Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Beginner sock knitting: Sockalong - anatomy of a sock

We're on countdown now ... this is the last pre-Sockalong post and there are only 4 more sleeps until the Sockalong!

Today, we're going to take a look at the parts of a sock, how we're going to go about creating our pair of socks and how the Sockalong itself is going to take shape.  

There's really not a great deal to how a sock is put together.  As we're going to make a pair of top-down socks, we're going to cast on for the cuff and work our way down the sock, turning the heel as we go and finishing at the toes.  

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Beginner sock knitting: Sockalong - accessories and matching yarn

There's just a week to go now before we start our Sockalong.  Excited?  I certainly am!  It's been great to really think about what goes into making a sock and in which order to talk about it all.  I hope your tension squares are coming along nicely, and thanks again for all the comments and questions you've left me this week.  I've created a tab at the top of the page for the Sockalong so that it's easy to find all the posts instead of searching through the blog - there are quite a few Sockalong posts now!

Today, we're going to talk about matching sock yarn and the last few accessories that you will need before we get going.  Later in the week will be the final pre-Sockalong post and we'll be looking at the anatomy of a sock (which sounds more technical than it actually is) and how we're going to work on the socks over the weeks of the Sockalong itself.

Matching socks are one of those things that some people can't live without and others don't think twice about.  I fall into the first camp; I can't stand it if my socks aren't the same!  Plain sock yarn is no bother at all, but I will spend a long time matching the colours from my self-patterning balls of yarn to make sure that my socks are going to be identical twins.  I can see that some of you are nodding in agreement and I can hear the rest of you making a rude pfftt! noise in disgust that anyone can get upset about such a thing - I say that if we were all the same the world would be a very boring place!

**If you want to match the West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4ply Winwick Mum yarns, there's a special tutorial just for that here**

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A new toy!

When it comes to shopping, I'm a bit of an SAS shopper - get in, get it, get out.  I don't usually feel the need to spend hours window-shopping, although I do make an exception when it comes to yarn - and also the Lakeland shop.  

I've been buying gadgets from Lakeland for many years.  Their catalogue is one of the ones that I will actually spend time looking at before it hits the recycle bin, and I do like spending time in their shops looking at the gadgets that have taken my eye in the catalogue in "real life".  So when small daughter, my husband's cousin and I went to Liverpool last Friday, I made sure that I steered us towards the Lakeland shop.  I had some vouchers to spend (a Christmas gift, believe it or not!) and although I could have spent them on something useful for the house, I had spotted something in the catalogue that I wanted to take a closer look at. Something useful, certainly, but something for me.  It felt very frivolous to be choosing something that I didn't necessarily need but did think that I wanted - but isn't that the joy of vouchers?    

This is what I found:

It's a silicone bread maker.  

I don't need another bread maker.  I've got my Dad's which works very well for our Soup Night loaf.  I've got my cake baker tin which cooks my sourdough loaves in the Aga.  But I do like making bread and I'm a bit of a sucker for gadgets which help the process along and I was very taken by the look of this - although a little voice in my head told me that this was surely just a gimmick which looked great in theory but would never really work.  

I picked it up, and put it down again.  I looked at the display loaf and poked at it, wondering if it was real bread or not.  I ummed and ahhed and said that I should probably buy Something More Sensible.  Cousin Carol said that I should most definitely not, because vouchers aren't always meant for buying Sensible things.  She picked up the bread maker and put in my basket.

Dear Reader, I handed over my vouchers and brought it home.

And this is what I did next.  I followed the recipe in the little book to make no-knead bread.  Oh, I love no-knead bread so much - it appeals to the lazy side of me perfectly!  You weigh your ingredients directly in the bread maker, mix them up with a spoon and ta-dah ...

... your bread is all ready to be left to prove.  All you have to do is close the flap, cover the whole thing with a tea towel and leave it for six to eight hours (I left mine overnight).

The next morning, the dough had risen and I put the bread maker straight into the oven to cook. No bowls or sticky hands to wash.  Oh yes, this is my kind of bread!  

The loaf that came out was a rather strange shape - like a torpedo or a boat, perhaps.  Not your usual loaf shape at all.

Cousin Carol and I examined the loaf.  It certainly smelled good, and despite the unusual shape it looked pretty bread-like.  

"We'd better wait until it cools down before we cut it," we said.  

We waited.  For two whole minutes, and then we cut the loaf.  The texture was perfect and once I'd turned it over so that the flat bottom sat firmly on the chopping board, it was also super-easy to slice.

"We'd better let it cool down before we try eating it," we said.

The butter melts so much better on straight-from-the-oven bread, don't you find?  

I was quite amazed.  Far from the bread maker being a gimmick which didn't work at all, this loaf was one of the nicest non-sourdough loaves that I had made for a while.  And best of all - it tasted fabulous!

In the interests of research, we had to try a couple of slices.  No scientist ever does just one experiment, do they?  And then we had to toast some to see what that was like.  And then we had to toast some more to try it thickly spread with marmalade.  The result of our experiment was that it makes very good toast, and it's even better with marmalade.  We started to run out of bread to do any more testing.

"We'd better make sure we save some for lunch," I said.  

My husband helped himself to the final crust.  

I'm very glad now that I didn't spend my vouchers on Something More Sensible instead.  I've made several loaves since that first one and each of them has turned out as well as that one did.  I'm going to try out the other recipes in the little book, and I'm going to see how my sourdough loaf cooks in the silicone mould.

Isn't it great when a purchase turns out to be so much better than you expected?  It's almost enough to tempt me to go shopping more often!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Beginner sock knitting: Sockalong - tension squares, casting on and Sock Stitch Calculation

This post was written as part of the Winwick Mum Sockalong, a series of free tutorials which tell you everything you need to know about how to knit socks for beginners.  This post deals with tension (gauge) and how to work out how many stitches to cast on for your socks - men, women and children!

If you are looking for the Sock Stitch Calculation, scroll down!

It's our third pre-Sockalong post ... the start date is getting closer!

Hello to everyone who's already said they're joining in, and if you're finding these posts for the first time, it's not too late.  The Sockalong starts on Sunday 3 May so you've got time to have a look at the pattern, choose some yarn and make sure you've got some needles.

Today, we're going to look at how to create a tension or gauge square (also known as a swatch). No, don't sigh, it's important that you know about it even if you choose not to do one.  I must confess that I'm not the world's greatest at doing tension squares for myself but I've learned that with a new yarn it's worth taking the time to check my knitting - or I find myself doing a lot of frogging!  (Technical term for when your knitting has gone wrong and you have to rip-it, rip-it, rip-it out!)

Let's start by taking another look at the ball band on the yarn.  This the yarn I'm going to be using which I talked about the other day.  You can see the symbols panel with the washing instructions and the gauge information quite clearly. 

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - reading a ball band

Friday, 17 April 2015

The end of the holidays

We've had a good week, this week, small daughter and I.  I've been on a mission to distract her from Minecraft which is showing signs of becoming something of an obsession even though I've been impressed by some of the buildings she has created and the imagination that's been involved.

I'm not sure that some of the distractions have been exactly what she would have chosen herself; there's been some bedroom-tidying and new school shoe-buying, although she was quite happy to be rewarded with hot chocolate after our shopping excursion!

Walking the dog in the rain at Orrell Water Park wasn't her favourite thing to do either, although the rain eased off after a while and she enjoyed jumping across these stepping stones to explore the path on the other side. 

We found banks of pale yellow primroses ...

pale blue Pulmonaria (lungwort) ...

and delicate wood anemones.  I've never seen these before so it was a treat to find them growing freely along the banks of the brook.

We found gates to walk through ...

and bridges to trip trap across, although luckily no trolls leapt out to bar our way.

Small daughter was very taken with the views across the fields, particularly when framed by the hedge. 

And we both enjoyed speculating whether this coot* woke up in a different part of the lake every morning when the wind blew the nest.

Later in the week, we decided that it was about time we went to my Dad's house for tea again.  He usually comes to see us but every now and again we like to have a change.  Small daughter decided to go with Grandad whilst he picked big daughter up from college so I headed out into the fields with the dog.  He's had some nice walks this week; I enjoy walking these fields again where I've walked with other dogs over the years.  Mostly, the landscape and the paths are still the same although some of the small puddles that I remember are now considerably larger ...

and some of the trees that I used to climb have now become part of the path themselves.

Back at my Dad's house, small daughter has gone to find my old farm set.  I spent many hours playing with these horses and now small daughter enjoys setting them up for herself.  You can still buy the same Britain's farm animals and horses now, which I think just shows the timeless appeal of this sort of toy.

We're creatures of habit when we go to Grandad's for tea: sausages, fried egg and chips.  Dad has a chip pan and makes us Proper Chips - they're so much nicer than the oven chips we have at home and because we don't have them all the time they're a real treat.

We rounded off the week with a trip into Liverpool.   My husband's cousin has come to stay with us for the weekend and when she comes to visit we often go to the city to do some sightseeing and a bit of shopping at Liverpool One.  

My husband was held up on his way to pick us up from outside the Anglican Cathedral so we went inside for a look around.  We were greeted at the information desk by a very friendly man who gave small daughter an animal trail guide book and we followed the clues to find all kinds of animals around the cathedral.  I bet you wouldn't expect to see hedgehogs, sharks and monkeys there - but we did!

Small daughter was very taken by the beautiful west window with the sun streaming through and I think she would have happily stood and looked at it for a much longer time than we had.  My photographs can never quite do justice to the richness of the colours or the sheer scale of the window, but it's certainly something that you want to take the time to admire.

I'm rather sad that the holidays are over now, although I am looking forward to getting back into routine next week.  It won't be long until the next holidays and by then I'll have planned even more distractions!

* Thanks to Mrs Tiggywinkle for spotting my (ahem) deliberate mistake in calling the coot a moorhen! :-) 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Beginner sock knitting: Sockalong - needles

Today's sockalong post is all about the needles, but before we start I must say thank you so much for all your support - it's great to know so many of you are going to get involved!  Can there ever be too many sock knitters in the world?  I don't think so!

So, on Sunday we talked about the yarn and today we're going to look at what we're going to knit the yarn with.  I'm actually going do this sockalong on three different types of needles, although you only need to pick one!  The reason for this is that if you've looked around at sock knitting on the internet, you'll have seen that some people use DPNs (double pointed needles), others use magic loop using a long circular needle and then there's me with my short circular, and you might even (like I did at first) have wondered which one was the "right" one for socks.   The answer to that is, of course, that there is no "right" needle.  Like so much about knitting, it's all about personal preference - however, if you've never knitted socks before, you might not know which one to choose to begin with and so I thought if we talked about all three it might help with that choice. I'm using my latest sock to demonstrate the needles - don't worry, I haven't started the sockalong without you!

Types of needles for sock knitting

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Beginner sock knitting: Sockalong - yarns

Well, hello!  It's nice to see you for this first pre-sockalong post!  I'm very excited about the whole idea and I'm really looking forward to getting started.  

Where do we start?  Well, we could start with the needles or we could start with the yarn.  Either way, you'll need both of them but there's so much choice with sock yarn that it's easy to get lost in your decision-making and sometimes you need just a little bit longer to make your mind up!  

There are many commercial brands and independent dyers who produce beautiful yarns which come in a whole range of prices - and that's before you start on which colour you want to choose. If you're able to get to a yarn store or a yarn festival, you also need to make sure that you spend a sufficient amount of time squishing (that's the law!) and looking at the colours.  I can clearly remember a conversation with a lady at Yarndale last year which went along the lines of me waving skeins of yarn at her and saying,"I can't decide which colour to buy!" and her telling me "Buy it all!", which is a lovely idea but not always practical!

So let's take a look at the options and then you've got a better idea of what you're looking for when you go to buy your yarn.  We're going to knit a pair of socks in 4ply yarn, although you can also knit socks in 6ply or 8ply yarns which give you a thicker pair of socks, but that's another pattern for another day.  

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Lazy days

It's been a strange Easter school holiday this year.  Both the girls have had two weeks off, but their holidays have only overlapped for one week.  Big daughter spent her week off before Easter revising and small daughter and I have a few things planned for next week - but this week when we were all together was just a lazy week.  We haven't done much at all, haven't been anywhere except for a trip to the pictures to see Cinderella which we all enjoyed, and have generally just had a Good Rest.

My favourite Canadian aunt and uncle were staying with us over the Easter weekend which was brilliant - it's not that long since we saw them last summer, so to get to spend more time with them was a real treat.  Unfortunately for them, the weather wasn't great and it was only as they were leaving that the sun came out.  We've seen some spectacular sunsets ...

and there have been ample opportunities to sit in a cosy chair in the sunshine to meditate or just take a minute or two out, simply because this week we can.

My seedlings are growing into sturdy young plants now and they have appreciated being out in the fresh air.

Poor big daughter has yet more revising to do.  She has exams in May and needs to get started now to be sure that she gets enough work done in time.  Still, there are worse places to revise than in a chair in a warm garden!

Small daughter has been on a mission to reclaim the Wendy Shed at the bottom of the garden from the spiders which have taken up residence over the winter.  The shed hasn't seen a great deal of use over the last year or so and needs a bit of interior decoration, but at least now it's cobweb-free and we even managed to get the vacuum cleaner down there (thanks to some nifty manoeuvring with extension cables) so the rugs on the floor are fit to sit on again.

She's officially moved herself in now, and the interior decorating can wait.  As long as a girl has plenty of cushions, a blanket to wrap herself up in, a selection of books, a few snacks and the occasional mug of hot chocolate, there's no rush to get out the paint can.

I've made the most of the opportunity to do a bit more in the garden.  It would have been difficult this week to dedicate a whole day to gardening as I've been on Snack Duty and acting as Directory Enquiries for a whole host of questions which generally involved me having to stop what I was doing - and if I was in the middle of something in the garden this would have started to make me cross, which isn't how you should spend your holidays.  Instead, I've done a bit here and there. Like pruning the Hydrangea bushes.  People either like to prune them in the autumn or in the spring and I'm not convinced it makes a great deal of difference either way as long as you don't cut back too far before the winter, but I ran out of time last autumn so mine have been cut now.  Last year's flower heads are now just papery skeletons, but there's a lot of new growth on the plants so I'm hoping they're going to do well this year, especially as they'll have more light now that I've cut back the apple trees.

The Magnolia is in full flower now.  It's a Magnolia stellata or Star Magnolia which doesn't grow quite as big as the more familiar Magnolia soulangeana.  I love the flowers, they remind me of water lillies.

I also managed to cut the grass for the first time this year.  It's a bit like ironing - you don't always want to do it but once you get started there's something very therapeutic about it.  I like stripes on my lawn so it's a case of walking up and down, up and down, until the grass is cut.  Sadly, at the moment, the lawn looks more like a field than anything else; there are huge patches of moss, bare patches where the dog has done handbrake turns chasing a ball and more than a few dead patches where he's cocked his leg too often.  It's in a bit of a sorry state.  I've got a plan, though, and hopefully later in the year it will look less like a field and more like a lawn again.

Whilst I was cutting the grass, I noticed these new green shoots in the middle of my Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican hellebore).  It's a big plant and the winter winds have flattened it beyond repair so it's good to see that it's growing again.

And just in case I forgot what this week was all about, I spotted this butterfly sunning itself.  Time to sit down and take a moment.  

I didn't know what sort of butterfly it was until I found this identification website and now I know that it's a Comma.  It's very pretty, I do like it's scalloped wings.  We usually get Peacock butterflies in our garden so it's nice to see another variety.  There's plenty of information for gardeners about attracting butterflies on this website, so I'm going to make sure that I make time to read it.   

On the subject of time, do you remember a month or so ago I mentioned writing a knitting book to help raise funds for big daughter's trip to Peru and a sockalong to go with it?  Well, it's time for us to get started!  The plan is for us to knit a pair of socks together which will be the sockalong, and then I'll use those posts as the basis for my little book.  The sockalong will always be available for free on my blog, but I'm going to publish the book through Amazon so that anybody who wants a hard copy will be able to buy it and any profits will go to big daughter's Peru fund.  Not everyone reads blogs and sometimes it's more convenient to look at a book than a computer, so I'm hoping that by making the sockalong available both on and offline, lots of people who've never knitted socks before but have always wanted to try will be able to have a go.

The sockalong is going to be based on my basic 4ply sock pattern, and I'm going to take even more photos than I have for that post so hopefully it will be easy to create a pair of socks even if you've never knitted much before.  As long as you can knit and purl, I'll show you the rest.  The pattern is already on the blog so you can have a look at that whenever you're ready and see if you want to join in.  

I'm going to be starting the sockalong on Sunday 3 May, the day after the Love Your Yarn Shop day on Saturday 2 May.  That gives us a few weeks to talk about yarns, needles and one or two other preparations and gives you time to stock up on any supplies that you might need.  There's also the opportunity to come along to Black Sheep Wools on Love Your Yarn Shop day to pick up any last minute items and to ask any questions which I'll do my best to answer whilst I'm there.

Look out for the first post tomorrow - I'm going to start with yarns as they're always more fun to look at and squish than needles!  Ooh, it's so exciting - I'll see you then!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


Our postman had no idea that the white plastic mail bag he was delivering contained body parts ...

Here in Winwick, we still have a postman who arrives in a red van and stops to chat for a few minutes, just like Postman Pat - though hopefully without getting into some of the scrapes that Pat gets into! On this particular day, our postie thought it was highly amusing that the bag he was handing over contained two pairs of white plastic feet (although he wasn't in the least bit surprised, which maybe I should find disconcerting!).

I've bought them for a particular reason - not, perhaps as garden ornaments, although I do quite like the look ...

Nor are they to become unusual flowers, definitely a talking point amongst the greenery ...

I've bought them to take to Black Sheep Wools with me in a few weeks' time.  Remember I told you about Love Your Yarn Shop Day on Saturday 2 May and how I'll be there with my socks?  Well, I want to be able to show off some knitted socks and rather than just have them looking as if I've just pulled them out of my sock drawer (which I will have done!), I thought they'd look much smarter on a foot.  Naturally, nobody wants to look at my feet in the air all day so I found these.

They're all right, aren't they?  I'm really quite pleased with them.  The socks fit just nicely and you can see the whole sock rather than just what's poking out of a boot or a shoe.

Now all I need to do is work out how to get them to stand up without taking a half-built rockery to Black Sheep with me!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter Sunday

First magnolia flower - and one of the first bumble bees I've seen this year ...

Simnel cake, decorations by small daughter ...

Helleborus niger - Lenten rose ...

Cornflower blue Anemone blanda and yellow celandines ...

Muscari - grape hyacinths.  I always think they're quite exotic-looking little plants ...

After telling the girls not to eat all their eggs at once, my husband didn't leave much of his ...

Palm crosses ...

Flowers on my money plant (Crassula ovata).  I've never seen it flower before - I never even thought that it could!  It seems quite fitting that there are brand new flowers on a day that represents new life.

Happy Easter to you xx

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Monthly Musing - April 2015 - One of us

Small daughter is going through a “what if?” phase, and whilst providing hypothetical answers to seeming endless scenarios, the lyrics to a song called “One of Us” by Joan Osborne popped into my mind.  It’s a song about how we would behave if we knew who God was and whether seeing Him would make a difference to our beliefs.  I particularly like the chorus:

                                        “What if God was one of us?  Just a slob like one of us?
  Just a stranger on a bus, trying to make his way home.”

It seems to me that this is quite a fitting “what if?” question for Easter time.  We believe that God sent Jesus to live amongst us but after his death it is our belief in Him that sustains us even though we can’t see Him.  But what if that isn’t the end of the story?  What if God decided to come to earth for himself and chose to live quietly amongst us?  What if God is the bus driver who took you to work this morning, or the harassed Mum rushing to get her children to school on time?  What if He is the waitress at the restaurant you were rude to because your meal didn’t arrive quickly enough?  Or perhaps the man selling the Big Issue in town?  He could be anybody at all whom you come into contact with during your daily life, and you would never know. 

The big question is whether you would treat that person any differently if you thought that they were actually God.  The answer to that should of course be no, because you should treat everybody with the respect with which you would treat God, but we all know that not many of us actually do that.  We’re rushing about from one moment to the next, filling our minds with information that we must not forget and our minutes with jobs that must be done.  We don’t always have time to think about every other person we might meet because we just have too much to do.

I didn’t give anything up for Lent; instead I tried to do something positive every day and whilst I had a few lapses, on the whole I didn’t do too badly and it was good for me to remember to do it and the reason why.  Now that Lent is almost over, it would be easy to let those good intentions slip – much as New Year’s resolutions fade – but because it didn’t involve giving up chocolate, I’m inclined to try to keep it up and perhaps even add a new intention: to try to treat others with the respect that I would offer to God if He was really standing in front of me.  It sounds easy enough as I’m a polite person, but I know that it goes beyond good manners and at times it won’t be easy at all.  But it’s worth a try.

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