Something’s happening in the garden …

Hello, and happy Wednesday to you!

It’s a bit of a dark and gloomy morning here in Winwick – I’ve just had to put the light on whilst I’m sitting here writing to you! – so I hope that it’s a bit brighter where you are.

Thank you very much for all your comments on my last post – I’m glad I gave you a smile with my tale of the big fish.  We haven’t actually been back there since I wrote that post – I think I’ve managed to put myself off!

This was today’s walk – there are still so many leaves falling from the trees to carpet the path and even though there wasn’t any sunshine, it’s still lovely to see the colour because it won’t be long before this walk is a black tarmac path through dark leafless trees.

A footpath with fallen golden leaves to either side

The dog isn’t a fan of the leaves.  He always takes a straight line right through the place with the fewest leaves on the ground.  I think he might have stood on a prickle in the leaves once and that’s put him off wanting to walk in them again.

I’ve been asked lots of times about photos of the dog and I have always avoided it – partly because he’s not a dog that likes to pose for photos and pictures of his bum disappearing into the undergrowth are not really what I’m aiming for, and partly because he’s always been a bit naughty so I haven’t wanted to post a mugshot for canine Crimewatch on my blog!  I guess another part of it is just habit – I didn’t have him in the photos when we first got him and I’ve got used to waiting until he’s out of the shot.  Anyway, here he is, not at all wanting to be in a selfie but at least you can see that I’ve not been walking an imaginary dog for the last nine years!

Christine and her black dog. Christine is wearing a pink coat, the dog is being aloof

He’s looking a bit damp round the edges because he’s just been hosed down after being in a pond – even after all the miles and miles we’ve walked together, he’s still quite naughty at times and it’s still a bit like walking a big hairy toddler.  Still, he keeps my on my toes and I wouldn’t swap him for a goldfish!  I probably would have preferred not to be in the selfie either, but I didn’t want you to think I’d photographed a random dog and was passing it off as my own … 😀

What else?  Oh yes, Something Else quite momentous has happened last week which took up a lot of our time and attention, but first let me give you an update on the socks that I’m designing – I did say I’d show you what I was up to!

There were a couple of my stitch dictionaries in the photo I showed you with the yarn last time …

A skein of pink yarn surrounded by stitch dictionary books, an orange mug containing tea, a notepad and purple pen and some double pointed needles

and that’s where I always start.  I’ve usually got a pretty good idea of what I want to do with a yarn once I get it in my hands – I find it very difficult to start a design without being able to touch the yarn first – and for this yarn, I knew that I wanted it to have cables in the pattern.

It’s a sturdy yarn that speaks of sheep, rugged hills, the countryside and the part of the world that it comes from – it felt very local when it was in my hands – I could see in my mind’s eye the area where it had come from …

A dry stone wall separating two green fields. There are three white sheep in the left hand field

A view over a green Peak District valley. The sky is blue and there are clouds that look like snow on the hills in the distance

A view across another green Peak District valley. It's a bright winter morning and the sky is very blue

it feels like a place to pull on your boots and get out into the fresh air and I wanted to create socks that would be just right for that.

I use a charting software programme called Stitchmastery – buying the licence seemed like an inordinate expense when I was first starting out with designing and didn’t know if I use would it enough to justify the cost, but it has been absolutely worth every penny for me.  Previously I used to create my charts in Excel but this is so much easier – there are stitch dictionaries built into the software, it calculates the stitches per line, it creates text instructions and you can download images to work from too … I don’t even scratch the surface of the capabilities (I know this because I’ve read the manual!) but it handles some of the most complex designs that I ever see on other people’s patterns – I can wholeheartedly recommend it!

A computer screen showing part of a test chart for a new sock design

Using this software means that I can create lots of different test pictures with different stitch patterns on them – I find it easier to write them out than keep flicking through the instructions in the stitch dictionary books, and often I’ll change the original pattern too so it make sense for me to create something that I can print out and write on.

I think the swatching process is probably different for every designer.  I like to cast on as if I’m going to knit a sock and then work the stitch patterns around so that I can see how they’re going to look on the sock.  I’ve tried working flat swatches, both as completely flat and as in-the-round-on-two-needles as I demonstrate in the Sock Stitch Calculation, but it seems to work best for me to swatch as part of a sock leg.

Sometimes it takes a long time to get the pattern right, sometimes it all fits into place straight away.  You can see that I am well-sorted with supplies in the photo below – a glass of wine and a crackling fire always helps the design process along!

A coffee table with an open stitch dictionary and a glass of white wine on it. A cake of pink yarn and some knitting are sitting on the book, and in the background is an open fire

And then I just keep picking it up when I’ve got a minute or two, doing a few more rounds, having a look and seeing what I think.  I’ve learnt that designing isn’t like baking a cake or writing emails – I can’t say to myself “block out that hour in the calendar and design your sock” because very often, the hour has passed and I’m not much further on than when I started.  It used to make me worry that I couldn’t produce something on demand, but that’s not how a creative mind works and the more I have learnt to relax, knowing that it will sort itself out in time, the more it does exactly that.  We’re not always very good at just trusting the process, are we, but designing is like gardening for me – it teaches me patience and that whilst I might sow the seeds (both physical and with design ideas), I have to wait for them to grow in their own time.

A cake of pink yarn and some test knitting sit on a wooden table. There is a tape measure and a stitch dictionary on the table

Windowsill knitting is an important part of the process!

A cake of pink yarn and some test knitting are sitting on a white windowsill. You can see paving flags through the window

You can see that I’ve been trying out a few cable stitches – some have worked, some haven’t and have been abandoned part-way through.  I never keep the swatches because some of them are longer than the leg of a regular sock and I don’t have enough yarn!  I can tell you that in this photo, I was pretty close to being able to write up my design, so it wasn’t too bad at all.!

That’s all I’ve got to show you for now, but next time I’ll be able to tell you more!

OK, then, let me tell you about the Something Else that has happened this last week … we’ve got ducks!

Three white ducks sitting in a blue paddling pool of dirty brown water

Well, strictly speaking, big daughter has ducks and we have just been helping her get sorted out for them to move into the garden.  No, we have no experience of ducks and they absolutely weren’t on my radar, but big daughter spotted that a local animal rescue needed homes for ducks that were being brought from a large commercial duck farm and rather than have them end up on someone’s dinner table, there are now three of them living at the bottom of the garden.  I’m still not sure if she caught us in a moment of madness or weakness, but she certainly picked the right moment! 🙂

We bought a flat pack duck house which big daughter started to build but then had to go to an online university lecture, so rather than leave it overnight in it’s flat pack state on the grass …

Big daughter is looking at the pieces of the wooden duck house which are laid out across the grass

small daughter and I took over.

Small daughter, we have discovered, is queen of the electric screwdriver and absolutely in her element putting things like this together (she’s a dab hand at IKEA furniture too!) and it wasn’t too long before it started to take shape.

Small daughter is fixing the screws of the wooden duck house run. There is a piece of the duck house and an electric screw driver lying on some cardboard in the foreground

We were racing against the light which was fading fast, but we made it, and in a final shaft of sunlight before it disappeared behind the house, we got our ta-dah moment!

The finished duck house and run standing on the cardboard on the grass

We were very pleased with ourselves!

Big daughter was very pleased too, and with only a day or two to go before the ducks arrived, she set to and built a bigger enclosure to go around the outside.  We know that there are foxes around here so we needed to try to do everything we could to make sure that ducks were going to be safe.  I had every intention of just supervising with my brew in hand, but of course that was never going to happen and before long, the two of us were poring over the instructions trying to work out exactly how it all went together.

Big daughter is putting the metal duck enclosure together. I am taking the photo and holding an orange mug of tea

We worked blooming hard to get ready for those ducks on time!  We tied wire to the metal enclosure frame (we even managed to get my husband outside between meetings to help with that bit!), buried it deep into the ground to fox the foxes, laid mulch for the ducks to walk on, dug a hole for their pond – not to mention moved all the compost bins that had previously been in that space …

Big daughter is inside the duck enclosure digging the hole for the pool. The duck house is to the right

and then Duck Day arrived!

We didn’t have far to drive to pick the ducks up, and we’d been assured they would be fine to travel in the cat boxes (which we washed out thoroughly first).  Here are two of them just after we got back from the animal rescue farm …

Two bedraggled ducks in a cat carrier.

It took them quite some time to be brave enough to come out of the carrier and all three of them looked distinctly bedraggled with one of them looking quite pecked and missing more than a few feathers.  Before long, though, they had discovered the water and spent a long time having a really good bath.  (They made the water that colour all on their own, and they didn’t seem to mind getting in and out of it a few times, either!)

Three white ducks in an enclosure. They are looking at a blue pool of water. There is an empty cat carrier on the ground

Now, a few days later, they’re looking much better – you can see the one that was a bit battered in the middle as her feathers still aren’t in such good condition.  They’re Pekin ducks, and they’re named after the Powerpuff Girls – Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles – big daughter knows which is which by their beaks but I just call them all “duck” (I might even be still slightly sulking that big daughter didn’t like the names my husband and I came up with – Crispy, Hoisin and Pancake – no, I know they’re not very kind but we thought it was funny at the time 😀) and eventually I’ll remember which is which.  I’m trying not to get too involved otherwise they will suddenly become “my” ducks which absolutely is not the plan!

Three white ducks looking much healthier - their feathers are white and fluffy now

I’m even getting quite good at picking them up and putting them in the house at night as it turns out they are very good at coming down the little ramp but not going up it.  I’m quite sure big daughter will pick up what she needs to know as she goes along, but if you’re a duck keeper, then your top tips are welcome!

We’ve no intention of breeding the ducks (we’ve been assured they’re all girls), of becoming poultry farmers or even keeping them for eggs (we were told they’ve stopped laying and that’s why they needed rehoming) so they are very definitely pet ducks, very probably going to be spoilt rotten and with any luck, they might want to eat a few slugs in my garden so that I can grow rudbeckias and dahlias without them being eaten overnight.

It’s all been quite an adventure, though, and I’m quite sure you’ll be seeing more of them!

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15 Responses

  1. Corinne says:

    Lovely ducks! A friend of ours used to keep hens for food and called them names like you had because he didn't want the children to treat them as pets! They needed to understand where they would end up.
    Interesting sock patterns – can't wait to see how they turn out.
    Your dog has a mischievous face and I'm sure he loves his walks with you.

  2. Gretchen says:

    Oh my! I was smiling and chuckling through this whole post! Pet ducks in a very fancy home…..kudos to you and the daughters! Thank you for sharing and do let us know if they have an appetite for slugs.

  3. Gretchen says:

    Oops, the ducks were such charmers that I forgot to tell you the cables look lovely!

  4. Rusty'sMum says:

    I love all your blog posts. A window into your world. Hope the ducks settle soon. Love that yarn. Very interesting to hear how you start to design a pattern too.

  5. Susan Rayner says:

    How lovely to have ducks and I hope they will be a huge success and thank you so much for the photo of your lovely dog!! The wool and the patterns are great too – love that blush pink!!

  6. Unknown says:

    Thank you for sharing your lovely story of ducks, and your thoughts on the design process…
    I can empathise with the latter, but no experience of the former xxx

  7. Colleen G says:

    I love the look on your dog face! Priceless! Good-luck with the ducks! They look like they are getting use to things. Love your color yarn! Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. happy hooker says:

    What lucky ducks to have found you all. The new socks look like they're coming along nicely. Can't wait to see the final reveal. What a lot of work you have to put into it all. xx

  9. happyneedles says:

    Nice to see your handsome dog. Ducks, who's got the ducks — you do and such a lovely home they do have. How do you find time for all you do and lovely knitting too? Do you sell your energy? I need it. Such a fun post. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Chris says:

    Hi, I used to keep ducks, I really miss them Incase you had not heard bird flu has been found in England in the last few days and new rules have been posted by the government. I have placed the links below so you can read about it. There can be big fines you do not keep to them.

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Thank you, those are very useful links! Yes, we've been told about bird flu and the ducks that we have were confirmed well when we picked them up. We are keeping them in an enclosure which wild birds can't get into and we're not in contact with any other poultry so we're hoping this will be sufficient xx

  11. Michelle says:

    I love ducks!! Good for you and your family, and I look forward to more duck tales!
    Love the socks! I hope to one day be able to actually produce a pair!

  12. Emmanuelle says:

    Lovely post! Thank you for sharing the information about the charting software programme. I'm looking for a good practical one to create charts since I've begun to share my own patterns as well, and written instructions usually pair well with a nice clear chart!

  13. 1 more stitch says:

    Your adventures with the ducks reminded me of when my family lived on an acreage and a neighbor wanted to borrow our male duck for his many females. Well, after a month he came back with the brightest orange/yellow beak he ever had, our neighbor fed him tons of nightcrawlers. But, no baby ducks. I also loved your selfie of your dog. I have five that I walk (one a day). Gave me lots of smiles for a gloomy day, thank you

  14. Anonymous says:

    I'm a newcomer to your blog and I can't tell you how much I've grown to enjoy and look forward to it, after only a few weeks. I started sock knitting about eleven years ago as a distraction from tough times I was going through. As we're all going through really difficult times now what better way to help cope with it, than to sit down for the odd hour or so with one's sock knitting. And if I can light the fire and pour a glass of wine too, so much the better. I do need to make a start on the Christmas cards and present wrapping though….

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