Christmas stockings and a girl called Joyce……

weeny stocking for weeny sized bears

When me and my sisters were growing up we had the excellent good fortune to know a lovely lady called Mrs Ellis….she’d turn up on her bike with the front basket so laden up with all sorts of vegetables and flowers from her garden, apples from where she’d go apple picking, mushrooms from the meadows…a glut of asparagus in the Spring….she was always cheerful and had a smile, you really couldn’t feel miserable or downhearted in her company.  As I got I older I moved away from the Suffolk village I grew up in and came to live in Norfolk but I’d often go see her and her husband, as soon as I walked down their path the back door would open and there they would stand, waving and beaming to see me, their kitchen was the cosiest place in the world….it was just like having an extra set of grandparents and really even I don’t have the words to express how wholly fond of them I was…

Sadly a few years ago,that hazy mist of dementia took hold of her and her mind become all muddled so she had to go into a home and before long she became Joyce, the girl she’d once been and very quickly quite clear forgot her adult life….she’d always been so delighted and impressed at seeing things I’d been sewing or crocheting and over the years I hand made many presents for her and her husband, it was always so lovely to go visit them and see my makes, some very old and sun faded in their kitchen or other rooms of their home….the pleasure of seeing handmade never left her though and even on days when she was very confused a lavender heart I made her was straight away stroked against her face, stitches inspected and lavender smelt…..

hand embroidered Christmas stockings

So the other year while she was in the care home I embroidered a stocking for one of my oldest friends, even though she no longer could remember my name she still had a smile for me when I’d go visit and would reach up and touch my cheek….

I filled the stocking with all the things I thought she might have had when she was little, some brightly foil wrapped sweets, a few chocolate coins, a couple of satsumas,tiny puzzle games….. she was entranced, she slowly traced the letters I’d embroidered with her fingertips and said “that’s my name” …and even though it broke my heart to see this incredible and so inspiring, capable woman all befuddled she made me smile at being happy and together we laughed trying to do the puzzle games……

joyce 004

If you are a long time reader of my blog then you know my dear friend passed away earlier this year and with thoughts of her I’d like to offer someone the chance of a personalised stocking…if you know someone who has been affected with dementia or any ill health, someone who needs a little cheering up then please just leave a comment below and I’ll do a draw on Friday evening around 8 pm.  Due to me leaving this rather a bit late I don’t think the stocking will reach you in time if you live overseas so this is for UK residents only.

Naked knitting and those sheepy aromas…..

washed and blocked castlemilk moorit

As I mentioned at the start of November (or Wovember as this month it’s all about celebrating wool) I’ve spent the last year knitting up swatches of undyed single breed yarn to help me learn about all the different and special qualities that the many breeds of British sheep have…. I always want to start singing “Getting to know you” from The King and I as soon as I start to hand squish a new yarn and cast on… and that’s what the swatching is all about really, saying “how do” and learning as much as you can about that yarn…..I started knitting the swatches from an idea by Louise of Knit British (there is a Ravelry group where you can read about how other people have found a particular yarn and compare notes)… and it’s been really interesting seeing how the yarn knits up, how tickly it is, how kitteny buttery soft or not it might be, how does it wear…

Now I’ll be quite honest and say before last year I’m not sure if I could actually name more than a couple of breeds of sheep apart from Shetland and Wensleydale (and that one I knew because I love Wensleydale cheese), and I’m now trying to learn as many as I can (ooohhh just thought to myself, what a great game could be made where you guess the name/identify the sheep breed, does it have horns, does it have black legs, face…. someone invent it please…Wovember ladies…perhaps one for next year?)….and the names of some of these lesser known breeds are wonderful sounding…. who wouldn’t want to knit with a Badger faced Welsh Mountain, or a Swaledale (I love the sound of saying that…. swaledale,swaledale,swaledale … feels like I’ve been at the wine) a Baldwen or a Teeswater….. one name that I heard mentioned a few times and which sounded lovely was the Castlemilk Moorit……

Velvety and chocolatey are two words that are used to describe it with good reason, it’s plump and mossy, smells divine, is a gorgeous chocolatey moussey pudding brown and has fair captured my heart like you wouldn’t believe…..this is definitely a yarn I’d like to use for a cardigan but I suspect I’d never want to take it off…. it is soft but not like a merino or Bluefaced Leicester, more like the softness underfoot as you step out walking on marashes or meadowland, there’s an ease to the yarn, which after a soak in warm waer becomes even more apparent…..unblocked the stitch definition is good but afterwards the yarn seems to want to felt slightly so the stitches snuggle up to each other, something with a very heavy or defined patttern would be great but as much as anything else, I think just plain stocking stitch for this “I can’t stop touching it” yarn suits it very nicely….this was a woollen spun blend by Blacker Yarns.

working the pattern

Llanwenog I knew pretty much nothing about, it’s very dry and crisp, not quite so soft as a Norfolk Horn and much more clean coloured, the stitches were really easy to see and so any stitch pattern was very clear, I think it would be a good yarn for anything with lots of twisting cables….. personally, I found it quite tickley, it’s a fat yarn and although I sort of became used to it pinned under my thermals I didn’t find it as comfortable as the Norfolk Horn, however worn on top of clothes it was warm and toasty and even after rubbing it furiously against itself and wearing it pinned against my side for a week there was no sign of pilling or haziness over the stitches….. so it’s certainly one to consider using for jumpers and cardigans.  I don’t know if anyone is using this in a blend for dye work but it’s such a bright creamy white that I thnk it would be really good, a nice clean base to show off subtle shifts in hue especially with some of those softer plant dyes.

seaweed pattern in North Ronaldsay

Probably one of the most interesting little sheep I’ve learnt about this year have been the North Ronaldsay sheep…they live on the island of Ronaldsay and eat seaweed….. they sound like something from a Joan Aiken story.  I first read about them in “In the Footsteps of Sheep” by Debbie Zawinski and have been quite enchanted with them ever since….

The yarn I’ve been knitting with is a rather robust woollen spun blend by Blacker Yarns but a couple of knitters on Ravelry have said I should try  this blend of North Ronaldsay  from A Yarn from North Ronaldsay… because that seems a lot softer….it’s all to do with how the yarn is prepared, so I’ve got that on my list of yarns I’d like to try next year.

At the moment though my swatch is all ripped back as I’d thought knitting a seaweed stitch pattern would be fun but the yarn seems happier when the stitch pattern is bolder and better defined….however I thought that my stitches made were lovely and plump, very squishy and the fabric knitted was nice and sturdy, basically whatever you knit with this is going to keep you super toasty and snug….I can imagine it would be great for an outdoors jumper or cardigan if you want to wear something warm when you’re gardening but don’t want to wear a million layers, and actually this reminded me so much of my dad’s potting sheds, all those balls of twine slowly uncurling amongst seed potatoes and well oiled trowels and forks…..those fine almost wiry strands of kempy hair lifting and teasing upwards.

dark brown black Jacob

Another favourite I’ve discovered this year has been the Jacob.  I’ve used this in my Nature’s shades shawl and the more times I wear it the softer it feels, also I’ve noticed after wearing it for half an hour or so, there is a soft and sheepy aroma around me which I like very much and it seems to encourage Bernard to jump up on my lap for a cuddle.

One of the lovely things about the Jacob sheep is that their fleece is made up of more than one colour so they are quite distinct looking, from a porridgey cream through a silver grey, a deeper slate grey and then the most chocolately dark brown/grey…..the lighter greys can look a bit cold indoors under artificial lighting, but outside they show up warm and beautiful.

I found the darkest shade a bit difficult to knit with as I found the stitches hard to see (I was trying to be a bit fancy with my choice in stitch pattern so totally my fault not the yarns) and there were a fair few kempy fibres lifting up through the stitches, but I loved how this felt after blocking and it’s definitely a favourite….the Jacob blend I’ve been using is by West Yorkshire Spinners.

detail of light grey Jacob swatch

Actually I noticed the lighter yarn had less kempiness about it, and suspect the porridgey one will have even less……the light grey certainly felt plumper and the knitted swatch seemed a bit more substantial, although this seemed to balance itself out a good deal with washing and blocking.  This is such a nice feeling, warm to the touch yarn to use and the West Yorkshire Spinner’s range of this is really nicely priced if you need to watch what you spend but don’t want to use squeeky acrylic.

Like the Llanwenog I found this yarn has worn really well, (goodness knows what my postman thinks when I open the door and stand there with knitted swatches pinned all over….) no pilling and the knititng fabric just gets softer and nicer to wear…..a cardigan or jumper knitted from this would last for ages and be a first choice in comfort.

I used a lot of Jacob in my Nature’s shades shawl and it was a littel “hello, I’m woolly” when I first started wearing it, over s few weeks of wear it’s become a lot softer and is a pleasure to wrap around myself.

Shetland dk from Naked Wool

Another yarn I’ve bought but have yet to knit with is this wee ball of Shetland yarn from The Shetland Sheep Wool Company….. it smells nice and being yarn from Shetland fleece there is a nice little range of undyed all natural shades.  The company is sort of local as it’s based over the Suffolk/Norfolk border in Bury St Edmunds, however and I only found this out after I’d bought the yarn and started playing about with it, the yarn itself comes from Shetland flocks that live all over the UK ….so the yarn itself is not actually local which is a shame as that is what I felt the packing/branding had implied….. anyway, not the end of the world by anymeans and it will be interesting to see how this Shetland yarn compares to yarn from Shetland based sheep.

It’s been quite a journey of discovery this year, slowly increasing my knitting skills but also gradually becoming aware of the different yarn qualities, which yarn blooms up nice, which wears well, which is tickly and lively, which yarn is quite and soft…. slow step by slow step I’m becoming more considerate in my yarn choices and even in which items I chose to knit.

Coming into knitting from this slightly different view point has really made me fall in love with what I’m able to create with a ball of yarn and a pair (or 3 or 4) pointy sticks, and has given me so many ways of feeling very connected with what it is I’m knitting and what I’m knitting it with.

As always, many many thanks go out to the wonderful team behind Wovember, for their inspiration and enthusiasm for all things truly sheepy and woolly…..and if you can also see what wovember means to other people just here…..

A barley sugar tasting, wild fruit syrup

haws-september-2016

I love foraging for wild fruit, getting to make jams and jellies, fruit crumbles and pies…however last year the blackberries around here were rather scarce and so were the mirabelle plums…. with the help of a couple of excellent wild food books (Richard Mabey’s Food for Free is excellent) I decided to become a bit more adventurous in what I looked at for picking……the hedgerows around where I live are so full of the most beautiful scarlet and vermillion berries with crab apples and wildlings growing nearby that just a slow hour’s amble just up the road and round the way, stopping and picking a few here, a few there, soon produces a colourful basket right full of a wild fruit harvest……   (I’m now on the lookout for a yarn this same heart racing vermilliony red…any suggestions would be much appreciated)

When I’m channelling my inner Catweasel and clambering through the hedges or half up trees I’m often stopped and asked what I’m picking, and what am I going to do etc … the fruit I’m asked about more than any other are haws…… the colour of them can vary slightly, sometimes they are a dark wine red, other times they’re very orange red, but the easiest way to tell what they are is that the leaves are all the same shape, they almost look like tiny oak leaves.. the flesh inside is a bit like an avocado’s, sort of waxy/buttery….and like rose hips they’re super rich in vitamin C so they’re an ideal fruit to use to make a winter syrup……or a surprisingly fruity tasting breakfast preserve.

rowan-berries

Along with the haws I’d ideally throw in a couple of handfuls or so of rowan berries, we have a few trees around here although my favourite tree was picked clean by the birds over the course of a weekend (which will teach me to pick some a bit earlier next year)….they’re such a fantastic and bright colour, a gorgeous vintage lipstick red … I understand there’s a lot of rowan berries up in Scotland this year, so you could easily just use rowan and apple for the syrup if you don’t live near any hawthorns.

The village where I live is actually a suburb on the edge of Norwich (though I think everyone who lives here will say it’s a village) which was originally farmland and orchards, I suppose that’s why we have so many established hedgerows and lots of fruit trees, every so often I notice a new apple tree or a damson, but generally we’ve got crab apples and wildlings(apple trees), cherrys,pears,mirabelle plums and then sloes, rose-hips, haw and rowans, dotted around all over……

apples-and-rosehips

The Winter syrup is really easy to make…..all the fruit will need a wash and clean, I trim the bottom off the haws and if the flesh inside looks at all brown then I just throwto that one in the compost bin, only use the fruit that is a lovely creamy yellow inside.

Ingredients

500 -750 g of red wild fruit (haws, rowan berries, rosehips….a selection is good but 1 or 2 is fine….use less haws to rowan and rosehps just because they’re fiddlier to pick and are a bit pfaffy to prepare)

2 – 2.5  kilo of wild apples (they tend to be a bit “oooh” sharp and tart when you bite into them.

granulated sugar

large jam pan

glass bottles for preserving

Preparing the fruit

Wash all the fruit, cut the bottom off the haws to check the flesh inside, put into the pan and for every  100g of red fruit you want to use 75 ml of cold water…..  bring to a boil, turn down the heat and gently simmer for about half an hour/ fourty five minutes or so until the fruit becomes very soft.

I tend to prep and cook the haws first as they are rather fiddly, let them start cooking first then the rose hips if I’m using them, and finally the rowan berries….rose hips are topped and tailed then popped into the jam pan, rowans are given a rinse, remove the stalk then into the pan…..

Once the red fruit has all cooked, turn off the heat, and allow to cool before straining through a jam bag (I use an old cotton pillow case that is kept just for this purpose) and collect the juice…..

While the juice is straining chop up the apples, you won’t want the stalk or very bottom of the apple in the pan, but you can put in the cores as long as they look okay, chop up  into quarters (conker size) and for every 100g of apples you want 65 ml of water…..  you can also pop in a couple of star anise “stars” and a couple of cloves…. bring to the boil and then simmer for about half an hour – 45 mins.

Unless you have room for two drip drip drip jelly bags, then you’ll need to empty the pulp from the bag (save it into a big bowl, don’t put it in the compost just yet), rinse out the bag and then put the cooked apple into it……

Strain the apples and collect the juice.

Now using both lots of left over fruit pulp, weigh the combined pulp and to each 100 g of pulp use 100 ml of water…. simmer for about 15 minutes and then strain and allow to drip… depending on pets you can let this drip over night.  (you can also squeeze the bag if you want, the syrup won’t be quite so clear but it’ll still taste as nice and you’ll just be able to make more)

Making the Syrup

Measure out the juice, for every 500 ml of juice you’ll need 250 g of granulated sugar.

Bring the juice to a gentle boil, sort of when it just starts to burp and hiccup….then carefully add the sugar, stir well and bring up to a rolling boil…. you want the syrup to be at a good rolling boil for about 7 or so minutes…. very carefully pour into sterilised preserving bottles… (a ladle or measuring jug and a metal bottle funnel are really useful at this stage)

I find the syrup keeps best in a cool place pretty much for all the Winter, once the bottle is opened you’ll want to use it up within about 10 days…it’s nice taken like a throat syrup off a spoon but if you pour it into a cup and add hot water then it’s a nice soothing and fruity tea which if you have a cold is very welcome.

Tips

While this is perfectly possible to make by yourself, prepping the fruit is faster and less tiresome if you’re chatting with some company…. when you empty the cooked fruit into a jelly bag (or pillow-case) soak and squeeze out the jelly bag, the juice won’t drip properly if the bag is dry…also empty the cooked fruit into the bag with the jelly bag in another large bowl or second jam pan…..(if not it’ll go all over the floor or work surface)… depending on how much pulp you’re straining, it’s often easier for one person to hold the bag in place just above the pan to collect the juice, while someone else strings it up.

If you’re using an old cotton pillowcase, use it inside out and chop off the bit htat tucks in on itself…that way the pulp won’t stick all around the seams.

 

Wooo hoo for wool and Wo-vember

single breed Jacob wool

I’m all for naked knitting….no, not naked like that but naked and natural, beautiful un-dyed yarn….last year on the excellent Knit British site Louise started a knit a long in the Knit British group on Ravelry which focused on all the different Britsh Breeds of sheep…there are over 60 in the UK alone and they range from tiny almost goat like primitive breeds to ones with elaborate horns and others that have permanent expressions of thoughtfulness on their long elegant faces……the yarn obtained from the diffrent breeds really varies and Louise was encouraging people (and still is) to try knititng up a swatch using a single breed yarn and writing down your observations…..she felt that too often just give a ball a squishy grab and make their mind up about it form that alone rather than with any long term conseiderations, how will it wear, does it soften up in time, will it grow after it’s been blocked, how soon will it pill…….

I loved the idea of this, and it all tied in with last year’s Wovember which is truly such an amazing celebraton of the wonders of wool, and by wool, team Wovember mean WOOL, the gorgeous nothing else like it stuff that comes from sheep, not squeeky acryllic (so many times the shops on the high street refer to anything having been knitted as wool, rather than it being the actual yarn the item has been knitted from) or cotton or alpaca or angora…but beautiful warm and fragrant smelling wool.

blue faced leicester swatch

I hadn’t had any experience of working with a single breed yarn before and the first one I tried was a Blue Faced Leicester for no other reason than that is what my local knitting shop had…it didn’t mean anything much to me but knitters all over know it to be a soft, not tickly yarn…..it really was beautiful to handle (and we’re talking tiny little kitten soft) and if you want to knit something for a friend who finds wool scratchy then let them have a feel of some Blue Face Leicester….it’s really beautiful and is very soft and gentle.

blocked Norfolk Horn

I was really keen to try out some local to me breeds and was able to buy some Norfolk Horn from Kentwell Hall which is just across the border in my home county of Suffolk……the yarn was very different to the Blue Faced Leicester, more porridgey coloured and slightly crisp…when I knitted with it there was a light shuffle like dry autumn leaves…..the stitch definition was nice but it didn’t feel initially like something I’d want right next to my skin….however, after washing it and pinning it out to shape it up nicely, the yarn had taken on a less crunchy feel…I pinned the swatch under my clothing and after a few minutes of light tickle I pretty much forgot it was even there…. I washed the swatch a few more times and with each wash noticed the fabric getting softer and more comfy to wear…..unlike cheap (and more often than not even rather pricey high street knits) this doesn’t all pill up after a few days wear….and it’s certainly a yarn I plan to use at some point in a garment.

flecks of darker grey and wispy fibres

The other breed I was interested in trying out was the Suffolk…growing up in a small rather rural Suffolk village, these black faced beauties were a regular sight in the surrounding fields, I think it’s because the Suffolk was used as a meat breed rather than kept for it’s fleece…anyway it was a bit of a devil to track down a single breed yarn, most of what I was finding seemed to have just a pinch of seely Suffolk in the blend rather being being wholly the single breed…but finally (and thank you to the lovely knitters of Instagram who passed on the details of this supplier) I was able to find some…..I had to contact her directly as there wasn’t any listed on her site but she was very helpful and quick to answer all my very excited and newbie questions.

blocked Suffolk swatch

The skein of Suffolk was really beautiful, and it smelt lovely…however when I gave it a hand squeeze it felt like it was going to squeeze me right back, definitely a bit of a briuser…it’s a right sturdy old yarn and is the only one I’ve found so far that was too rustic to have against my skin for more than a few seconds…pinned under my thermals it felt like a hedgehog was trying to do the tango…however pinned overtop just one layer of clothes it was lovely, all warm and cosiness, no pilling and the colour…the softest grey like early morning fog, or the silvery muzzles of elderly donkeys…..this would be smashing for a low necked tank top all worked in fat cables…..

wensleydale wool

Another local to me skein I was able to buy was this golden and glossy Wensleydale…it’s from The Ilketshal Wensleydales and they now have an on-line shop where you can buy it……I’ve not yet knitted it up as a swatch but when I made my Tamar shawls in the Summer, Wensleydale is one of the breeds that the Tamar blend is made up of so I know it’s a yarn that is going to be really drapey, a little bit tickley for the first few wears, but floaty and warm….undyed and naked the Wensleydale is just glorious and while I’m not normally one for wearing cream or white (I’m like a small child and can get ridiculously grubby just sitting by myself doing nothing) I’d certainly consider knitting a shawl or wrap made from this…it’s so much like dandelion seed or thistle down…..

To properly test and see what the yarns were like takes me a good few weeks and by the time I’d happily tested these breeds out and bought more yarn it was then a bit warm to wear any new swatches, however I knitted up a few more swatches on warm days and just put them away for when the weather would get chilly and will be reporting back on some of those over the next couple of days/or weeks……

I’ve found Blacker Yarns to be an excellent source for single breed yarns, they don’t have them all but they have created a brilliant range and have thoughtfully spun the wool in a way that allows the qualities of that particular breed to shine…. and another on-line site I’ve used for buying single breeds is Brit Yarn, Isla’s customer service is great and she has suggested and recommended no end of different yarns for me to consider using.

Wovember has already started and there is a photo competition running over on Instagram, I learnt so much about the wonders of wool last year and hope you’ll sign up and follow along too.

Needle wraps and remembered fabric stories…….

wool-coat-knitting-needle-wrap

One of the things I like so much about using re-purposed pieces of fabric left over from old clothes, family stashes when people used to dress make or odd/old curtains and cushion covers when an elderly relative moves house is all the memories and stories that are woven up and remembered each time you touch or see that cloth….having pieces of fabric all folded away means they can often get a bit neglected or just forgotten about…I love having a rummage through some of my scrap bags, pulling fabric down off shelves, and when I use them in my work I’m always reminded of the people who gifted me so much of my fabric hoard….remembering funny stories and loved ones whose faces I’m not going to see again are part and parcel of all the thoughts and time that go in to my patchworks and quilts and that is really special for me….those sentiments are something that I try to put into other pieces I make, whether it’s hot water bottles that are lined with soft and warm brushed cotton (like our nighties used to be made from when I was small) or tiny Christmas Stockings that are all full of dreams and anticipation even when they look empty……

This year while I’ve been knitting, I’ve been listening to a lot of knitting podcasts, time and time again when people talk about learning how they’ve knitted, more often than not it’s been their mum, grandma or nanny or an elderly aunt that has been there for those first wobbly steps…listening to a lot of knitting interviews made me think about my own knitting journey and my bag of scraps and handed down fabrics…..

I’d already been making wraps and cases for my own sewing clutter and knitting needles and thought this was a nice way to use fabric that owns our hearts with it’s memories, remembering the people that teach/taught us our craft who aren’t always still with us to thank… ( I hope that makes sense…soemtimes what is so clear in my head and heart comes out as a very rum jumble)

wool-coat-embroidery-detail

I’ve mentioned my friend Anne on here a few times before, she’s an awesome knitter and a wonderful friend, for the past some years now she’s been gifting me with beautiful hand knitted socks and from time to time she turns up with a bundle of fabric and goodness knows what else for me to re-purpose and sew with…. last year she bought over a lovely wool coat though sadly rather badly torn, it had been her mum’s and she wondered if it would be of any use to me…. the fabric was nice and sturdy but it wasn’t very soft so I didn’t think it would be suitable for hot water bottles …but I tucked it away until this Summer when I made her a series of needle wraps to keep all her knitting needles in and  a big project bag to store everything together….

I used some vintage crewel wool to embroider a series of flowers over the fabric to add a little interest to what was otherwise a rather sobre coloured cloth…

Anne is a wee bit older than me and has been knititng for all her life, she can’t really remember learning to knit but is pretty sure it must have been her mum who taught her….. anyway when she un-wrapped the present she knew straight away what the fabric was, and held the wraps to her face, breathing in the scent of mum which still lingered on the wool cloth….  it can get me quite throat lumpy and chest achey when I use fabric that holds all those memories and happy thoughts…..

inside-wrap-fro-claire

I’ve also had a couple of commissions for wraps this Summer, working with two awesome knitters so the wraps would cover everything they required…..this one went up to Scotland to lovely Claire who is an awesome knitter of beautiful shawls and cardigans….along the front row are spaces for needle tips and some are sewn short so she can store both short and long tips.  The fabric was mine and is some that my friend Sasha the toy maker gave me…..

blue-tweed-wrap

And this wrap was made for Eva in Italy, (she lives near Trieste so hope that it’s not too cold there already)……Eva likes her dpns and said she had a rather large collection of them in all sorts of sizes, so the wrap is made up of 3 layers of pockets…..the front row can hold the shortest little old Brittany dpns and cable needles and the back pocket can fit anything up to ones 20 cm long….the tweed fabric wasn’t vintage but was a beautiful pale and watery blue.

Yarny temptress Isla at Brit Yarn is currently running a British Yarn sock kal on Ravelry and she’s got one of my wraps to gift as one of the prizes, I hope whoever gets that one likes it…..I’m really enjoying this kal, first up as it’s organized by Isla it’s all about using British yarn, it doesn’t have to be sheep woolly (it can be alpaca alpac-ery or rabbity angora) but the yarn does have to be British, personally I think it’s great seeing all the different woolly yarns that people are using, quite a few I’m already now familiar with (like Blacker Classic and WYS Signature) and there are ones I’ve heard of but not yet tried out (like The Knitting Goddess’s  Brit Sock or her Wensleydale/Shetland blend*) … all these are available from Brit Yarn where Isla has sourced a wide range of British yarns for everyone’s budget….but I’m also scribbling down new names that I’d not heard of before that are all woolly and sheepy…. and then the patterns….so many I’d not seen before though I think Claire’s Gotland socks using Blacker Yarns Tamar have been my favourite, closely followed by these…….best of all though is the incredible support knitters offer each other, and the advice and suggestions given to help each out.

I’ve also got wraps and rolls for sale in my Folksy shop….if you’d like to commission your own wrap or needle roll I’m more than happy to discuss your needle requirements, whether you’re a dpn lover or prefer a circular needle……

*a very exciting review will be shared soon thanks to the lovely Knitting Goddess Joy.

Socks and shawls and the humbug from next door……

ishbel-lace-work

I really need Bernard here so I could give him a squeeze to do a trumpety trump trump fanfare as I’ve finally finished one of the shawls I’ve been knitting over the past few months (though my nose might well regret it)….no fancy pictures yet as it’s not blocked (it’s currently taking up half the living room all pinned out on mats) but hopefully there’ll be some to show next week.  The shawl is another Ishbel by Ysolda Teague and while I’ve been knitting mine, ButtercupandBee in Canada has been knitting hers.  It’s been lovely to encourage each other with our knitting in what has seemed like the world’s smallest kal….Alida has used the most gorgeous gothicky yarn for hers and I can’t wait to see it all blocked out.ishbel-ripples

I got a bit carried away while knitting, the yarn is some that has been re-used, I was encouraged to do this by lovely Louise Hunt from The Caithness Craft Collective.  She ran a un-knit a long in the Spring and un-ravelling the scarf this originally was, was so not the easiest thing in the world, in part because it had been washed a couple of times so the stitches had started to felt.  However I’m so glad I stuck with it because the yarn is really fudgy and nice to work with, and it knits up a dream.  (the original scarf was crocheted and wasn’t doing the yarn any favours)….. I knew I wanted to knit a nice big shawl, one that I could wrap myself up in but which wasn’t so heavy I’d be all afeared I was having a hot flush, and thought this would be perfect.

The yarn is by Shilasdair and was bought about 5 years ago on a day trip to London with my friend Debbie and since then the yarn base has changed a little, however I was lucky enough to see that Tangled Yarn still had some left of the original blend so I bought a skein from there and then used that in alternate rows along some of the lace work…… initally I thought to make a shawl and wrist warmers but after making the shawl several times larger than the first Ishbel I made, I’m left with about 20g so think I may need to buy some more and finally try out some colourwork knitting.  It’s not woolly but I’ve found this much nicer to use than the Artesano alpaca/silk blend, which I really loved last year but I think a year of knitting with some really sheepy yarns has made me properly reconsider what I use on my needles…..

karise-in-shadow-and-sunlight

My poor karise number 4…… so neglected……I’m trying to finish this at the moment and after knitting the Ishbel shawl pattern a few times, I’m now feeling confident enough to leave off all the stitch markers, and read my knitting instead.  I know this was something that Alida was doing and I thought “but what if you lose your place” but actually as long as I don’t try and go crazy fast it’s fine, and this is such a nice pattern that you can see what the stitches below want to become on the row above….I love this shawl pattern and I’m trying to love the yarn again but I’m afraid it really doesn’t make my heart feel so happy and skippy as the woolier yarns do.

a-deep-berry-red-yarn

And while I’m talking about woolly yarns that make my heart fair skip …… I bought a skein of the Cornish Tin II from Blacker Yarns…I reviewed this yarn a couple of weeks back and proper lost my heart to it…..choosing which colour to buy was so dificult as I only had the money for the one skein but after lots of hmmming and ahhing I choose the Wheal Rose Red which is such a gorgeous magenta hued red…if you’ve ever made blackberry jam, it’s very much like when the berries all start a bubbling and they turn from blue/black into red…just glorious. … the pattern is once again Ishbel and it’s knitted up really quickly. It’s already all blocked and the stitch definiton is so good…we’re just waiting to take some photos….actually I ran out of yarn before I finished casting off, luckily Ravelry is full of kind and generous people so when I explained my predicament lovely MontyMouse posted me some yarn so I could finish the shawl without tears or strops.

someone-has-been-at-the-butterbeerI know I’ve already mentioned these socks a couple of weeks ago but I’m so pleased with them…the bright and sunshiny yellow is very welcome now the weather is so rainy and dark……the pattern is called Hermione’s Everyday socks and it’s a free to download pattern on Ravelry by the awesome Erica Leuder…..if you are a fan of sock knititng you might like to read this little interview with her on Olann and.  And you might recognize one of the sock pictures listed in the project gallery at the bottom of the page.

This is such a nice sock pattern, I used a pair of mini circular needles for these as I find them nice for knitting patterned socks (thank you so much Claire for the suggestion, I really love them and no achy hands here)…the pretty pattern is nice and simple to remember so I was able to knit these on the bus…(and was asked by a lady at the bus stop when I was due as she thought I was knitting baby socks as my cuffs looked so tiny and wee….yeah, my face looked just like you’re imagining…)

Now I’m not sure what happened with my socks but as you can see one is more than a smidge larger than the other….hmmm oh, well, they fit fine and I tend to like my socks sort of scrunched down a bit so you can’t see they are different….I wasn’t at the butterbeer or anything, I guess I was just holding my needles tighter for the second sock.

toe-up-lunar-tides

I’m currently knitting another pair of socks, this time as part of the Brit Yarn sock kal on Ravelry… one of the things I like about this kal is seeing all the amazing  socks other people are knitting, it’s a great way to find new patterns..one of my favourites at the moment is called Longing for Gotland, and my friend Claire in Edinburgh has knitted a beautiful pair in Tamar  from Blacker Yarns and I properly “ooohed” when I saw these beautiful sheepy socks, the pattern is called Droving and I’m thinking I’d like to knit these in some natural undyed shades and that way I’d feel like I had my very own flock of baa-lambs…..as this sock kal has been organized by Isla from Brit Yarn the focus is all about using British Yarn so it’s really interesting to see some of the different yarns that people are using…

After knitting a few pairs now  in WYS sock yarn I’m knitting these ones in some John Arbon sock yarn that I bought in the Spring from Meadow Yarn…..the colour is a dusty rose pink and reminds me more than a little of the pink face powder that Nanny C used to wear…in fact I regularly keep sniffing the yarn as I expect it to smell of Yardley scent…..this sock yarn is lovely to knit with, it’s soft with a nice wispy halo….the pattern is called Lunar Tides and is by Louise Tilbrook….amazingly it’s not only free but is written both cuff down or  toe up.  I’m trying out the toe up version as I want to get better at toe up socks, also I plan on using as much of the skein as I can as I rather like nice long socks and that will be easier to do working the socks from the toe up.

 

So I’m trying to finish up some of my Summer knitting projects then my needles will be all clean and clear, ready to knit up a Winter cardigan and some small gifts for Christmas…..nothing big as I know that will only make me feel all stressed out and under pressure, but fun things that will use up little scraps of tapestry yarn that forever seem to appear from under cushions or in the bottom of work boxes…..  I really liked Amelia’s little circus nuggets she made for her daughter (the story behind them is so sweet and me me laugh)…she used the bunny nuggets pattern by Rebecca Danger and I believe we know several little people who might like to find a couple of these in their Christmas stockings.

ivy

Someone who shouldn’t hold out for toys or treats is the humbug from next door…… she’s generally waiting out on the back door step when Bernard goes out first thing, the pair of them are so sneaky that Bernard will pat at the cat flap until we open the back door, and then little miss tries to slip in besides Bernard and run on through into the other rooms … she’s not to be trusted around any knitting and is a kntting needle thief…goodbye nice new posh Knitpro dpn’s….. annoyingly when she’s been all naughty she lays on her back and wriggles and mews until she gets a tummy tickle which she seems to love second only to dancing around the garden with Bernard.

 

 

Autumn sunshine and red hued hedgerows…….

view-through-the-oak-trees

Once again there’s been a shift in the weather and while the last couple of days have been chilly, it’s also been gloriously sunshiny.  Slowly the hedgerows are turning colour but it’s still very green and lush in our neck of the woods…..I’ve mentioned before that just down the road from our house there is a little lane that runs along the marshes where we go for a lot of our walks….and when it’s a bit wet in the meadows walking along here means we stay reasonably dry but still get to see the nice views across the pastures.  When it’s dry I love walking through those reeds you can see in the above picture, they grow either side of a pathway and when there is a breeze they rustle and sound so wild.

walking-out-along-the-lane

I’m always amazed at how the sunlight dances under the leaves, looking up in the branches and it still feels like Summer and then on the ground it’s Autumn with all those brown leaves…. quite often when we walk along the lane we’ll see a jay flying overhead, there’s at least a couple of pairs living around here and they are fairly frequent visitors to the garden. We also see a lot of magpies, generally we hear them first as they are rather noisy with all their sqwarking and carry on.  It’s not uncommon to see groups of 4 or 5 or even 6 of them at the moment, I guess there isn’t a lot that eats them so they are pretty high up in the food chain scheme of things.  Growing up in the countryside we’d often see the rather grizzly sight of magpies strung up on fence posts and field boundaries along with weasels and crows by the farmers……

acorns

Probably the first tree I learnt the name of was the oak tree, those familiar leaves, all curves and wobbles with acorns peeping up from underneath….a couple of years ago I noticed some really odd looking acorns, they were all mis-shapen and lumpy, and looked all the world like little green men or some such characters drawn by Brian Froud…these ones seem to be fairing better.  Acorns have such a lovely shape and when I was very small I used to think little pixies or faires used the acorn cups as hats.

oak-leaves-and-acorns

It’s nice to see the tree so healthy looking.  With such a rich harvest of acorns I’d have thought to have seen a few squirrels about but to be honest I’ve barely seen any this year, maybe it’s not been such a good year for them, as usually we can hear them scampering about even if we don’t always see them.  We get the occasional squirrel on our garden fence but there are so many cats about (a lady just across the way from us has 10, maybe 11) so I suppose the squirrels decided it’s safer to keep to the woody sections rather than venture too often in people’s gardens.

meadow-hedgerow

I love seeing the hedgerows this time of year, everywhere is so bright, red and berry laden….it’s like everywhere is all bedecked with red and green for Christmas already (and they say the shops start early)……the haws are so abundant this year, and it’s been really good here for rosehips too.  Some of the tangles of wild rose have their branches right bowed over so laden are they with huge scarlet hued hips…..

rowan-berries

And it’s been a good harvest too for the rowan berries…..another month and these will have all been stripped bare by the blackbirds…I never seem to see many other birds on the rowan tree, it always seems to be blackbirds.

My favourite recipe for rowan berries is to use it in a Winter syrup along with haws, rosehips and apples, I’m not such a fan of the thick dark rowan jelly but prefer one that is lighter tasting…..it still works well used in gravies or sauces and isn’t so over powering.

red-admiral

Although I’ve grumbled a bit about it being chilly in the mornings and evenings (so glad for this years hoarded pile of handknitted socks and shawls) we’re still having the odd incredibly warm day where we see some rather unseasonal visitors in the garden….normally dragonflies and damselflies have died by now…. and butterflies would start to be hibernating up out of the way or migrating..but this beautiful chap was quite content to bask in the sunshine and the darting flutters overhead show not all the dragonflies have gone quite yet…….

 

 

There’s a cat in the jam pan and some wild apple vodka……

 

autumn-raspberries

We’ve had some surprisingly sunny weather the past few days and while the raspberries in the garden are starting to show signs of slowing down there are still a fair few to come….mostly we’ve been eating them as they are but a request was put in for more Raspberry Cognac Jam so I made a batch of that last week while trying to keep the cat from next door out of the kitchen….I often have the back door open as it gets a bit hot and steamy in the kitchen as the fruit melts with the sugar and slowly becomes jam, and inevitably the little miss just keeps trotting in for fussing and attentions….she rubs round my feet and I seem to have one eye on the bubbling jam and the other on where she is and what’s she getting up to now…generally it involves trying to play with knitting I may have left on the side or trying to sneak a taste of what Bernard was having for his lunch…

The jam itself is very easy to make (especially if you don’t have the cat from next door trying to jump up to play and getting all underfoot…..)…you don’t even need that many berries to make a little batch and when I make a small amount I find it’s easier to cook the fruit in a heavy bottomed pan (like Le Crueset) rather than a big pan designed for jam making

jam-pan-kitty

And talking about jam pans…..hmmmm….it would seem that they make rather nice places to catch a crafty forty winks when we aren’t looking…… obviously it’s all my fault for not putting the pan away properly after I’d used it, but to be fair I hadn’t expected to find someone making themselves quite so cosy……

out-of-the-pan-and-into

That’s one very expensive cat bed…… at least the pan had been all washed so he won’t be all jam sticky…..

wildlingsSo while the jam pan is being used for other things (I can’t believe he’s really made himself a little bed in there…) at least I can make use of some of the crab apples and wildlings that I’ve picked from the hedgerows that seem to be really heaving this Autumn…..I made some apple vodka last year and wasn’t really sure how it was going to turn out taste wise, however it was a more than pleasant surprise…..I left the apples slowly drowning in a big Kilner jar of vodka for about 6 months…then had a taste and another taste…hic….. it was more than a little reminiscent of a warm apple brandy or a Calvados….and when I offered tastes to friends no-one guessed it was vodka.

bachelor jam style infused gin

I also made a bachelor jam style drink….different hedgerow fruit is layered with sugar and then the tipple of your choice is poured over…..just leave in a dark place for a few months……

It looked like it was going to rain an hour or so ago so I quickly nipped out to fill a basket with apples, beautiful yellow and orange apples the size of ping pong balls, all flushed and rosy with a real transulent glow about them…and then a selection of sharp green apples. Both work well in the flavoured vodka, and it’s really just a matter of giving them a clean, chopping them up and covering them in sugar and vodka and leaving them……. very welcome on a cold February evening when the wind is wild and it’s cold and dark outside…..

(I also got to see my little friend Bertie…he’s an adorable King Charles Spaniel with tufty russety orange eyebrows…he’s a real sweety and I was more than happy to sit on the grass and have a few minutes fussing with him while I chatted away with his owner about the joys of foraging and what I was going to be making)…..

apple-tree

Wild Apple Vodka….

ingredients

200g  wild apples

300 ml vodka (doesn’t have to be a flash pricey one)

50g granulated sugar

2 cloves, piece of cinamon, star anise*…….

decent sized Kilner jar

method

Sterilize the Kilner jar……..

Wash and pat dry the apples…..chop into quarters, discard any stalk but you can leave in the core.

Throw a handful of chopped apples into the jar and cover with some sugar, repeat and add a clove, repeat with more apples and sugar and another clove, repeat with more apples and sugar…… (I tuck the spices in the middle)……

Pour over the vodka and seal the jar.  Give everything a gentle shake.

Put in a dark cupboard and gently shake the jar every few days (this helps dissolve the sugar)….Leave for a few months before tasting….if you’d like a more developed flavour just leave well alone for another couple of months……  finally remove the apples and spices.

You can simmer the vodka drowned fruit and use them as a base for fruit fools (beware…they’ll be quite tipsy tasting) or apple tarts.

 

*as the apples and vodka are left for several months, the spice flavour slowly developes…you don’t need to add more than a couple of cloves to make a warm soothing flavoured vodka, however half a cinnamon quill or a star anise flower could be added if you’d like a stronger flavoured drink…. too many cloves though will make it taste more like a Winter cough sweet though than a nice WInter evening tipple……

 

 

A furry and windy assistant…and a giveaway winner…..

one-furry-assistant

Last week I ran a little giveaway on my blog to celebrate my first year of totally losing my heart to knitting …the prize was the pattern of your choice by Andrea Mowry because it was her beautiful Open Sky Shawl pattern that so captured my heart last year that I just had to cast on and hope I’d learn what to do as the stitches grew…..anyway the competion has now finished and I have a handsome furry (and a little bit windy) assistant to help me pick the winner……

(I just wrote everyone’s name on a piece of paper and popped them all into a  Hello Kitty cup and waited for Bernard to scoop out a name…..)

yep-he-really-likes-this-one

Well he soon scooped out a folded over piece of paper….

hes-chosing-a-name

And after patting it about for a few minutes decided to give it a little sniff…..

he-really-likes-the-taste-of-this-one

And then proceeded to give it a right good nibble…I think we can safely say this was definitely his favourite choice for winner…….so a little drum roll please for ……

congratulations-eva

Congratulations Eva.  If you check your email you’ll find a link to download your pattern…Eva had chosen Range which is a big fat, really snuggly looking shawl which combines a “range” of stitches with a lovely texture….it looks gorgeous and I think will be lovely for Eva to knit to keep her warm through those chilly Italian Winters.

Thank you so much to everyone who was kind enough to leave a comment,  your support and encouragement this year has been appreciated much more than I could ever say.

If you hadn’t been familiar with Andrea’s lovely knits then I hope this will help showcase some of her cosy toasty shawls and perhaps encourage some of you to cast on one of them for yourself.