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Monday, 24 November 2014

Ripple blanket edging

It seems like longer ago than only last year when I made my neat ripple blanket and it's been well-used and well-loved since then!  I wanted to make one for myself when I took up meditation so that I would have my own special colourful rainbow to wrap myself up in during my quiet moments, and it's been perfect for that.

When I made my blanket, I didn't put any kind of edging on it and I was quite happy with it as it was.  However, over the summer I saw pictures of Lucy's new ripple blanket complete with a neat edge and it made me re-think whether I wanted to add one to mine.  As you can see, it looks just fine without one ...

but I think it looks much better with one (even if I seem to be incapable of laying it out with straight edges for the photo!).  

It looks properly finished now - and what's even better is that it's added some extra width to my blanket.  I decided that as it's specifically for wrapping myself up in rather than just snuggling under, I didn't want to use double crochet stitches which is what Lucy has used in her ripple blanket edging tutorial but instead I used half trebles.  It's added about an inch to each side of my blanket which has made a surprising difference to the size.

It took me quite a while to decide which colours to use.  Because there are seventeen colours in the blanket, I was quite spoiled for choice.  In the end, I went for one of the darker pink shades and the dark plum.

I'm really pleased with how it's turned out.

However, because I wanted to make the blanket bigger, it meant that I needed to change the way I created the fill-in for the dips and mountains of the ends, and for that I found KnitKnatKnot UK's edging post very useful, although I still had to make each of the stitches a size larger so that they would fit with my round of half trebles.  Using decrease stitches worked much better for me with doing the bigger stitches as working into each stitch of the row below made the dips look as if I'd put bars down them!  With my decreases, the stitches now remind me of the girders on the Forth Road Bridge which is my very favourite bridge and therefore not a bad thing!

This is how I created the straight edging for my blanket.  I've used UK stitches and they are as follows:

htr - half treble 
tr - treble 
dt - double treble
dt2tog - this is two double treble stitches worked together into a decrease.  

If you need a reminder of how to do the stitches, this is a good page to look at, and there's also an explanation here of how to do a decrease.  Although it doesn't specifically give a double treble decrease, the process is just the same as for a treble decrease - all you've done is wrapped the yarn one more time around your hook.

From the top of a peak: *3 htr, 2 tr, 1 dtr, 2 dtr2tog, 1 dtr, 2 tr, 3 htr* (repeat between **)

I'm not terribly good at freehand drawing on photographs so please excuse my wonky lines in the photo above!  I hope you can see how the stitches fit, though.  

If you're making a ripple blanket, I think it's definitely worth putting the edging around, whichever style you choose.  I had more than enough yarn left over, although obviously it depends on the size of blanket you've made in the first place.  And the best bit is that there's just that bit more blanket to snuggle under!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Garden surprises

It's been such a mild Autumn so far that I really shouldn't be surprised that there are still summer flowers to be found in the garden.  In fact, I noticed this morning that some of the bedding plants in pots that seemed to have died off due to lack of water whilst we on holiday have sprung back into life after the recent rain.  

What really surprises me is that there are still tomatoes ripening in the greenhouse!  Usually at this time of year I'm inundated with green tomatoes that refuse to turn red and which I have no idea what to do with - I'm not a fan of green tomato chutney at all.  

I'm also really pleased to see that the nasturtium which was just one little leftover plant that needed a home has happily spread itself far and wide across the border. I don't know how much longer it will survive but it's a pleasure to see it still around.

This is Cotinus "Grace" which, unlike the more common variety of smoke bush, "Royal Purple" turns orange in the Autumn.  Not just any old orange, a rich, vibrant LOOK AT ME! orange which catches your eye from the other end of the garden.  It's beautiful this year.

This little marigold has amazed me too.  I thought it was on it's way out in September but here it is still thriving in November.  I love this variety; it's just a plain ordinary marigold, Calendula officinalis.  I much prefer these to the double-headed messed-about-with varieties.  

Up by the gate, the Cotoneaster has turned a brilliant red.  All the berries have gone now, gobbled up by greedy blackbirds, and only the leaves remain for a week or so until there's nothing but bare branches until the Spring.

It is getting colder at night now, so I don't think it will be long before the frost arrives and the garden will change again.  It's a treat to be able to watch it.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembrance Day

We don't have a cenotaph in Winwick and as you'll know our church is currently out of action, so our Remembrance service was held in the school hall.  It's a good big space for this kind of service, but it was pretty much standing room only and the congregation were not only regular church-goers but also new faces who wanted to pay their respects at the service.

The Brownie pack made poppies this year; you can see small daughter's poppy on the left.  It seemed like most of the Brownie pack turned up to the service, too, proudly wearing their poppies and with yet more Brownie-made poppies adorning banners which will eventually become part of the church decorations when it re-opens.

I find the part of the service where the names of those men who left the village to fight in the two World Wars and never came home very moving.  Even though I wasn't brought up in Winwick so it's not really "my" village, I've been here for quite a long time now and still feel a connection to them.  After all, in the simplest sense they were all somebody's son, brother or husband and that's a connection that we all can recognise.

As time goes on and the remaining war veterans grow less in number, it becomes more important for us to remember what their actions meant to us.  Current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may seem much more remote, but the bravery of people who go to these places is no less because they have chosen to join the Army rather than having been expected to because every other man in the country was doing so.

I am proud that my girls were at the service today and that they wore their poppies and understand that soldiers from a long time ago died so that they can enjoy the lives they have today.  And even after the last old soldier has gone, we will still be at the Remembrance services because they should never be forgotten.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Opening the doors of Winwick Church

Our lovely village church, St Oswald's, was actually open for a short while this weekend.  I've just realised that although I've been writing this blog for quite some time now and have been posting my Monthly Musings from the church newsletter, I've never actually shown you around our church.  The church has been closed for a few years because death watch beetle was found in the wooden ceiling and investigation discovered that the ceiling itself seemed to be held up by not much more than fresh air and angels.  It meant that services had to be moved to the church hall which although not quite the same, is significantly better than having pieces of ceiling drop on your head during the hymns.

Luckily, English Heritage were able to give the church a grant towards the cost of the repairs, but the church was obliged to find the rest of the money and one of the good things that has come out of this is that the village community has pulled together to organise fundraising to replace the ceiling.  There has been scaffolding and corrugated iron shuttering around the church at various times over the last few years as different parts of the restoration work were undertaken, and the most recent scaffolding was removed recently meaning that it was possible to see inside again.

It was a beautiful weekend; bright blue sky and almost unseasonably warm.  The sunshine makes the stone look almost golden and despite the church not having been used for a very long time, it wasn't as cold inside as you would expect.

Inside, the church looks pretty much as it always did.  You wouldn't know that there had been any major renovation undertaken if it wasn't for the fact that the choir stalls have been stacked safely out of harm's way and various pews have been removed to allow the workmen access.  

Oh, and the wooden shuttering to separate the chancel where some services are still held.

It's obviously a sign of getting older (my younger self would have bored rigid visiting churches) but there's something about churches nowadays that appeals to me.  I don't know if it's the shared community history - so many baptisms, marriages and funerals of so many generations - or the architecture and sometimes archaeology of the places that speak to me, but there is without question something that draws me in.

Look at the way the sun comes through the windows onto the stone.  It makes me very happy to be able to be in here again; it's got such a lovely feel to the place.  It's very calming and comforting to be here.

One of the nice things about being in church at a time other than when the services are on is that you get to have a good look around.  Normally, I'd probably never even notice these pew carvings as I'd sit in another part of the church ...

I'm fascinated by carvings like these.  I love the way that a block of wood has been given such beautiful curves and shape.  I love the smoothness of it, the way it tempts me to run my fingers over it.  Such attention to detail.  There's more on the pulpit ...

There are figures just like this one all the way around it. I don't know who they are or if anybody else connected with the church does either, but they were obviously important enough to be carved with a create deal of care.  

One of my favourite things about sculpture, whether in wood or in stone, is that way that the impression of fabric is created.  This little angel clearly has clothing on that drapes around her knees - but it is still all part of the same piece of wood and whilst logically I know that underneath the folds there aren't any knees at all, the sculptor has made me believe that there are.  Beautiful!  I wish I had the talent to create something like this.

Here's more wood - and the cause of all the problems.  It's the ceiling which was held up by not very much and now has a strong structure of steel beams behind it. Now, thanks to modern restoration techniques, you'd never know there had ever been a problem.

This is another view of the ceiling looking down the other end of the church towards the bell tower.  If you look at the top of the picture you can see where the original pitched roof was attached.  I like that the church has changed over the years; it gives it a sense of continuity, and our church has been around for centuries.  The captain of the Titanic, Edward Smith, was married here in 1887, and though that seems like a long time ago, the church stood for many years before even that date - it was mentioned in the Domesday Book (under the entry for Newton-le-Willows).  

Before we leave, I'd like to quickly show you one or two things outside.  Like these carvings by the door.  They look a little worse for wear but that's actually more down to pollution discolouration than anything else, I think.  It's that same skill of turning stone to something with curves and shape.  I can't resist them!

And finally, our famous Winwick pig.  Yes, this really is a carving of a pig on the wall of our church.  Local legend has it that after work had started on building the church at a different place in the village, a pig was seen at night running to where the church now stands crying "We-ee-wick" or "Win-ick" and moved the foundation stones to the new place.  It seems that you don't argue with a mysterious pig that moves stones at night and the church was built on the hill where it has overlooked the village ever since.  

Of course, nobody now knows if this is true or not, and historical accounts of the church give an alternative theory as to why there should be a pig on the wall (see the links above), but I like the idea of a pig choosing where the church should go. Lots of churches have fantastic, possibly mythical stories associated with them, and perhaps that's part of the magic that draws me to them as well.

It's time for me to head back home now.  I hope you've enjoyed our brief visit and I'm sorry it's taken so long for me to bring you here - I forget that you don't see it every day as I do!  We'll come back another day, if you like, when the church is officially re-opened.  Until then, the doors are safely locked again whilst the work continues to keep St Oswald's in one piece for future generations.  Not long to go now.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Monthly musing - November 2014 - weather warnings

Small daughter went skydiving with the Brownies last night.  You might ask if it’s reasonable to throw such small people out of aeroplanes and that would be a valid question – but luckily she was at an indoor skydiving centre where instead of falling down from the sky, she was pushed up by a wind tunnel.  Even more luckily for me, there was a spare space in the group and I got to have a turn too!

There’s something quite magical about being held up by such a strong wind.  Simply by bending or straightening your legs, tensing or relaxing, you can move around and go up and down.  Some of the Brownies kicked their legs as if they were swimming and it’s a natural reaction because that’s just what it feels like – swimming in the air.  On our second turn, the instructor took those of us who wanted to high up in the tunnel, swinging us round and round as we shot up in the air and then spinning back down like an autumn leaf.  Wonderful!

The wind in the tunnel was around 80-100mph and that’s a pretty strong wind – as strong as some of the gales that have hit the country recently.  We woke up one morning last week to find the rain battering on the windows and the wind shrieking around the house.  There had a weather warning on the news the night before, but it’s still always a bit of a shock to see just how wild the wind and rain can be.

We checked the weather and traffic reports and wondered whether we should risk driving small daughter to school.  And looking at the rain sheeting across the fields, it struck me that for all our technological advances we still have no control over some things in the world – the weather being one of them.  We can funnel wind into tunnels to skydive for fun, but the whole country grinds to a standstill at the smallest snowfall.  It’s as if we think that carrying on as normal will make the weather behave in the way we want it to.

We’re only a short way into autumn so the weather is only going to get worse.  It shouldn’t be a surprise to us, and yet we are often unprepared.  We weren’t allowed near the wind tunnel without safety instructions, helmets and goggles – but we don’t think twice about going out in the worst weather without any kind of special equipment.  I’ll bet the only people who travel in the winter with a blanket and an emergency snack in the car are parents of toddlers when in reality, we should all have those things in case of breakdowns in bad weather. 

This winter, I’m determined to be more prepared.   And I also know that next time we’re out in a strong wind I need to keep tight hold of small daughter or she’ll be flying away! 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Tumble dryer cleanout

Tumble dryers.  Uneconomical, un-environmentally friendly - and those of us who have them couldn't live without them.  We bought ours when big daughter was a baby to dry the re-useable nappies that we used - and considering that she's just left school then although it's a triumph that it's still working, it probably means that it's more uneconomical and un-environmentally friendly than many!

Still, I don't use it any more than I have to as I much prefer to dry my washing outside - not only is it free, but it smells so wonderful when you bring it back in.  It does get used though, and that means that it needs cleaning to reduce the risk of fire.

Risk of fire?  Yep, absolutely.  I had no idea that I needed to do any more than clean out the filter every time I used the dryer before I heard a fire officer talking on the radio about house fires one day.  He said he would never leave an appliance on in the house when he wasn't in (including washing machines, dryers and dishwashers) and that more dust and fluff collected inside the dryer than anyone ever thought about and if left uncleaned, could present a fire risk.  I decided to take a look inside mine.

Imagine the shock when I pulled out handfuls of fluff - enough to make a small animal!  I resolved to make sure that I remembered to clean out my dryer - after all, we get our chimneys swept every year to make sure they're safe for the winter, so why not the dryer?  And today was the day.  So, if you think you can stand to see photos of the fluff (it's not dirt I hasten to assure you - I do clean my house - it's just accumulated fluff!) then I'll show you how I go about it.

Firstly, gather the tools you need.  I use the vacuum cleaner with various nozzle heads and a screwdriver.  Next, turn off the dryer and unplug it.  This is very important.  It's never a good idea to poke around inside an electrical appliance with it attached to the mains.  

I start by taking out the fluff filter and cleaning that - this is something I do every time I use the dryer anyway so that's an easy job.

Next, I pull the dryer out from where it lives under the working top so that I can get behind to vacuum all the accumulated dust and fluff from behind it.  The dog sleeps next to the dryer so I usually find a couple of old biscuits under there as well!

Now comes the fun part.  It's time to start cleaning out the dryer itself.  At the back of my dryer is the vent which goes through the wall to the outside.  I don't have any pipes or tubes on there as my dryer sits right up against the wall, but if yours does then see if you can disconnect it so that you can get at any fluff which has become lodged in there.  There's a reason why it's important to do this ...

Look at that!  That's the short distance from the vent at the back of my dryer to the front wall of the dryer - and look at all the fluff that's stuck in there.  It's very dry and is completely stuck to the metal so I use a short, stiff brush which fits onto my vacuum cleaner to scrape it all off.

Then it's time to go back round the front of the dryer where my fluff filter lives. It's much harder to get at the fluff here as the filter slot isn't quite wide enough for me to get my vacuum attachments down.

If you end up in a similar situation, then you've just got to do the best you can. Anything that you can get out of your dryer is a bit less to cause you problems. Next, I unscrew the top lid of my dryer and take it off so that I can vacuum inside. Mine's a very basic model so there's the drum and a few wires attached to the controls, but there's still a thick layer of fluff attached to them all.  You may not be able to get at the inside of your dryer, so don't worry. 

Finally, it's time to go outside and check the vent there.  Because we live close to fields and our cats have a bad habit of bringing small furry things back to the house, I've put a chicken wire cover into the vent to discourage said small furry things from thinking they've discovered a nice warm house to hide in. Unfortunately, this mesh cover also collects fluff ...

and a snail this year.  It looks like a fluffy birds nest and that's not good - all of that fluff is blocking the vent and I need to get it out so that the hot air can flow properly out from the dryer.  It's a bit of a slow job to pick it all out as the fluff has crusted and welded itself to the wire.  It's worth it though - look how much came off it!

And that's the job done.  It took me just over half an hour, which isn't a long time out of my life and has considerably reduced the fire risk of the dryer.  And because I do this every year now, then the amount of fluff that I get out is much less than that first, shocking, clean-out - but there's still a fair pile.

Worth taking the time for?  I think so.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Tuesday evening

Tuesdays are always a bit of a rush for us with after-school clubs, so it's usually soup night.  Tonight's flavour is cauliflower and Stilton.  Making soup is soup-er easy (sorry!) and makes a great meal for when we're rushing in and out between appointments.  I do have recipe books but these days I generally just throw vegetables into a pan with a stock cube, add about a litre of water and then cook the vegetables until soft.  Having an Aga is ideal for this as I can leave the pan in the bottom (simmering) oven for several hours and know that the soup will be ready when we get home.  After that, I blitz it in the blender (a nifty trick I learned years ago which allows me to put absolutely any vegetables into the pan without fear that someone will announce "I don't like that") and serve with some bread warm out of the bread-maker.

Whilst I was making the soup, I happened to look out of the window and spotted this little fellow sitting on the flags ....

I watched him for quite a while, admiring his neat feathers and the way that they change from red to grey to brown.  When he didn't move, I decided to grab my camera, thinking that if he'd gone when I got back then at least I'd been able to see him.  I was quite surprised to see him still there and started to wonder if something was wrong.  Then someone else appeared ...

and still the little robin didn't budge, so I thought there definitely must be something wrong with him.  Fortunately, so did our cat (our other cat wouldn't have been so understanding!) and after I'd knocked on the window and shouted at him, he sat down with the robin to wait ...

giving me time to rush outside and scoop him up before he changed his mind.  At this point, the robin decided to leave but clearly something had shocked him as he couldn't fly properly and ended up on the windowsill ...

before finally disappearing into the hedge.  I didn't see him again so I hope he got back to his nest safely.

Back indoors and with the soup eaten (it was very nice, by the way!), I had another job to do.  Do you remember me showing you my sock project bag way back in March?  I've had it for a good few years now and it's travelled some miles with me. It's been on lots of holidays, for lots of car journeys, to lots and lots of after-school clubs and music classes and to visit friends and relatives all over the world.  So it was a sad moment tonight when I had to say goodbye to it - my scissors and pens have poked too many holes in the bottom now and the handles are about to snap so it's time for a replacement.

I've bought myself a new one, as close to the shape and style of my old one as I could get, but it doesn't feel quite right at the moment.  There's not as much junk in it (it's amazing what you find at the bottom of bags, isn't it?) but it's still a bit stiff and unyielding.  I'm sure a bit of travelling will soon sort that out!

Tuesday must be a night for creative things.  A few Tuesdays ago, big daughter and I went to a workshop run by The Make and Do Studio.  It's been quite a while since I last went to one of Maeri's workshops - in fact, it was the curtain workshop in January (and no, since you ask, I still haven't made any curtains!). This one was a wire ring workshop held in a lovely pub called The Rams Head in beautiful Grappenhall village.  Big daughter has started to make jewellery as a hobby and is producing some lovely stuff.  She fancied having a go at making rings but didn't want to go on her own - and I was very happy to go with her!

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera so could only take pictures with my phone, and they're not as good as I wanted them to be.  (I also forgot my reading glasses.  I'm devastated that I actually need to use them and am usually too vain to take them out of the house but I couldn't do without them during the workshop so I was very grateful that Maeri was able to lend me hers!)  So, just a quick tour of the best ones from the night ... 

The workshop was run by Marie Griffiths from Redstones Creative, who had the room in the Rams Head all set out and ready for us ...

we each had a workstation with the equipment we needed ...

and more tools and ring samples within easy reach as we got started.

This is big daughter showing how easy it is to create a spiral wire ring - she was much better at it than I was!

We had a break for tea and cake - huge cream scones and wonderful chocolate brownies - it would have too easy to have spent the rest of the evening just eating cake and chatting!  But instead we continued with our mission and moved onto working with Swarovski crystals.  It was difficult not to choose too many but I was determined to go home with something that I would actually wear, not a knuckleduster, so made myself be very selective with my colour choices.

And here are the rings that I made, taken at home later with my camera.  Firstly, a simple spiral ...

then on to wrapped wire and Swarovski crystals ...

and finally a free-form spiral with crystals.  This one's my favourite, I love the way it looks like a little solar system!

Big daughter thoroughly enjoyed the evening as well.  Marie is an excellent tutor, calm and encouraging, and all the participants left proudly displaying new jewellery - some with intentions to create more as favours and gifts for bridemaids at their forthcoming weddings which is a lovely, unique idea.  I don't think it will be long before I'm back to The Make and Do Studio - and I have a feeling that big daughter will insist on coming along too!