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Monday, 22 December 2014

Silence course - inside

I've been from one extreme to the other in the last week or so - the knit n natter in Skipton followed by a silence course in Seaford, near Brighton.  For someone with a lot to say for herself, the mere thought of me in silence for more than ten minutes has had some of my friends in stitches, but I went last year and was bowled over by how much I enjoyed it, so when my husband suggested I went again, I jumped at the chance.  (To be honest, I think the family were probably looking forward to me going as much as I was as I've been a bit of a stressed and shouty Mum recently, but we all knew I'd be nicer when I got home!)

The course is run by the Art of Living organisation and this is one of their Part 2 courses.  You need to have completed a Part 1 Art of Happiness programme to be able to attend because you need to know how to do the meditation and breathing techniques.  I'd recommend that everybody do the Part 1 as it's such a wonderful experience and is fantastic for helping to cope with stress. The Part 2 takes things a step further by involving a two and a half day silence as part of the course; the point of this is to remind yourself that everything that makes you happy comes from inside yourself, not from outside.  Nobody else can make you feel anything that you don't want to feel.  It's a powerful thought and is liberating in itself before you even begin to do anything else.  

Seaford is on the south coast, a long way from Winwick.  It's a four hour train journey through London, involving the Underground and lots of train changes, but I was well-prepared with my latest sock project, a picnic and my iPod so that I could catch up on some radio programmes that I'd missed.  Once I finally got to Seaford station, a short taxi ride took me to Florence House where the course was to be held.  It's a beautiful place.  



Would you like to take a look around?  Come on, then, let's go in.



Through this welcoming front door is a cosy sitting area with a wood burner where we spent quite a lot of our free time.  The course is structured in such a way that you get regular long breaks throughout the day where you can spend time as you please; outside in the fresh air - the beach and the cliffs are minutes away and the house is set in lovely grounds - or inside watching the flames, or in one of the other parts of the house.  


All of the meals are provided as part of the course.  Everybody eats together in a comfortable dining room, and everyone helps to prepare the food, wash up and set and clear the tables - all without speaking, which actually isn't as difficult as you'd imagine.  There are course leaders around who can speak and Katie the chef who gave plenty of instructions; all you have to do is listen and then join in.


The food is delicious.  It's vegetarian, organic and Ayurvedic so it's about as healthy as you can get. I don't know about you, but I find that often at home I just make the same dishes week after week as I know the family will eat them, I have the ingredients readily to hand and I know I can make them quickly.  It was quite a treat to be able to try different dishes - I had no idea what they were (and couldn't ask!) but they were full of vegetables that I don't usually use.  We had two different types of squash - look at the colour of this one, isn't it wonderful?


All of the bread was sourdough bread.  I've got out of the habit of making it since we came home from our summer holidays; I need to re-start my starter and I haven't quite found the time to do it. The sourdough we were eating was much softer and fluffier than mine, so at the times we could speak, I took the opportunity to ask questions about how I could improve mine (it seems that the key is to have the dough as wet as possible).


Florence House is used year-round for retreats and weddings.  It's got a very special feel about it; a lot of their courses are to do with healing the mind or body and you get the sense that everyone who comes here leaves feeling better.  There are several acres of grounds to walk around, including a walled garden.  I always think that gates in walls are very inviting.


Through this gate is the walled garden which leads to the vegetable garden, and another view of the house.  From the front, Florence House looks deceptively small, but a side view shows you that in fact it is much bigger than you'd first guess.  There were eleven of us on the course this year, plus about about five or six people who were there to help look after us and we all fitted in very well.



There was always something to see in the gardens despite the lateness of the year.  I enjoyed looking round the vegetable plot and guessing what had been growing during the year.  I found this wood pile against one of the walls - that's a lot of wood!


I love the way the wood has been cut; it's been split with an axe and because it's pine, it's quite knotty so it never splits quite evenly.  I love the uneven-ness of it all.  


On the other side of the house are large open gardens and windswept trees.  It's quite easy to see which way the wind comes in from the sea!  The trees remind me of something from a Dr Seuss book.


The weather whilst I was there was lovely; generally mild and sunny and totally unlike last year when the rain came in horizontally and the wind rattled the windows.  The whole of the bottom of this side of the house was where we spent most of our time, either meditating or sitting and listening to videos or the course leader talking.  Sometimes we took part in an exercise designed to illustrate something we'd been learning about, and in the evenings we all got together to sing and play music (singing is allowed because of the positive energy that's generated by a room full of singing people - ask any choir member!).  It's a fabulous room which gets the sun for most of the day - could there be anything nicer than spending the weekend wrapped up in your ripple blanket with the sun warming your face while you forget all about the stresses of real life and the pre-Christmas mania?  


It's taken me a few days since I got home to feel as if I've reached the same speed as everyone else again (tackling the Underground at rush hour with a large suitcase on my journey home was quite an adventure!).  I feel as if I'm in a much calmer place to face Christmas now, though, and I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to go on the course again.







Friday, 12 December 2014

Skipton Knit N Natter

I had such a lovely day on Tuesday. Firstly we woke to the sky doing this ...


Isn't it beautiful?  I think there must have been similar skies all across the country because my husband was working in Nottingham on Tuesday and took an amazing picture of the sky there. How could you not have a great day after that?!

I knew my day was going to be especially great, though, because I was having a Day Out.  I dropped small daughter off at school and headed north up the M6 away from Winwick.  I drove through Cheshire and Lancashire, watching the landscape grow gradually hillier until I reached these hills ...


Yorkshire.  I like Yorkshire hills, I like the way they roll rather than have steep precipices.  I like the sheep too.  We have sheep in Cheshire, but I like to see sheep behind proper stone walls.  

And not just any place in Yorkshire.  I was going back to Skipton, only a few months after visiting Yarndale so the road was nicely familiar.


I turned off the main road before reaching the Auction Mart where Yarndale is held and headed into the town past the canal.  Canal boats always look so peaceful, even in the winter, although I know that being below the water line can be a bit cold! 


It was a shame that the weather wasn't better as the light wasn't great for taking photos, although I was glad that it wasn't any worse or it might have been a difficult journey.  As it was, there wasn't much traffic and I got to my destination in good time.  Just at the right time, as happened, for a mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream and a mountain of marshmallows!  Delicious!


And this is where I was heading.  If you're thinking that the cafe looks familiar, then you're absolutely right.  It's Coopers, the cafe bar where Lucy of Attic24 has her Studio and where there's a twice-weekly knit n natter which she regularly blogs about.  I've been speaking to Lucy recently about a certain pair of socks and because I've called them Neat Ripple Socks, it only seemed fair to me to ask Lucy if she'd like a pair for her very own feet.  I was delighted when she said that she would, and after she choose the yarn she liked, I set to work.  What fascinated me was that although the pattern was the same, the way that the yarn stripes makes the two pairs of socks look completely different.  I'm sure Lucy won't mind me showing you them side by side so that you can see.  


Whenever I make socks for people, I usually like to give them in person if I possibly can.  After putting all that effort into them, it seems a bit half-hearted to just post them so I arranged to join the knit n natter and arrived in Skipton early enough to spend some time with Lucy.

If you've ever wondered if she's just as nice in real life as she seems in her blog, then I can tell you that she is.  With her trademark frothy coffee (and me with one of the biggest hot chocolates I've ever seen!), we sat and chatted about all sorts of things; blogs, yarn, families - just the sort of stuff you'd expect to sit and talk to her about.  For me, the highlight was talking about bloggy stuff. Lucy's very generous with her advice and I found the time we spent together invaluable - after all, if you're going to aspire to blog-writing heights then you could do worse than look at Lucy's blog. She gets over a million views a month, you know!

Before we knew it, it was lunch time.  We chose one of the two soups of the day - this is Christmas mushroom and chestnut.  I was rather disappointed to learn that there isn't a new variety of mushroom called a Christmas mushroom, but instead it's festive soup.  Nothing wrong with that!  


It was fabulous soup, too!  I'm definitely going to have a go at making it for dinner - Tuesday night is Soup Night in our house - although I'm not sure that small daughter would appreciate the pumpkin-seed bread croutons as much as I did.

The Tuesday knit n natter takes place in a little room upstairs in the cafe.  Friday, apparently, is so busy that they can only fit downstairs in the main cafe but there were only eight of us on Tuesday afternoon.  The ladies were all lovely and made me feel very welcome.  I've never actually been to a knit n natter before; the ones closer to home are always on the wrong day for me so it was a real treat to be sitting knitting (socks, of course!) and chatting in the afternoon.  One of the people there was Tracy, who was busy making Christmas items for her shop, Handmade Over Yonder.  It felt quite surreal to be sitting in a room with two people whose blogs I've read and enjoyed for such a long time!


Lucy was busy working out the border for her Cosy blanket, mixing sets of colours together in small trial sections as she decided which she liked best.  Do I know what she chose?  Yes, I do, but you'll have to read her blog to find out!


All too soon, it was three o'clock and time to pack up.  It's certainly true that time flies when you're having fun, and crafting with a group of people is such a sociable thing to do.  Where else could you spend an afternoon knitting, stitching and crocheting with impromptu lessons and advice thrown in, along with a lot of laughter and conversations about Nativity performances?  I think knit n natter sessions should be compulsory for anybody with an interest in crafting wherever they live because they're good for the soul.  

After Lucy and I said our goodbyes, it was time to head back through the hills (and the torrential rain which was creeping through Lancashire) towards home.  I've written about the Five Ways to Wellbeing before, and as I negotiated the M6 traffic, I realised that my day had encompassed all of them.  It was no wonder I had a huge grin on my face, in spite of the rain.


Saturday, 6 December 2014

Neat Ripple Socks

Ever since I made my Neat Ripple blanket, I've fancied a pair of socks to match.  There's something about those undulating stripes that make me feel calm - perhaps it's because they remind me of the sea, or perhaps it's because I think that stripy sock yarn would be just perfect to create something that would wrap my feet in the same stripes I can wrap myself in with my blanket.

There was something almost hypnotic about crocheting the blanket, creating those dips and hills, and I knew that knitting a sock in the same pattern would have the same wonderful effect.  So I looked around at various patterns but didn't see anything that really fitted the bill.  Not the way that I'd imagined them in my head, and not the way I wanted them to fit my feet.

In the end, I decided to make my own Neat Ripple socks, basing it on the crochet stitch pattern that I used for the blanket and my basic sock pattern.  You'll be pleased to know that Lucy's given her seal of approval to their name and here they are!



What do you think?  Suitably ripply?  


I just love the way the yarn creates sock waves, and they're super-simple to make with no complicated pattern stitches to remember.  I think self-striping sock yarn is my very favourite sort of sock yarn.  Sometimes there's a tiny picture on the ball band of how the stripes will turn out, and sometimes there's no picture and it's a surprise.  Woolly surprises are a nice kind of surprise. Plus, I never have to worry about which colours to put together, or about ends to weave in or that I'm going to feel the join as the colours just blend together and come out of the ball as they were dyed.  Magic!



I also love the way that the pattern turns into stripes across the bottom of the sock.  You could continue the ripples if you wanted to, but I decided that might be too uncomfortable for my taste and wanted smooth stripes instead.  When I was small, I was never a child who liked wearing those mittens strung through your coat on a length of wool so that you didn't lose them - I could always feel the wool and it was always uncomfortable.  My Mum used to say I was like the Princess and the Pea and I'd complain about things no one else would ever notice.  It's the same now with labels inside clothes.  And very definitely the same with my socks.  


And of course, being me, I have to have the stripes match exactly.  I didn't want one sock rippling out of time with the other.  Oh no, that wouldn't do at all! 


So here's today's question.  Would you like to make your own pair of Neat Ripple Socks?  Would you like to wrap your toes up in waves to match your blanket, just like I wanted to?  You would? How lovely!  And handy that I've got a pattern just here ... J

Now, before you get stuck in, just a quick word about needles and yarn.  I used Regia Ombre yarn for these socks and found that a pair of size 5 socks used two balls with some left over.  Unless your feet are particularly large, I would say that two balls would be fine, but if you have big feet or you want to go up a needle size, then I would recommend that you buy a third ball to make sure you don't run out.  You can always pull the ball apart to find the right section to continue your stripes.

I found that the best gauge for the pattern was on 2.75mm needles.  I would usually use a 2.5mm needle but the pattern came out too tight, and knitting on a 3.0mm needle made the socks quite a lot bigger.  This is useful to know if you have wide feet and usually need to cast on extra stitches - there are 70 stitches in the round for this sock which compared to the usual 60 stitches that I would cast on for socks makes them pretty big.  The pattern pulls that in enough to make them fit comfortably, but if you need wider socks then try using a 3.0mm needle to relax the knitted fabric a little before attempting to add another block of pattern in - there are 10 stitches in a block so you can see that they would start to become very wide socks indeed!  

I also chose to knit these socks on an 80cm circular using magic loop.  "Hang on a minute," I can hear to say, "I thought you didn't like magic loop.  What about that tiny circular needle you usually use?"  A good question!  I started off with my tiny circular and whilst it is possible to use it, I found it awkward and the stitches didn't slide easily across it.  I used DPNs for a while and they work fine, but decided to try magic loop to see if it was faster and I found that it was.  No, magic loop still isn't my favourite way to knit socks, but it worked very well for this pair!  (If you need help with doing magic loop, I think these free videos are a good place to start.) I had to buy a new circular - I usually use Knitpro Nova interchangeable needles whenever I need a circular but Knitpro don't make tips as small as 2.75mm so I bought this one made by Addi instead.  All of my sock needles are made by Addi and I've been very happy with them - they've seen me through a lot of pairs of socks!

Finally, I want to show you how I made the stitches in the pattern.  If you're comfortable working kfb, ssk and k2tog stitches then you can just jump to the pattern below, but if you need a refresher, hopefully these photos will help!

I made the hills of the ripple using kfb.  This is an increase stitch which you create by knitting into the front and the back of the same stitch.  Like this ...

1  Knit into the first stitch on the left hand needle, but don't take the stitch off the needle.


2  Swing your right hand needle round to knit into the back of the same stitch and this time, take the stitch off the needle.


3  You now have two stitches created from the same stitch.


I created the dips by using two different decrease stitches - both lean in opposite directions so together, they make a nice flat decrease.  The first is ssk.  Create it like this ....

1  Slip the first stitch on the left hand needle knitwise onto the right hand needle.


2  Slip the second stitch on the left hand needle purlwise onto the right hand needle.


3  Slip both stitches back onto the left hand needle and knit through the back of both loops.


4  Slide both stitches off the needle.


For the second decrease of the hill, I used k2tog.  For this stitch, all you do is knit the first two stitches on the left hand needle together and slide off the needle.


Right!  I think we're all ready to make a start on the sock!

Neat Ripple socks
(you can download a PDF of the pattern here)

These socks are constructed as top down socks with a gusset heel.  The heel is knitted in heel stitch, which creates a durable, cushioned heel.  This pattern will create a medium-sized sock. 

I found that I got the best fit for my feet using 2.75mm needles; 2.5mm produced fabric too tight and 3.0mm produced a sock that was too big for me.  I wouldn’t recommend using needles smaller than 2.75mm but if you have very wide feet, it is better to try a bigger needle size before altering the number of stitches.

Materials

1 x 80cm circular needle size 2.75mm* (these socks can also be knitted on DPNs if desired)
2 x 50g balls of 4ply sock yarn* - yarn pictured is Regia Ombre Stripe in shade 4482
1 pair DPNs size 2.5mm (optional)
stitch markers
tapestry needle

* This pattern was designed to create a UK size 5 sock.  If you have large feet or choose to go up a needle size to make a bigger sock, you may wish to purchase an extra ball of yarn to make sure that you don’t run out.

Gauge

28 sts and 42 rows to 10cm on 2.75mm needles in stocking stitch.

Abbreviations

K          Knit
P          Purl
Sl         Slip stitch from left to right needle as if to knit
Kfb      Knit into the front and back of the stitch 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 them both back to the left hand needle and knit into the back of both stitches together
K2tog  Knit the first two stitches on the left hand needle together as one stitch

Pattern

Cast on 70 stitches using 2.5mm double pointed needle  (this is optional – personally, I prefer a tighter rib).  If you want to use magic loop you will be able to cast on with the larger circular needle, but I would still recommend knitting the first two rows as if on straight needles to avoid any joining issues.  If you use DPNs, you might find it easiest to cast on and work 2 rows before dividing the stitches across the needles.

1st row:            K1, P1, *K2, P2, K2* to last 2 sts, P1, K1, turn
2nd row:          P1, K1, *P2, K2, P2* to last 2 sts, K1, P1, turn

At this point, change to magic loop or divide the stitches evenly across three or four DPNs according to preference and join into a circle, place marker.

Work each round as follows:        K1, P1, *K2, P2, K2* to last 2 sts, P1, K1
for 14 more rounds or until desired length of rib (I knit 16 rounds of rib).

Next round:    knit

Pattern set-up:          

Round 1          *K2, Kfb, Kfb, K2, SSK, K2tog* repeat to end of round
Round 2          Knit

Main pattern

Round 1          K3, *K2, Kfb, Kfb, K2, SSK, K2tog* repeat to end of round
Round 2          Knit

You will find that you need to keep moving your marker to accommodate the K2tog at the end of the round.  Continue to knit rounds 1 and 2 of main pattern until desired length before start of heel, ending with round 1.

Heel Flap

Slip the last stitch knitted in pattern onto a new DPN and use this as your first knitted stitch of the heel flap – this will help you to keep the pattern correct across the top of the foot.

1st  row:          K1, *K1, sl1* until you have 34 stitches on your needle, turn
2nd row:         Sl1, P  to end, turn
3rd row:          Sl1, *K1, sl1* to end, turn

Repeat rows 2 and 3 until heel measures approximately 2½ inches, finishing on row 3 (approx 27 rows) .  If you want to make the heel flap longer, continuing knitting rows 2
and 3 until you reach the desired length, but remember that you will need to pick up more stitches to create the gusset.  Note that 36 stitches are left in the pattern block across the top of the foot.

The handy thing about using the magic loop method is that you can keep all of your stitches on one needle whilst you're creating the heel flap!
                       


Turn heel

Row 1:             Sl1, P18, P2tog, P1, turn
Row 2:            Sl1, K5, SSK, K1, turn
Row 3:            Sl1, P6, P2tog, P1, turn
Row 4:            Sl1, K7, SSK, K1, turn

Continue in this way, increasing one stitch between slip stitch and SSK or P2tog on each row until all of the heel stitches are used.

Knit across heel stitches if required to bring you to the left hand side of the heel ready to pick up 15 stitches.  Remember that if you made the heel flap bigger, you will need to pick up more stitches.  Once you have picked up the stitches, place marker.  Knit across the top of the foot place marker (round 2 of pattern), then pick up 19 stitches (or more if required) up the other side of the heel.  Knit across the top of the heel and then shape gusset as below.  Again, with magic loop you keep all of your stitches on one needle.


Shape gusset

Round  1:        K to 3 sts before the marker, K2tog, K1, slip marker, K1, *Kfb, K2, SSK, K2tog,  K2, Kfb*, slip marker, SSK, K to marker.
Round 2:         Slip marker, K to next marker, slip marker, K to 3 sts before marker.

Continue in this way, repeating rounds 1 and 2 and decreasing by two stitches at the gusset on every other row until there are 70 stitches on the needle. 

Once you have 70 stitches again, continue to knit each round until you reach approximately 4cm before the desired length ready to start the toes, remembering to keep in pattern across the top of the foot.  It doesn’t matter if you finish on round 1 or 2. Don't be afraid to try your sock on before decreasing for the toes!

Toes

You will remember that you have 36 sts across the top of the foot and 34 stitches for the heel (70 sts in total).  To ensure that the toes are not baggy, I decrease the extra 2 stitches across the top of the foot in the first two rows of creating the toes as follows:

Round 1:         K1, SSK, K to 3 sts before marker, K2tog, K1, place marker, K1, SSK, K to 3 sts  before marker, K2tog, K1
Round 2:         K1, SSK, K across all sts, K2tog, K1, slip marker, knit to end, slip marker. 
Round 3:         K1, SSK, K to 3 sts before marker, K2tog, K1, slip marker, K1, SSK, K to 3 sts                                   before marker, K2tog, K1
Round 4:         Knit across all stitches, slipping markers as you come to them.

Repeat rounds 3 and 4 until you have 28 stitches left and divide these between two needles so that front and back of socks match.


Graft toes using Kitchener stitch.  If you need a reminder of how to do this, there is a tutorial on my basic socks post.

You're all done!  Enjoy wearing your ripply socks and don't forget to let me know how you got on!  




PS  If you liked this post, you can find me on Ravelry, Facebook, Twitter and Bloglovin J

Monday, 1 December 2014

Monthly musing - December 2014 - Feeling Christmassy

"Are you feeling Christmassy yet?"

It was a line in a conversation I overheard the other day and whilst it's an expression I've heard many times before, I was left pondering what "feeling Christmassy" actually means.  I've always assumed it's to do with feeling excited about Christmas approaching and being caught up with the moment and the magic of it all.  Children have no problem being Christmassy from quite early on in the year, but I've noticed more and more adults saying (rather sadly, I always feel) that it "doesn't feel like Christmas" until a particular event or date. 

It's a funny expression, isn't it?  We don't say that we're "feeling Easter-y" or "feeling birthday-y" so what is it about Christmas that requires us to feel that sense of captivation and an almost obligatory requirement to be jolly?  It's actually one of the most lonely times of the year for many people, so why do we put ourselves under this pressure to be happier than at any other time of year?

I wonder if our lack of Christmas feeling stems from the need we seem to have to make this time of year as picture perfect as possible.  We are bombarded by films, images and even TV adverts which make us feel that we should be behaving in a particular way to turn what is actually a Bible story about a child being born into a huge circus.  The adverts which strike the strongest notes with me are not those which show things to buy, but are the ones which speak to our emotions.  The ones that are about love, hope, sharing and happiness.  You know which ones I mean.

I think this is what "feeling Christmassy" is all about.  It's about the happiness you can give to others, not about the gifts.  It's about the time spent with people that you want to be with, not about the number of cards you send.  It's about remembering the joy that a new baby can bring to any family, and that family can extend to include the whole world. 

If we think about the trees, the decorations and the festivities as being reminders of what Christmas is really about - the celebration of a baby being born who would change the course of history - rather than a countdown to a day of what we get for ourselves, then it's much easier to "feel Christmassy" without needing to wait for some event to happen.  All of our emotions come from inside ourselves, no one else can cause us to feel anything we don't want to.  If we chose, we could feel Christmassy at any time of the year because I think "feeling Christmassy" is about love, hope, sharing and happiness.  Those emotions shouldn't be restricted to one particular time of the year, they are always available - and that truly is a gift worth having.