Bread, books, socks and swatches…….

sesame and spelt

I’m none too sure what’s happened to the past week, it’s pretty much flown by without me knowing and I don’t feel I’ve got all that much to show for it….mostly I’ve been poodling, drafting up new patterns, mostly reworkings of pieces to go into my Folksy shop (hopefully they’ll be ready next week) but also I’ve spent a few minutes tinkering with a pattern for a dress based on a dirndl skirt I cobbled together a couple of years ago from a mustardy floral pair of curtains I’d bought at a car boot…the fabric was a bit faded near the hem but I didn’t mind that, it’s one of those nice and comfy skirts that I’d wear everyday given half the chance.  I don’t have a whole lot of tops that really go with it though so I thought to make a dress version which is why I spent an afternoon in the bathroom pinning bits of pattern cutting paper to my thermals (I do have a dress makers dummy but sometimes I find just pinning to me a bit easier) before drafting out something that hopefully will be wearable and which I can stash bust with……

garter toe sock

I’ve also been knitting more socks, well a sock…and if truth be told I don’t even have one of those properly finished to show as this was a test run to understand a new to me pattern….there is a sock knitting kal running over in the Joeli Creates group on Ravelry for knitting socks without nylon….my Shetland spindrift socks I made earlier in the year were knitted without nylon and are so warm that I really wanted to knit another pair of pure wool socks….though I didn’t want to just keep repeating the same pattern as I’d already made so I decided to try knit a pair of toe up socks…..lovely Julia (who knits truly beautiful socks) bought me this pattern for Christmas as part of a small gestures swop….Anne had already been round earlier in the year to explain short rows to me (I do seem to get on better with someone showing me and talking me slowly through a process then just reading about it)….anyway, this is my first attempt, the toe seemed a bit gapey at the sides so I un-ravelled it and had another go and second time it looked much better (not the fault of the pattern but me being a complete numpty and forgetting to wrap my stitches)….I used this yarn just as a tester “have a bit of a play” attempt, the real sock uses some beautiful homemade strawberry ice-cream pink Blacker Classsic woollen yarn I bought from Brit Yarn  (sadly this colour has now been discontinued but I’ve got enough for at least two pairs of socks)……it’s taking a few attempts as I keep turning the sock inside out as I knit it, I’m also finding it hard to start a section of pattern with a purl using dpns so I’ve unravelled again and am just waiting for a 9 inch circular needle to arrive in the post which hopefully will make knitting them a bit easier….

famous tales book

A couple of weeks ago I met up with my friend Debbie for a coffee and as I walked in to town quicker than I thought I would, I had a few minutes spare to have a browse in some charity shops I don’t tend to visit all that often, which I should really make the time to visit them as I nearly always find something of interest in them….I’ve mentioned my love of fairy tale and folk story books on here several times before so was very happy to find this one for a couple of pounds.  The illustrations are by a selection of artists…most of the pictures are quite small black and white drawings but there are also a handful of very pretty watercolours, a bit on the bright and gawdy side but I like them.

big book of knitting 1973

And I also bought this book which is such good reading…..it’s from the early seventies and all the things in the book have been made by Swiss children.  The pattern instructions are at times a bit sketchy and left up to you to decipher, so I think you’re supposed to have a certain mount of knitty know how…..but I just fell in love with those little blue booties and knitted pony on the front cover.

A scarf by Beatrice

The illustrations inside are rather miserable black and white photos which don’t do any of the knits justice but you can get an idea of what things are supposed to look like…..dotted throughout the book are these little letters and notes made by the children who’ve knitted the pieces…it’s interesting to read how young some of these knitters are, and also their notes on pattern making.  I don’t think I’m up to making everything in here but there are a couple of sock patterns I’d certainly like to knit, and I need someone to have a baby so I can knit those booties.

shetland heather swatch

More knitting news…..I’ve finished knitting the Unicorn shawl, which I made for Louise Hunt’s brilliant un-kal, it’s currently washed and blocking….I’d forgotten that tapestry wool is a bit rum smelling when it gets wet…it doesn’t smell anywhere near as nice as something sheepy and lanolin rich…..it’s had a couple of tentative pokes by Bernard but on the whole he’s leaving it alone, which is a good thing as the alpaca/silk wants to snag just looking at it.

I’m quite excited about what’s curently now on my needles though…my first ever cardigan….it’s the Ramona cardigan by Elizabeth Smith.  It’s knitted top down and has nice, clean and simple lines, nothing too fancy but enough to make me have to re-read the instructions and sigh little “pfhoo” noises when I’ve worked a row of increases and my number count of stitches is right…I’m not a quiet knitter and do seem to pfaff, pfhooo and rustle my pattern pages, scribble down notes and observations…tut and sigh as I realize I’ve made a right daft mistake…..initially I was planning to knit this in some beautiful Aran wool from Jamieson and Smith, and while I love the pattern and love the yarn, together….it wasn’t making my heart skip….but then I remembered the Shetland Heather wool I’d started to use for an Open Sky shawl……it’s a murky old grey brown, flecked with quite a cold, clear blue……doesn’t sound like much of a catch but when it’s knitted up in stocking stitch is very pretty….it makes me think of the sea when we used to go to Southwold or Dunwich…not for us the bright azure blue of the Mediterranean waters……there’s about two weeks in August where you can go to the beach without a cardigan or a jumper, the rest of the time, it’s a bit nippy and you need to wrap up, so I thought the pairing of the yarn with this pattern would be perfect.

I’ve learnt my lesson about not making a swatch so knitted up this big boy (just over 10 inches wide) and I couldn’t quite believe it but my tenson gauge is spot on….I washed and blocked it, allowed it a few days to dry nicely…..perfect.  I’ve had it pinned inside a dress and it’s not particulary scratchy, I know it’s there but it wasn’t unpleasant so now it’s all systems go.

fat paws

Weather wise the past week has been proper rubbish…the odd day or even hour of sunshine, and then just as we pull on boots and a coat to go for a walk, the heavens open and it pours down…sometimes rain, yesterday hail.  Loads needs doing in the garden but everywhere is muddy and wet……the birds for the most part are busy gathering up bits of what we call “garden fluff” (this is often bought into the house by Bernard, he rolls around and his fur hoovers up all sorts of muck which he then proceeds to drop all over the carpet and up the stairs)….I keep making trips out with handfuls of fleece* for the birds, I stick it in an old fat ball feeder which has a littel roof so it keeps pretty dry inside, and then go and sit and watch the tits pull it about for nesting.  It’s so much fun as they seem like they’re pulling the fibres ready to spin it…..they gather up huge beakfuls til they look like tiny Amish farmers and then they go flying off with their woolly beards.

natural shades and lichens

When the sun does actually make an appearance Bernard goes trotting down the path to find a patch of sunshine for some outdoors wriggling….often he mews until I go over and rub his tummy and depending on his mood (mischievious or tarty) he’ll purr and purr fit to burst or suddenly grab hold of my hand and fingers, holding on tight with his claws and teeth……

sun wriggling

He’s really showing off his very own Nature’s Shades here as he exposes his tummy….such a mass of Weetabix scented** fluffiness…..I love those splotches of lichen on the pathway underneath him, silver sage and mustard, white and gold……I’m really hoping at some point to use those soft subtle greys of Bernard as a starting point for some stranded knitting….what a great kal that would be….match the colours of your cat’s coat.

*I bought a load of fleece years ago or needle felting but figure the birds seem to make better use of it.

**I’m not sure why but his tummy really smells of Weetabix, but figure that’s way better to when he’s windy and musical of bottom.

Blousey blossoms, silver sage lichens and a nature’s shades fungi…..

blossom by the train track

I’d fully intended to share the last of the pictures from our walk up to Keswick Mill the other week somewhat sooner but then with one thing and another, writing about knitting the second Moonaker shawl and making custard based puddings it completely slipped my mind….but better late than never……

I’m very lucky where I live, there’s a bus stop right outside the house, many’s the time I’ve quickly darted back inside to change my coat or add a warmer scarf depending on the weather while waiting for the bus to take me into town if I’m too lazy too walk in, and then not even 5 minutes leisurely stroll in the other direction are the meadows and marshes that make my heart fair sing each time I walk across them…..on slightly higher ground runs the train track, and from time to time you can hear the odd rumble of the trains as they hurtle along….last year we had a real treat as a steam train was on the line, at the time I was doing my Jenny Agutter impression of waving at the train for my boyfriend (and yes, I resisted the urge to show any petticoat) so to see a steam train  suddenly come chugging away from behind the hedgerow with a whoo whoo whistle of steam was very exciting.

There’s more than one walk over the meadows and one such way leads along the back of a local golf club, hazel and blackthorn hedges line both sides of the path that runs almost parallel for a time with the train track. Right now the blossoms there are so blousey and meringue like….frothy white bunches bursting with lime green pollen tipped filaments .

hedgerow of lichen

Further up across the meadows, a bit away from the trains are a couple of pasture fields edged with a hedgerow of hawthorn, come Autumn these are a foragers heaven but for now they’re a bit sparce….though at first glance I thought something was up with the blossom but it was only when we got closer that I could see what I’d mistaken for very early Spring blooms was in fact a mass of silver lichen….most of the hawthorn trees and hedges on the marshes are home to patches of sagey silver lichen of some sort but these ones are almost covered with it…..

lichen in Spring sunshine

In the sunshine the bare branches twinkle and I’ve made a note to try and remember to head up this way come Winter as lichen on a frosty morning is stunning.

silver lichen

Lichen seems to particularly like growing on hawthorn, and it really did look very pretty.  I love that sagey silver colour and it made me think of some of the natural un-dyed sheep wool I have on shade cards where the greys are very silvery.  I’m also thinking how interesting this would be to use for a stranded colourwork source…….

fungi growng near the golf course

On the way back we noticed this amazing fungi, I’m not quite sure how we missed it before but then sometimes I tend to only look in one direction as I walk, noticing one side on the way out and then the other as we head back homewards…..

The fungi spiraled all the way up the fence post and so I suspect something in the hedge had become a bit unruly for the golf club and so it’s been trimmed back rather and now serves as part of the fencing.

golf club fungi

Looking at those circles and bands of brown and grey I couldn’t not but be reminded of some of the gorgeous shawls on the recent KnitBritish/BritYarn kal …..beautiful soft shades of fawn, moorit, chestnut…teemed up with shaela,sholmit…gentle scalloped edges…..the fungi looked so strokable and velvety, like a beautiful Paul Poiret opera cape.

A hand clappingly lovely trinity cream…..

I’ve always thought custards were rather icky, probably bad associations with powder based sauces that were served up along side crumbles and steamed puddings when I was at primary school (for the most part the meals were lovely and we had proper dinner ladies who cooked everything daily but where I would happily eat second helpings of the vegetables the puddings were never much to my liking…rice pudding, semolina and jam, gypsy tart….horrible,horrible,horrible though I would eat chocolate custard as that was served with chocolate pudding and also  because, hello, chocolate…lemon love cake was my absolute favourite school pudding and as far as I can remember it was a shortcake base, a thick lemon curd centre and then a crumbly top…I may be wrong as it’s nearly 35 years since I last tasted it but I know it used to make me so happy to see it written up on the lunch time board.)…anyway off subject a bit there…even at home custard tended to be made with a couple of heaped spoonfuls of a pinky yellow powder from a fat bright primary colours striped cardboard “tin” so I’d often skip puddings and have something from one of the cake tins that my mum would keep in the pantry.

Even once I was all grown up I’d just assumed custards and sauce anglises tasted like I remembered from when I was small so as far as I was concerned custard was just a yellow fright.  My boyfriend however loves them and so I happily make custard for him, served alongside crumbles and fruit pies, or if he’s feeling a bit poorly I’ll make him bannana custard (shudder…I hate banana flavoured things) …whisking up egg yolks and scolding cream, slowly stirring the two together, it’s lovely and relaxing to do….but I’ve never thought to actually taste them because you know, custard is yeuch.

trinity cream

But then last Summer when I was on a bit of an ice-cream making fit, a little light sort of came on in my mind…the ice-creams I was making were all for the most part custard based and I very much liked eating them, so I had a taste of the custard I was making..and then another little taste…and another…how stupid was I.  For years I’d been missing out on something so delicious……most puddings that are served with a hot custard I don’t care for but turn that custard into a creme brulee and I’m putty in your hands.

I’ve been tinkering about with creme brulee/trinity cream recipes for the past 6 months or so and this seems to be my best one.  It sounds a lot harder than it actually is to make, and my boyfriend’s mum declared it the best creme brulee she’d ever had (it’s one of her favourite puddings).

trinity cream with demerara sugar

Creme Brulee (enough for 4 people who like to properly taste a pudding)

Ingredients

300 ml of Jersey cream (not an extra super thick one as they often have a thickener added to them and that cooks up a bit odd) just a regular Jersey cream

200 ml of double cream

2 dessert spoons of castor sugar (it can be golden or vanilla if you like)

1 fat vanilla pod (yes good quality ones are a bit expensive but no more than a latte)

4 large organic egg yolks (freeze the whites, you can use those for meringues)

4 single sized ramikans

demerara sugar

Method

Put the ramikins into the freezer so they are nicely chilled before you go to use them.

Using a heavy bottomed pan, pour in the jersey cream and the double cream.  Cut the vanilla pod lengthwise and with the blade of a knife squish out the vanilla seeds and put seeds and pod into the cream.  Gently scold the cream and then allow to cool (this helps the vanilla to infuse)

Put the egg yolks and castor sugar in to a bowl and beat together until the mixture becomes quite pale.  It should thicken up and feel quite foamy.

Strain the cooled cream into a clean bowl through a sieve and wash up the heavy bottomed pan. (I also wash and pat dry the used  vanilla pod and then keep it in a mason jar of bourbon to make my own vanilla extract.)

Add the egg/sugar mix in to the clean pan and stir in the strained, cooled milk. Stir well together.

On a low heat and using a wooden spoon stir the mixture for between 10-15 minutes until it thickens.  You may like to use a wooden whisk for the last 5 minutes or so.  Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat as it might catch, just take it slowly, have the radio on, listen to a podcast…..just keep stirring.

Once the mixture has begun to thicken, turn off the heat and pour into a measuring jug and use this to now pour the mixture into the chilled ramikins.

Pop the ramikins into the fridge and now leave them there for at least 7 hours or overnight.

Sprinkle the top with some of the demerara sugar and place them carefully under a hot grill, just keep an eye so that the sugar doesn’t burn.  When the sugar is bubbled and ready, turn off the heat and carefully allow to cool for a few minutes before putting them back into the fridge for half an hour…. then serve to a round of ooohs and ahhhs, hand claps and you clever old thing-ing!

 

Unicorns, woolly pips and rainbows……

knit pro needles and baby blue tapestry wool

About a month ago lovely Louise Hunt of The Caithness Craft Collective podcast set up an unkal over on Ravelry……it’s a really different kal/unkal to ones I’ve seen before…she’s split it up into 3 divisions…..division 1 is Leave it (I really want to laugh becasue when Louise says “Leave it” on her podcast she uses a very stern deep voice, and sounds like she’s doing her Grant Mitchell voice, but with a lovely Scottish accent)…this is for a project that you’ve had tucked away or forgotten about…you love it but you haven’t been working on it in an age…you’re asked to get it out, keep it somewhere where you’ll see it, and then on June 1st take a picture with the date showing you’ve not been working on it…and then if you can try and finshed it by September 1st.  I love this division and have entered my grannies paperweight blanket as those woolly tails weren’t sewing themselves in like I had hoped they might…..  I’m not doig the 3rd division as that is for frogging and I don’t have anything that needs that doing but division 2 in to knit your “unicorn”….a “unicorn” isn’t what you think but is instead a project you want to knit but there isn’t a current kal for it, and you just want to do it, it’s a project you’ve been loving for a while but hadn’t found the time to knit it…..

bright little pips of coloured wool

Some time ago I’d seen a Moonraker shawl and thought it looked so clever but I couldn’t knit, it didn’t quite capture my heart like the Open Sky shawl and make me pick up the needles with shawl lust but I still really liked it, anyway once I was feeling more confident with my knitting I happened to see another picture of a Moonraker inspired shrug and thought now I can knit I know what I plan to get on my needles next so bought the pattern…..but I actually found the pattern at first look a bit puzzling and couldn’t understand what I was being told to do….I’m one of those people who needs to be shown how to do something rather than just read instructions and luckily lovely Anne was on hand to show me quite what I had to do to make the “woolly pips” that thread along the pattern……but then it sort of got sidetracked by my sock knitting.

bright pips of colours

Once the third pair of socks had been cast off I sat down with the Moonraker pattern and after a morning of concentrating and numerous cups of tea something clicked and I was knitting it quite happily.  As I’ve mentioned before I don’t have a huge budget for yarn, so I had a think about what I had in my yarn stash and thought about the fat skeins of tapestry wool I’d bought late last Summer…..the skeins are huge and I thought they’d be great for knitting and so cast on…….about 6 or 7 inches in I had a bit of a re-think as the tapestry wool was actually a bit heavy for the whole shawl so I had another rummage and found some skeins of Artesano alpaca and silk that I’d sort of forgotten I even had….oddly the colour was actually almost the same shade as the tapsestry wool .. So another cast on and this time the fabric flying off my needles was drapey and light, lovely and floaty…..

I started off by using Knitpro rosewood needles that I bought from MeadowYarn which is one of my favourite shops….(it’s all on-line and lovely Anj only lives a mile or so away from where I grew up in Suffolk.  Her customer service is 5 star.)  These were perfect with the heavier tapestry wool however once I switched to the alpaca silk I had to drop down a couple of sizes and have switched to first an Addi needle and am now on some Knit Pro zings which I’m finding very light and comfortable.  I love using wooden needles first and foremost and wish Brittany made circular needles as those are my most favourite brand in the world.  They feel so right in my hands and the sound of them gently clicking with the shuffle of something sheepy is so satisfying…very comforting.

artesan moonraker

The top three pictures are from when I was using tapestry yarn so you can see how similat the alpaca/silk is.

I didn’t have money to buy other shades of the alpaca/silk so used what I knew I had lots of….tapestry wool, and I really like how the pips are coming out, all fat and squishy… the origninal pattern only called for a few colours but I realy wanted this to be a bright and cheerful as possible.  The pips themselves are fat and podgy, so much nicer to squidge than bubble wrap.

tapestry pips

The shawl construction is very nice to work and while I was working on this sherbety pip one I also made and finished one in un-dyed Nature’s shades that has barely left my shoulders since it was blocked.

I like that the garter stitch rows are really easy to count and keep track of where you are in the pattern, I still find this a bit hard in stocking stitch…the increases/decreases are simple to remember and the woolly pips…well they own my heart.

I tried to look for colours that matched what I was seeing outside, all spring blossoms and new leaves appearing in hedgerows and along verges……tapestry yarn is also really easy to spit and splice so you can soon make two shorter pieces into a longer workable length……however, after the horrified look I got from someone last Friday when I did this in public it might be best to do the joining at home….

reverse of the moonraker

I like the back of the pattern almost as much as the front, the woolly pips are all tucked in quite safely….there will be a few tails to sew in but I laugh at the thought of 56 tails compared to the many thousands I’ve had to deal with on my grannies paperweight blanket.

tapestry wool pips

Progress is coming along quite nicely and up til now it’s been quite manageable to have in my basket when I’m on the bus, in fact last week I had a couple of lovely chats with ladies who were very curious as to how I was knitting and making the pips……I’m not shy about knitting in public as I used to crochet on the bus all the time…and have met and chatted to so many really interesting people, heard stories about mums and grannies who knitted from delightful elderly gentleman who when reminiscing became all sparkly eyed…..ages and ages ago I was crocheting on the London Underground (a rare day trip to London) and when I looked up to check which station we were at saw a sea of smiling faces as people looked to see what I was doing.

my favourite pips

I think this is my favourite row so far…these colours are just so perfect ….makes me fair beam from ear to ear to see them.  The bottom colour is quite a lilacy blue and it sits with those greens so well.

mistake

Now I’m not sure if I’m hormonal or what but I felt the need for some proper purples……I’m still rather in two minds about my choice of colour here but I’m keeping it in…..I  ran out of yarn for the bottom pip so spit spliced another shade in and then when I worked the second row of the pip found it formed a nice dark/light coffee bean shape.

And I’ve made a mistake…nothing major like too many stitches or something that needs serious adjusting or frogging but I forgot to tuck the yarn behind when I was working the last purple pip in the second row….once the shawl is finished I’ll go back and sew over it in a little left over yarn so it doesn’t get snagged…..

What I’m finding however is how  heart sick I feel for sheep wool on my needles…….the alpaca/silk is lovely and light, it’s incredibly soft and feels like when I stroke around Bernard’s ears…..but I miss the playfulness of real wool.  I loved knitting the Nature’s shades shawl, it smellt so good and the feel and texture of the woolly yarn is what I want from my knititng.  I don’t think I’m going to be a knitter that has her head all turned by merinos and silks…but instead crave yarn that shuffles over the needles, smells sheepy when it’s wet or warm, and which has tiny strands of unruly kempiness to surprise.  This little clip of Anna Maltz really captures how I feel….

I’m so glad that Louise set up the unkal, I’m really enjoying taking part…and if you have a care to then you should pop over and listen to her podcast, it’s very funny and she’s got a smashing voice to listen to.

Also, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to Yarndale, the other day they put a picture of my grannies paperweight blanket on their facebook page (which I’m not on myself but my big sister sent me a message to let me know)…apparently people have been leaving lots of nice comments and it made a real rainbow of a day for me……thirteen years ago yesterday my dad died and I was feeling rather sad and blue, raining in my heart like Buddy Holly the last day or so you know and then when I opened my inbox it was so full and I couldn’t for the life of me understand what was going on……so to everyone who liked it and left nice comments on the Yarndale page and on my blog, it really has meant the world.

A shimmering pollen hued skein……

prize from Brit Yarn

Some weeks ago now I entered a give away competition over in the BritYarn Ravelry group.  The giveaway was to win a skein of Tamar which is the new yarn that Blacker Yarns has just released….I’d been reading various exciting things about the yarn on a few different blogs and liked the sound of the lustrous qualities and drapiness, and the fact that it was spun from a blend of Teeswater,Wensleydale and Leicester Longwool. …basically glossy, flopsy, wool heaven.

Isla (who was doing the giveaway) asked what colour/s you liked and what would you like to knit with it…..I’d really only seen glimpses of the wool but there was one that looked a soft primrose and I’m more than a little fond of that shade.  Just after Christmas I’d treated myself to the Hansel pattern and have been wanting to knit it ever since….so the choice was easy..

tiddy brook and matching stitch marker

And guess who’s name was picked in the draw….there was more than a little squee of happiness and a dance around the living room.  I’d like to say a huge huge thank you to Isla because the giveaway skein was in fact for one of the other colours but she contacted me and asked would I like Tiddy Brook as that was the one I’d said that had really captured my heart.  How kind is that.

Anyway I got home a day or so later to find a not so mysterious parcel waiting for me…not only a skein of Tamar but also a beautiful Brit Yarn bag with Ethel the sheep on it.  I’ve ordered a few times now from Isla and she ties in a wee stitch marker at the top of your parcel…how perfectly matched is this one.   It’s little thoughtful gestures like this that make shopping with independent and smaller shops such a pleasure.

In my excitement about winning the wool I hadn’t twigged I’d also won one of the Brit Yarn bags….I’ve had fabric shop bags before which fell apart as soon as look at them..the Brit Yarn bag is so well made, the fabric is really sturdy and the seams are sewn properly….I’ve popped in all my single breed British wool and there’s still plenty of room in there for a few more purchases.

The Tamar itself is wonderful, I’ve not yet wound it up into a ball but have un-wrapped the skein a few times to watch the yarn drape around my shoulders…drape isn’t the right word really…it’s more like a woolly waterfall, all shimmers and glistens…and the colour…just looking at it makes my heart race…I’ve taken it outside in the sunshine and the  sunshine dances across it so much….

Tiddy Brook isn’t in fact a primrose yellow like I thought but is much more of a pollen yellow, it’s so polleny that I half expect a soft powder to fall from it each time I pick it up…from a distance it looks almost green, like a Spring lichen or moss…(I think it’s how shadow sits in the twist of the plied yarn that creates this gorgeous depth and dance in tone) …it changes very subtly in different lights, looking lemon possety right now as it’s all dark and dismal and overcast today, slowly becoming quite green as soon as the sun comes back out.  It’s a very warm hue and just glows colour.  It’s going to look amazing in a Hansel hap and I’ve promised Isla that I shall endeavour to do my very best knitting to do this wool justice…and in case you’re wondering, Bernard is not being allowed anywhere near it.

shade cards

I though it best if I get a buy a shade card for the rest of the Tamar as there are a couple of other projects I’d really like to try the yarn for later… (Stumpy01 and Soupdragon are both using it for the Joeli Creates No-nylon sock kal) and so I ordered a couple yesterday from Blacker Yarns.  As well as the Tamar shade card,  I also bought one for their Blacker Classic range and one for their Tweed. I was having a chat the other day with a lady about shade cards and she was saying how expensive some are nowadays and how back in the day they all used to be free……personally I never begrudge spending money for a shade card, it’s pretty impossible to tell on a computer screen what shade something is, and with a shade card you can take it outside and see how the yarn looks in different light.  Also you’re much less likely to then order a yarn that isn’t quite the right colour you were hoping it would be.

Anyway the Blacker Yarns shade cards are incredibly good value for money.  I particularly like how the yarn isn’t glued down but you can take it out and move the colours around.

I won’t start the Hansel this week as I’ve got a blue shawl on the needles at the moment for the Caithness Craft Collective’s unkal (the unicorn division) and am also about to cast on a pair of socks.  But importantly, I need to give a proper bit of thinking to the other colours the hap requires..I’d originally thought to use Camel and Lerryn (a mustard gold and a bright leaf green) but there are a couple of blue greens (Shales Brook and Tresillian) that are possibly even nicer…..

Once again a huge huge thank you to Isla at Brit Yarn, and I can’t wait to start knitting with my Tamar Tiddy Brook.

River banks and mossiness…..

fantastic combination of mauve and green

As I wrote yesterday, last Sunday morning was a real Spring time treat, all sun-shining and pleasantly warm (nippy enough for a shawl and a cardigan but Winter coats were left at home)….everyone’s garden are now bursting with colour, tiny grape hyacinths, smudges of primroses, bright little daubs around front lawns….but it’s the wild flowers that grow along our verges and hedgerows that own my heart…..

There’s been a lot of “conservation” work been done around here of late and the banks of wild violets that made my heart fair skip to see were all dug over in the late Autumn and planted with bulbs (in an area of shade so the bulbs have so far failed to show themselves)….over zealous weeding has seen the sides of steps now bare and the soil all exposed where past Springs have seen them sprigged with glossy green leaves and tiny flowers that were the deepest most royal purple…..happily there are some still walks that no one has seen fit to tidy or spruce up and it’s along there we headed out……

dead nettle

The dead nettle petals are such a bright mauve, it’s a really pretty colour .  It’s only looking at them closer you appreciate how the top leaves are also purpley tinged rather than being all green….I guess it’s so bees spot them better, and what looks like a big “flower” is actually just tiny tips of blossom.  I know you can use them in all sorts of herbal remedies but along here  is quite a popular spot for dog walking so I tend not to bother with ground foraging and prefer to pick things that are growing  at least waist height.

pollen bursting catkins

Just across from the common there’s a track leading up to the Mill, and on the corner was a tree all heavily laden with pollen bursting catkins…..they’re so powdery and as they explode open reveal hundreds of fine silken filaments…..

I liked this bit of the tree as the catkins all seemed to be in different stages….the downy catkin nublets at the far left really do look like tiny kitten paws, and in fact the word “catkin” is old Dutch for cat or kitten.  I rarely walk past a tree in Spring time without stroking the velvety ‘kins between my finger and thumb.

the yellowest pollen

The opening catkin is such a glorious display of colour….silvery sage filaments tipped with the brighest eggiest yellow…….I think this would be a great combination for Anna Maltz’s Teenguin cardigan….especially if you used a really fine and silky yarn for the pollen.

They also remind me of plantain (or fleawort) when it’s coming into flower…the khaki coloured body with the halo like flowers rippling down as they open…a bit like falling dominoes when you see it speeded up.

mossy

Up by the river the dead trees are once again looking green and lush…covered in a thick finger deep cushion of bright apple coloured moss…..I’m truly terrible when I’m out walking and have to prod and poke things…stag horn sumac is stroked, people’s roses are sniffed, fingertips caress bricky moss covered walls and textured tree bark….even if it’s really cold and I’m all mittened up, I can’t resist a patch of fat furry moss.

This moss was some of the softest, and in the sunshine was really warm and almost eye closingly pleasurable to stroke……it certainly provoked an “ooohhhh” of delight.

ivy and moss

In the sunlight the moss looks golden, glowing and illuminious….when (when when when…trying to find enough time in the day) I get round to practicing stranded knitting, quiet places like this will be my inspiration…..just singling out a couple of combinations….the granny smith green at the centre of the ivy leaves with the reddish tinged brown edges….the almost burnst black bark with sienna and sepia stokes…..

golden green moss

All shaggy and wild, tree beardy……those wispy mossy fronds are so soft, delicate…..the most intense bright green, like a plate of glorious Spring salad…..a wonderful combination of texture and colour.

In the colder months or when the weather is bad it’s hard to walk out here, the meadow leading up to the river bank is a bit squelchy even in high June or July when it’s been dry for weeks on end, coming up here in April when there have been 3 days of rain preceeding is a bit mad but if the sun is out it’s certainly worth damp trousers legs and mud caked shoes.  It’s rare to find dog walkers here and so the birds in the river are much likely to be left undisturbed…swans, moorhens, ducks are nearly always spotted…and in a month or so the air above the water will be filled with jewel coloured  dragon flies that flit and dart about….the trees that line the other side of the river bank have for the most part been left alone, and any “conservation” work that’s been done along here hasn’t reached them….on a day like this when it’s quiet and sunshiny I fully expect to spy a little boat being rowed by Ratty with Mole his happy, blinky eyed companion along side him.

Keswick Mill and a bridge full of texture and inspirational hues…..

part of Keswick Mill

What a change in the weather….after a week that’s seen some very welcome Spring sunshine and blue skies today I’ve woken up to a right wet and dreary, very overcast morning, all dark grey clouds and a cold bitter rain……so some reminiscing about last weekend seems to be more than a little welcome….

On Sunday we decided to head outdoors quite early for a weekend walk as the sun was right out and after being photographed in my shawl (and having to strip off somewhat as it was a whole lot warmer out than I’d been expecting thinking) we decided to walk up to Keswick Mill (you miss out the “w” and pronounce it Kez-ick)….you can often see the mill in some of my pictures when I’m traipsing about on the marshes.  It’s really nice and quiet along here and it used to be one of our favourite walks but then it just got too doo-pooey so we’ve not actually been up this way for well over a year now.

From time to time there’s the rumble of the train as the track runs out from Norwich station over the marsh and common land, but for the most part it’s peaceful, with just the sound of bird song.

view across the weir

Last time we headed out here the fields were all full of horses but not a one was to be seen today, so no ear scritching and muzzle rubbing today.

This is a lovely view across the river to the dovecote.  A few Winter’s ago the ice and snow really piled up around the sides of the river , stupidly I didn’t always bring a camera out with me but it looked amazing……the river is pretty fast flowing (originally the mill was a water mill) and the bridge I’m standing on to take these pictures is very low to the water, the bridge has at least 3 arches underneath and I guess there must be some sort of weir for the water to rush in through so quickly…it’s a bit noisy but lovely to stand and listen to.

Those of you with keen eyes may spot what looks like a couple of sheep grazing in the pasture behind the out-building, these aren’t real sheep but rather “folly” sheep, garden ornaments that had me fooled.

across from Keswick Mill

This is a closer picture of the old dovecote, the building underneath was originally a cattle shed though I’m thinking it’s now all spruced up inside….how amazing would it be to have this as a studio!

I’ve not been up here for really ages so I’m not sure what it was like when the marshes flooded last year, I’m suspecting the water must have rose a fair bit.

I love the colour of the brickwork in the building and looking of it am reminded so much of Felix Ford’s lovely pictures of the colourwork in the house where she lives and which she used to knit her Crofthoose hat.  Check out her blog for a lovely interview with Ella Gordon.

mill bridge lichen

I love the old bridge that goes over the river, it’s a really beautiful pinkish, warm brown coloured brick, with flecks of green moss and mustard lichens on the side and then these rose petal pink lichens on top….though they look a bit white in the pictures.

It’s quite exhilarating to lean over the side a little and look down, the sound of the water rushing beneath you, you can really feel the power that would once have been harnessed to mill grain.

pink lichens

I couldn’t stop touching the stone, it’s so worn that in places it’s almost smooth, but then there are weathered rough spots amidst the texture of moss and lichen…it feels wonderful, and combined with all the different hues and shades…it’s hard to stand here and not feel all inspired.

I’m not there yet with my knitting but the clogs are turning with ideas to combine some of these beautiful shades with some of those wave like ripples of the river.

river fish

The water wheels of the Mill are long since gone but if you’re at all interested this is a link to a page detailing the history of the Mill.

We’d already noticed at how clear the water looked, no murky depths of bubbling algae and such, walking back there’s a smaller little bridge, my boyfriend looked down as something caught his attention in the water…….and there in the stream were 3 fish.  The biggest one was getting on for 2 foot long, and the smaller ones were nearly a foot and a half….I have no idea what sort of fish they were but it felt quite exciting to see “wild” fish in our river….I knew there must be fish about as the other year I saw an otter swimming about not all that far away and friends have told me they’ve seen a otter up in the river at the UEA.

The fish were just letting the slight current of this side stream off the the river gently move them along, the occasional flick of their tails and bodies, but they weren’t moving fast and seemed to enjoy the sunlight that was dancing over the water above them.

At the start of the year I mentioned Keswick mill and was contacted by a lady who’d seen the blog and remembered living there in the early ninties as a student…so Good Morning Karen, this post is really for you.

 

*In case you don’t know, Felix is also Knitsonik, and a couple of years ago she wrote a truly inspirational and amazing book about stranded colour knitting which I bought because I really like her method of being colour inspired by everyday items or views or buildings….I think Felix talks about her lovely red brick house in the KnitBritish post Edinburgh Yarn Festival podcast where Felix and Louise Scollay are chatting about how amazing the festival was…sadly I wasn’t able to go to the festival but a listen to Louise and Felix natter away over toast and tea was a second best.

Kempy hairs, woolly pips and gentle waves of garter stitch…..

finished Natures shades Moonraker

As I mentioned the other day my Moonraker shawl is all finished, it’s been washed and blocked and has hardly been off my shoulders since I took the pins out….I’m really pleased with how this has knitted up.  The original pattern called for 4ply weight yarn which I didn’t have in the right colours and couldn’t afford to buy new yarn, so I’ve used what I had which was dk and just increased the needle size…

All the yarn is un-dyed British breed wool, mostly I’ve used a Blue Face Leicester by Woolyknit which I bought from my local yarn shop, it’s very soft and is all sheep kissy  against my skin…the yarn then changes to a dark Jacob made by West Yorkshire Spinners which I bought from Brit Yarn…..when I first changed colours I tried out a barber shop pole mix of Blue faced Leicester which combines the grey and a creamy white (actually this grey is called mid brown, it doesn’t look brown at all, until you take it out into the sunshine and then there’s a brown hue which sort of hovers, making the grey become brown….very similar to Bernard or the fur of wild rabbits)…I knitted up a couple of rows but felt it looked a bit wishy washy so changed to a very dark coffee bean Jacob but then I felt that was a bit too far in the other direction, so finally I settled on the mid grey (Isla at Brit Yarn sells 4 different shades of Jacob) which I thought looked the best.

darker shade is Jacob

In the original pattern the change in colour is worked about a third of the way through a big section of garter knit, however I decided to change my colour in the middle of some pips, at this point I could go on about design choices but in all honesty my Blue Face Leicester ran out, and I’d bought the last ball my local shop had… I really like how the rhythmic “wave” of the garter stitch around the pip becomes accented along that row

The “woolly pips” are worked along the rows, and each section of them combines different British breeds and colour….the original pattern works these more in blocks but I really wanted each row in a section to be different or a bit more jumbled up……

The “pips” are a great way to use up shorter lengths of yarn, and when it’s wool you can always spit splice the yarn to have an assortment of breeds in the same row.  A fair bit of the yarn used was from Brit Yarn like the WYS  Jacob (which I’ve used 3 different shades of) and a really white Lincoln Longwool but I’ve also used some of the Norfolk Horn I bought from Kentwell Hall, some luscious and golden Wensleydale from Serena Plenderleith at The Ilketshall Wensleydales,  leftover cream Blue Faced Leicester by Woolyknits from my local yarn shop (Norfolk Yarn) and because the pips are pretty forgiving I was also able to make some using the seely Suffolk wool I’d bought from June Onigbanjo.

Using some of the more characterful yarn as pips and having the very well behaved  Blue Faced Leicester for the main part of the shawl has meant this is very soft against my neck and face…even the Jacob (which felt a bit more robust when I was knitting it) is pretty comfortable to wear.

 

Jacob and BFL shawl

(I look so anxious, the sun is in my eyes a bit and I think I have the most expressive forehead in the world, it wrinkles up almost by it’s own accord)

The shawl is very light and I’m really surprised at just how warm this is to wear, I’ve worn it pretty flat in these pictures but it’s nice to squish up and drape around my shoulders and neck……I’m not really one for greys and prefer to wear lots of colour (different shades or colour on colour combinations) but I’ve been properly won over by the warm tones these natural shades have….I was hoping to fit in a Castlemilk Moorit and Shetland (both the colour of rich chocolate puddings) but I wasn’t really happy with the brown and grey together and instead will save those for something else.

The shawl was knit as part of the Nature’s Shades kal by Knit British and Brit Yarn, to really celebrate the beautiful shades nature gives us without the need for dyes.

If you’ve not had a look at some of the really stunning finished pieces then you should pop over and take a look…some of my favourites are this gorgeous shawl by Greenhousegirl, she also made a hat and pair of mittens which are pretty wonderful too, this drachenfels shawl by DaneAbroad (it’s by the same designer as my shawl), a beautiful Vormorgunn Jumper by Nishiknits, a lovely warm looking Swale shawl by Isla, a half Hansel hap by Irkea (I have this pattern and it’s on my list of want to knit soons) and this heart stoppingly beautiful Gwindra shawl by Blithespirit…….

 

kempy strands

When I was knitting the shawl, every so often I’d come across a coarse hair poking up through the wool, even in the Blue Faced Leicester (which I wasn’t aware of at all when I’d knitted the cream coloured BFL)..I think these are called kempy hairs and they seem to be part and parcel of a woolly yarn with character…the Jacob had quite a lot and where possible I tried to knit them down amongst the garter stitches….when the shawl was finished and I pushed it into warm water, all these tiny hairs lifted up and wriggled in the water, like very fine sea weed….while the shawl was blocking these pretty much flattened down but since I’ve been wearing it the kempy hairs have all lifted back out again, sprouting up out from the rows of stitches, maybe it’s the warmth from being worn…anyway it’s not a grumble as I really like the hazy mist it gives (besides I’ve got enough kempy white hairs on top to grouch about any in my knitting).

The pattern for the shawl is really nice to work, it’s not that hard and once you understand what you need to do to make the pips then it’s actually rather relaxing to knit, I’ve been able to knit this whilest watching a film or sitting on the bus.  I’d certainly recommend this for a happy beginner as it’s a bit more of a challenge than a straight up garter stitch scarf…even if you make a mistake the garter stitch isn’t too much trouble to un-ravel and it’s easy to pick the stitches up again.

Now I’ve knitted this one I’m thinking of one for Autumn using hedgerow shades, something green and tweedy flecked with scarlets and oranges, a little mustard and silver for rosehips, and haws, rowan berries and lichens……oh, and now I’d like to try one in a paler grey with pips of powdery chalk, rose and charcoal as a nod to my favourite visitors to the garden.

A wee sprig of blue, baking bread, ladybirds and the shawl thief strikes again…..

this weeks sourdough loaf

It’s been lovely and Spring sun-shiny here today,  at times there was a little bit of overcast and cloud but for the most part it’s been just glorious….I’m still feeling an hour behind myself with the clock change last weekend but hopefully this next week will see me perk up a bit more….this morning though I felt too tired to get up and so lolled in bed with Bernard using my hand as a public resting post…he likes it if I wrap my fingers behind his ears and scritch, as I get a bit drowsy my fingers slowly stop and then he soon perks up and pokes me in the nose with a fat paw to make me wake up and continue my scritchy scritchy.

I made sourdough bread on Thursday and it’s come out a fair bit smaller than normal, the beloved said it tastes fine and not to stress.  One of the things I like about baking bread at home is how no two loaves ever seem to come out quite the same but when a loaf comes out not up to scratch (in my opinion) I get a bit sulky. Not sure why this one didn’t bloom as well as the ones I’ve been making, I forgot to let the sponge bubble away over night like I’ve been doing so suspect this may be the reason.

first of the forget me nots

Earlier I had a bit of a nose around the garden as it was so smashing outside today and was so happy to find the first of  this year’s forget-me-nots…. and once I spotted this wee sprig I became aware of other tiny smudges of blue dotted around in sunny spots.

ladybird ladybird

And it wasn’t just forget-me-nots I started noticing, there were also a fair few ladybirds scurrying around or basking in the sunshine like this one….I love ladybirds, they always make me think of Summer, and on a day that’s warm and really rather splendid, then thinking of Summer doesn’t feel too daft….and hearing an ice-cream van just down the road really created the right mood (though we didn’t pop out for a Choc Ice …..I always used to like the slice of ice-cream wedged in between two wafers).

hiding amongst the strawberries

I also spotted this one hiding up in one of the wild strawberry plants , scuttling about under dry leaves it seemed very busy though I’m not too sure what it was up to.

wild strawberries

Some of the wild strawberries are already i blossom, dainty milky white blossoms with such a bright yellow centre…these ones were being visited most of the morning by some really fat bees….we’ve noticed a lot of bees around here this year, proper fat bumbles that are nearly as large as my thumb……just up the road there’s a house with a little tree in the garden that’s had the sweetest grey catkins, so soft and downy just like kitten paws…they’ve become so powdery and fuzzy the last week or so, and yesterday I stood and watched at least a dozen bees rolling around and tumbling over the the blossoming catkins…covered in the prettiest powdery yellow pollen.

The other leaves along the bottom edge are cowslips, I first grew these some years ago and bought the seeds from some old plants with me when I moved…we’ve (well he’s) dug up and moved two of the apple trees so theses should get a bit more light this year…the apple trees weren’t doing so well where they were so we’re (he’s) just deciding where is the best spot to position them)…..I like pottering and doing as I’m told in the garden but he’s the ones with the green fingers.

Bernard and his new shawl

I’ve finally finished my Nature’s Shades Moonraker shawl, I’m so pleased with it, it’s incredibly soft and drapey, and much warmer than I thought it was going to be.  I’ve washed it in some Eucalan and have blocked it pretty hard to get it to form a nice triangle. I ended up using a couple of hefty old metal yard sticks to make a solid long straight line between the shawl tips so I could pull the knitting out accurately, and 3 boxes of knit pro blocking pins.

It’s now dry and I was hoping so much to get out and persuade the boyfriend to take some snaps of me in it while the weather was so good however “someone” has been sprawling out on it for most of the day (there’s been more than a little bit of paddy paws plucky plucky going on so I’m going to have to wriggle and pull in a couple of the stitches to bring them back into shape.   He got really grouchy with me when I tried to move him off and that tail was flicking like nobody’s business so I felt it safer to just let him be rather than risk anymore damage by him holding on tightly as I lifted him up.

The mid-brown Blue Faced Leicester that I’ve used for the main body of the shawl is so similar in colour to how Bernard looks…it’s much more of a grey than brown but when it’s sunny those brown hues really do shine.  I’ve loved doing this kal, and the other finished knits over on Brit Yarns Ravelry page are just stunning.  I’m not normally one for naturals, greys and browns but I really like the different shades of cream and milk combined with the darker shades of charcoal and smokey grey.  I’d certainly consider using these beautiful un-dyed shades again, maybe in a cardigan or a tank top to wear with something really bright.