Sunday, July 15, 2018

Holiday prep...

We are off on holiday to the Netherlands in a few days time.

Well,  next Friday really, but this coming week is looking to be such an insanely busy week, with school stuff, and getting all the critters sorted, and boy #1's leavers celebrations (he is off to secondary school in September! Where has time gone!?), and then an unexpected hospital appointment for me next Wednesday, which will likely set me back a day or so in preparation, that I really have to get a move on with my holiday prep now or it won't get done in time. It feels weird to be quite this organised, but I'm going with it...

This does not mean, however, that I have my priorities completely in order. I have, for example, already spent an unreasonably long time contemplating what knitting projects I want to bring. Do you find that you spend far too long thinking about things like this?! Realistically, I probably won't get a lot of time to knit anyway, and yet I find myself weighing up different projects, WIPs, looking at more patterns. Insane, when I have so much to do!

I'm currently thinking of bringing my newest project, the Mohair cowl that I'm knitting with some stash yarn that I recently unearthed. I can't even remember where I got this stuff, but it's quite nice to knit with and will hopefully make a nice light but warm jumper with a generous cowl. There is lots of this yarn, so I'm not likely to run out no matter how generous I make it.

I'm also thinking of bringing my will-it-ever-get-finished Black Acer. This cardi has been on my needles so long it's unreal, but I find it so hard to work on it. It's not so much that the pattern is too difficult as that it takes my full concentration and I so rarely have a moment during the day when I can give it that. I tried knitting in the evening, but the black is awful to work with in artificial light. Perhaps the holiday will allow me to make some headway with this project? I'd really like to wear that cardi sometime before I retire...

I'm also thinking of perhaps bringing my parrot socks?  These are usually my handbag project and I tend to drag them all over the place because they are an easy no-thinking-required stockinette stitch and therefore ideal for quickly picking-up and setting-down as required.

Alternatively I could bring my red Hedgerow socks, again a project that's been on the needles far far too long. This might be the better option because the parrot socks will get finished one day anyway, because they live in my bag and come out whenever I have to wait anywhere for any length of time. The Hedgerow socks however are again somewhat more tricky, with a somewhat fiddly pattern to remember, and if I get distracted I tend to mess it up. Or should I rather take an easy project for the beach?! Decisions, decisions...

I'm also thinking of bringing some yarn to work on the larger version of the little crochet rat I made for boy #2. Boy #3 has been asking for a cuddly larger version for so long now...

I don't know... I have so many pattern ideas at the moment that I am finding it really hard to properly focus on a project. Should I instead bring something new and exciting?!

Or perhaps I should shelve these contemplations for a while and concentrate on packing things like trousers and underpants...

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ratties big and small...

As you might recall, we have a little mischief of fancy rats that we keep as pets.

They make wonderful pets. Our vet always says they are like mini dogs and he's right. They are affectionate and clever, and always want to cuddle and play. They can be trained too, though we've never bothered. To see them rushing out of their bed to greet us when we come to the cage is a lovely thing to see, and never ceases to make me smile, and that they do so even though a minute ago they might have been fast asleep is even more touching. I never realised, before we owned rats, how much our company seems to mean to them. Rats are naturally more nocturnal, yet in order to spend time with us they will regularly wake themselves up to greet us and to come out for a play. We find that within days they had learned what time of day we usually take them out for free-roaming and they are now always awake at that time, waiting for the fun to happen.

The only drawback - and it's a big one - that rats have is that they have woefully short lives. The average lifespan is below 2.5 years, and for a rat to reach the age of 3 is pretty rare. I once heard someone say that they make bad pets because 'they have huge personalities but such short lives'. While I still think that the good out-weighs the bad and they make great pets I can understand what that person meant. They do have huge personalities and they capture our hearts very quickly and because we get only such a short time with them that can mean a lot of heartbreak.

We have recently lost a few of our ratty friends, and each of them is sorely missed, but the worst death of them, probably because it was so unexpected, and because she was so very young to have to go, was our Tam. She developed a prolapse that, despite an emergency operation, reappeared and didn't improve so she had to be put to sleep.

We were so sad, and boy #2 in particular took it very hard. Tam had been 'his', and her gentle and affectionate nature spoke to him in particular. In rat circles such a special connection is often talked about in terms of a 'heart rat'. Tam was his heart rat. He still has pictures on the wall to remind him of her, but when I found this little pattern I knew I wanted to make a little 'Tam' for him as a memory of his ratty girl.

I'm now planning to make crochet versions of all our ratties, past and present, and boy #3 has also already put in an order for a large rat that he can snuggle better than the small ones (these are really small!), so I'll be busy for a while...

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Monday, July 09, 2018

Hello there?

Anybody here?!

Likely not, especially with this amazing weather still going on. Honestly, what's happening to the UK?! The last time I remember a summer that was even close to what we are experiencing right now was more than a decade ago when I was pregnant with boy #1. Pretty much every summer since has been... kind of soggy?

Anyway, much as  I seem to be unable to find a blanket thin enough to sleep with at night, I am enjoying this weather immensely.

And... I even have some FOs to report back on.

I've actually knitted and crocheted lots in recent months, but I always seem to forget to take pictures and blog. So what I'll do is do a few posts for individual projects until I feel that I'm more or less up to date.

First one up, my market bags.

I made two of those, in different sizes. This one is the larger one  - oddly it looks smaller here than the small bag, but that's because I had to sew the handle over to shorten it because it was so deep that if I had a lot of things in it it hung down to my knees. 

I've actually really loved making these. I have so many odds and ends of yarn, either leftovers from other projects, or skeins of handspun that I had no idea what to do with... When I saw this project I initially wanted to buy the 'Homespun' that the pattern called for, but then restrained myself because I'm trying to save money AND I'm still trying to reduce my unruly yarn stash. As I was wondering what to do I realised that if I pulled together 2 or 3 strands of yarn and alternated them gradually (so just changing one strand at a time) I could get a really nice effect going where different colours would gently blend and mix.

I used an insane amount of yarn, and because I could alternate between two and three strands, depending on the thickness of individual strands, I've been able to use lots of different yarns, from sock yarns to thicker handspuns. I'm so pleased, both with the reduction in stash and with the way these bags have turned out. They are sturdy, and striking and I love them!

Initially I made the larger one, and by larger I mean it's HUGE. Boy #3 fits in it. That size can be useful, but on an ordinary day it's a little too large - I'm constantly fishing around in it and can't find my phone or wallet. So I made the smaller one (picture below) by simply reducing the increases by a few rows. So simple! I took that one out for the first time today and it's pretty much perfect for what I need. Small enough that things don't just get lost, and  I still managed to fit lots of stuff in. These bags are like the Tardis, honest.

Who knows, I may make a smaller one still, as a sort of handbag?

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Finally a project for this yarn...

Once upon a time, many years ago, when D and I got married, we went on our Honeymoon to America, hired a Harley, and drove all over New England.  We had a magical time, staying in little B&Bs and on farmsteads in the middle of nowhere, and visiting Portland, and Plymouth, and Boston. 

We also visited a whole lot of yarn shops. 

Before we went off, I had asked on my blog (which, at the time, was a whole lot more busy because I was posting almost daily), if readers living in New England could recommend their favourite yarn shops to me, and we had a fantastic time visiting all those little shops. I learned spinning with a drop spindle on that holiday, and I still cherish the little spindle I took home with me. I couldn't buy nearly as much as I wanted, fleece or yarn, because although the Harley is a large bike, it doesn't allow for too much luggage, but I still managed to come home with a few little treasures.

One of those treasures was a batch of 7 balls of Schachenmayr nomotta Two In One. I quite liked the loopy texture of the yarn, although I was not sure what I was going to use it for.

When we came home, the 7 balls of Schachenmayr got stashed in one of my yarn bins and that's where they remained, for over a decade. Every so often I pulled a ball out to fondle it, or to check the yardage, wondering what I could do with it. At times I was tempted to pass the yarn on, since no project came to mind, but it does have sentimental value, so I could never quite bring myself to do it. The problem remained, though; either the yarn was the wrong weight, or the wrong texture, I didn't fancy a scarf or hat, and for most larger projects such as cardigans or sweaters 7 balls was just not enough.

At the end of last year I decided to give it one more try. I've gradually been de-stashing these past few years, because my yarn stash is really rather out of control, and I was fed up with seeing it there, gathering dust. I was going through the pattern library on Ravelry and thought I rather fancied a cowl. I found one I particularly liked, a DROPS design, and thought I might be able to make it work if I modified the pattern a bit. 

There would be no sleeves of course - there was no way my 7 balls of yarn were going to stretch to full-length sleeves. The pattern was also a little odd in places - I didn't fancy the directions to increase rather than decrease knitting up from the hem towards the waist - and my gauge was also a little bit off. Never mind I thought, I'll figure it out as I go along.

And I did! There were hick-ups of course - I had to correct the width of the jumper by decreasing by a whole lot of stitches past the first few rows because my gauge was far worse than I'd thought for example - but the yarn, although not a joy to knit with (all those loops...), turned out to be quite forgiving of such mistakes. Instead of increasing towards the waist, I went with the traditional decrease then increase towards the bust. I skipped the sleeves and instead just went with little capped sleeves, and I guesstimated the increases in the cowl (again, the yarn is forgiving), but I suppose I followed the pattern roughly. 

I had to shape and pin the folds in the cowl, because the way it fell naturally it looked like a deflated donut around my neck, but you know? I absolutely love this cowl. I wear it with a long-sleeved top underneath, and it's comfy and stylish and I seem to wear it all the time! 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The holidays are here!!

I swear I can't recall another year when schools broke up so close to Christmas. All the schools in Hull broke up on Wednesday and some parts of the country were even earlier than that. It truly was the long slow limp towards Christmas for us - kids, parents, teachers, everyone was exhausted and barely hanging in there, lots of winter bugs were making the rounds, ... For most of this year I've felt that time has been flying, but this last week really made up for it - it felt interminable!

Anyway, it's done now. Yesterday afternoon the boys were collected from school one last time this year, a G&T was poured, Christmas telly was watched, and I'm starting to wind down. I'm so much looking forward to this break, to just spending time with the family, to just BEING.

In knitting-related news, the extra ball of yarn for boy #3's scarf has arrived, and I managed to finish it tonight.

I quite like the squishiness and simplicity of this scarf, I can't remember the last time I knitted something in just garter, in one block of colour. I may even wear it myself sometimes if boy #3 lets me.

I'm also contemplating yet another crochet blanket. After my last few projects I'm left with a whole load of odds and ends of acrylic and a whole rainbow of mismatched colours. I'm thinking of a patchwork sort of style, with little blocks of colour, because I don't want another granny square blanket, and there isn't enough of some of the colours to do long rows. I foresee a lot of cozy sitting on the sofa in the afternoon so I may get started on that over the holidays.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas ornaments and other knits...

... I've been trying to get into the Christmas spirit by making a few tree ornaments. I'm more and more moving away from commerical baubles and towards the more traditional straw stars that I grew up with and homemade knitted and crocheted ornaments. They are more meaningful to me and the boys love them.

A few weeks ago a friend gave me an old magazine pattern for knitted ornaments. There are even instructions to do a whole crib scene so I may attempt that for next year. For this year, with only the few days left until Christmas, I have kept to smaller projects like this little snowman. Isn't he sweet?

The star you can see above is a Bethlehem Star, another quick and fun project. I've crocheted about 6 of them by now but haven't had a chance to take pictures of them all. 

In other news, the scarf that I cast on for to teach boy #3 how to knit is coming on nicely. It's just some left-over Stylecraft acrylic yarn, accented with a bit of leftover Manos, but I think it's going to be nice and warm. 

Boy #3 has long given up on his ambition to learn to knit, but he's being very bossy about me knitting - every time I work on something that isn't his scarf he starts telling he off! He'll have to show a bit of patience, though, because I've run out of yarn now and had to order another ball to get to a decent length. 

I'm not sure if I'm going to get a chance to update before the big day so if I don't I wish you all a lovely and peaceful Christmas, hopefully with your loved ones right around you. xx

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Es weihnachtet sehr...

I can't even translate that. Something like 'it really christmasses'?! 
In any case, that's what's happening. Only two weeks left!! We feel fairly sorted this year and I've even managed to write a few few cards and letters - I haven't sent them off yet, mind, so I should probably not feel too smug.

It's been a year with a lot of ups and downs around here, and my very intermittent blogging is testament to that. You would think that not being at work would mean that I have a bit more time, but it's been busy, so so busy, and my days are physically and emotionally challenging. Not necessarily in a bad way I should say, and we've had many good moments although there have also been difficult times. All in all we are all the better for it I think, and have weathered whatever this year chose to throw at us. Our family is close and with me at home so much, and D trying to take time off for holidays I think we've all enjoyed a sort of reassuring togetherness, taking strength and comfort from each other and supporting each other. But there hasn't been a lot of 'me' time. I've not minded it much, but it's a healthy thing to have, and this coming year I'd like to reclaim some of that.

There's been crafting, of course, but often I've found it difficult to take time to photograph and document makes and I'm hoping to catch up on old FOs over the coming weeks (there've got to be some perks to being 'fairly sorted' for Christmas, right?!).

I've finally finished the Ribbed Sweater by Katrine Hammer. I don't particularly enjoy knitting vast swathes of ribbed fabric, and this was even slower because it was knitted into the row below. I do like the resulting squishy fabric though, and I absolutely LOVE the sweater and have been wearing it nonestop - I've not even given it its first wash, just cast off, sewed the ends in and put it on. 

I'll try to get some better pictures in the next few days (perhaps I can persuade boy #1) but for now these will have to do.

I've also been pottering, off and on, and I'm hoping to  get at least one batch of Christmas ornaments done before the big event. Betty the big kiln has been on 3 times now and each time her temperature was a little off - my biscuit firings seem to be a little low, judging by the pyrometric cones, and my one glaze firing was a little on the high side. Not quite sure what to make of it, but it's not so critical for biscuit firings and if I aim my glaze firing for a mid-way temperature it also shouldn't matter too much if I am 10 degrees over or under since most glazes have a range.

With that in mind I've been painting a bit today. A couple of years ago I did a few ornaments, but only glazed them on one side. They are great for wreaths, but not so good for the tree since you might end up seeing the unglazed side.

I've now constructed a sort of holding mechanism and I'm hoping to glaze the ornaments hanging so I'm painting both sides. Fingers crossed it'll all work out. 

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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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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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