Deer and cake

We seem to be romping through January, thank gods, as today’s weather – a horrid combination of snow/sleet/hail – snail? – forcefully suggested that Spring can’t come soon enough).

We took Vanda out at the weekend so she wouldn’t feel unloved, and despite the chill and dreary weather we struggled to find a place that wasn’t fully booked. I thought that winter motor homing  might be a minority sport but hell, no! In the end we got a night at Chatsworth House. Jane Austen fans will recognise it as the home of Darcy (although a couple of places stood in for Pemberley in the BBC adaptation). We had a special key to access the deer park so its a great place for a winter wander. We saw the deer in question – as they weren’t clad in multiple layers of fleece and wool they looked a bit fed up. Local bars in Baslow provided a warm place to walk to.

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I took some Bread and Butter Pudding cakes along for snacking purposes: yummy and easy to make. Just chop some sliced brioche loaf into cubes (there was about 2/3 left of the loaf), fling it into a large mixing bowl with a good handful of mixed fruit and peel, 2 eggs, about 3 or 4 tablespoons of double cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a couple of tablespoons of light brown sugar (or to taste). Mix well until all the bread is well-aquainted with the egg mix. Divide between muffin cases and bake for 15 minutes in 180 degrees C until firm. Eat mid-afternoon with coffee.

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the colour of the yarn isn’t magenta, its more like claret…camera sigh…

Knitting: making swift progress on Carbeth and ignoring Cline’s plaintive cries from its knitting bag. I am attempting to make it longer and use up some stash yarn so the length of the sleeves and body are still under discussion. I don’t want it too long but need room for a middle-aged ‘apple’ tum. The yarn is Rico Alpaca Dream and it’s lovely. It proved a wee bit too pricey for my customers so I have quite a bit stashed. Oh happy day.

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camera fail 2: this is a lovely sunny yellow…

Also re-blocking this cardigan which I’m hoping will rescue it from a trip to Oxfam. It’s Whippet by Ankestrick, which is a lovely pattern to knit, and the yarn is an alpaca from Drops which is equally pleasing, but the finished garment was ‘meh’ with a side of  ‘hmm’. I’m hoping that giving it a more boxy shape will make it more in line with my wardrobe choices. Well, you never know……

January

Hello all and I hope you are surviving the return to normality (and if you’re in the States, the brutual weather on the East coast. Blimey, when you folks do weather, you really pull out all the stops!). Everyone in my wee household is back to work, so I’m enjoying quite a bit of peaceful solitude – and naturally I’m using it to craft.

The morning usually finds me stitching: did I mention that I’d taken up embroidery? Well, it might be a touch more truthful to say that I have become like a woman possessed with embroidery (although clearly ‘possessed’ and ‘embroidery’ don’t belong in the same sentence, a bit like ‘shawl’ and ‘rampant’…although maybe there’s some Austen fan-fiction that addresses all these things in the same paragraph…anyway, I digress). Since my first little venture I have assembled all the bits and bobs I need in a work bag, obtained the cutest little Merchant and Mills scissors from this lovely shop in Ilkley and I’ve been enthralled. Pictures below. ‘That’s all?’ I hear you knitters and crocheters cry – when you can knit half a sweater in a week and a crochet a cot blanket in a heartbeat, this tiny offering looks soooo….constipated.

 

 

And that is its charm I guess, for me at least. When I paint and draw I make pictures that are full of tiny detail and pattern and now I’ve found something that resembles that but conveyed through thread and cloth. It’s delicious.

(BTW – I had the cloth in my stash and a bunch of the floss too but it’s pretty inexpensive, I owned the frames because I’d made crochet mandalas for the shop window. Aside from the tiny scissors and a few extra bits of floss this is also a seriously cheap hobby. So if times are hard, but the urge to craft is powerful, type ‘embroidery’ into Instagram and be inspired.)

Meanwhile at the yarn-face I seem to have ended up with a few WIP’s again – how does this keep on happening?

I am making this in some rather lovely wine coloured WYS blue-faced Leicester DK. It’s slow going and some of the pictures of finished versions are making me a tad worried that I have chosen the wrong project for this yarn again. This yarn has already been at least two projects: one didn’t get beyond the rib, the other was an ill-advised colour-work project that got as far as mid yoke before I kicked it into touch. Fingers crossed for Cline.

I’ve just cast on this sweater by Kate Davies in a rich ruby alpaca/wool mix. I don’t usually dig her colourwork/negative-ease style but Carbeth spoke to me – it said, I’m ‘A-line and chunky don’t you want to pick up those needles and give Cline a rest in the bag?’ I was hopeless to resist. (I’m making it longer btw, there’s always something with Ms.Davies things that I just can’t get on with, and a cropped chunky sweater doesn’t work for me)

Also on the needles are socks (2nd sock syndrome is strong with this one), a pair of yellow mittens that I carry around in my hand bag just in case there is hospital visiting (long story… but everyone is ok now), around 80 squares for this blanket (with about 20 to go) and 2 or 3 sewing projects.

How on earth did I ever have time to run a shop?

I’m giving up….New Years resolutions

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From my graphic alphabet..work in progress

So Christmas has come and gone  (it was lovely, thanks for asking!), and it’s the start of another New Year, so my Facebook feed is stuffed with folk starting some sort of ‘denial challenge’ in January. Some are doing veganuary (vegan for a month), some are running every day, a few are swearing off alcohol. Some are doing all three (madness! Imagine getting home from your run without a beer to welcome you back, or the promise of a slap up cheese on toast feast if you put in the miles). Congratulations if you have that sort of resolve. I don’t.

And to be honest I can’t get behind starting any privation in January: it’s the middle of winter, cold, dark and frequently wet, Christmas cheer is behind and the next holiday (Easter?) is still months away. I do understand the impulse to change, god knows. With a swelling belly and a sore head, stiff from hours relaxed under a box of Quality Street on the sofa, us northern European puritan types are seeking some sort of mortification of our too too indulgent flesh. Bring on the torture to chase out the guilt.

But we all know that New Years resolutions break as easily as the brittle ice on January puddles, and bingo, we can add the pain of failure to our many sins.

As the two month veteran of a self imposed pledge (in my case not buying clothes, shoes, bags, or – sob -yarn for a whole year), I feel a bit smug about this rush to self-flagellation. Ha, two months in and I’m still happily not buying stuff. Or at least not buying the sort of stuff that I used to. Over the Christmas period I bought presents of course, and it seemed that most nights featured a run down to Tesco to buy yet more  festive ‘must haves’, but I also made a gift for everyone I care about, re-fashioned a couple of Cinderella outfits from my wardrobe, did a bit more mending and sorted out a few more wardrobe ‘archives’. I visited shopping centres, hit the streets of Manchester, and visited some ‘catnip’ stores (Whitestuff …. I still love you) and didn’t buy clothes, bags, shoes or yarn, and more importantly didn’t really want to. Only ten months to go….

I think that I am still happy to proceed with #Nobuyzone until the bitter end, because I’d had years of preparation, instead of 2 short weeks. As trips to charity stores multiplied and the piles of grey t-shirts regenerated themselves, as I read about the inequities of the fashion trade and my boxes of unworn, but too good to throw away ‘things’ grew like topsy in the loft, it became imperative that I stopped.    Just stopped.

I’m enjoying getting re-aquainted with my archived clothing (a wool jacket from Gap, warm and cosy, that I just quit wearing, sometime in 2014 from a receipt in the pocket, boots that I got bored with, sweaters that I ‘lost’ in the loft), I’m getting through my yarn stash and making use of random bits and bobs that I accumulated: patchwork is on the agenda to use up fabric scraps, some embroidery silk has awakened an odd passion for embroidery (last seen in these parts when I was a nipper making gym bags in primary school).

I am very lucky to have a lot of lovely things to ‘play’ with and the gift of time (thanks arthritis, and bugger you) to appreciate . I accept that I am very fortunate to have accumulated too many things, many – many – people don’t have that luxury.

I hope to make my year long pledge an enjoyable journey of self-discovery and change; not a bitter trudge to the end of a ‘denial challenge’!

Happy New Year!

Darn those socks!

I’ve knitted hundreds of socks and I’ve usually been of the opinion that life is just to short and busy to darn them. I told myself that making more was a pleasure and that if they wore through, this was love in a very definite sense: the recipients loved to wear them so often that holes appeared.

I had read a few posts by Tom of Holland about the joys of visible mending and darning and thought, how brilliant but, nope, not for me.

But December rolled around as it does, and here I am in the thick of seasonal knitting and I noticed that quite a few socks belonging to my significant others were showing wear and tear, and were not on the socking list (at the moment. Normal service will be resumed after Christmas). When closing down the shop, I had come across a box of darning yarn. I thought about adding them to the sale but, well, lost them if I’m honest. So when they were rediscovered, they came home with my shop yarn stash. So I had a go at darning some of my dear ones socks and actually it was ok.  It took about an hour to darn a couple of socks but compared to about 7-8 hours to make a pair of socks that’s a time saving. Of sorts.

I’m a lot quicker now and I understand the process better, so I can darn a pair in about 45 minutes and they look better too. Here’s the latest pair from my younger son’s collection. I didn’t bother with a before  – you know what socks with holes look like.

I darned one with a classic weaving using a mushroom, the other was too far gone and needed a patch – simply a square of stocking stitch whip-stitched in place. Now they look very obvious and a bit messy when just done, but the magic of washing the sock makes the darn nice and flat and barely visible (and crucially unfeel-able) to the wearer. The patch isn’t quite as subtle but again feels comfy on the foot. This is down to the natural felting of the woollen darning yarn in the wash. Here’s the darned sock after a wash. Good eh?

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Now I know you’ve got busy lives and busy knitting duties so I’m not gonna say darn every single sock, but if it’s one you love, a yarn that was a favourite and the sock ‘body’ is still going strong, why not give it a try?

You’ll need an appropriate darning yarn (now available in John Lewis or online here, a tapestry needle appropriate to the size and if possible a darning  “mushroom” or “egg”. If you plan to patch, you’ll probably need to use 2.25mm needles to knit your square/rectangle of  stocking stitch.

I won’t give you instructions here (it would take so long to describe it and others have done it much better already) but try Tom of Holland or this video.

If you really get into darning, it helps to tell your family to get the socks to you while they are still thin, but not holed, as you’ve a better chance of repair. Good luck.

Travels with Vanda

Maybe you’re thinking that as winter is now upon us, Vanda (the motor-home) is safely tucked up for the winter (wrapped in blankets with a her wheels snug in great big knitted socks?) but we have continued to take her out and about …whatever the weather.

We had a weekend in Coniston in the Lake District, a couple of days in Clitheroe and were up in Grange over Sands last weekend: we worried (or I did) that cool, dark nights and wet days might reduce her charms a little – but no such thing, its been a pleasure to be out and about the lovelier bits of Northern England, no matter what the climate chucks at you. Apparently the Norwegians maintain that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes: we have changed our Vandering a little to suit the conditions but with a knitter/crocheter in your tribe, you’re never going to be short of warm woolly things.

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blankets now in regular use!

Rain has been a bit trying: we got soaked to our knickers in Clitheroe walking back from the town to the camp site. My coat held out until we were five minutes from Vanda, but then I could feel the cold rain insinuating itself down my back…yuck. But hot tea, a blankie and Vanda’s warm embrace (and a little electric fan heater) were enough to get us smiling again.  Last weekend in Grange it was very cold overnight (around -1 centigrade) but we have brushed cotton duvet covers, woollens galore (and one – or two – tots of good whisky) to keep us cosy. We’ve been keener to carb heavy, spicy food in Vanda’s little kitchen, and breakfasts outdoors in the sun are a distant memory. But when you can enjoy some of the UK’s most beautiful places at a moments notice without having to compete with scads of tourists, it’s all worth it!

Moroccan Pilaff a la Vanda….

Ingredients

Four ‘Moroccan’ style sausages (or something similarly spicy)

1 onion, chopped.

1 medium aubergine, cut into small cubes.

1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped.

1/2 cup of basmati rice

1 stock cube – chicken is fine, made up to a pint of liquid with boiling water.

*a pinch of cumin, oregano, chilli flakes.

*chopped flat leaf parsley

oil for frying.

  1. Using your sharp knife, split the skin of the sausages and gently remove it.
  2. Form the sausage meat into pieces about the size of the top of your thumb. Roll them gently between dampened hands to shape into rough ‘balls’.
  3. Fry the balls gently in your pan with just a small splash of oil – they will give out their own oil as they cook so don’t overdo the oil.
  4. When they’re brown, remove them from the pan and put them on one side.
  5. Add the vegetables to the oil and gently fry them for a few minutes. NB the aubergine will soak up the remaining oil in the pan, but don’t be tempted to add more. Just keep the veg moving.
  6. Add the rice, and give everything a good stir, cook gently for a minute or so and then add half the stock.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and, if you have them, add the spices too.
  8. Cook very gently for about ten minutes, add more stock as the rice soaks it up.
  9. Add the balls back to the pan, and cook for a further 3 minutes adding more stock as necessary.
  10. Check the rice – if its as soft as you prefer, serve, if not cook for another minute or two.
  11. Add the parsley if you have it and serve in deep bowls with flat breads and greek-style yogurt.

 

 

“shopping”

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My artists model reclining on a bed of yarn while wearing a Christmas jumper. Of course.

Right so it’s only one month in, but #nobuyzone isn’t too tough so far (if I fancy a ball of yarn/new t-shirt etc, I just have a look at the pictures of my stash/wardrobe contents on my phone and, well, count my blessings and walk away from the temptation…sometimes slowly). But the little voice that says ‘flipping heck (or similar) haven’t you got enough stuff already?’ is leaking into other areas of my shopping.

I absolutely love ‘do-dabs’ for the house (I blame a couple of shops for this: Dubai’s The One which I used to frequently so frequently that it might as well have been a crack house, and John Lewis in the UK. Siren’s both). We have a lot of cushion covers, candle holders and y’know ‘ornaments’. And yet I love those pictures of minimalist homes: all white walls, white fur covered white sofas and sanded limed floor boards, but it wouldn’t be compatible with my love of curry, tea, coffee and red wine and life… I mean, look at my desk…not in the least bit ‘clean’. So I’ve been walking away from do-dabs too. Don’t worry – I have enough candle holders to last me a lifetime.

The question is, what do you replace ‘shopping’ with: I was in Manchester at the weekend and we visited the Christmas market, popped into various shops and I bought…. soap. We (the universal we) have been learning for the last few decades to view ‘shopping’ as an activity. I don’t mean food supplies or necessary household goods, but that random strolling around busy shops, touching stuff and buying yet another grey t-shirt. I heard a woman in a shop recently saying “ I won’t leave this place without buying something” while literally grabbing at random stuff. Whole cities have been built around malls, and one of the criteria for a vibrant town or city is a good ‘shopping’ centre.

Some people in Manchester seem to have replaced it with drink. But I’m too old to spend Saturday afternoon in the pub without dire consequences. I can’t hike at the moment (damn you arthritis) and exercise is similarly awkward. Cinema and theatre are fabulous before you shout out, but not exactly social in the way that ‘shopping’ is. So. Here’s my question, how do you replace ‘shopping’ in a culture that is now literally built around it?

Finished objects:

Crappy weather and ample time are conducive to knitting, so I’ve finished these super-duper socks, and this rather poorly photographed hat. The socks are my pattern and West Yorkshire Spinners and Rico sock yarn. The hat is vaguely this made in a combination of Adriafil New Zealand (delicious) and Rico something-or-something. I also crocheted a cowl/neck-warmer/collar for my son (have we settled on a name for those yet?) in a rib stitch and the left over aqua yarn from the hat. It’s gorgeous and cosy and in consequence he won’t take it off to have it photographed!

a little break

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as the sun goes down….

Week three of the #nobuyzone has been slightly more challenging than the previous two as I was on holiday – sort of – in Dubai.

My husband still has some business links out there, I had air-miles to use up before they expired and it was a sort-of anniversary too. Twenty years ago I packed up a house, waved it off to storage, got on a plane with two young children and headed out to join K (who had already been living there for a couple of months).  We stayed for 7 years and saw the country expand and prosper at an exponential rate as we raised our two small boys. It was a great place for a young family, but eventually we were ready to head for home when secondary education beckoned.

Many of our friends in Dubai stayed there and we caught up with them this week, got a bit of a tan and toured favourite Dubai places: it says a lot about our lives there that food and drink were the focus – we were never beach club fans or sun-worshippers!

Oddly life there used to include a lot of malls: first off it was a good place for a walk if the temperatures were soaring – the air conditioning was heaven! But it’s got to be said that shopping was a feature of the lifestyle. There are dozens of malls, thousands of shops and all the recognisable brands from around the world from M&S to Crate and Barrell. Most westerners were out on an ex-pat income (and usually tax-free) and earning more than they had at home so maybe a little more free-spending than usual.

I liked spending on our villa: picking up candle holders and cushion covers, kitchen do-dabs and cookware, but many people I knew loved the fashion shopping and spa treatments – you could always find whatever you were after in one of Dubai’s many malls!

So we visited a couple of shopping haunts and had a stroll around the country’s biggest centre. And what a weird feeling it is to wander up and down a shopping mall and not browse the shops – I didn’t particularly feel particularly virtuous or deprived – just disinterested. I had made a couple of things to wear for the holiday as a treat and that was enough. I don’t know if this will last but if it does not buying should be doddle (yep, that’s likely….)

Naturally I didn’t take knitting and so my works in progress are still …well, in progress. I’m at the armholes of K’s sweater so that’s good, but to be honest that’s about it. Hopefully I’ll have more to show you next week. In the meantime here’s a little collage of  pictures I took of the Abu Dhabi Louvre – a newly opened and wonderful addition to the capital of the UAE.

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the rather wonderful Abu Dhabi Louvre.