More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Thursday, 13 November 2014

November news

Well, unfortunately we're still in the throes of home improvements, waiting patiently to be able to enjoy the new wood stove. The novelty of having all the furniture stacked in the hall has worn off, also watching a few fave TV programmes on my laptop isn't exactly hitting the spot either. The time has come to nail this thing and move on!! Completion has seemed forever further and further away, but without wishing to speak too soon, at last I can see a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Something seems to be happening.

P has now got our friend Humph to help with the insulation and laying of the oak floor and thankfully things have seemed to motor along since. In fact by the end of next week I'm hoping we'll have got the electrics done and painted the room and can then consider moving the furniture back in! No doubt I'll be pleased with the finished result but at the moment it's all just taking too long.

Last bit of the floor being taken out
Insulation being cut prior to being inserted between the joists
Insulation half finished
However, life isn't without its compensations. We've had a glorious autumn and even now in the middle of November, there's enough in the garden to make me want to be out there. 
Seedheads of Japanese anemones
Abutilons seem to go on forever
Fat buds of the camellias developing for early spring blooms
Little cyclamen poking through the pebbles
Many consider this tiny calendula to be a weed, but it tries very hard and I haven't
the heart to pull them all up...and their starry blue brightens up the garden
when there's little else. 
Potted geraniums are lasting well this year...
... even the less hardy ivy-leaved white ones 
It's been so mild that the birds haven't eaten all the grapes yet
The hydrangeas are putting on a final show before going to sleep for the winter
There's even the odd Japanese anemone in bloom still
Winter jasmine starting to bloom for the holiday season
Had to throw this away last week after forgetting about it in the garden
- thought you'd like to see our Halloween witch and her cat 
So lots of interesting things still happening in the garden. The castor oil tree is flowering too and the fig tree is nurturing lots of embryonic fruits for next year's delectation.
First scarf finished
Meanwhile I've started my gift knitting for Xmas. With everything else going on I haven't been able to think straight recently, so opting for Noro yarn and garter stitch has been a bit of a lifesaver - I can knit scarves and rely on Mr Noro to deal with both the colour and texture. I love Silk Garden  and the wonderful colour combinations he comes up with make me want to always work yet another row, just to see what happens next. Some people say that there's always a colour they don't like in the mix, but I love that that very colour is there, it makes me reassess my colour preferences and frames other colours in different ways.

When Isabella and Ava saw the scarf, they loved it so much that I'm now knitting one each for them. Halfway through the first one I had a lightbulb moment. I realised that in all my years of knitting I've never worked on two identical pieces at the same time. I know some people work on two sleeves at the same time and also socks, but it had never occurred to me to try until now. So... I've got two scarves on my needles right now and enjoying it... eureka, you can teach an old dog new tricks!
Yummy handmade birthday macaroons from Annabelle
Finally, thanks again to everyone for your lovely birthday messages. I had a wonderful day, made even more special basking in the warmth of all the cards and messages from friends old and new, actual and virtual - you rock!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Domestic flux!

It sometimes occurs to me that our home is a time warp... or maybe just a work in progress that began many years ago when we moved in, and never ended. Things evolve in an organic sort of way, and walls get painted or washed as and when each one needs it - here change happens by a gradual process of osmosis. Hence we still have speckled paintwork in the kitchen, as I once went around dabbing spots of paint in different places to see how the colour looked in different light... and we never did get round to actually painting it.

It's at least a couple of years since we decided to have a 'new' kitchen. So granite worktops were bought and fitted with newly-tiled splashbacks, a beautiful new racing green stove was installed, the electrics, plumbing and lighting were overhauled, but the quarry tiled floor and the solid timber units stayed, resulting in the overall look of the kitchen staying the same as it always had been. This was not through any conservative wish for time to stand still, but because of the old adage if it's not broken why fix it? There's enough waste on the planet, without adding to it and anyway the units and floor tiles were perfectly serviceable, so recycling seemed like the best option.

We had planned to paint the kitchen and maybe even the units, but there are always too many other demands on our time, plus there's always the problem of having to agree on a colour. It's almost unheard of for us to decorate a room, finish it, then be able to stand back and admire the results. In our home, generally things take years to evolve into something that can be perceived to be anything different from how it's always looked - even though there's constant tweeking, to the untrained eye it all remains ostensibly the same.

So... when the mood seems right to do something which really will make a difference to the way things both look and work, I usually jump in with both feet. Enter the project of the moment - opening up the fireplace in the sitting room, lining the chimney and installing a wood stove, then replacing the floor with new oak boards.

The existing floor had to be carpeted after we were underpinned years ago. The contractors robbed Peter to pay Paul, taking the best of the original boards out to patch another room. They then replaced those in the sitting room with very short lengths of new boards of the cheapest timber, and sadly no amount of staining would ever get them to blend in.

We've always enjoyed our wood stoves in Wales and every so often P would say something about getting one here in York, but as my head is usually somewhere else when vague intent is perceived, I never really gave it a second thought. When he eventually told me he thought it would be a good project for the autumn, my ears immediately pricked up.
Before we started
I believe there are three types of people, those who live in the past, those you live in the present and those who live in the future. P loves to plan and dream and consider what if and why don't we, without ever feeling the urge to actually act upon it, whilst I'm more interested in what's going on in the here and now. Is this a gender or a personality trait I wonder? As you can imagine it's sometimes not easy to reconcile the two!
Dust sheets on
But I digress, the important thing is that the builders, Andy and Paul, arrived last Monday. They took one look at the fireplace, then said hmmmm, not seen a corner chimney before, we'll have to go out and have a think about this.
Point of no return - wonky brickwork filled in with rubble - even the
builders who do this job every day were slightly fazed to say the least
After much deliberation they returned and set about what turned out to be a very messy and difficult job. This was because the fireplace had been built in 1910 at the same time as the house, and I can only hope the rest of the work was done rather better than what we found behind the fireplace. When I saw the hole I nearly cried and certainly started to wonder why we ever started the whole thing.
Right side of the facing done, starting the left side
First job was to mask up and chip the years of congealed soot and tar out of the chinmey. Even though it had been swept in preparation, something much more drastic was necessary. Didn't get around to taking a pic of the used dust masks but I can only say I hope Andy and Paul don't need to do this every day, the masks had about half a centimetre of thick black soot on the outside! 
Facing finished and Paul starts restoration work on the hearth
Over the next couple of days Andy and Paul were like two men possessed, totally driven and devoted to getting the job done, possibly desperate to see the back of it. All I can say is that the work seemed to progress exponentially to its eventual conclusion, fuelled it seemed by nothing other than endless cups of tea and the odd biscuit.
Job done, phew!
By Wednesday it was finished and I now stand and wonder what all the fuss was about - I love it. However, we're far from out of the woods yet. Today P is taking up the floor and the process of laying the oak floor will begin, this time with P doing it himself... I'll say no more, except I expect tempers to be slightly frayed over the coming days! A kind friend came over yesterday to help empty the room, so all now stands neatly stacked in the hall, ready for the off.
Just had an awful thought - last time the floor was taken up, the builders nailed the new boards down with Bertie, our newly acquired kitty from the RSPCA, underneath. He'd decided it was a good hiding place! Luckily, after searching the neighbourhood for twenty-four hours, we heard his plaintive cries and prized up one of the offending boards to release him. Remind me to keep the door closed this time :) Happy days ahead!  Watch this space x

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Stranded in Borth!

Had the day from hell a couple of days ago! Took a friend to see the ancient submerged forest nearby on Borth beach, went head over heels on one of the slippery wet roots, ending up in a peaty puddle, shaken but otherwise ok.

Went to pub to dry out and suddenly had that awful feeling that I'd lost something. Car keys were in the pocket of my dress and were missing, they must have got flung out when I fell over. So... back along the beach to find them but to our horror the tide had crept in and the forest was completely underwater!

I called the AA who said they'd try to unlock the door, as I thought there may be a spare set of keys in the car. Two hours later at six o'clock, no-one had arrived so I rang again and was told it would be another hour and if they couldn't get into the car, it would have to be recovered. By this time it was getting cold, we had no coats, the sun was starting to go down and so were our spirits.

At six-thirty the AA man rang, sounding not very helpful, but assured us he would be there soonish. His phone then rang me back (must have inadvertently called the last number dialled) and I could hear him telling someone it was two f...ing women who'd lost their keys!!

We once more repaired to the pub to wait and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate and he eventually arrived just before seven. It then took half an hour to open the car's windows, we were then told we'd have to climb in to see if we could find the other set of keys. In the event we both declined and stretched in through each window to check all the places but alas found no keys.

AA man then asks us what we're going to do. Thought that was his job, but said we were told he would recover the car so could he tow us home. No he couldn't, he had the wrong vehicle, so he'd have to go back to his garage and get a different vehicle.

Back to the pub again for us to wait once more, which btw was about half a mile away. By this time a large glass of wine was needed, to add to our diet that day of endless cups of tea, coffee, crisps and biscuits as we walked back and forth to the car countless times.

He eventually returned at 9.30 with the recovery vehicle, so then another half hour to winch up the front of the car and then we were off, after being told he couldn't take the car up our single track road - too narrow, although I did mention to him that on another occasion we had been towed down in ice and snow!
We were both glad to see the sun go down on this day!
So ultimately AA guy reluctantly agreed to take the car (and us) to the garage 2.5 miles away from our house, then take us home. He eventually dropped us off at 11pm, we both thanked him profusely, but he didn't even say goodnight. Not a very good advert for the AA, think we'll be switching to a less grumpy, non-sexist provider asap! Remind me to erase the 21st September from the calendar next year! :(

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Scottish referendum!

The day of reckoning is finally here and I feel uneasy and strangely emotional. I can only hope the people of Scotland make the right decision for the whole of the UK today. Some of you may be saying what's it got to do with the rest of the UK... a lot I would say.

It's got nothing to do with the old chestnuts of the pound, pensions, defence, and the NHS, important as these are, but they've been discussed till they're run ragged and people are sick of hearing about it. And, at the end of the day, Alex Salmond seems to have no direct answers other than to trust him, all will be fine if you vote him in.

I have no quarrel with the nationalists' slogan Scotland's future in Scottish hands, but this could apply to the whole of the UK and be solved by greater devolution to all regions, not by the largest one splintering off whatever the consequences.

We have had 300 years of the union. Although there is a clear cultural identity to Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are no borders except emotional ones. There's been much cross-pollination, blended families and it's hard for many people to know where their sense of belonging lies in the British Isles.

Many people, like myself, have a problem identifying with any one part of the UK. My mother's family were Bannisters and Cunninghams, there's Irish in my father's family, I grew up in a Lancashire mill town where my mother worked in the cotton mill and my father delivered coal. I now live in Yorkshire, but also have a home in Wales, where one of my children was born. How can I call myself anything other than British?

There are many things other than the purely physical that link us to a land. My partner has a brother who lived on the Isle of Jura and is buried by his home in the woods.

England is criticised for being colonialist, raping and pillaging the smaller countries in the union. But it's often overlooked that you have to have money to colonise, and it's the upper classes, wherever they live in these isles, who have been the perpetrators of colonialism. The problem is not dependent on where you live but on which family you were born into - rich or poor. Raising a family in a slum is no different whether it's in Lancashire or in Glasgow.

In the industrial revolution working class labour was essential for turning raw resources into hard cash, thus making the rich, who had money to invest, richer, and the poor, who had nothing to lose, wage slaves. My family were union members and passionately Labour. The unions fought for working people and without them we wouldn't have what we have today - not a perfect society, but certainly an improvement on what we had.

Life has changed drastically in the past 50 years, some say Margaret Thatcher changed everything when she broke the unions. I think this theory puts too great an emphasis on her power. Power corrupts and I don't think Arthur Scargill was totally immune to this. We see it in Westminster day after day - professional politicians are hard to read. The smoother the rhetoric, the greater the personal ambition. In today's world it's hard to believe politicians no matter what they claim to stand for. I totally understand why Scots don't wish to be ruled by the Oxbridge/Eton Westminster ticket, but then why do they think that the rest of us relish the idea?

In a world where there are so many different factions all wanting to have their own piece of the power pie, the British Isles is a beacon. We may not have the perfect totally fair and equal society, but we do have a better chance of creating this together.
I've always loved Dick Gaughan's song Both Sides the Tweed - words were originally written by James Hogg (born 1770) about the 1707 Act of Union. Dick Gaughan changed some of the lyric and added his own tune - his song, written in 1979,  says it all for me.

There is a bond between the working peoples of these islands, one which cannot be defined or broken by national boundaries. I hope when Scotland decides, it won't forget this - the union can be greater than the sum of its parts, let's stay together!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Autumn inspiration in our Welsh garden

All go in Wales, especially at this time of year. The cats were like greyhounds out of the traps when they were let out of their boxes, for them it's the glorious 12th, open season on rabbits, mice, birds and any other small creatures they can find...
Arlo waits patiently in the bog garden, ready to pounce on any passing prey
Django's more wily - he knows they barn's the place to be
None of their sedentary slouching around on sofas here!
To a certain extent it's the same with us too.  A quick walk round the garden before dusk was all it took to steel my resolve to get out there first thing and try to tame the jungle. I'm not one for lawns - they gobble up too many of the world's dwindling resources in fertilisers, weeding and mowing for my liking - I prefer low maintenance hard landscaped terraces, saving the grass for the wilder areas where it doesn't matter if it acquires a sprinkling of clover, nettles or cow parsley, the more diverse the better.
Grass is reserved for the wild bits like outside the barn
First things first though, there were a few trees that needed prompt attention - Victoria plum and two damsons, which were shedding their heavy load in the afore-mentioned long grass!

So ladders were brought and fruit harvested, but now, on top of all the gardening, there's nature's bounty to be dealt with. Plums will be going in the freezer, then tonight I'll be making damson jam, my all-time fave. 
Red Admiral
But before then we still had to make some inroads in the garden, so after a strong cup of coffee, we both threw ourselves into the task - P does the strimming and I do what I think of as the machete work, cutting back the shrubs, opening up vistas, trimmng hedges, pruning roses, weeding flower beds etc etc. Give me a pair of secateurs and I'm as happy as a sandgirl. Near instant gratification - I'm always amazed yet delighted at how quickly the garden responds to a relatively small amount of tlc.  And there was a surprise in store by the apple mint...butterflies are usually thin on the ground at this time of year.
Red admirals love the apple mint
Season of colour, the vibrant hues of the autumn make my spirit soar, and hopefully will provide lots of knitting inspiration. So I couldn't help but stop from time to time to take a few photos - the garden seems to have an ethereal glow right now, making the colours even more vivid .
Singing sedums contrasting the blue slate on a dry stone wall
One of my favourite plants at this time of year is the dramatic Ligularia 'Othello', aptly named after the Shakespearean tragedy, as its bold display of dusty burgundy leaves and large golden flowers will wither and die with the first frosts.
Clematis tangutica
Another old friend is Clematis tangutica, which lights up the gable end of the barn with its chinese lanterns.
It wouldn't be Wales without the ubiquitous hydrangeas and fuchsias, both in full swing now...
...accompanied at times by giant bears breeches, which seem to have gone mad this year.
I uncovered these little asters that were completely swamped by the heucheras -  their purply blue breaks up the dark red hue of the heucheras.
The japanese anemones are all but done -  they've had so little water over the very dry summer that these usually upstanding plants were practically on the ground. One of the good things about gardening in Wales is that watering is rarely necessary as it rains all the time. However, they've had a hard time this year and we've had a few fatalities.
The roses especially have had it rough though, and needed emergency treatment.  All except this David Austin rose (the name escapes me) which has soldiered on through the draught and is producing some of the best blooms ever.
It's said that a good year for berries heralds a harsh winter, but the local birds around here - finches, robins, tits and wagtails - are having a beanfeast at the moment with the hedgeroows dripping with fat haws, rosehips, rowanberries, and blackberries.
Bonfire outside the barn
At the end of the day we had a big bonfire to burn the detritis. Unfortunately, as the wood was wet, there was too much smoke to sit around and we had to quickly retreat to the back terrace where we cracked open a bottle of cold white, put our weary feet up and enjoyed the new view. The swallows came out, dodging and diving in the sky getting their evening fill of insects - a lovely bonus as we hadn't seen any during the day and thought they'd headed off to Africa already. 

Hey ho, off for some more hacking - come back soon!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Little Book of Big Holes for Handknitters

For a variety of reasons I haven't been doing much knitting over the summer, so consequently no knit blogs recently. However, today I've got a treat for you. A few months ago when Lucy Neatby asked me if I'd like a copy of her new book, A Little Book of Big Holes for Handknitters, I jumped at the chance, as you can always rely on something new and original from Lucy's needles. 
I was meaning to review it as soon as I'd had a chance to read and digest it, but the best laid plans... First of all there was a couple of weeks in Greece on a reccy for next year's tour, then our two back-to-back Knit France tours. After all the travelling I started to find it really hard to catch up, especially as sciatica was making me pretty miserable too. So to cut a long story short, the book got put aside until I could focus better on its contents, which are quite extensive and detailed for a 'little' book. 
Air Conditioned Gloves
As I'd been experimenting with holey knits myself for a couple of years, I was particularly interested in Lucy's take on it. I'd always used the cast-off and cast-on method to work the holes. I found the resulting hole was never perfect, as there was always a loose stitch at one end, and no matter what I tried, (even using the one-row buttonhole), there was always room for improvement. Eventually I came round to the idea that this didn't matter, thinking I was just being too fussy, so you can imagine my delight when I learned that another designer had tackled the problem.
Spindrift Scarf
The ingenious Lucy had found a way to fix it by inventing a different type of technique altogether. Her method for making holes is a superb piece of thinking outside of the box, and is the peg on which all else hangs, so I'm staying schtum here. Suffice to say it's intriguing and enjoyable once mastered, but you need to get the book and practise it at your leisure.
Spindrift Capelet
Another neat technique is a new way to cast off. This seems complicated when you look at the diagrams, but falls into place when you knit it. As you'd expect from Lucy, tech freaks are well catered for, with an abundance of tips and tricks incorporated into the ten colourful projects, which include mittens, bags, a hat, shawls, scarves, socks and a hottie cover.
Banksia Bag
As I mentioned earlier I haven't been knitting much lately, so I have to come clean and admit I haven't knit anything from the book yet. Mais l'autumn est arrivé! The colours, the scents, the sunsets, the dusky evenings - seasonal inspiration! I'm so looking forward to tucking in with my knitting and a glass of wine by the fireside and top of my knitlist will be a couple of projects from Lucy's book.
Modified Banksia Bag
I just love this glorious time - Halloween, Bonfire Night, many family birthdays, making gifts for Christmas. With the nights drawing in, I love to be outdoors as much as possible - the last few weeks before winter are precious - so I'm looking forward to kick-starting the new knit season with a few jolly little lanterns to illuminate the garden.
Chinese lanterns
Another favourite is the Emperor's scarf, a beautifully crafted piece of knit design, this will be following hard on the heels of the lanterns once I've perfected the technique.
Emperor's Scarf
Emperor's Scarf
It's hard to find something not to like about this book - if you love colour, beautiful images, diverse and original patterns supported by technique videos, you'll be sure to enjoy this book as much as I have.
Mille Feuille Shawl
But if I'm going to be picky, for me there was not enough white space in the book's design. I know this sounds perverse, but I like to digest stuff in bite-sized pieces and when I first opened the e-book I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information. Maybe it's just me, but I sometimes felt that the dazzling designs got lost in Lucy's very meticulous and explicit instructions. It's that old chestnut again - form follows function - a balancing act between clear instructions and good graphics.
Mille Feuille Shawl
Get the book, judge for yourselves, if you love knitting, this little book won't disappoint.
  • The Little Book of Big Holes for Handknitters by Lucy Neatby
  • USD $19.95
  • ISBN  978-0-9782898-9-8