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Thursday, 27 November 2014

First frost

It's been a strange autumn so far; milder than usual and with bright, sunny days interspersed with murky, damp, dull days.  These days have reminded me of an old nursery rhyme, the first line of which was "One misty, moisty morning".  It's definitely been that.  It's also been cold.  Cold enough for frost but we haven't had any at all - until now!

The good thing about walking with a dog is that you get to be outside in all kinds of weathers - which can sometimes also be the not so good thing about walking with a dog!  But on this particular day, I spotted the first frost of the year.  It wasn't everywhere, just in a few patches, but it still sprinkled the leaves with sparkles and made me smile.



I love the way that frost brings everything into definition.  I wouldn't have looked twice at these comfrey leaves, growing wild and mostly in a black and sodden heap next to the path., but the frost made me stop and look at the veins on the leaves and how the leaves themselves were frozen into particular shapes.  


Neither would I probably have taken much notice of the direction that the sun creeps across the grass here; in not much more than an hour all the frost would be gone, the path would be less obvious and it would be just another green patch of grass.  


As much as I love all the other seasons of the year, I think winter is my favourite.  I love snow and frost.  I love the beautiful shapes that frost creates on everything it touches, and I love the way that snow turns the familiar world into a different place, white and silent.  I know that not everybody feels the same and that's fine; the world would be a boring place if we were all the same, but I still can't suppress a tiny thrill of excitement that this first frost means that winter is on the way.



Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Juniper Moon yarn trial and free hat pattern

Ooh, just look at what I've got!



It's a skein of the most squeezeable, squishable, strokeable, smoochable softest baby alpaca yarn I've ever got my hands on.  In fact, I'm finding it hard to keep my hands off it so you're lucky that you're getting to see a picture of it at all!

It's Juniper Moon Farm Herriot yarn and the lovely people at Black Sheep Wools gave it to me (or rather, I practically snatched it out of their hands!) so that I could have a play with it and tell you what I think.  And what I think is that it's just beautiful.  And yes, it is named after a certain famous Yorkshire vet!  It's a lovely shade of pale grey (shade 9, Travertine) and as soon as I saw it, I wanted to make a hat with it.  Well, after I ever got round to unwinding the skein, that is.  I left it for a few days so that I could just give it a squish when I was passing.  

And then the evening came when it was time to wind it into a ball.  I was worried that somehow some of that lovely softness would disappear when I took the skein apart, but I needn't have worried at all.  I now had a lovely soft ball of yarn instead of a skein, so I spent a few days giving that a squish too.

Black Sheep asked me if I could make an accessory with the yarn and this fitted beautifully with my immediate thought that it would make a fabulous hat.  Not just any old hat.  I wanted to make a slouchy hat, one that would still feel soft and squishable even when it was keeping your ears warm on a cold day.  It took a bit of working out as I've never created a hat without a pattern before and I had to bear in mind that alpaca yarn stretches and doesn't spring back into shape like wool does.  Having said that, it was good exercise for my brain and having to think about things a bit harder than usual never does anyone any harm.

Finally, it was time to put yarn to needles.  The yarn is lovely to knit with.  It doesn't split at all and the fabric is nice and even.  I would definitely consider this for a bigger project, and if they made it in sock yarn I'd be first in the queue to try it out!  I found that I couldn't get the gauge listed on the ball band (19 sts and 30 rows to 10cm) but instead my 4.5mm needles brought the gauge to 21 sts and 28 rows to 10cm.  It's a nice tension, not too tight or too loose and I'm happy with it.  

I'm even happier with the hat that came off my needles.  I've called it a Swirly Slouchy Hat because of the purl stitch swirls that go around the hat to create some texture in the yarn.



The hat is knitted in one piece on circular needles and the swirls continue through the decreases to create this effect which reminds me of a sand dollar I was given by my Canadian aunt when I was quite small.


Some people find the idea of knitting on circular needles quite daunting, but honestly, it's not as difficult as you might imagine.  In fact, knitting in the round is often easier as you don't have to worry about turning your work and as long as you remember where you started, you're unlikely to forget where you're up to.  It's also easier to carry projects around with you if they're not on straight needles as you're less likely to poke anybody else with your elbows.  I very rarely use straight needles for anything other than casting on these days as I find circulars so much more versatile, even for "regular" knitting rather than in the round.

The hat used less than one whole skein so the good news is that I have some left to squish as well, and it's also not as expensive as it feels which is also good news for my bank account as I think I might have to buy some more of this!  The yarn is available at Black Sheep Wools and they have the pattern in their free downloads as well, although they have said that I can share the pattern with you here too. 


Swirly Slouchy Hat
(You can download a PDF copy of this pattern here)

Wrap up for the winter in this gorgeously soft alpaca slouchy hat with textured panels that swirl to the crown.  The hat is constructed in one piece, knitted in the round on circular needles.

Materials

1 skein of Juniper Moon Herriot yarn, shade 9
4.5mm circular needles 60cm length
3.5mm circular needles 60cm length
tapestry needle

Gauge

21 sts and 28 rows to 10cm on 4.5mm needles

Finished size

Fits head circumference 20” (remember that it will stretch!)

Abbreviations

K          knit
P          purl
M1       pick up the loop lying between the next two stitches and knit into the back of it
to make a new stitch
SSK     slip the first stitch on the left hand needle as if to knit, slip the second stitch on the left hand needle as if to purl, transfer both stitches back to the left hand needle and knit into the back of them as if they were one stitch

Pattern

Cast on 94sts on 3.5mm needles.  If you prefer to do so, cast on with straight needles then transfer the stitches to a circular for the first round.  If you cast on with a circular, take care not to twist the stitches as you join the round.  Place marker to indicate the beginning of the round.

1st round:        K2, P2 to end
Continue as above until 10 rows have been worked.

Increase row:            *K2, M1* to end of round (144 sts)

Round 1:                     *K24, P24* to end of round, slip marker
Round 2:                     P1, *K24, P24* to last 23 sts, P23
Round 3:                     P2, *K24, P24* to last 22 sts, P22
Round 4:                     P3, *K24, P24* to last 21 sts, P21

Continue in this way,  moving the blocks of 24 sts along by 1 stitch on every round to create the swirling pattern.  (Note that the last block of purl stitches of the round will always appear to have one stitch more than the other blocks but this will be rectified each time you reach that block and work 1 knit stitch into the beginning of the block.)  Continue until hat measures 20cm from cast on edge, working past the stitch marker to the end of the purl section which has the extra stitch. 

Decrease for crown:

Keeping pattern correct, [SSK, K to last 2 sts of section, SSK, K1] in knit sections and [P2tog, P to last 2 sts of section, P2tog, P1] in purl sections to create the crown.  Work these decreases into every round until 12 sts remain.

Finishing off:

Cut yarn, leaving an end long enough to thread through the 12 remaining stitches.  Pull tightly and fasten off securely.



So there it is, my first attempt at creating a hat and I'm very pleased with it, even if I say so myself! Do let me know if you make one for yourself - I'd love to see! 



The yarn for this project was kindly donated by Black Sheep Wools.

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.