On birthdays and grey hairs, wrinkles and knitting, baking bread and getting covered in cow lick.

the blanket inspector strikes again

So another year older, not so sure I’m any the wiser…though maybe learning to knit new stitches should count.  It was my birthday on Sunday and where I’d planned an extra long laze in bed, what with the clocks changing and all, I ended up waking really early, crept down the stairs and made a pot of tea and spent a few quiet hours on the sofa knitting…at some point Bernard jumped up along side me and cuddled right up with his paws and head on my knee (he loves the sheepy smell of the Jamieson and Smith wool, and to be fair so do I).  As it was a bit chilly I’d got a shawl wrapped round me that I bought from a nice boutique in Norwich about 11 years ago (it’s a Noa Noa one and it’s so soft and drapey and lovely…I should wash it but it smells so familiar and comforting, fancy bottled scens and woodsmoke, incense and me I guess….anyway, Bernard managed to tunnel himself under it as he cuddled along side nudging me right into the corner…I don’t know which of us looked more like a little old granny…him or me.

Auld Gold and Scotch Broom

After a couple of hours I remembered about the clock change, and where I thought I’d got up at 6, I’d in fact got up while the lark was still sleeping….but I really enjoyed those quiet hours while the house was still sleeping, just the soft tinkle of stitch markers on my needles, the slow swooosh (like the quietest corduroy thigh rub) of the wool being pulled out of the ball, the warmness of Bernard half in my lap all purrs and deep rumbles while he sleeps, together mixed in with the scent of the wool.  The sheepy scent is so warm and drowsy feeling (not really making me lose my count like the Shetland Heather….though I know that’s just me blaming the wool for my inability to concentrate…)…my knitting is soft and is such a pleasure to keep touching…..when I lift it up to admire my work so far, I can’t help but think of Tom Tit Tot (you may know him as Rumplestiltskin)….it’s like the wool is slowly turning into gold.  It helps that my wool is lichen coloured, all mustardy and auld gold, but it’s not hard to see where that story comes from (especially if you’ve ever seen flax whipped and beaten and then spun…if you haven’t then it’s in one of the excellent Ruth Goodman Farm documentaries….I think it’s in the Tudor one…)

natural leaven and yeast bread

I had such a nice birthday, very leisurely and where once I would have wanted to go out, party, be a bit wild, I was more than content to dawdle and potter about at home, do a little knitting, make the sponge for bread, put meringues in the oven (oh my goodness, I’ve been making the nicest meringues…when I was making the ice-cream in the Summer I put the left over egg whites in little bags and popped them into the freezer. Then when I want meringues*, which is a lot of the time as it’s one of the few puddings I can really eat anymore, I just take a bag out of the freezer the night before, that way the whites de-frost and also come to room temp, then it’s just whizz whizz whizz so the whites are fluffed up, add some sugar and cream of tartar, a splash of cider vinegar and then into a cool oven….open the door and you’re greeted by billowy clouds of beautiful meringues, crisp and golden on the outside, all gooey deliciousness inside)…..

october o

The weather was perfect, a little bit nippy but after a wet old Saturday, Sunday was sunshiney and bright, so we went for a good walk over the marshes and common, the cows were out in two different fields which made me happy as I’m a cow cuddler, I love cows (and always say I should have married a farmer…) and happily rub noses and scritch behind ears, pat necks and tell them how beautiful they are…there was a couple of younger cows who stuck their tongues out, hesitantly licking my fingers and then nudging me when I had stopped skritching…one russety flamed coloured fellow (I could have taken him home he was such a darling) was so friendly, he had the palest pink nose with a tongue to match and after he’d licked my fingers and hands, started on my tights so at that point I thought it time to go wander back home as I was getting a bit covered with his runny old nose…..While I’m there fussing and coasing them, the boy stands a good distance away….he’s very wary of farm animals where I love being around them having grown up in the the countryside, not on a farm but I was used to them being in fields near our house….though to be fair if it was a field of geese I’d avoid them like the plague….I don’t really care for them as they properly give me the willies. (I was chased by geese as a little girl until my dad came to the rescue, swinging me way up, high above his head, then sitting me safely down onto his shoulders…my hero.)

crocheted cosy

Then home for lunch and an afternoon of pots of fancy tea, Miss Marple films (the Margaret Rutherford ones…she’s my Miss Marple of preference…I know she’s very different from how Miss Marple is in the books, but I love her so much, she’s one of my favourite actresses)…knitting and a small box of geranium, lavender and rose cream chocolates within easy reach by my side…..although I’ve not had a tasting for chocolate for ages I still love these delicate floral fondants…there is a lovely Chocolate ship in the Royal Arcade in Norwich, called Digby’s Fine Chocolates…..the ladies there are lovely especially Anne and Jean. A couple of years ago one of my birthday presents was to go there and chose my own chocolates….picking them out one by one…all my favourites and a few chosen for the boy who oddly isn’t a fan of the floral creams….then having them to eat while I spent the weekend sprawled on the sofa, crochet or sewing in hand watching Cagney and Lacey……heaven…..the smell of bread baking in the kitchen and wafts of sheepyness from my knitting mixing together for warm homey happiness.

grannies paperweigh scarf

So a few more wrinkles, certainly there’s a few more grey hairs…at some point I reached the age where dyeing my hair was no longer about colouring my what I look back and think was actually perfectly lovely chestnutty brown hair but at the time I thought the very height of “bor-ing” into exciting blacks and henah reds (I was 15 and couldn’t be told any different)…..but now has become about holding back the grey for another year or so….I don’t really mind them but colouring the grey makes me happy, I don’t do it for anyone else…..and wrinkles….well I don’t think I look like my mum in the slightest, (she’s very petite and I’m more like an old cart horse, tall with what I’m told are “good child bearing hips)….I take after my dad, I’ve got his eyes, his whole colouring really, and I share the same lower face, chin, jaw-line and mouth as one of my younger sisters….which when I looked at an old family photograph, is something we’ve both inherited from my dad’s mum’s mum….we never knew her, she died years before I was born….I wonder if it’s something my Nanny ever thought about when she saw us growing up “well that’s mother’s face….” we also have the same forehead, the same frowns and expression when we’re concentrating….but I have my mum’s wrinkles…just under my cheeks, just up from my mouth…they lay like a soft mist, a veil of cobwebs just past the corners of my mouth, when I smile or laugh I know they’re there, I see them when I look in the mirror and pull faces as I apply make-up or face creams…it’s been odd to see those lines appear a little more pronounced over this Summer…everything else about us is quite different..but wrinkles are a common bond, like a map of footpaths and ley lines showing where and who  I’m from…

*I like the Sarah Raven recipe from her Garden Cookbook…perfection everytime.

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Un-knitting, “skip” stitches and a most unwelcome blob of mustard dressing…..

whoops missed a yarn over

Because I don’t want to make a major mistake and won’t know how to pick up stitches if I have to unravel my knitting, I’m counting the stitches at the end of each row of my Open Sky shawl, I pre-count the stitches each row will have and go from there, this is me being a bit pernickity but figure a stitch in time saves nine (and that’s the times I think I’ve now re-knitted the Shetland “soporific” shawl….) actually I find it easier to count the stitches on the odd rows, and this morning when I sat back feeling all pleased with myself and my new found knitting prowess…my stitches didn’t add up.

First I thought I had too many stitches then realized I didn’t have enough so as my last row was just knit at the edges and purl stitches in-between, I carefully back knitted each stitch until I had the last “worked in pattern” row on my needles….doing this I could actually see my hands tremble but figured if I made a huge mess I could just un-ravel it and start again…not the end of the world and you don’t know sometimes til you give it a try whether something will work…my feat of knitting bravery paid off, no stitches dropped (luckily Bernard was still asleep on the bed so I didn’t have my usual early morning assistant in to help).

marked where I missed a yarn over and will pick up in the next row

I had a good look at this row and ended up counting along the stitches and whispering the pattern out loud…yo,knit 6,skip*,yo over…..and then I saw I’d missed a yarn over (about 20 stitches in……) I didn’t really feel up to un-knitting again but checked in a book as I was pretty sure I’d read this the other day, you can pick up a missed yarn over from the row below…the wool is there, it just needs to go on your needle…so I used a piece of grey wool to mark the missing stitch and then purled up to where my marker was, did a quick yarn over on the left needle, purled it, and then carried on with the rest of the row…to say I felt rather like Paul Daniels** at the end of it is putting it moderately….

Anyway I’ve since worked a few more rows, stitch count is looking fine….and I feel even prouder of myself knowing that if I’d made this mistake the other week or so I’d have just thought I’d have to un-ravel it all….so sometimes making a mistake is a good thing.

I’m really trying not to rush my shawl (less haste more speed and all that) but I’ve had a bit of an accident with my favourite dottie angel frock…I’m not sure how I did it because I wasn’t eating at the time..but I’ve spilt a mustardy salad dressing down the front,  well it’s more of a blob and I thought I’d got it out but when it came out of the wash there was the stain..and it isn’t in a place that you could cover with a brooch or a matched fabric patch darned from underneath… (trust me I’ve thought about it) but I think a jauntily placed little yellow shawl would either cover it up or just be so lovely it would distract the eyes.

The background fabric is the pink silky fabric I picked up the other week for a new dottie angel frock…my original photos made it look rather coral hued but it is in fact a much nicer pink.

*this is slip,slip,knit (ssk) but for ages I was reading it as “skip”…I hadn’t knitted this stitch before but I really like doing it…

** Perhaps I could stick a few sequins on Bernard and he could be my Debbie McGee…..

Proper sheepy scented wool and the soporificness of my blue flecked wool….

open sky shawl in scotch brrom end of row 41

Progress is coming along nicely on my Open Sky shawl….what started out as a tester just to see whether or not I could follow Andrea’s pattern before I started using my posh wool has rather captured my heart…I only had one ball of the Shetland Soft wool and as it had been discontinued I’ve tried my best to match it……the closest match I’ve found is Shetland Aran by Jamieson and Smith…..the weight feels about right and though there’s a fair difference in colour it’s not casuing me to fret none….I haven’t started using the new wool, it’s still a few rows off as yet…but I think I’ll have to wait when Bernard isn’t feeling so curious as the Jamieson and Smith wool smells wonderfully sheepy and he couldn’t keep his dirty little cat paws off it yesterday (he was caught licking it and sucking on one of the ends and purring very loudly)…..

The wool feels so soft and squishy and real…like you always imagine wool should feel and smell like……yesterday when it arrived I should have been hard at work bringing my accounts all up to date for my accountant but instead I sat there in a sheepy scented bliss with my nose wedged into a ball of wool, breathing in deeply with my eyes closed.

I’m planning on using Jamieson and Smith wool to edge my Grannies Paperweight crochet blanket and at the start of the year I bought one of their shade cards as they have the most stunning array of colours available…..I’m thinking to work with natural shades, picking up those “dirty” greys and sulky browns from Bernard……it’s become his blanket as much as ours.

Open Sky shawl in Shetland Heather wool

While I waited for the new wool to arrive I got all restless and as I thought that the practice wouldn’t go amiss I started another shawl…this time I knew I’d have enough wool as I used some from a bumper charity shop purchase from some years back……the wool is by Waterwheel and is called Shetland Heather…I don’t know it’s genuinely Shetland wool like from Jamieson’s and Smith…it doesn’t smell nice and sheepy but more of lavender (though that may be because it’s been in a wool basket for over 10 years with lavender pouches wedged in around it)…….the wool cost me about 10 pence a ball and there was loads of it….over the years I’ve used it to knit matching scarves for my friend Tom and his dog Rufus (they looked so great when they went out for walks together ) and I knitted a big scarf for my friend Rupert (he was like a surrogate Grand-dad smelling of pipe smoke, and was full of jokes and stories about growing up in our little village…sadly he passed away this year)…and yet I’ve still got balls of it left……

I also had to order new needles as my little 40 cm ones soon became far too short…..this has been my first time using circular needles and while I’m not “knitting in the round” (I think that’s the right term)…I am enjoying using them, I find they make counting the stitches much easier as the stitches sit plump and fat on the plastic cord….they look like the little fledged sparrows we had in the garden last summer, ..bunched up in a line on the cherry tree branches all waiting to be fed

Shetland Heather wool on 5 mm needles

I really like how this wool knits up, it reminds me mostly of visiting the seaside in the winter, we’re near the North Sea and growing up whenever we went to Southwold there’d always be a walk down on the shore to blow the cobwebs away…one year it was a trip to Dunwich to see where the beach had been washed away….

I’d better explain…Dunwich is a stony old beach, no sand just pebbles.  One year the Autumn storms were so bad all the pebbles got washed away…not sure really how that happened but for the first time I could remember, Dunwich had a sandy shore…….this was quite the event and needed to be seen so we all piled into a couple of cars and drove out there to take it all in, have a walk, get blown along trying to avoid the waves and then drive home to get that kettle on and have some cake…….

In winter the beaches here are grey and dismal, the sea looks bitterly cold and scarves and coats are pulled extra tight around us as we walk in a bracing manner up into town, looking for somewhere warm to nip into or for a Charity shop rummage….I do miss living near the sea, many years ago I dreamt there was a beach in Norwich and when I woke I thought “ohh, I’ll walk down to the sea today” then realized with a heavy heart it had been a dream.

The wool feels soft and every other row sees me running with it to the bathroom mirror, needles and shawl draped round my neck so I can see how it’s coming along…….now I don’t know if it’s the flecks of blue doing this but this wool once knitted makes me feel very sleepy….I’m sure that blue must have a soporific quality to it…..this is my rather feeble excuse for the times I’ve had to un-ravel it becasue I drift off…knitting where I should have purled…this hasn’t happened once or twice…maybe closer to 6 or 7….possibly more.  One time I was up to row 39 before I realised I’d missed out those garter sttich ridges….they don’t make a difference in stitch count but I like how the stocking stitch gets broken up….so lots of un-ravelling and nights and early morning starts spent re-knitting the same piece over and over…(I think I could do it in my sleep now) ….I’ve tried un-knitting but I end up in a pickle if more than a few stitches are involved…..

Shetland Heather Open Sky shawl 2 end of row 41

I’m easily distracted and need to concentrate more when I’m knitting than when I’m crocheting or sewing so on Friday I ended up popping the kettle on yet again, making a pot of tea, opening up a packet of Werther’s Originals and putting on an Enya cd to listen to…….this is normally what I do when I need to concentrate with my crochet, and it didn’t let me down with my knitting….currently up to row 41 same as with the mustard wool.

And as if that wasn’t enough……I’ve finally started (I’m like buses with my knitting…wait for years and then 3 turn up at once) one of Ysolda Teagues shawls.  I love Ysolda’s knitting so much and her beautiful shawls have been a constant source of knitty lust for quite a few years now….I’ve got out Whimsicle Little Knits from my local library and have just started knitting Ishbel.  I bought the yarn for it about 4 years ago from Loop in London and then felt overwhelmed somewhat when I read the pattern…..someone had told me it was easy…..don’t think they realized that when I said I was a beginner I meant a beginner!

Anyway the fancy wool I bought has been kept in a cotton bag with a forgotten about Lush bath bomb so the wool smells amazing, and it will keep fine till I know what I’m doing a bit more…..at the moment I’m trying out different yarn overs.  I’m not sure if I’m making more work for myself but I read a piece on her site about how the yarn overs form different sizes depending on which stitch comes before or after….like if you knit a stitch and then purl and need to do a yo between the two then it won’t be the same as if you are making one between two knit stitches…is that right?  So for now I’m just playing with swatches, trying out the differnet stitches…knitting, deep sighing….and un-ravelling before knitting again……to a spectator (the boyfriend and Bernard) this looks like madness or a game…but I know I’m improving if only very very slowly.

Whhhheeee, feeling ridiculously happy with my knitting…….

Open Sky Shawl in Rowan wool

I want to go “whhheeeeee” so much, something seems to have clicked, a light somewhere inside my head has been switched on and finally after many years I’m able to make some sort of sense of what before might as well have been hieroglyphs or a mysterious cryptic code….looking at my knitting in front of me and I feel such a thrill of excitement.

It’s like when I first learnt to ride my bike without my dad holding the seat to steady me…turning round to see him way behind me and then wobbling and really riding all by myself down a little country road…wheeeeee…. (though I then fell off at the bottom where there was a crossing for the cows so ended up covered in farm mud and cow muck so looked and smelt a proper fright……perhaps not the best comparrison but it’s that same sense of achievement.)

Open Sky Shawl end of row 6

After the giddiness of the last week with the “light switch moment” of “ohhh I think I know what that means to do” (and what was on my needles actually looking like the picture in the book) I then had a play around using a cable needle….no samples or swatches to show as I had some assistance from Bernard and they got somewhat tangled…..however while having a look at some of the Instagram pages of knitters I admire, I saw such a fun picture via Westknits which bought me to Andrea’s instagram page where I saw this shawl which I mentioned last week and ….you know when you meet someone and you smile, they smile and everything else is just there in the background but you’re not aware of it…..that’s how I felt with this shawl….so so beautiful and even though I’ve seen gorgeous shawls before, I decided lack of knitting skills wasn’t going to stop me from trying to knit one myself….(happily I’d read that she says this isn’t hard to knit so that did help a lot…)

Anyway, as I said last week I bought some yarn without checking it was the right weight etc (no surprises…it totally wasn’t) and with a bit of advice from the lovely lady at my local knitting shop, and carefully following Stephen West’s instructions for a garter tab cast on,  stitches have started to appear on my knitting needles.

Just to see if I could actually follow the pattern I used some beautiful biscuity coloured Rowan wool I’d bought years ago in a John Lewis sale, and to begin with I used my wooden needles, but then it got quite hard to see what I was doing and took a deep breath and switched over to a circular pair I’d bought a few years ago when I went to Loop in London (the circular ones I’ve got are by Addi and for some reason I’ve got lace ones so they are quite pointy but I can pick up my stitches a treat and they feel much nicer to use than what I was expecting…..)

row 7 of Open Sky Shawl with Jamieson's of Shetland wool

After some rows (over 30) I thought it wasn’t quite looking right,I think I messed up right at the start as my back row looked a bit lumpy, and then my markers got all tangled up so as this was just a tester anyway, off it came and I started again.

close up of Open Sky Shawl row 7

The next wool I used was an odd ball of Shetland Soft by Jamieson’s of Shetland (sadly this wool has been discontinued)…it’s a nice intense mustard with the tiniest flecks of gold and beige in there which reminds me so much of my marshey walks in the Summer…..

I knitted the first 6 rows on the wooden needles and then switched over to the circulars…..

Looking at the new sample and I think my back row is looking a bit neater, less lumpy.  Still not totally sure it’s right though.

row 9 of shawl

Sorry for so many pictures…I’m just so excited that I’m doing all these things at once….knitting from a pattern, using markers, knitting brand new (for me) stitches) and knitting on circulars…….I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing appear on my work table, and I keep thinking…I’ve actually knitted this. Me. But I can’t knit…..so just feeling pleased.

Although the Shetland Soft said to knit on a 4mm I think it would have been quite happy on a larger needle.

Open Sky shawl row 13

I had to concentrate rather with what I was doing so I’m sure my face looked a picture, and at the end of every row I made note of how many stitches I had on my needles, and once I’d worked out where all the extra stitches were made I was able to keep track of my progress quite nicely.

So far I’m finding the pattern nice and simple to follow, and there is a ravelry group (kal) with some lovely pictures of other people’s shawls in progress which I found incredibly helpful as I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was at all right. My favourite pictures have been these ones by Cheryllfaust……she’s used such a beautiful colour wool.

Open Sky Shawl row 17

I changed stitch markers from the cheapy plastic ones I normally use to the posh fancy ones my boyfriend’s mum bought me a few years ago….I hadn’t used them before and they took a little while to get used to as they are a bit weighty…but I like the tinkly noise they make along with the gently clickety of the knitting needles….occasionally I manage to wrap the wool around them wrong but it’s not happening now half so much as when I was using the Rowan wool…(not the wools fault though, blame the knitter.)

Open sky shawl row 27

I really wish now I’d bought more of this wool as I love the colour of the stocking stictches, it’s much brighter than in my photos…at the moment it’s about the size of a shawl for a guinea pig……

Open Sky Shawl row 31

And I’ve pretty much run out of space on my circular needles, so I’m off into town this afternoon to see if I can get a longer pair………I was so worried about using them, and even though it’s been a bit chilly the last couple of evenings (Autumn is well and truly here now…) my hands have been fine using them.

I’m so pleased I’ve kept on persevering with my knitting as seeing each new row appear on my needles is making me ridiculously happy.

If you’d like to knit your own Open Sky shawl the pattern can be found here.

asleep in Autumn sunshine

While the evenings have suddenly turned chilly, the afternoons still seem wonderfully sunshiney even if you have to wrap up a bit to be outside.

Bernard has found the best place to be, all spread out on the bed in a beam of sunlight…..as it moves across the room, he wiggles around to move along with it.  Soft and snoring, with a tummy smelling faintly of Weetabix and Readybrek (don’t know why…but that’s what it reminds me of)….velvety paws gently knead the blanket, there’s the occasional pluck but no real harm done…..and who would have the heart to disturb him.