Adventures in lace knitting

One of my new year’s resolutions was to attempt lace knitting. I decided my first project would be Jan Eaton’s Leaf Lace Washcloth as a) it’s a free pattern, b) it’s not tooooo lacy and c) washcloths are small and therefore reasonably quick. After a false start due to a very messy cast on edge, I created this over a weekend:

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Yay! It was done using 4mm needles and Wendy Supreme Luxury Cotton DK in something like the Frost colourway. Doing the lace stitches themselves wasn’t too bad actually. I found that the hardest part was following the pattern as I kept mis-reading or skipping stitches. Coincidentally, I am now reasonably good at un-knitting (my definition of this is reversing the knitting motions to un-knit the required number of stitches until I reach the mistake. Not large scale frogging where whole swathes of fabric are unwound in an instant).

I also had my first foray into blocking with this. I pinned out the washcloth to a thickly folded towel laid on the ironing board (using the blocking pins Rob got me for Christmas!) and then waved a steaming iron over it until it was pretty damp. I then realised that I had to move the whole assembly to the sofa as the ironing board blocked all access to the bathroom – not my cleverest move. Note to self – next time lay everything out in its final position before commencing Operation Block. Anyway, it turned out alright, and I gave it to Rob’s Mum for her birthday. I haven’t a clue what she can do with it though! It’s not the most useful of pieces.

Following on from that adventure, I started on a scarf sweater for my Mum. The premise behind this is you knit a long scarf, wrap it around your top half and then sew the ends together to form a sweater. If you can believe this, it was supposed to be a Christmas present! Ahem. Hopefully I can complete it by her birthday (October).

Anyway, I must have had a brain malfunction when ordering the yarn (Debbie Bliss Rialto in light grey) as I got in Aran weight instead of Chunky. After frantically making some gauge swatches with various sized needles, I worked out that if I made the large size scarf with 7mm needles I *might* just be able to achieve the width of the small size and still have enough yarn left over.

Gauge swatch:

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When ripping back the gauge swatch I had to take a photo of the last row as it really resembled a soft, squishy caterpillar:

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Scarf commenced!:

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After measuring, it’s just under the small size by about an inch, but I think that’ll be ok as fortunately my Mum’s quite skinny. ;) I’ll post an update about this soon as the above photo was taken on the 28th January, and I’ve done a bit more since then. :) I’ve also got even better at unknitting, and even had to delve into frogging territory. I can safely say that frogging lace knitting is not my favourite thing in the world to do, but I have at least emerged on the other side relatively unscathed (bar the nightmares).

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Winter Photos

I’ve been going through my photos from January and February, and just wanted to share my favourites. Sometime in January, Rob and I were visiting his parents in Hemel Hempstead and decided it was a grand day for a walk, so we went up a local lane called ‘Cherry Bounce’. According to ‘Our Dacorum‘, the lane got its name from the cherry orchards that used to be in the area. Anyway, it was a lovely day.

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We wandered through beech woods, muddy paths, dank and cold flint-lined cuttings and looked over the rolling Chiltern hills. Lovely.

Anyway, as a bit of a contrast, here are some of my favourite garden photos from February. First up, snowdrops from Rob’s parents’ garden:

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Also, flowers from their money plant, which I have just this minute found out is a crassula ovata or jade plant:

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A hellebore in my parents’ back garden:

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Crocuses poking through the snow on my front lawn (how I first found out I had more than one crocus!):

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And finally, sparrows and a blackbird grabbing spilt seed in the snow (I hang the bird feeders in the damson tree that’s in the right of the photos, and they’re messy eaters to say the least!):

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I always hope that one day I’ll see some birds other than house sparrows, wood pigeons, blackbirds and the odd collared dove, but it never happens. I think the sparrows must mob them or something.

March is gardening month!

I have done next to no crochet/knitting so far in March. However, this is because there is SO MUCH to do in the garden! Since my last post, there has been much more happening on the spring bulb front which I will post about later. But first, I weeded and extended the daffodil bed. Before:

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After:

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Looks so much better! See, there were actually some daffodils present. The bamboo canes and twine in the first picture were there to mark out the border edge, which I then went along with my trusty half moon spade (a present from the lovely Rob) to sever through the encroaching lawn. I didn’t bother cutting the twine, just left the ball by the second bamboo cane and then rolled it all back up after I finished.

Earlier that day I visited B&Q and somehow walked out with about 15 sets of plants from their sale trolley (cheapest 10p, most expensive £2). Oops. Anyway, some of these went straight into the lovingly restored flowerbed, including a hellebore (niger):

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and some snake’s head fritillaries (fritillaria meleagris), one of my favourite flowers:

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Both don’t mind a bit of shade which is good as that border hardly sees any sun. Similarly for the primroses that went in afterwards. I’ve been meaning to get a hellebore for a while now as they have beautiful flowers and are so beloved by bumblebees (proven by the bee dipping into the ones in B&Q). I’m still on the lookout for a few more, and hopefully my Dad will get me some divisions from his hellebores later this year. Fast forward a fortnight, and the daffodils are finally opening!

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Currently there’s only three daffs open, and I can only see one other bud at a first glance. Not a great number, but I think that maybe they like a bit more sun than they’re getting. Hopefully a few more will show up over the coming weeks, along with the alliums I planted there last autumn.

Valentine’s Frivolities

Let the catch up posts begin! Things that happened in February no. 1: Valentine’s Day.

Rob and I decided that we’d do a “handmade” Valentine’s celebration this year. Neither of us approve of the commercial meat grinder that has all the shops pushing red love heart covered items of all shapes and sizes at you from mid-January, so we thought we’d just do a dinner & DVD night in.

I also had a WIP on the cards for the past few months that I thought would be an ideal Valentine’s gift. Originally I’d intended to make it for our 3rd anniversary (last weekend in October), then for Christmas, but those deadlines just flew by with it in a frogged state. Anyway, it still wasn’t finished by the time I got home on the 14th, but that was ok as it turned out Rob was also making me something that wasn’t ready either! Eventually, at 11:05pm, I handed over a little Valentine’s Monster, made to a free pattern by Emma Varnam with the love heart to a free pattern by PlanetJune:

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At the same time, Rob handed me a felt plushie Super Meat Boy! All his own design as well. :D

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He towers over the little Valentine’s monster! Anyway, as previously mentioned in the flower posts, the dinner was postponed until the following Thursday. I raided the BBC website for some recipes, and decided on pan-fried duck with roasted veg pilau rice and plum-berry sauce and sautéed potatoes with lemon and rosemary for a side dish.

Whilst cooking, I came up with a novel way of displaying the recipes to free up the worktop.

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I use clothes pegs for so many things, and hardly any of them involve hanging up clothes! Anyway, 2 hours or so later, ta-dah!

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See what I did with the sauce? It really didn’t work on the other plate though, need more practise. Ok, so dinner was a bit later than usual at 10:30pm, but we had a lovely time. Rob had tidied up the dining area (this was much more difficult than it sounds) so we weren’t eating off our knees as per usual, and laid the table with giant tea lights from his camping stash and a bottle of wine. Bloomin’ marvelous! :)

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The food was delicious, especially the rosemary and lemon new potatoes! And the pilau rice was amazing, well worth the extra effort involved massacre-ing a butternut squash. The recipe (supposedly for two) made enough rice to feed us for lunch the next day. I’m not complaining though. ;) I think I could have cooked the duck a little longer than I did as it was still on the rather bloody side. Still, neither of us died, wahey! Next year I’m buying the ingredients the day before though…

29 Flowers, 29 Days: The Conclusion

Hello! I’m sorry this post is 2 weeks late – it seems crochet-ing and blogging furiously for a month means I need a mental break from both activites. It took me a week to get around to darning ends, and then another week to take photos in decent light. There’s quite a few photos of various groups, I got a little excited. ;) Please do keep reading to the bottom to find out who won the competition though! So finally, here we have them, all 29 flowers together in one place:

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Here’s the first ten flowers I made:

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Middle 9 flowers:

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Last ten (sorry for the poor quality of this photo):

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Knitted flowers (I didn’t quite manage one a week):

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A pyramid of easy, filler crochet flowers:

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All the roses:

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All the poppies:

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Flowers that most resembled their namesake:

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A bit of a diversion, but I thought I’d make a group of the flowers that are great for wildlife, as our bees and butterflies sadly need all the help they can get (not that crocheted flowers will help them much). The ones in the group are apple blossom, hellebore, aster, scabious, cornflower, borage, buttercup, field poppy, daffodil, daisy, wild rose, scottish thistle and oriental poppy. Although dahlias can be good for wildlife, it’s only single varieties that are beneficial as the double flowers have so many petals the insects can’t get to the nectar (this goes for most flowers – single, good; double, bad) and my dahlia was definitely a double one.:

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Finally, my favourite flowers out of the 29:

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YAY! It makes me so happy to see all of them together, so many bright, colourful things. :D I can’t believe I finished all those. I really do have to thank my boyfriend Rob for all his support over February – he definitely did far more than his fair share of chores during the challenge, and I’m ever so grateful to him for doing all that. Thank you Rob!

So who won the competition then? Thanks very much to everyone for all the suggestions, but in the end there were two that it was very hard to choose between: Amanda’s blanket and Erin‘s wreath. However, my house is pretty cold at the best of times, and my walls are in absolutely no condition to hang anything on (there’s a lot of decorating to be done at some point!) so I went for the blanket. Congratulations Amanda! You have won five hand-made flowers[1]. As it was so hard to choose though, I’ve decided to give Erin a bonus runner up prize of three hand-made flowers[1]. Congratulations Erin! And thanks again to everyone that suggested, I’m sorry if yours wasn’t chosen (if I get time I might send a small bonus flower your way).

Right, now all that’s done I can write some posts that aren’t about flowers. Well, that aren’t about crocheted ones anyway…

[1]The “flowers” can be any of the patterns (not just flowers) from Jan Eaton’s 100 Flowers to Knit or Crochet, if you go to the Amazon link you can preview the book to see what they are. They don’t have to be different either – if you want three of the same, that’s fine. :) Although please play nice and don’t ask for 5 bunches of grapes or something! Please send me your choices and address through Ravelry-mail (sleeperwaking) and I’ll try make them by the end of March. If you have an opinion over whether you’d like them out of acrylic or cotton, and colour choices, please let me know that and I’ll see what I can do (this is stash reliant though).

29 Flowers, 29 Days: Day 28 & 29

The final two flowers! Sorry for the delay in posting these up. I finished the last one late Wednesday, then real life intervened for a few days (Rammstein concert and a hen party among other things). Also, keeping up with the challenge for the past few weeks has really tired me out, and I needed a few days off to sleep and catch up with housework.

So, day 28 was finally the turn of the dreaded pelargonium! These are more commonly known as geraniums, and I think this one definitely looks a lot more like a geranium than the one I did for day 10. Why dreaded? Well, there’s a fair bit to it, and I must say it took me more like a day and a half to complete. BTW, this is intermediate crochet pattern no. 68.

First you make 5 flowers:

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The flowers themselves were quite hard to work out how to finish. I’m sure I’ve not done them quite right, and I spent a little while forcing the petals into the right arrangement. The next step is to add green stems and centres to each one:

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Fortunately the process of adding stems improved the petal arrangement somewhat. Finally, you combine all the stems into one giant stem! The instructions said to leave one end 8″ long for each stem, and then use one stem (out of the five) to do 16 dcs over the rest. I had just enough yarn for 8 dcs. I think next time I’ll leave something closer to 16″… This photo shows how I laid out the flowers before knotting them together, trying to keep each the same distance from the knot:

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Making the uber-stem was incredibly fiddly. After doing the 168dcs, you had to pull the remaining stems one at a time through the middle, and do dcs at the top to draw the flowers together. I abandoned this method after 2 stems and instead of doing a dc I just wrapped the tail-end around the flower stalks in a basic knot and pulled tight, which was far easier and worked far better than the dcs. Ta-dah!

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 I’d say this flower definitely embodies the pelargonium successfully! I am surprised at how well it turned out considering the amount of frustration it caused – the making up was one of the worst to do out of the 29. I’m not sure I’ll attempt it again for a little while, I’m a bit pelargonium-ed out.

The final flower, day 29, is a viola for Rob’s Mum and Gran, advanced crocet pattern no. 99. When asked which flowers they liked, they came up with a wood violet, so I tried to make the closest thing I could given the patterns available. To that end, I made the flower out of one shade of purple, although this does make distinguishing between the petals quite hard.

First three petals completed:

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With final two petals in viola formation:

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With final two petals in wood violet formation:

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There! Finished. It’s not that impressive a flower to end on (I’m not sure why it’s an advanced pattern either, the pelargonium was far harder to do!), but I’m so, so, so happy to have done it! Tomorrow I’ll sort out all the ends that I haven’t darned and then take some photos for a round up post, when I’ll also announce who’s suggestion I’m going to use to display all the flowers. If you haven’t yet made a suggestion, feel free to put one forward on this post (I’m looking for a way to display all the flowers together). There’s a prize for the best one! :)

29 Flowers, 29 Days: Day 27

SW: Today we have an extra-special guest post by my friend unitled who had never picked up a crochet hook before making the 27th flower. I’ll let him carry on from here!

Today I have been mostly playing… Crochet a Flower Simulator!

Actually, I haven’t. I’ve taken the advice of my Dad to heart, and done some REAL crocheting instead (erm, that is, advice about doing things in the real word… as far as I know, my Dad is AT BEST indifferent towards crocheting).

My wonderful friend Gemma who runs this blog and I have done a cultural exchange; she has played a game neither of us has played before, and I’ve had a go at doing a crochet flower. I don’t think I’ve knitted or crocheted in my life; I remember making pom-poms in primary school (I think this involved making loops of cotton around two cardboard rings, then cutting through them… hardly a highly skilled task!), and I did make a rather nifty drawstring bag at secondary school, but I have absolutely zero experience with any other fabric-based craft.

Gemma had picked out a nice simple crochet pattern for me, a lazy daisy I believe (I don’t know how that is different to a normal daisy… maybe the normal daisy gets up earlier?). Well, she assured me it was simple; there were more arcane words and diagrams than in some of the nerdier dusty tomes I’ve got stashed in the loft! The basic patten was to make a yellow chain, join it back on itself to make the centre of the flower, follow that round with double crochets, then do a series of white chains around the outside for petals. I think I have all the technical terminology there! (SW: Top marks!)

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Gemma worked along with me, teaching me the different stitches as we went. I found it alternately annoying and relaxing; when I got the hang of a stitch, I could let myself go on. It was similar to the mental relaxation I used to get doing maths in lectures at Uni: when I had a fat, juicy equation to work on, I found I could not worry about anything else and simply concentrate on the task in hand. With the chains at the end, I found myself wishing they were longer so I could get more into the motion!

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(SW: (short) video evidence! Mwahahahahahaharrrr! Although that appears to be a yarn under instead of a yarn over… <.<)

However, I must admit there were a couple of times when I nearly let frustration get the better of me and give in. Sometimes it seemed like you’d need three hands to crochet effectively, and I couldn’t seem to see quite what I was supposed to be doing. The relatively simple flower I did here has given me a whole new-found respect for the amazing creations Gemma has produced over the past month on her blog!

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(SW: Left flower is a demo one, made out of 4ply cotton, Right flower is unitled’s, DK acrylic.)

I definitely think I would give this another go. Once I got the hang of a few of the simple stitches (as in, so I’m able to talk and stitch at the same time without the quality of one of the two suffering) I think I’d be able to do it while listening to music or radio, maybe half watching the TV. So, if Gemma will take me back as an apprentice, I’m eager to learn more!

SW: Congratulations to unitled on finishing the flower! I’m very impressed, especially as it’s the first crochet thing he’s ever made (and I’ve plenty of spare yarn and hooks now to lend out to any future padawans). Also, my thanks go to photographer Rob. :) Click here to read my review of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth on unitled’s challenge blog. Tomorrow I’ll post up the final two flowers – they were definitely completed within the time scale, promise!