Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bank Holiday Weekend

Here in the UK we have had another Bank Holiday long weekend.  For small daughter, it's the start of a two week break and for big daughter it's the end of her time at sixth form college and she's only expected to attend for exams now.  For many people around the country, it's an opportunity to spend the weekend stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway as they attempt to have a day out in the sunshine.  We very rarely go anywhere over Bank Holidays for this reason!

Instead, I have spent this weekend catching up and finishing off - catching up in the garden and finishing off these beauties!  Oh, how I love love love these rainbow stripes!  The yarn is Rum Paradise by West Yorkshire Spinners and contains a proportion of Blue Faced Leicester wool which is a breed of sheep unique to Britain and a good soft alternative to merino as the UK is too damp for merino sheep to thrive so the wool has to be imported from elsewhere.  

It's been a joy to knit these; the yarn has slipped easily around the needles and the short colour changes have made it feel as if they have grown very quickly and yes, they are nice and soft.  Now that they're finished, I've cast on another very special pair of socks (four times, actually, despite my tension swatches!) which I'll tell you about very soon.

Catching up in the garden is always a bigger job than you think.  This jumble of seedlings needed dealing with, as did the raised bed that they were sitting in.  We have a proliferation of slugs and snails in our garden so quite a few of my beans had been munched even in the seed trays.  It was time for some action!

In fact, it's not just the beans.  Nothing is safe - this is a Rudbeckia standing in a tray of water and the snails have still managed to make lacework out of the leaves.

Soon, though, the beans and the peas were safely in their own raised bed.  I don't have so many problems once they're in there so the plants do get a chance to grow.  They've grown even since I took this picture!

Time for a brew.  I don't know about you but it's been very hot and sunny here this weekend which has been perfect for encouraging you out into the garden, but gets quite exhausting when you're digging away in the sunshine for any length of time.

Small daughter and my husband were in change of the kettle but seemed to have got distracted by football stickers.  I'm not sure who was more excited about peeling off the backing paper and sticking the footballers' faces onto their team pages, but it's lovely to watch them together doing something that my husband has enjoyed doing since he was a little boy.

Back in the garden, it was time for drastic action against the pests - not the snails this time but the cats!  I've had to put netting up as within five minutes of me turning my back, one of our cats had been digging in the peas, flinging the seedlings in all directions.  It's hard to tell which of the cats it was as they never crack under interrogation but instead give you that slow feline stare as if to say "wouldn't you like to know?", but I have my suspicions.  My money is on the one who likes to disguise himself as a carrot in the summer time, hiding amongst the feathery leaves and closing his eyes - after all, if he can't see you then you can't see him.  He's very lovely, our cat, but not terribly bright.

Here are all the raised beds with their various cat deterrent measures - fingers crossed they work! My Dad's garden fork is in this picture too, because I've been using it and it's felt good.  I've missed him this weekend; not because we used to do our gardening together because we didn't, but because I used to talk to him a lot about it.  We would usually compare our seed orders, he would grow the tomato seedlings and then bring them over for me to plant in the greenhouse, and we would discuss the merits of cut and come again lettuce over his firmer headed varieties.  He used to tell me not to keep every single seedling that came through (I can't bear to throw them away!) and he would grow the vegetables that would take up too much space in my raised beds, like sprouts and cabbages.

This year, I'm growing sprouts and cabbages for the first time.  It's difficult, that year of firsts after someone dies, isn't it?  Up until now I always thought that birthdays and Christmas would be the hardest part.  I never thought it would be sprouts.

My tomato plants are very small too, because I forgot that I needed to plant them (or maybe put it off?) and they look a bit lost in the greenhouse border at the moment.  

Not for long, though.  It's surprising how quickly they seem to grow once they're out of their small pots and in the ground.  I'm looking forward to sun-warmed tomatoes and have sown a new variety of plum tomato which I'm hoping will produce enough fruit to keep small daughter going for a few weeks - she's got a thing about plum tomatoes at the moment and I'm having trouble keeping up with the demand!  

It's felt like a very productive weekend and now all I need to do is keep an eye on the plants whilst they grow.  It'll give me the opportunity to get on with some other garden jobs - we've got some big hedges and they all need renovating this year which is never a five minute task - and I also want to get a bit better at sitting in the garden and feeling that I don't have to be jumping up to do something all the time.

I thought this weekend would be a good time to practice.

I hope you've had a great weekend too! 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

"Oh, the summer time is coming ..."

I've been out in the garden today after a busy (and very wet) weekend where I didn't do a great deal other than sit and knit.  Oh, it was bliss!

The garden, however, didn't have a weekend of doing nothing.  The grass has shot up and looks like a field again and everything has burst into leaf and - in some cases - flower.  It's that time of year again when every wander into the garden is a joy because something new is happening.

The lilac is in full flower now, blending beautifully with a clematis which is just about to open it's flowers and the variegated Weigela.  Our lilac is a sucker from the tree in my Dad's garden; it's been in our garden for years now but has only flowered so prolifically for about the last two or three.  It's such a lovely colour, quite different to lots of the others that I see around.

The first of the Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) are out as well now, which was a lovely surprise when I spotted them.  I love the sooty pollen in this one (I'm not sure of the variety but it could be one called "Coral Reef" that I grew from seed one year)

and the frilly edges of these petals (I think this variety is "Turkenlouis").  I love Oriental poppies, I do have quite a lot of varieties in various shades from pink to red to purple - I don't think I could ever have too many of them in my garden!

I'm also enjoying the foliage that is emerging too.  These leaves are from the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), they have a fuzziness to them that makes you want to stroke them, and they're such a gorgeous soft silver colour.  The young leaves are the best thing about this plant - once the flower head emerges they go a bit scraggy, as if all their energy goes into producing the enormous thistle-like flower head - so I like to admire them at this time of year.

More leaves - these are red Cotinus "Grace" with the variegated Weigela that grows beside the lilac.  I'm very happy with the way these plants merge together.  My garden is very definitely a springtime garden, and I do need to have a look at it over the summer to fill in the gaps when the flowers start to fade.  Foliage plants are always very handy for helping to fill those gaps!

I get such a huge sense of satisfaction from cutting the grass and seeing the garden look tidier again.  (Did you know that's the trick if you've got visitors coming and not much time to tidy up outdoors?  Cut the grass and your garden will always look fabulous!)  

I've also got a song constantly playing in my head as I breathe in the scents of the outdoors.  You might know it, it's a song called Wild Mountain Thyme and my favourite version is by a band called The Silencers.  It was originally the soundtrack to a gorgeously evocative Scottish Tourist Board advert on the television years ago and even now the advert makes me want to pack up my knitting (always something by Rowan, for some reason - perhaps it was what I was knitting when I first saw the advert!) and head north.  I was even inspired to buy the book of poetry from which Norman MacCaig reads (the poem is called "Celtic Cross", by the way) and have often dipped into it over the years.

"Oh, the summertime is coming 
and the trees are sweetly blooming
and the wild mountain thyme
grows around the purple heather..."

Do you have songs that play in your head on certain occasions?  Music is so tied up with our emotions and our memories that I couldn't imagine not having a soundtrack to my days!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Business and pleasure

One of the best things about this being self-employed malarkey is that there are no corporate rules to follow other than the ones we choose to make for ourselves.

This means that when my husband goes up to St Anne's on Sea on business, the dog and I can go with him and once his business is completed, we have time for ourselves - which is exactly what we did yesterday.  It looks quite overcast and the breeze was chilly at times, but the air was warm and it was just the right sort of weather for taking the dog on the beach (but only the part where dogs are allowed, of course!).

First, we fortified ourselves with breakfast eaten outside at our favourite beach cafe with the artificial grass-covered tables, and then we let the dog loose on the sand.

Oh, how he loves the beach!  He rockets this way and that, tail tucked in, head down and at speeds that would challenge a racehorse.  He loves doing the closest of fly-pasts, missing you by centimetres as he showers sand in his wake, barking with delight at the freedom.  He does handbrake turns in the sand, rolling over and over as he goes so fast that he can't stop, sploshes in the pools and digs holes, pulling excitedly at bits of seaweed or stick that are buried.  He's a very happy boy.

As for us, we enjoy the space and the emptiness.  We laugh at the dog's joyful antics and take our time walking back to the town.  It's not often that you can put the world on hold, and it wasn't for very long, but that was just what it felt like, and we were very grateful for it.  

Have a lovely weekend, whatever you are doing xx

Friday, 13 May 2016

Socks on and off the needles

We've got the sunshine again today after a few wet days this week - great for the plants as they've all shot up and some of the seeds that I'd all but given up on have finally started sprouting - but not so great for me as the grass now looks like a field and I'm pretty sure I saw a few sparrows with pith helmets and machetes heading through the undergrowth ... it's time to get the lawn mower out but before I do, I'm going to take a few minutes with my brew in the sunshine to show you what I've been up to.

First up - the brown socks are finished!  Hooray!  And thank goodness for that!  Could you hear me cheering from where you are as I finally grafted the last stitches on the second sock?  

These have not been my favourite pair of socks to knit.  Gradient yarn is not the best choice for people with sock-matching OCD like me, but I'm happy with how these have finally turned out.  "Ah, get over it!" - I can hear you from here - but it's not going to happen.  I have no problem at all with other people wearing non-matching socks but for me, having my socks exactly the same is part of the joy of knitting them.  It's a bit of a trial sometimes, but for the most part I enjoy the process of searching through the yarn to find the colour repeats and matching them up.  It's not always so easy with gradient yarn and yes, there were a few tantrums on the way with these socks, scissors were wielded, more than a few rude words were muttered and there was even a period of a few weeks when they were banished to the bottom of the project bag.  However, they were always intended for my favourite uncle and having a deadline for seeing him spurred me on.  They are now keeping his feet cosy and warm so it was worth the effort! 

By the way, the yarn is Debbie Bliss Rialto Luxury Sock in shade 06, and the pattern is Bleaberry Tarn.

It was nice to knit a pair of socks with a pattern in them again - I haven't done that for a while - and it's got me planning for my next pair of patterned socks.  I love knitting basic plain socks as they're so quick and easy, and self-patterning yarn doesn't always need anything to liven it up, but a complicated pattern is good for your brain.  It makes you slow down and think what you're doing, sometimes learn a new technique, sometimes revisit old ones, and leaves you with a massive sense of achievement.

These socks are high on my list - they're called Rectify by Rich Ensor and I've been fancying knitting a few of his patterns for quite some time.  I've got a skein of purple yarn from The Knitting Goddess which is shouting pretty loudly to be used at the moment, so I think that will be the next skein that I go for ...

as long as I can decide on the pattern!  I was pretty much set on the Rich Ensor one when I remembered that I had some by Caoua Coffee in my Ravelry library which I also think the purple yarn would like (www.ravelry.com is such a wonderful resource for knitters if you don't already use it.  Do go and take a look!).  I feel like tackling something that's not necessarily a quick knit but will stretch me a bit (hopefully not too much!) which is always good to do every now and again. This is my other possible choice - I do love a nice cable!  This pattern is Professor Higgins.

In the meantime, whilst I am still deciding on which pattern I'm going to knit, I've cast on with this ball of Rum Paradise, one of the new cocktail shades by West Yorkshire Spinners. Oh, I just love these rainbow shades!  This is a very happy sock to knit.  The yarn is soft and smooth and the rounds are just flying by - I think having short colour changes helps with that as you're always only a few rounds from a new colour so you want to keep going!  

Oh, and what I really like about this yarn is that it's British. The company strapline is "Reared, Sheared and Spun in Britain" and I think that's brilliant.  With many of our mills having closed, it's really important for us to support the mills that we still have and our farmers so that we've got British options amongst all the beautiful sock yarns that we can choose to knit with.  

This yarn contains a percentage of Blue Faced Leicester wool, which is an English longwool breed of sheep, almost as soft as merino, strong and easy to spin, which makes it ideal for including in a sock yarn.  There are lots of yarns that combine different wools (some of them from rare breed sheep) and they all have different properties.  I don't know too much yet about British sheep breeds and how their different wools work but it's something that I'm working on.  It's really quite exciting!  

Oh, and I have a fruity new stitch marker too, which goes very well with the cocktail theme!

Also on the needles ... have you ever seen the book Guess How Much I Love You?  Little Nut Brown Hare tells Big Nut Brown Hare he loves him right up to the moon.  I love my husband right to the toes of his black socks - and sometimes that seems very far!  Luckily, he has coloured heels and toes which break up the endless blackness, and as he calls them him "proper socks" and prefers to wear these over any others, I don't really mind knitting them too much. 

I've used another fruity stitch marker on this one - this one's a strawberry slice!  

Finally, my 8ply (DK) sock which is going to be my next tutorial.  I'm just on the toes of my first sock now and then I'll be photographing the second one as I'm making it.  It takes me a while with everything else that goes on in our lives, but I hope to have it done before the end of next month.  

I've really enjoyed knitting with this 8ply yarn - it's Regia Iglu Color in the shade Lappland.  8ply yarn knits up very quickly so it feels as if you have a sock ready in no time, and it's about time that there was an 8ply pattern to go with the others (it will work with the Sockalong tutorials too) so I'll be getting on with it - just as soon as I can put my rainbow cocktail sock down! 

Monday, 9 May 2016

Winwick Mum Sockalong 1st birthday giveaway results

Here I am at last, with news of our giveaway draw!  I'm a bit later than I intended to be as I had completely underestimated how many people would to enter, both here and in the Facebook group, and it was only this morning that I finally finished printing out all of the comments and cutting them into strips so that the winner could be drawn out of a bag.

If you remember, the prize is a signed copy of Super Socks, the year's adoption of an alpaca (don't worry, you don't have to muck it out or anything!), a skein of beautiful Peak District Yarns sock yarn (worth £13), the party tea stitch markers, and the gorgeous Harris Tweed project bag, accessory case and DPN/circular needle holder (worth £92).  I'm very grateful for the generosity of the people who have added prizes to the giveaway and you can find links to their websites below - please go and take a look if you have a minute!

And the winner is ...  not so fast!  You've got to listen to me rambling on a bit more first!  You have to listen to me telling you that I was completely overwhelmed by the number of comments and I have loved reading every single one of them, so thank you to everyone who took the time to write to me.  There were 115 comments here on the blog which is pretty amazing in itself, but nearly 700 in the Facebook group (I should probably think myself lucky that not every one of the 4,600 members wanted to enter! J) - I still find it quite incredible to think that that many people are involved with the Sockalong at all!

You also have to listen to me telling you that I am absolutely delighted to know that so many pairs of socks are now in existence.  How do I know about the number of socks?  Well, if you remember I asked you to tell me how many pairs of Sockalong socks you'd made - I thought it would be fun to see if we could find out.  So how many socks?  What do you think?  Have a guess!

Bearing in mind that this is a snapshot moment of people who are knitting socks and are reading the blog and being part of our Facebook community now, so there may well be many more pairs out there keeping toes toasty and warm, I've added up all the pairs of socks that you've told me about and it's quite a lot.  No, that's wrong - it's a flipping amazing number and I was very glad that I was sitting down when I punched the numbers into the calculator!  3,552 pairs of socks! That's 7,104 single socks!  That's over 3,500 pairs of warm and cosy feet, of gifts given full of yarny love (and I may not have included all the Yarndale Sock Line socks in this number), of opportunities to create something, improve your well-being, banish the blues or while away the time in a waiting room!

Goodness, what can that mean to our yarn industry, to our yarn shops, our sheep farmers, our spinning mills, our indie dyers, our pattern designers - anybody at all who is involved with making a living through this wonderful, crafty business?  It can only be good news, and we should all feel very proud to be part of it.  Once you can knit a basic sock you can knit anything, and I hope that having made your first pair of socks, you feel that sense of achievement that makes you feel ready to tackle anything!

But enough!  You need to know who's won the Winwick Mum Sockalong 1st birthday prize! Here are all the comments ready to go into the bag so that the winner can be drawn ...

and here's my husband with his hand in the bag full of comments.  He gave them a good swirl round, we performed our own drum roll ...

and the winner is ...

Marsha Bray, it's you!  Congratulations!  (Marsha has now received her prize)

To everyone who didn't win - I'm sorry it wasn't you!  But thank you for being part of the Sockalong and for taking the time to be part of the giveaway.  It's been good fun and it's always lovely to hear from people who are knitting socks.  I always  joke that we're taking over the world one sock at a time, but from the number that has been made I think this might actually be true!

If you'd like to visit the websites of the giveaway sponsors, they are here:

Peak District Yarns - gorgeous yarns dyed and inspired by the Peak District

Rachel Horton - a fantastic range of affordable stitch markers 

The Fabulous Mr G - beautiful Harris Tweed project bags and accessories

Our Facebook giveaway sponsors:

Rosie's Moments - stunning hand-dyed yarns, Socker's Rule sock rulers and other accessories

The Knitter's Attic - yarns, accessories and lovely hand-made project bags

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Winwick Mum Sockalong 1st birthday

Goodness, can you believe that it's been a whole year since the very first socks were cast on in the Winwick Mum Sockalong?  And wow, what a year it's been!

It's been quite amazing, and quite emotional too, to know that the Sockalong has helped so many people all around the world to knit a pair of socks.  There are so many reasons why it's been important to people to produce their own pair of hand-knits, and I can't tell you what a privilege it feels to have been involved in making this to happen.  There's something very special about knitting your own socks, whether they're for you or for a gift, and I know there have been a lot of happy feet this year.  I also know that there's been a shortage of short circular needles, a rise in sock yarn sales and an increase in international friendships through our Facebook groups.  Magic of all kinds through the pointy sticks!

So what happens now?  More of the same, of course!  The tutorials are staying on the blog, the book is staying on Amazon and the Sockalong is still running.  It's never too late to jump in and start a pair of socks, and my hope is that more people who have always wanted to knit socks but never managed it for whatever reason will find the tutorials and be able to join in.

We do need a celebration though, so feel free to sing "Happy Birthday" at the top of your voice whilst doing your happy dance in your socks - and if they're still on the needles you can sing anyway.  If the materials for knitting your socks are still in the bag, now's your chance to get them started! J

I also thought that a giveaway might be in order so with the help of a few friends I have gathered together some lovely treats and here's what you can win ...

There's a signed copy of Super Socks so that you can follow the tutorials wherever you are.  The information is the same as the blog tutorials but split by needle type rather than by sock section. It's a good size to prop open whilst you work and there are just as many pictures to help you get to grips with knitting your sock.

There is a set of very cute tea and cakes stitch markers which have kindly been donated by Rachel Horton.  They're perfect for a birthday party and will help you to keep track of your decreases very easily.  You can see more of her stitch markers here.

A skein of very gorgeous Peak District Yarns merino 4ply sock yarn in the colourway "Azalea Walk", which is the generous gift of Carrie Warr, the talent behind all of the Peak District Yarns. 

A year's subscription to adopt an alpaca at Charnwood Forest Alpacas.  If you've ever fancied owning your very own alpaca, this is as close as you can get without needing a paddock!  You'll get a choice of alpaca to adopt, an adoption certificate and photo of your chosen alpaca and information about the herd at Charnwood Forest.

And last but by no means least, this very beautiful Harris Tweed knitting bag with a matching accessory bag and DPN/circular needle roll with 16 compartments.  This has been specially made for the Sockalong 1st birthday and gifted by Hilary of The Fabulous Mr G and is just the thing for transporting your socks (or any other project) in style.  Harris Tweed is rather special material and Hilary's attention to detail is superb.  You know you'll be the talk of your knitting group with these bags - and that's before they see your knitting!

If you would like to enter the giveaway, it's very easy.  I'd love to get an idea of how many socks have been made through the Sockalong over the last year, so if you've knitted socks, please tell me how many pairs you've knitted.  If you haven't knitted any socks yet but would still like to enter the giveaway, just tell me who your second pair of socks is going to be knitted for - because your first pair will be for yourself! 

I'll be drawing the winner on Sunday 8 May to give as many people as possible chance to see the post, so please do share it if you can.  Won't it be wonderful to have some idea how many pairs of socks are out in the world?  I'm very excited just thinking about it!

Good luck - and here's to many more Winwick Mum Sockalong birthdays!

Monday, 2 May 2016

Yarn Shop Day 2016

It was Yarn Shop Day on Saturday and after the fun of last year, I was really looking forward to being part of the celebrations at Black Sheep Wools.  This is the third Yarn Shop Day event that's been organised by Let's Knit magazine, and even more yarn shops up and down the country got involved which is brilliant news for the shop side of the yarn industry.

I arrived early to set my table up.  It might look a bit bare at the moment (especially when you see some of the other photos coming up); in fact you can see how calm it was as I even had time for a cup of tea - but within the hour the shop was very busy and most people stopped to have a look at what was going on as they made their way through (it was difficult not to, really, as I was right by the door and pounced on unsuspecting knitters as they approached!) and it wasn't long before the table was covered with balls of yarn, packets of needles, sock samples being knitted and pairs of socks which people had brought in. 

That's always my favourite bit - seeing the socks that people have knitted.  I saw them on feet, on needles, in bags and even tipped out across the table.  Lots and lots of socks!  What always makes me smile is the way that people tell me how addictive socks are - I blame the yarn designers and manufacturers for that as it's so easy to do "just one more round" to see how the next colour is going to come out of the ball!

I did like these clear wellies that Black Sheep Wools had found for displaying their yarn.  I even saw a pair of clear boots being worn with fabulous pink hand-knits being shown off inside them!  

It wasn't just me at Yarn Shop Day (which would be very boring for those people who don't want to knit socks!).  Sue Pinner, who designs for Stylecraft, was there with her books of granny squares and some of her blankets.  They're very colourful and in a range of different yarns too - I always forget that Stylecraft make more than just the Special DK which I've crocheted with! 

Look how pretty these flowers are in these colours.  This is Stylecraft Life DK which has a wool content and feels very different to my Special DK blanket.  

Here's Sue during a quiet moment.  We had lunch together and she told me that she produces 3-4 patterns a month for Stylecraft (a month?!) which is quite a hefty workload.  There's certainly no shortage of choice if you're looking for a crochet project though! 

In the back room was Beryl Weir who was doing weaving demonstrations.  She had brought all kinds of clothing samples with her, from scarves to jackets, and they all looked stunning.  

What I liked was that the weave is often irregular and might look quite rustic but the combinations of colours and fibres give it a modern flavour.  There were certainly lots of people trying the clothes on, so I can't have been the only who thought that!

You can see here the combination of colours and textures - I would never think of putting chenille yarn through a piece of woven fabric but it looked amazing.

There was an opportunity to have a go for yourself too - there was quite a queue to try out the looms at one point.  Beryl regularly holds weaving workshops at Black Sheep so anybody can go along and learn how to produce fabric for themselves.

Here's Beryl on the left.  She's chatting to Fay Dashper-Hughes who, with her friend Lynne Rowe were at Black Sheep to record a podcast for their new crochet podcast called The Crochet Circle.  I first met Fay when she came to one of my sock workshops, and Lynne at the Arne and Carlos workshop held at Black Sheep Wools in February; they're lovely people and I hope their new venture does very well.  (Don't you just love photos of people in conversation?  I took a lot of pictures of Beryl and Fay and this was the only one where their facial expressions were fit to post!)

This is Kathryn from Crafternoon Treats surrounded by just a few of the bags that she's created with her Bagalong.  I'd only met her briefly at Yarndale last year so it was nice to spend a bit more time chatting with her - especially as she's on a mission to create a crochet sock pattern.  Sara at Black Sheep asked if that meant we were now rivals, but I don't see it like that at all.  I think it's more important to get a handmade sock on your foot, to feel the achievement and to enjoy the fabulous range of socks yarns and whilst I am never going to give up my passion for knitted socks, for those who really feel they can't knit, it's good to have other options.

There were some lovely bags on display - it just shows how the designs have come on since the 1970s when crochet bags were in fashion the first time round!

What a great day it was.  It was the perfect opportunity for yarn squishing, pattern perusing and seeing a couple of impromptu knit n natter sessions set up around the shop.  I thoroughly enjoyed getting the chance to catch up with other crafters too.  And eat lemon cake.  Why would you not want to support your local yarn shop? J

With many thanks to Black Sheep Wools for inviting me back to their Yarn Shop Day celebrations and keeping me fed and watered J

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