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Friday, 18 August 2017

Home again

We've been away for the last ten days, soaking up Spanish sun, Sangria and having a thoroughly restful time.  It's been bliss! 

We took big daughter's boyfriend with us and the five of us fitted very nicely into a house on a hill about an hour's drive from Alicante.  We had a pool and an amazing view and nowhere to be in a hurry on any day.  I never got tired of looking out at the sea, watching the boats making their way across the bay from behind the Penon de Ifach, that huge rock that you can see on the right of the photo. 



In fact, that view became more fascinating than any TV programme as we watched a thunder storm roll over the bay (if you look closely, you can see the rain falling from the clouds) ...



and completely hiding the rock.  I love thunder storms.  This one rumbled around for hours, huge flashes of sheet lightning making the night sky as bright as day.  It was certainly the most spectacular one we've seen for a while and had the added benefit of dropping the humidity quite considerably.


I'm always fascinated by the flowers that grow in other countries.  Plants that grow outside to an enormous size whilst here in the UK they're destined to be forever houseplants, growing to a fraction of their potential as long as someone remembers to water them.  It's a bit sad really, and I speak as one who's not always very good at remembering to water houseplants.  I don't know what the blue flowers are ...


but I do know that this is a Bougainvillea ...


and this one is an Hibiscus.  The house owners obviously liked these as there were lots of them in different colours, all blooming prolifically despite being grown in what looked like barren, compacted earth.


This is how I spent the early mornings.  A brew and a sock.  It doesn't get better than that!  This is my Magic Mirror sock knitted in Whistlebare yarn.  It grew really quickly, and this yarn is gorgeous to knit with; soft and silky with a beautiful sheen.  I'm still a bit worried that I might not have enough to finish my pair with the pattern, but I'll keep going and see how I get on.  The pattern is very well-written and even though I'm converting a toe-up pattern, I've not had any problems with making the chart fit the sock.


That early morning moment was where I spotted this little chap too.  I think it's a grasshopper but I could be wrong.  


There were cicadas in abundance too, making a noise in the trees that sounded like a hundred hedge-trimmers all being used at once.  They're so loud!  We had to keep fishing them out of the pool as well; they're a funny looking insect and not one that you'd think would be inspired to try swimming. They weren't very good at it.  

These were a BIG hit in the pool, though.  Big daughter bought them at home and we brought them with us (fortunately, they weren't as heavy as I expected them to be) and they were good fun.  No, there are no pictures of me riding the unicorn (not that I'm prepared to show you, anyway!) mostly because it was surprisingly difficult to stay on it so we have lots of photos of legs in the air as whoever was riding it disappeared underwater.  Sadly, the flamingo didn't make it home as it was so well-used that it popped.  Adios, "flingamingo".


Staying for ten days meant that it didn't matter too much if we didn't really do anything for the first few days as we still had over a week of our holiday left.  I had a lovely time sitting under a sunshade knitting socks, getting into the whole siesta culture thing (is there a nicer way to snooze than in the shade with a cool breeze stirring the umbrella from time to time?) and generally being very lazy having a rest.

Yes, you did read me right.  I did say "socks".  My early morning sock is not the only sock I've been knitting.  I don't know if you can read the words on this sock blank but they say "Yarndale Rocks Handknit Socks" and it was a gift from Julie at Suffolk Socks at Yarndale last year.  I've never used a sock blank before - all to do with not wanting to spoil the picture and worrying about getting a match, clearly sock blanks are not designed for people with stripe OCD! :) - but I thought this would be perfect for plane knitting.  



Yes, I did knit on the plane.  I took my 25cm wooden Symphonie circular needle and had already cast on so that it was obvious that I was creating something.  If you're flying from the UK, the latest Government guidelines do state that you can take knitting needles on planes but there's always a risk that someone in security might not want you to, so I had to be ready to hand it over if that happened. I don't know what I'd have done if they had; cried in security probably and made a bit of an embarrassing scene but fortunately for me, Manchester airport security weren't worried about me or my sock and we went on our way. 


I took this one too.  If you think you've seen this yarn before then you're right.  A short while ago it was the Bumpy, Curved Trail sock and now it is Angee by Cookie A, something which both the yarn and I are much happier about.  Another well-written pattern which has been a pleasure to knit.  In fact, I think my socks have been pretty happy on holiday in general.  They've been to the pool ...


to the beach ...


and have admired that lovely view.  Spoilt, these socks have been.


Not so spoilt that I let them loose on the flamingo and the unicorn, though.  

It only takes a day or two of doing not very much at all to feel as if you're ready to go out and explore. We drove up and down the coast to visit beaches and seaside towns ...


and into small hill towns to look at their historical churches and squares ...


wander up and down the narrow streets ...



and sit in cafes to watch the world go by.  I loved that the underside of these balconies right outside the cafe had decorated tiles.  How thoughtful of the builder to think that someone looking up might want to see something more beautiful than concrete!


It's nice to be home again, but I will miss the view.


And that sky.


Back home, I was thrilled to see that our tomatoes had ripened just in time for our return and I wasn't faced with lots of soggy, over-ripe mush at the bottom of the plants where they'd all fallen off.  Home grown tomatoes are such a treat, I must confess that not as many go back into the house as I pick from the plants :)


And I was surprised to see that some new spiky plants had grown.  I went over to take a closer look.


Nooo!  This is all that remains of my sprout plants.  It looks like we won't be having sprouts for Christmas dinner after all.  I'm very cross and very disappointed too.  



Here are the culprits ...


They're the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly.  I'm all for supporting wildlife, but this is ridiculous!  There are hundreds of them, they're all over the place, climbing up over the house as well now to make their chrysalises.  I might have to take drastic action which, as an organic gardener, doesn't feel right but on the other hand I think the damage is done now so maybe I'll just leave them.  I'll have to take more care to cover my sprouts up next year; my Dad didn't have this problem so it didn't occur to me that I would.  Ah well, you live and learn.

I'll just try to keep calm and remember the sound of the waves on the sand.




Friday, 11 August 2017

Addressing the mess

Even during the school holidays, my determination to get to grips with the clutter we have in our house has endured.  It's been so tempting to say "nah, leave it, I'll do it in September", but I know that in September I'm going to be busy with a new sock workshop at Black Sheep Wools and then Yarndale so the mess will get pushed to one side and before I know it, it'll be Christmas and I'll have done nothing about it.  

A month or so ago I showed you a book that I'd bought on Hygge decluttering which really kick-started the process (and I found the skirt that I'd thought I'd re-homed by accident - under another pile of clothes ... oops!).  By coincidence my husband, already inordinately impressed by the progress that I'd made, had been talking to a friend who had recently moved house and recommended a book that my husband thought I would like.  My husband is a pretty ruthless declutterer himself and finds my inability to part with stuff quite frustrating at times although he never feels the need to step in and sweep all of my mess into bin bags, something for which I am very thankful!  



I must confess that I had read about this book although I'd never actually read the book itself, and despite not having read it I had already decided that it was too extreme for someone like me who struggles to let go of stuff that I think might be useful in the future (cue photo of our garage, full of stuff that might be useful one day ...)  



Anyway, I thanked my husband for buying it for me, thought I might as well look at the first pages whilst I had a brew before storing it neatly on the bookshelf never to be looked at again ... and oh my life, what a revelation!  I had finished reading the book within the day!  Not only that, I had been back into my wardrobe and now understanding the whole concept of "spark joy", I understood exactly why I regretted giving away certain things during previous decluttering missions and why I still had stuff that I shouldn't really have been giving storage room to.  And, as the icing on the cake, I can now do the origami clothes folding thing and there is space in the drawers that previously wouldn't shut!  The folding may not be perfect but it works for me and I am beyond excited.  And what's really interesting is the "life changing magic" effect started almost immediately, not least as big daughter decided that she would sort through her clothes and fold them in the same way.  


After my success in the wardrobe, I decided to ignore the recommended decluttering path to follow in the book and headed straight into the garage.  That mess wasn't quite so quick to resolve and after two days and several trips to the tip it still wasn't finished, but at least this time I can see a proper purpose to what I'm doing and why I'm keeping the stuff that I have.  I will get there!

I've also been decluttering in the garden.  I spent a lovely weekend in the Cotswolds with one of my best friends a couple of weekends ago.  Naturally, we looked for a yarn shop in the area ...


This is TheFibreworks in Chipping Norton, packed full of all kinds of delicious yarns including lots of local Wensleydale and alpaca yarns.  They run lots of great workshops too, and even have their own fibre festival every year so if you're in the area, it's definitely worth a visit.

The best thing about a grown ups' weekend away is that we were able to have a fantastic time doing exactly what we wanted to do - which usually when we get together, as we're both gardeners, is to head to big gardens to see what we could adapt for our own.  

My garden is currently a bit of a jungle; the recent rain has not helped either as overnight the grass looks like a field and the borders are full of lush greenery but not many flowers as they've all been smothered by the leaves or eaten by the slugs and snails which clearly multiply more rapidly in relation to the amount of rain that falls.  Anyway, having admired the beautiful borders of Hidcote and Kiftsgate, I have come home inspired to do something about ours and have already started clearing out some of the overgrown vegetation.  I'm keeping myself inspired by having plants ready to go in once there's space for them - ones that slugs and snail are not that tempted by too.  It will mean quite a rethink of the borders but that's actually quite a nice thing to contemplate and will make the garden a nicer place to sit out in.  If it ever stops raining.



In the pictures above are Heuchera, Fuschia, Dianthus, Lavender "Hidcote" (of course!) and Phlox.

Fancy a quick whizz around the garden whilst we're talking about it?  There's not a great deal to show you (see above) but my Dad's rose bush has flowered ...


It's called "Braveheart" and was originally bought for him in memory of my Mum so I couldn't leave it at his house, no matter how much I was tempted to and I was tempted ... it's a bit of a vicious thing ...


It's in a pot at the moment as there's no way I'm putting those thorns in my border - I'm bound to forget it's there and get my arms ripped to bits as I'm weeding.  Still, it does make the name rather apt as it's certainly no shy and retiring rose plant!

In the greenhouse, I have an abundance of tomatoes and yes, they're all green.  They've been green for quite some time and despite my leaving ripe tomatoes from another plant in there to encourage them to ripen, they're not having any of it.  I will look forward to a glut of them as they all ripen at the same time and we have tomatoes coming out of our ears! :)


A solitary poppy in amongst the courgettes.  I've no idea how that got there.


Teasel heads.  I let these grow in one of my veg boxes one year as I know the goldfinches love them, and now I have them every year.  They're huge and spiky and although they might be a bit of a mistake in a small veg garden, I love them too!


These also look very spiky but actually, they're quite soft to the touch.  Echinops ritro these are, also known as globe thistle, and a favourite of the bees.  I was quite surprised not to see them covered with bees when I went to photograph them but there's a hover fly on the middle flower instead, obviously taken advantage of the opportunity to get in there whilst it can.


You wouldn't expect me not to have got some knitting time in during the holidays as well ... the other day small daughter and I headed off to an indoor trampoline park, so that she could burn off a bit of energy.  You'll note that I said that she could burn off a bit of energy.  I sat and watched her with my cup of hot chocolate and my Bumpy, Curved Trail sock.  It's not been going quite as well as I want it to; the pattern isn't the easiest to follow and now I've had to unpick the heel as the pattern wouldn't fit properly across the top of the foot.


I also ended up having to unpick the start of the gusset several times because of the way the pattern moves and disappears into the decreases (see, even those of us who've knitted socks for years can have problems with a pattern!), and I even transferred it all over onto a magic loop until I got it sorted so that I could keep the gusset and heel stitches more separate than on a short circular.  This is why it's handy to be able to use all types of needles when you knit so that you can swap and change to make life easier for yourself.  Once I'd got the pattern set again I intended to go back to my short circular as it's faster for me to use that, but in the meantime this did the trick.  


Or maybe not.  After spending more time on it, I came to the conclusion that I wasn't enjoying this sock and even though I was over half way through it, I decided that I was going to frog it (technical knitting term for when you rip-it, rip-it, rip-it out :) ) and I'm going to find a different pattern instead. I never used to give up on a pattern (in a similar way to how I would drag myself to the end of a book even if I hated it) but I've decided that life's too short and if I'm not enjoying it there's no point in spending my time on it.  Obviously, there are some exceptions to this rule but this sock is not one of them.  I might choose to go back to it later (especially after having worked out how the pattern actually worked) with a different yarn, or I might not.  It doesn't really matter.  Goodbye Bumpy, Curved Trail socks.

I do have some happy knitting to show you though.  This is a new sock - surely I'm not the only one who casts on something new when I've been getting cross with an existing project?  It's a pattern called Magic Mirror and although it's designed as a toe up sock, I'm knitting it top down because that's what I prefer to do.  The pattern works either way up so although I initially thought I would have to knit the pattern upside down, that hasn't been the case.  


This very gorgeous sea glass turquoise-coloured yarn is Whistlebare Cuthbert's Sock, a blend of Wensleydale and mohair and yes, this will be another no-nylon yarn review.  It's beautifully soft to knit with and I'm hoping that doesn't mean it's going to wear through too quickly, although the mohair content (also known as nature's nylon) should help to stop that.  I bought this yarn at Woolfest last year and now that I've come to knit it up, I am slightly concerned that there are only 250m of yarn in my skein - Whistlebare have since changed their skeins so that they now contain 300m of yarn - but it is knitting up a little bigger than commercially produced 4ply and this sock has a cast on of 56 stitches rather than the usual 60 that I would cast on so I'm hoping it will be OK. Anyway, I shall keep knitting and weighing my ball of yarn and if I have to make adjustments to the pattern to get two socks out of the ball then I'll do that when I need to.  Isn't that one of the best things about knitting socks?  They're usually very easy to alter to suit your own foot and yarn needs.

Finally, if you've not already seen it then Lucy's Creative Project for Yarndale - crocheted hearts - is now on the Yarndale blog with more about the patterns on her blog and if you have socks and hearts to send up for Yarndale, it's fine to put them both in the same envelope.  I'll be going back up to Skipton in a week or so to collect the parcels that Lucy says are coming in daily - thank you so much! - and if you've not seen them already, the socks that have come in so far are up on this year's Pinterest board here.

Have a lovely weekend!

Friday, 4 August 2017

No-nylon sock yarn review: Northern Yarn Poll Dorset Lambswool

It seems like such a long time ago now that I posted my Easy Cable Socks pattern which I knitted using Northern Yarn Poll Dorset Lambswool 4ply.  In fact, it's six months ago which is a good amount of time for me to have given the socks a proper road test so that I can tell you everything you want to know about it (and if I've missed something out, do leave me a comment!).


Before I start, there are a couple of things you need to know:

  • I am tough with my no-nylon socks, perhaps tougher than I am with socks knitted with nylon yarn.  This is because I want to know that this yarn is equally as good for socks as commercially-produced yarn and provides good value for money. 
  • Being tough with my socks means that they'll get worn for a few days at a time; there's less need to wash natural fibre socks anyway even though we're in the habit of wearing our socks once and then washing them - you don't see sheep showering all the time, do you? :) .  It also means they'll be worn in boots on long dog walks whatever the weather and will probably go into the washing machine because that's how most people choose to wash their socks.
  • I've got pokey toes so unless I reinforce the toes of my socks, there's a good chance that I'm going to go through them faster than many other people - this isn't always helpful in a yarn trial but on the plus side, I can test that aspect out more quickly! :)  


What's the yarn made from?

This yarn is 100% Poll Dorset Lambswool.  This is what the sheep look like: 

Source: www.dorsetsheep.org.uk

They're very woolly, aren't they?!  They look to me like they've got armour on with all those tight curls!

And I bet you can't resist saying "ahh" when you see these lambs!  They're like teddy bears!

Source: www.northernyarn.co.uk

Where does it come from?

Kate at Northern Yarn sources her Poll Dorset fleeces from a local farm in Quernmore, Lancashire. They're pedigree sheep which are raised bioenergetically (a modern form of homeopathy) alongside conventional farming techniques and are very well looked-after.  Kate knows the owners and has spent time on the farm so she knows that the sheep get the best of care.  You can read more about the sheep and the fleece here and about the process once the fleeces reached the mill here.


What does it feel like and - most importantly - how soft is it?

On first touch it feels quite woolly and perhaps not as soft as you'd assume lambswool to be, but it's very springy and actually gets softer the more you handle it.  By the time I'd finished knitting my socks, the yarn did feel different to how it had felt in the skein.  Washing and wearing has had an effect too, and this is not an uncomfortable yarn to have on your feet.  In fact, I liked the fact that it changed in texture (not massively, but there is a difference); it made me feel more connected to the yarn and the fact that it's a natural product.



What's it like to knit with?

It feels sturdy to knit with, which might sound like an odd thing to say, but it feels like a proper natural product in your hands.  It's not one of those very smooth yarns which slide off your needles at every opportunity, and with every round of sock that you knit it feels as if you're constructing something that's designed to withstand whatever you're going to throw at it.  I felt very connected to the whole sheep to sock process when I was knitting with it - perhaps it's because I know the story of how the yarn came about, perhaps it's because I could imagine those woolly sheep out in all weathers, or perhaps because I know that there's nothing but Poll Dorset fleece in this yarn - I don't know the answer to that but this feeling is something that does seem to happen the more no-nylon yarns I use.  Although it feels a little thicker than most 4ply yarns, I didn't need to make any adjustments to the number of stitches that I cast on to accommodate this.


Did you do anything to make it more hardwearing?

I used a different stitch for the heel flap with this sock - this is a crossed rib stitch which still provides a cushioned heel as a heel stitch flap would do.  In hindsight, I should have used something similar for the toes, but more on that later.



How does it wash?

These socks have been so easy to look after!  Most of my hand-knit socks go into the washing machine; I put them in a laundry bag and they go in with everything else.  They've been washed at 30 degrees and 40 degrees and they're fine - not something that you would normally do with hand-knits, perhaps, but most commercially-produced yarns can cope with this so I feel that I need to try it with my no-nylon socks too.  These Northern Yarn socks have also been washed at 30 degrees and 40 degrees in the washing machine and have come out none the worse for it.  They even went into the tumble dryer by mistake for a few minutes and you would never know.  These are proper socks made from yarn produced sheep that take no messing!  I'm really delighted with how they've changed after being washed - the yarn has bloomed and has a soft halo, and it's remained lovely and plump which makes a nice comfy sock on your foot.


How does it wear?

They've been brilliant!  As I said at the top of the post, I'm tough on my no-nylon socks and these have been walked for miles!  This is what they looked like after nearly 6 months' wear.  They haven't fulled at all, there is no thinning of the yarn anywhere and you can't really tell that they've been worn as much as they have.




Are there any holes?

Just before the six month's trial was up, I put my toe through one of the socks - the downside of pokey toes!  As you can see, it's in a purl section of the pattern and I am quite sure that if I had reinforced these toes with a stitch similar to the one I used on the heel, there would not be a hole. However, these socks have had probably twice as much wear as most of my other pairs so it's not like they went through on the first or second wearing.


Would you do anything differently next time?

I'd reinforce the toes.  These are brilliant boot socks, comfy and springy to wear and I'll definitely be darning that hole so that I can carry on wearing them.


Would you buy this yarn again?

Yes!  In fact, I've got another skein of the 4ply and a skein of Poll Dorset Lambswool DK in my stash and I would be happy to use either or both for socks in the future.


I want to try it out!  Where can I get it from?

You can get it from the Northern Yarn website here, or alternatively, if you are in the Lancaster area you can visit the new Northern Yarn yarn shop which will be opening it's doors on Saturday 2 September 2017 at 74 Penny Street, Lancaster, LA1 1XN from 10am-4pm.  I'll be there too so do bring your socks to show off or ask questions about if you're stuck - and try out the Lancashire gin whilst you're there!  What else would you want to do on a Saturday morning? :)