turn hasn't been easy for him, and his brother had to have a tonsillectomy around Easter this year and has had quite a few struggles of his own, so we felt it was important to re-center on home and family and to support and be there for each other. 

I have to say that it's been one of the best summers we've had as a family. We took Matilda camping twice for a couple of days but apart from that we've been here. Taking away the added stress and pressure of getting ready for a big holiday was just the right thing. We've had day trips when we felt like it, and rather than taking one big block of 2 weeks, D has been taking two separate weeks to mix things up a bit and provide some relief for me as well. Yes, there has been a lot of the dreaded tablet and xbox, but we made a conscious decision not to fret about it. Instead I made a plan to encourage the kids to also think of other things. 



The result was... pretty great, actually! After some initial hick-ups (boy #2's Aspergers doesn't always lend itself to changes and it takes him a while to adjust) all three boys wholeheartedly embraced the list. They've got themselves ready without needing me to nag them, they've done their mini homework tasks (which were set to make them feel less anxious about the year ahead - boy #1 and boy #2 have a lot of catching up to do and it was making them worried. Boy #3 is just delighted to do school work so he wasn't going to complain!!), and they've played. They've been out in the garden, they've started an exciting tree-house project with D that they've worked on (and continue to work on) very hard whenever there was time, they've helped each other, they've gone on bike-rides and when we were looking after a friend's dog for a week while they were away I never had to go on a walk with Luna without at least one lad accompanying me, armed with tennis balls to play fetch. 

Don't get me wrong, there's been hours and hours of computer games, but you know what? It's all good. Boy #1 needs it when he gets too tired with his CFS, and boy #2 uses it to switch off from the world at bit when he gets too over-stimulated, and boy #3? He's just along for the ride and enjoys doing what his brothers do. It's. All. Good.

Me, in the meantime? I've been tinkering. I've done some pottery and Betty the kiln is finally up and running. She's completed her first firing but as it turns out it takes ages for a kiln to cool down from 1000 degrees C - almost 36 hours in fact! Yesterday i was finally able to crack the door open. It looks as if the firing has worked.



There are some problems, though. Do you see the tiny 'animal' up top? That's my pyrometric cones, which should give an indication of the temperature in the kiln. I use a controller to regulate kiln temperature, but thought I'd use cones to double-check that what the controller is telling me is taking place inside the kiln is in fact really taking place.

Well, I'm glad I did, because if you look at this the first cone is just about bending over. These cones bend over at different temperatures, with the middle one indicating the temperature I wanted to reach. So in an ideal firing the first cone should have collapsed completely, the 2nd cone should be half-bent and the third one should be upright as it is.

Hmmm. The kiln is slightly below temperature, me thinks...

This is OK for a basic biscuit firing, but I'm going to have to experiment with what impact this has during a glaze firing.



I've also been crocheting. I finished the Blue Ripple and decided she is really too large and unwieldy or us. My step mom was admiring her last year and was asking me if I could make her a blanket like that so I think I might give her the blanket. 



Almost immediately after I cast off for Blue Ripple I decided to cast on for another ripple to use up all those odds and ends from all the different blankets I've made over the past few years. On a larger hook, and not nearly as wide as Blue Ripple, this blanket grew quickly, and I managed to finish it in record time. 






The blanket is already a firm favourite. :)

I still had yarn left over, though, so like a true procrastinator, instead of focussing on all my other WIPs I started making a bunch of granny squares from some of the remaining yarn. Of course there wasn't enough in the particular colour combination I'd chosen to finish a full blanket, but I was given two HUGE balls of cream acrylic/wool mix a while back by a friend, so I think I'll just do large borders and finish the blanket that way. Gets rid of some of that excess cream acrylic too, which can only be a good thing!


There is only one week left before school starts up again. I can honestly say that I'll be sad that our summer at home is coming to an end. 


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Monday, June 26, 2017

All the WIPs...

... so much to do, so little time.

When I had that year off from crafting (more or less), I neglected a lot of projects, and I've been revisiting them, one by one, with a view to making some room for new projects in my life.

I've already written about the Purple Cashmere Socks, which had been languishing in my WIP pile forever, but that isn't the end of it, not at all.

I recently pulled out a truly ancient project, which was never particularly exciting to me, but which, hopefully, will eventually result in something quite useful.

Ages ago I bought some blue 100% wool yarn on ebay. When the yarn arrived I realised that it was a really dull, undefinable blue, and also not particularly soft. It felt... kind of old and fusty. But it was 100% wool, and that's always useful for felting, right?  I finally settled on a kind of satchel bag, but rather than knitting it up as a pattern and then felting it to size I thought, why not knit this up as a really sturdy rectangle and then just cut it into pieces and sew it together? And that's what I did, or rather, what I started to do. I used 3 strands of yarn together to create a really bulky and strong fabric, and started knitting.

Is there anything less exciting than a stockinette stitch rectangle in a solid colour? Needless to say, I never finished.

That is, until now! I finished the dreaded massive rectangle a couple of weeks ago and stuffed it in the washing machine. It took 3 wash cycles and an extra spin, but it finally reached the desired density. For now the felted rectangle sits on the armrest of our sofa to protect the fabric from Jack the cat, who likes to crouch up there, but I'm planning my satchel bag...


Next eternal WIP - the Blue Ripple Blanket. Again, this was started years ago, probably sometime in 2015, but in a fit of insanity I made this so wide that it would probably cover a double bed. As a result each row takes absolutely ages to crochet, and I also constantly managed to run out of yarn. I've started working on this again a few weeks ago and already had to re-order all the colours. What on earth was I thinking?


I do like this blanket, though, and I reckon if I can just bring myself to knit a few rows each week it should be done in a year or so, and without me actually having to put too much effort and time in on a day-to-day basis. 



The last project I dug out to finish are the Stripey Mitts.

ETA: piccy of the stripey mitts!

This is a project I was sort of making up as I was going along, even though I was nominally following a pattern, and I finished one mitt without writing down any instructions to replicate the pattern for the second (thanks, past self, that was helpful...) so it's going to take a bit of time to find my way back into this project. They are pretty darn cute, though, so I'm determined to wear them next winter!

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A Year of Projects

Saturday, June 17, 2017

All the socks...

I've been on a bit of a sock-knitting binge this past week. 

First I pulled out that gorgeous red Regia sock yarn that I bought a couple of summers ago on Borkum, and finally found a good pattern for it. I wanted something with some texture because I tend to prefer solid colours for those kinds of pattern, but I didn't want it to become too complex because, well, I know myself and the sock knitting... I didn't want this to become another endless WIP.

I finally settled on the Hedgerow socks. The first few rows were, not exactly confusing, because it's not a difficult pattern, but I couldn't quite see how it was coming together. It all just seemed really random and looked chaotic. Now, a few repeats into the pattern I can see my way more clearly and it's coming together rather nicely.


While I've been busy with this project, the other day, while digging around in my office, I also managed to unearth another ancient WIP. It was a sock, knitted in purple cashmere yarn, held double-stranded to make a slightly bulkier sock. I had only knitted slightly more than that cuff of sock one, and had then evidently given up because I couldn't be bothered to figure out how to do the heel. I took it downstairs and after digging around a bit on Ravelry I found a dk sock pattern that seemed close enough to my stitch count to adapt. 

My sock had 44 stitches, while this pattern was for 40 stitches, but the heel worked out fine by substituting the 19 stitches for the heel flap for 21 stitches, and the short rows for K9 rather than the K8 required in the pattern. I pretty much winged it, but it worked!



I finished the first sock yesterday evening, and, to avoid another endless delay, cast on for sock two this morning. I very much hope the yarn will be sufficient because it's obviously not meant to be held double-stranded. To make it go further I had started using some left-over Freedom Sock yarn, but now that is running low and I'm using it double-stranded with some pink cashmere. A stylish project this is not, but this yarn is so soft, I'm sure the socks will get a lot of wear anyway, even if I run out of yarn half-way down the foot and have to finish in a different colour! :D

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A Year of Projects

Friday, June 09, 2017

I've been spinning!

No, not the exercise kind, the fleece kind! 

That's what I always have to clarify when I tell non-crafty friends about spinning. I doubt that anyone reading this blog would have any doubt as to which kind of spinning I'm referring to. :)

Yesterday a local friend who keeps a few sheep dropped round two fleeces. This morning he brought the remaining two. They are Derbyshire Gritstone, and this is only their 2nd shearing. The fleece is lovely and soft and, since he only had to shear these four, he also took care to pick out any particularly soiled parts of the fleece and discard them.




The result is a lovely fluffy, and remarkably clean fleece, so I thought I might try to spin it from the raw fleece rather than wash and process it before spinning. 



I spun a large bobbin of pretty rough and slubby thick-ish yarn this morning just to test it. It's not perfect, and it's pretty over-spun because I was still experimenting with the yarn thickness, the fact that it wasn't carded, and the tension on the wheel, plus boy #2, who is off school due to a bad cold, helped a bit, but despite all this I'm actually pretty pleased with the results.


Spinning the raw fleece was actually really fun, and it's so much quicker than having to process the whole thing beforehand! Since the yarn has far too much twist in places I'll probably ply it to balance it a bit more but I can see a lot of spinning from unprocessed fleeces in my future! 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pottery Workshop update


Look at those happy hens, enjoying the sunshine! These are our current ladies, Davina (white), Fizz (grey) and Pig(widgeon), and I think they are as happy about a bit of warmth as we are. I counted at least 4 new dust baths in their run just now and they seem very contented indeed. 


We've had a somewhat busy week with all sorts of appointments, so things are a bit slow otherwise, but at least I can report that slowly but surely my very own pottery workshop is coming together. 

A few weeks ago I finally got all my courage (and savings) together and drove to the pottery supplier near here. I'd phoned ahead, so they had got my enormous order of raw materials, glazes, and clay together and I initially stashed it all in the workshop. When the weather got a little warmer I took a proper look at it all and set about decanting everything into more suitable containers. Thank goodness for all the empty yogurt and ice cream buckets that I'd kept. Always worth never throwing anything away, right? 


It all felt quite weird, and also a teeny bit scary, standing there with my big dust mask and disposable gloves on. Most of the materials are OK (even though none of them are exactly healthy to breathe in), but there were also a few more toxic glaze ingredients, and the boys were under strict instructions not to come looking for me...

It's all very exciting. I've even started to mix some glazes and my first batch is ready for testing.


Can you see Betty the big kiln on the right? 

She is STILL not connected. You would not believe the obstacles that we've come up against in our plans to connect her up. Things are looking good, though, and with any luck she should be functional within a few weeks. 


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Monday, May 22, 2017

Catching up...

Doesn't this look amazing?



I actually have no reason for posting this, but it made me happy this weekend. The first locally grown strawberries are always a highlight of early summer for me, and these were absolutely delicious. 

Despite this rather misleading start this post is actually not about strawberries but about catching up on all those neglected FOs that I never posted about. It's time I update my Ravelry list, so without further ado I present:

The Boneyard Shawl



The Boneyard Shawl was started almost well over a year ago (heck, make that nearly 2 years ago) when I purchased some gorgeously soft Seidenstrasse yarn at a little wool shop on Borkum in the north of Germany. I cast on for this shawl there and then, and despite slow progress I finished it in September 2016. It's an easy and effective pattern but I still found working it a little boring. Apparently I'm not much of a shawl knitter... 


I do like the finished product, though, and actually wear it fairly regularly, so I'm glad I persevered. 


~*~


The second FO is the Bias Knit Sari Silk Scarf


This was a stash-busting project. Do you remember when Sari Silk yarn was all the rage? All those years ago? Yeah, that's when I bought this skein from a little online yarn shop called Hip Knits. I think it closed down years ago but they used to have lovely hand-dyed silk yarns and I used them quite a bit at the time. 

Anyway, since I had this skein of Sari Silk languishing at the bottom of one of my yarn boxes I thought this pattern would make a good stash buster because you basically knit until you run out of yarn and presto, you have a scarf!



This was super quick - I started on 17th Dec and finished on 21st Dec 2015 in the midst of my flurry of xmas knitting at the time, but then I never actually posted about it. 

So there you go, two neglected FOs, finally documented! :) 

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Friday, May 19, 2017

FO - Olive sweater

You know the relief when you finally get an interminable, never-ending will-this-ever-be-done project off your needles? In my case this was Olive.


This sweater, knitted from the Super Birthday Sweater pattern, was starting to be some kind of nemesis. Honestly, I think I started this last September? And it's not by any definition a challenging project - it's a top-down raglan in quite heavy aran or even bulky, on fat needles. It should have taken weeks, not months, to finish, even without putting much effort into it. 

But perhaps that was the problem. It was just not a very interesting project. Not even the yarn was interesting. I was using a non-descript single-ply yarn that I got off ebay about a decade ago. It's OK, but it's a bit over-twisted and it's a little scratchy. I do like the colour, though, and I thought it might work well for a simple raglan.


I finished this jumper on Sunday, during a Eurovision marathon (recorded the night before so the boys could watch it). When I tried it on I realised that I had somehow totally messed up the waist. Obviously, as bored as I was with this project, I had never bothered to try it on. It looked loose and baggy and it was pretty clear that I wouldn't be able to wear it as it was. 

Needless to say, there was zero chance of me unravelling this to re-knit the entire body of the sweater. 

No. Way.

I decided to take the plunge and try my first ever darts. A couple of days ago the jumper was for the chop - I marked the areas to be cut by roughly sewing them together with bright yarn and sewed the sides together about 500 times on my sewing machine. Then I took the scissors to the surplus knit and then zigzag-ed the loose ends together once more.





The result, on the inside, isn't pretty, but on the outside it actually looks OK, even though I still feel that it's a bit over-generous in places...




I'm still a bit paranoid about the cut edges though, so may do some more sewing...

Friday, May 12, 2017

Rats! There's rats in the house!

So this is another development of recent months - we are now the proud owners of 8 (!) fancy rats. 

If you are squeamish about rats you may not want to read any further than this - even if I have always found them cute I know that rats are not everybody's favourite animal. :) 


So, rats...

Of course it didn't quite start with 8 rats. Boy #1 had mentioned for a while that he would like a pet, and it was either a dog or rats. While I adore dogs, and actually had one growing up, I really can't envision how a dog would fit into our currently rather chaotic family life. Sure, it would fit right in with us as a family, but all the walking? Between work and ill children, and doctor's appointments I can't help but feel that it would be what ends up pushing us over the edge. We just don't need the extra stress and pressure right now. 

So rats it was going to be. 

I did a bit of research and we ordered a cage and on boy #1's birthday last autumn we went to Pets at Home and brought home 2 baby rats, both boys, both 9 weeks old. I've since learnt that pet shops are not the ideal place to get rats, as they usually come from rodent mills and often have health problems as a result, but hey, we were new to all this. 


After some initial hick-ups (one was very shy, the other one so super-excited he chomped down on our fingers liberally), Larry (grey/mink) and Dave (roan) settled down happily and were a huge success with the boys.



Of course that was only the start. Going back to Pets at Home for some toys for the cage I spotted two older rats who had been left in the rescue section and I felt so bad for them that I brought them home with me. They were older gents, about 1 1/2 years old, called Algernon and Bucky (re-named by boy #1 as Snowball), and they had been left because their previous owner didn't have time for them anymore. 




Algernon and Snowball were a little shy and scared, but again settled in just fine. 

Of course that also wasn't quite the end of it. By this time I'd realised that rats are really best either rescued, which is always a good thing to do of course, or purchased from a responsible breeder who works on improving health and temperament issues, so when boy #2 and #3 voiced their concern over the 'unfairness of boy #1 having rats when they didn't' I started looking around for breeders.

We thought we'd found one quite locally and went to pick up 2 girl rats (boy #2 was set on girls). None of us were very impressed with the breeder and they were so terrified that it took months of taming for the two girls, Tam and Bluey, to really feel safe with us. 




In the meantime a breeder a little further afield, for whose waiting list I had signed up, contacted us to say that she had two little girls that we could have so off we went to get more babies. 



This is how our last two rats joined us. Sky and Parsnip moved in with us in March and completed the rat family (who are, for obvious reasons, not kept in the same cage - if we did that we'd probably have about 124 by now!!). They are tame and playful and affectionate, and did wonders to Tam and Bluey, who proudly took on the role of older sisters and started thriving as a result. 


We are quite fond of our ratty family by now. They are smart and affectionate and have huge personalities. Who knew they could make such fabulous pets?