Life returns to the garden

I have so much garden stuff to show you! It’s been ages since I last posted about it. Yesterday was my first chance to have a proper nose around the grounds during daylight, and take stock of how things fared over winter (I say that, we’re technically still in the middle of winter, and it’s been so mild I’m fairly sure it’ll probably get even colder in February).

In October/November, I spent hours and hours on my hands and knees in the front garden planting hundreds of bulbs (I did calculate, and I think it was nearing 200). Last week on my way to the car, I noticed that the crocuses had started poking shoots up through the lawn.

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Yesterday, I peered out of the bedroom window and immediately started jumping around like a mad thing, clapping my hands with glee. The first crocus flower of spring!!! :D

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This made me so excited I had to grab my camera and run around taking photos of all the awesome growing things that had been quietly working they way up through the soil over the last few months. We have bluebells:

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Bluebells I dug up when making my vegetable patch, left on the lawn and forgot about:

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I cannot believe those are still alive. No frost protection whatsoever, bulbs yellowed, but they will not die. This may explain how they are slowly taking over my entire garden. Anyway, tulips! Growing in between bluebells!

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It’s hard to tell, but the tulips are the more sage green, singular, slightly taller shoots sticking up above the darker green, bushier bluebells. There were also daffodils!

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I did later scrape up all that moss on the path. I feel so much better having done that. Maybe later this year I’ll even finish scarifying the 50% of the back lawn I didn’t get around to last year…

I also had a gardening super failure, which I didn’t realise until I got out and about. I forgot to bring in one of my cactus bowls before winter set. I think I ran out of places to put them in the house by the time I got to that one, and I then forgot to bring it in when I did have space later on. Anyway, both bowl and cactus look very sorry for themselves. :(

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That large piece of terracotta? That used to be attached to the side of the bowl. I guess I should be thankful that there’s only one major casualty (there were a few more, but those were things like bargain supermarket plants bought for 15p and suchlike, and therefore almost expected to die off). But I don’t want to end on a sad note, so have a photo of my hyancinth that’s been sitting on the kitchen windowsill:

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The hyacinth’s in a hyacinth glass – you fill it with water to just below the neck, sit the bulb in the top, keep it in a dark cupboard for about a month until the leaves have grown up to about 3 or 4 inches then bring it out into the sunlight. The silver foil was a tip I read somewhere (possibly Gardener’s World magazine) to keep the light out of the water so that you don’t get algae growing in it, but it also makes it look a bit more decorative. :) And that’s probably more than enough photos for one post. I have more gardening ones (can you tell I got very excited yesterday?), but I’ll put them up separately tomorrow.

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Winding (and winding and winding)

Last December, I joined a sock club called “When Granny Weatherwax Knits Socks“. If you need to ask why I joined this club on a sudden impulse being an absolute knitting novice and having never knitted a pair of socks in my life, then you obviously either haven’t read any Discworld books or are one of those strange people who don’t actually like the Discworld books.

It’s a joint project between a lady called Joy who dyes yarn under the name “The Knitting Goddess” and sock pattern designer Rachel Coopey. Every month there’s a pattern and a specially dyed yarn to go with it based on something out of a Discworld book. The books are taken in order, so January’s installment is based on The Colour of Magic.

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So pretty! I must admit I always imagined octarine to be more greeny yellow with hints of purple, but that would probably make a fairly hideous looking sock.

Anyway, I haven’t got very far with this yet, mainly because the yarn arrived in skein form, and it needed transforming into ball form before I could safely knit with it. I finally got the idea to take it into work to do, as a nice, simple, relaxing activity in between searching frantically for a drawing that’s actually available so I can get some obscure part number. As a bonus, the drawers at work are incredibly long and just the right size to drape the skein around so that I don’t get the yarn hopelessly tangled (unlike my first attempt at winding a yarn ball which was pretty disastrous all told – it took a solid week’s worth of evenings to untangle it all :( ).

I decided to attempt the Laughing Purple Goldfish method of winding yarn, which involves winding it around a cardboard tube. Hereby follows a pictorial documentary of my attempt:

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It was going so well! Then I ran out of toilet roll tube…

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“Nevermind!” thought I, “Let us continue regardless!”. I mean, I was definitely NOT about to unwind it all and start again. It took 3 days of lunchbreaks winding away (and 30-60 min winding sessions after work) to get to this point! So I continued, and with a bit of care I ended up with this:

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Look! An end! A actual end! I even managed to keep the top hole at about the same diameter as the tube!

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 Unfortunately, the bottom hole was by now being formed around my thumb, so it was a bit smaller:

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All that remained was to remove the tube, and rescue the end I started with. A bit of tube squashing later, and a bit of yarn ball squashing to relieve some of the tension in the yarn (built up whilst wrapping round), and I finally have a centre pull ball of yarn. :)

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The pink bit of yarn coming out of the centre is the piece that will hopefully unravel the whole thing from the middle out. All I have to do now is knit some wizard-y socks with it. Hah! We’ll see how that goes…

Crochet Square for SIBOL

So there is a lovely lady called Sue who asks people to send her 6″ x 6″ knitted or crocheted squares. She then takes a stack of 25 squares and crochets them together into a blanket, which is then donated to an elderly person in need of protection from the cold. This is all done under the banner of SIBOL or “Sunshine International Blankets of Love”.

Anyway, she sets up challenges for people to submit squares fulfilling a certain description, and one of her latest ones is a “Your Local Landscape” challenge, intended for submission at the Jersey Textile Showcase 2012 where it will be auctioned off in aid of Mencap.

I eventually decided I’d give it a go last Tuesday, after it seemed like there weren’t many people going for this challenge. Looking through photos from the past year, the one Rob took below struck me as a good one to turn into a square:

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Not too complicated, and also using colours I have quite a lot of in my stash (if you ever wondered what my favourite colour is, well, now you know, although I really love it combined with blue as well). It’s from when Rob and I went to our friends’ combined hen and stag camping party, based at Rocks East Woodland in Ashwicke near Bath. On the morning after, we all went on a walk in the woods nearby which are full of interesting sculptures, follies, ponds and glades, and that’s where the photo was taken.

Next step, work out how many stitches and rows I’d need. I decided to use two strands of double knit weight acrylic (dark green and white) to represent the wild garlic in flower. I chained until I reached 6″ (25 stitches) and then did 6 rows of double crochet, basically until I thought I would need to start changing colours. This created a 6″ x 1.5″ rectangle, so I surmised that 24 rows would be needed.

Following that, I needed to work out how to represent the bridge and the different areas of green. Using Excel, I made up the stitch chart shown below:

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The eagle eyed among you will notice that there are 25 rows charted instead of 24. That’s because when I measured the square after completing the 24th row, it was about 5.75″, so one more row was required.

Finally, to bring in all the different yarn colours required to make the different shades along one row, I looked up “colour work crochet” and learnt about something called “tapestry crochet“. This basically involves carrying unused yarns inside the row until they’re needed, crocheting over them to hide them. If I was doing this properly, I’d have carried all my yarns, but because I was using two strands of different coloured yarn at a time there were so many yarns required I ended up ejecting some yarns out the side of the row when they were no longer needed, and then picking them back up from the next row as required. This had the undesirable effect of covering over some of the stitches at the colour change boundary, but I managed to offset this when darning in the yarn ends. I think next time I’ll just use single strands of variegated yarn to get a dappled effect!

Five different yarns were used, as seen below. And yes, those are all attached to that on bit of crochet in the middle, some of them twice (I cut off a few long pieces of yarn so I could have two sections of that colour in different positions without carrying them across the whole row, notably with the grey when doing the bridge supports as it was a much darker colour and liable to show between stitches when carried).

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Although the photo shows them all looking very neatly laid out, that’s because I’d spent the previous 10 minutes untangling them whilst on the phone to my Mum. Every time you get to a new row, you turn the crochet around, and this results in a horrible mess after a few rows. The next photo shows a strand of white yarn being carried inside a row of double crochet.

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So, after spending two evenings crocheting (around food shopping, cooking epic meals and accompanying a choir practise) I had the following thing by 2am on Friday morning:

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Rotated by 90 degrees, it somewhat resembles the flying spaghetti monster. SO. MANY. ENDS.

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I then spent all of my lunch break, plus the odd 5 mins here and there when getting cups of tea etc. darning in all those ends. 24 in total. TWENTY FOUR! It took ages! However, once darned, it was deemed complete! So, to the square! Wrong side first.

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Right side!

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And then it toddled off in the post to Sue at SIBOL, who received it on Friday afternoon and wrote a lovely blog post about it here. :) I’m really chuffed with my square. Ok, it’s far from perfect, but I think it’s grand for a first attempt. I’ve also joined a “Block-A-Month Crochet-A-Long” group on Ravelry where people try to make a block a month to a supplied 12″ or 6″ pattern, so hopefully I’ll get more practise at squares over the coming year. The plan is to keep the 12″ ones for myself, and send the 6″ ones to SIBOL. I might have a blanket to show you in a year’s time! :D

Chinese knotwork books and necklace

Sometime in November I had this dilemma: What on earth could I get my other half’s Mum for Christmas? His parents have reached that zenith of home building where they have acquired everything they need, and his Mum doesn’t have that many hobbies (apart from baking, but I was informed by Rob that buying her cooking related presents was tantamount to suggesting she should be chained to the stove).

Solution: Make her something.

Next dilemma: What to make? I ended up going for a necklace. On my fairly recent trip to Hong Kong, I was reminded about the intricacy of Chinese decorative knots. A short time trawling Amazon resulted in the purchase of Chinese Knots for Beaded Jewellery by Susan Millodot and Decorative Knot Craft by Kim Sang Lang (Korean knots).

The Millodot book was the one I used for the necklace, but this was because it was more orientated at Western necklace and bracelet design, and the knots in it better suited what I had in mind. Some of the Amazon reviews said that the instructions weren’t clear enough without a companion book describing the same knots in more detail, but I didn’t have any trouble with it myself provided I was careful. I think it depends on how good you are at deciphering diagrams; some of the ones showing the “exploded” knot took a bit of concentration to work out which cord went over/under which, and I spent a lot of time double checking all the interweaving before pulling it tight.

The Korean book has some beautiful knots in it (showing how to make dragonflies and butterflies out of cord, which the Millodot doesn’t) and it also shows the steps in much more detail. Each step has a separate photograph and paragraph of text, with some of the more complicated knots covering several pages. I’m itching to have a go at some of these for other projects, but although there are quite a few project suggestions at the back, none of them matched what I had pictured in my head. I’d definitely recommend this though.

So, to the necklace design. I chose to create a double corded pendant necklace with the pendant hanging from a prosperity knot. I added some beads sandwiched between button knots and used two double connection knots to create a sliding clasp so that the length could be adjusted to suit. In my usual deadline orientated style of crafting, I started designing it at 9pm the day before I visited Rob’s parents, knotting commenced around 10.30pm and I finished it (bar final adjustments) at around 2.30am. Quite a quick project all told, but I do wish I’d started it earlier!

Please see pictures below. Unfortunately they didn’t come out as well as I’d like as I was taking them indoors at night, and taking flash photos of reflective cord and beads is really tricky.

Making the prosperity knot:

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The book actually said to lay it out on cork board, but I decided that carpet was just as good (and far cheaper!). I placed a piece of scrap wrapping paper underneath the cords before pinning so I could see them over the carpet pattern. Actually, in the above photo, I missed out one of the inter-weaves, so I had to re-do it.

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One completed prosperity knot! Note the many, many pin holes in the wrapping paper by this point… :) Next stage was to make some button knots and thread beads in between them.

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By the way, beads and cord came from a place called Rainbow Silks, actually based in Great Missenden. Once ordered the stuff arrived incredibly fast! I was very impressed.

Anyway, after finishing the main knots, the necklace looked like this: 

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Only one thing left to do – make two double connection knots to act as a sliding clasp! The next picture shows one complete knot in the bottom left hand corner, and one just before it’s pulled tight and adjusted.

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Looks a right mess! Anyway, once that was done, it could finally be worn as a necklace. I tried it on to see if it would actually go over my head.

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Et voila! One completed necklace! My apologies for the blurriness of that last photo. The camera operator was unfamiliar with the equipment, and it was 2.30a.m. by this point. Anyway, it was done in time to be given to its recipient, even if I did then have to adjust it to fit. Next time I make one of these using two cords at a time, I’ll do more knots along the length to keep the cords sitting nicely next to each other. The distance between the last bead and the sliding clasp was long enough that the two cords acted as two separate cords, rather than one necklace loopy thing.

Sorry for the delay in this post btw. Hopefully the next one will be fairly prompt, I have loads of things to post about! Knitting AND crochet things! :D

Lavender Sachet Bag

Ok, not a Christmas project update, but something I’ve completed over the last few days; namely, one “Bag of Calm” made using a kit purchased from The Knitting Goddess around November last year for the princely sum of £2.75. I started it on the train from Sheffield to Doncaster (a Class 158 which looked very tired and worn inside), and managed in that time to wind the mini-skein (10g, 40m) into a centre pull ball, cast 24 stitches on to 3.25mm pins and knit the first row. Either I was super-speedy for me, or it shows you just how slow the stopping service is between the two places!

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My first hand wound centre-pull ball of yarn! Made using this method which worked a lot better than I thought it would, especially once the first few metres had been pulled out (giving a larger hole in the middle and therefore less stuff to catch the yarn on). I don’t know how easy it would be to do with a larger skein though.

This is the completed rectangle before sewing into bag form:

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I decided to use a basic checkerboard pattern four stitches wide and 5 rows deep (*k4, p4* for rows 1 – 5, *p4, k4* for rows 5 – 10, repeat until finished). The reason behind this was to get back into practise knitting after my year long hiatus before attempting to knit the sweater Mum requested for Christmas. Yes I do realise it’s 1.5 weeks into January. I’ve not even sent my Christmas cards yet. They will now be “Chinese New Year” cards…

Anyway, as I was saying, a slightly more advanced pattern than the previous knitting I did, with practise doing both knit and purl stitches and remembering to move the yarn backwards/forwards when switching between the two.

So, one final photo with the lavender sachet before sewing round the edges:

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(please ignore the carpet, I know it’s a state, see my new year’s resolutions!)

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Finished! I really liked this as a small quick project. The lavender sachet gives off a lovely, strong scent, and the checkerboard pattern has a really good texture to it as the knit squares sank deeper into the fabric than the purl squares. It also looks a lot neater with the edges sewn together – I’ve not yet worked out what to do with the loose last stitch on each row that makes all the edges look untidy. I seem to remember something about knitting it together with the second stitch and increasing later on, but I’ll have to research it properly before my next project.

Speaking of, the next planned project is to make another face flannel but more involved than the last one (again, stepping up the complexity on something small before attempting the scarf-sweater). It will be either the Leaf Lace Washcloth by Jan Eaton or the Elfin Lace Cloth by NightlyKnitter in Wendy Supreme Cotton DK, or I may do both depending on how badly the first goes. I’m leaning towards doing the Leaf Lace one first at the moment.

Hopefully I can post up what I did over Christmas tomorrow, it involves Chinese Knotting exploits!

Happy New Year

So a slightly late post to say “Happy new 2012”! Let’s hope it’s a good one.

Obligatory new year’s resolutions post:

  1. Complete all the knit/crochet projects I’ve got in my to-do list as of this minute (before adding new ones!);
  2. Related to post 1 – Reduce the stash! (I firmly believe this will naturally happen if I complete all the aforementioned projects that led to the stash in the first place);
  3. Attempt lace, in both crochet and knitting;
  4. Attempt cables, again in both crochet and knitting;
  5. Get the veg patch going;
  6. Plant out all the sorry looking things that have been sat in pots on my patio for months;
  7. Extend the border down the side of the garden;
  8. Sort out the garden fencing.

In non blog related things:

  1. Iron at least one shirt a week;
  2. Finish the 2nd bedroom (this is the current dragging-on-neverending DIY project);
  3. Get the house into a state where I can have visitors round without cringing internally;
  4. See more films at the cinema and get out to more gigs!

Hopefully all those are achievable, although I’m not sure about the ironing one (I’m already behind on that one). I would make a resolution about going to bed earlier/getting up earlier if I didn’t know that it was completely hopeless.

Christmas break crafting update to follow once my camera battery has finished charging. Spoiler: Lots planned, but not much completed. One day I will realise my brain is incredibly optimistic about how much time things take, not to mention my ability in carrying them out or the way life seems to get in the way at every opportunity.