Friday, February 29

Oh crikey!

Just doing a bit of forward planning for my work trip to the States later this year. My first stop is going to be Baltimore, a city I know nothing about.

So naturally, I type 'yarn shops Baltimore' into Google, and what do I find? This article has got my heart racing already! "Baltimore enjoys many names—the greatest city in America, Charm City, and Monument City. But it should have another name, Yarn City, because of the remarkably high number of yarn stores in the metropolitan area." Woah, looks like I'm going to need a second suitcase. And that's before I get to Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Boston...!

This has made me aware of two things. Firstly, that the stash-busting MUST ramp up speed a bit! I'm not doing too badly, I haven't bought any yarn for several months, except for two balls of sock yarn for a recent commission (Ipod cosy featuring the Cornish flag). I'm finally making some headway on the Somewhat Cowl and I've done a few pairs of socks that have used up some of that mountain of stuff, but there's still a long way to go!

Secondly, the prospect of almost two weeks away from home is slightly more attractive, especially when I add up all those knitting hours! Perhaps I could take half my stash with me and knit it as I go along?!

Saturday, February 23

Kitten heap

Here's what they look like most of the time - bit difficult to get a good picture since they are in the back of the cupboard.

And here's our little tabby. Ain't s/he cute?!

Friday, February 22

The Inside Loop

Check out this new online magazine, which has just launched its first issue. The Inside Loop is 'dedicated to fibre arts in the UK' according to the website.

It's a great idea, I've been thinking for ages how we really need a British (or perhaps European) version of Knitty; although Knit on the Net and Magknits don't do a bad job of filling the gap, neither is quite as well-developed and resourced as Knitty.

So it's nice to see another new kid on the block, with a few articles and patterns to get us going for a start. It will be interesting to see how they develop - I can appreciate how much hard work must go into commissioning, editing and posting all the content, especially as the editors probably have full-time jobs as well.

The one disappointment I had was that despite the fact that the magazine cites the fabulous and extensive fibre resources of the UK, several of the patterns called for yarns from overseas! (America, Australia and Bolivia, to be precise!) Yes, they might well be available from suppliers in the UK, but I would rather see ALL the patterns designed in UK yarns. Or how about having designers give suggestions of UK/overseas alternatives for each pattern? One of the things I particularly liked about Yarn Forward magazine was that every pattern had three suggested yarns - cheap, mid-range and luxury. Nice idea.

Who makes my day?

Natalie at the Yarn Yard gave me this award almost (ahem) two weeks ago! I've been very lax and a bit kitten-obsessed, but better late than never eh?

So here are my top ten bloggers; not all of them post every day, some of them are even more lax than me (sharp intake of breath!) but I regard them as quality not just quantity!

1. Right back at you Natalie. Great blog and great shop too!

2. Lolly has beautiful pictures and lovely stories and thoughts that manage to be heart-warming without being twee! And she has now made me want to take up weaving. Shame on you, Lolly!

3. Nicola has been leading a crazy dual life for some time now, but when she gets round to blogging, she usually has something funny or fascinating to say!

4. Anna's prolific crafting is inspiring as well as awe-inspiring. I'm still reeling from her Lizard Ridge Afghan.

5. Glitty Knitty Kitty; the furry (and slightly sparkly?) underbelly of subversive crafting. Always up to something thought-provoking.

6. Pixlkitten: Impressive knitting, and she has the best swear words. Penis Wrinkle Deluxe is the latest...

7. Indigirl: she has some great designs and is another blogger who can take fabulous photos.

8. The Coterie of Zombies: Howard mixes it up with bunnies, knitting, and signing. Sometimes he even knits using Bics.

9. Diamond Geezer: he doesn't knit, but he sure knows a lot about London!

10. The Greenwich Phantom: all you need to know about my local area (the posh bit of it, that is!)

Thanks to all of you for providing laughs, reflection, information and distraction!

Wednesday, February 20


No pics as yet, but we are now the proud guardians of six tiny kittens, born yesterday at 5am in the back of our bedroom cupboard. Happily we managed to persuade Susie (or Siouxie as the Curse likes to refer to her) not to squeeze them out under the bed, which was her first choice, but to retire to the cupboard instead!

She ignored the lovely clean box with newspaper and bedding that I had prepared for her, and instead she settled down on the grubby bit of carpet in the corner, behind a suitcase, and produced six little kittens within the space of about an hour total. The Curse paced the rooms worrying about what we would do if something went wrong, I just gave her some vocal encouragement and let her get on with it. She's done it before, we know that much, but I keep telling her to make the most of it, this is going to be her last litter! We have kind-of adopted her from a neighbour whose son has proved himself a rather irresponsible, albeit well-intentioned and loving owner. He's a bit too young and easily distracted by other teenage interests to be able to look after her properly, so we have taken her on at least for now.

It wasn't till yesterday evening that I was able to finally establish that there were six, not five kittens - nearly all of them are black and they spent most of the day in a big heap next to/under/on top of their totally-black mum! And there is one tabby which has already established itself as a bit of a character, or some might say a bit of a bully!

Anyway I'll be bringing you cute kitty pics just as soon as I manage to coax them out of the cupboard. Which hopefully will be before they start making proper noise - it's not so bad at night at the moment, they only make little squeaking noises, but we're going to have to relocate them before the vocal chords really kick in!

Saturday, February 16

Spinning tips

Last Saturday I headed down to the little village of Lyminge near Folkestone for two hours of tuition from Sue Chitty of Hilltop Spinning.

Sue and her husband Bill run a spinning and weaving business from their bungalow on the edge of the village - doing tuition in spinning, weaving, dyeing and so on, and selling fibre, looms, dye kits, spinning wheels and so on.

I had booked some tuition to try and iron out the difficulties I was encountering with my spinning - although I knew the theory, in practice I was aware that my technique needed some polishing. And I hadn't a clue about the difference between (and uses for) woollen and worsted spinning.

It was a very valuable morning's work, and one of the most important things that Sue taught me was that less is more! I was using too much fibre at a time, and trying to go too fast. This meant I was trying to draft the fibre out from a big lump, making it difficult to get a fine, consistent ply, and resulting in my hands getting tired very quickly. By taking only a small amount of fibre, I got a much better result, with a lot less effort! I also realised that my control of the wheel, which took so long to get used to in the first place, was actually quite good now! Seeing Sue struggling to get it going the right way - I think the Louet style was slightly alien to her - gave me some confidence in my abilities and made me realise it was not my poor coordination that was the reason!

I also learned about woollen and worsted spinning and found out that, unless I'm planning to start weaving (well it has crossed my mind....!) I don't need to worry too much about worsted spinning. This is a method for getting a smoother ply - you comb out the short fibres and only use the long fibres, and you spin with them at 90 degrees to the drafting direction. This gives a smoother finish, which apparently is good for the warp (or is it the weft?) threads.

I did quite enjoy the technique though, it seems easier to draft that way, and I found myself using it a lot when I got back home.

Sue and Bill have a good range of fibres for spinners, as well as whole fleeces on sale. If you find the website a bit confusing, they also have a mail order brochure that you can order for free from here.

Sue was a very good teacher - relaxed and patient, and keen to tailor the tuition to suit the pupil as much as possible. Well worth the money and the effort of getting there.

Thursday, February 14

My spinning, part II

I realise I should have given you a bit more info about the spinning samples, but I was a bit tired last night after a long day at work and a few glasses of wine, and I had no words left!

They were snapped hanging out to dry on the washing line at the weekend.

Top pic, from left to right:

- pink merino plied with white unidentified fibre (you've seen this before some time back)
- green merino plied with 'humbug' blue-faced leicester (I think!)
- a mixture of bfl and shetland

Bottom pic, my fibre club samples from the Yarn Yard, left to right:

- 'spring flowers' blue-faced leicester
- 'semi-goth' tencel/merino

The samples in the top picture are probably going to get knitted into a teacosy or Bodum cosy or something. The ones in the bottom picture are only small swatch samples that I'm just going to play with to decide what to make out of the rest of the batch.

Saturday, February 9

An hour at the coast

I managed to grab an hour at the coast today, and what a glorious day to do it! I was almost at Folkestone, having driven down there for a spinning lesson (more about that tomorrow!) and it would have been rude not to drop in and enjoy the sunshine.

I was a bit peckish too - and thank goodness I was, as I certainly wouldn't have been able to resist these beauties, even if I'd just had a three course meal!

Who says British food is crap? I'm a great defender of our local specialities; in this case, four large juicy scallops, seared on a hot plate and doused in garlic butter, then served on a plate of bean shoots that had been quickly cooked with a bit of sweet chilli sauce. Yowser!!!

Oh, I forgot to mention the spicey king prawn skewers, also cooked on the hotplate. No pic, cos they were gone in a matter of minutes.....

Award-winning blogger!

Thanks to Natalie at the Yarn Yard, who has nominated me in her 'You Make My Day' Awards!

The idea is that I should now pass this on to ten others whose blogs I enjoy:
"Give the award to 10 people whose blogs bring you happiness and inspiration and make you feel happy about blogland. Let them know by posting a comment on their blog so they can pass it on. Beware you may get the award several times."

There are definitely half a dozen I can think of right off the top of my head, not all of them knitting or fibre-related, and I'm sure when I put my mind to it, I will probably have trouble deciding which ones to leave out!

That's for tomorrow, work permitting (groan, deadline approaches!). In the meantime, I'd just like to bring to your attention the fact that my day was made on Thursday by the arrival of the latest fibre from the Yarn Yard fibre club.

The Curse and I are at loggerheads as to what the colours remind us of. He's only seen the spun sample, as in the picture, and is adamant that it reminds him of Fruit Salad sweets (not sure if they are still made, but they were a childhood favourite for many kids!).

I'm confident that my spring flowers are certainly more appropriate for the unspun fibre: primroses, daffodils and (red) tulips. Just right for a sunny day like today, to remind us that spring is on the way!

Tuesday, February 5

My Auntie Mary

My Auntie Mary was actually my Great Auntie, but we always called her Auntie, I suspect because she hated the thought of being old enough for that title! She died last year, and recently I found myself thinking about her and reflecting on her life, for a couple of reasons.

Despite the fact that I always thought of her as a poor penniless auntie, since she never owned her own house and lived most of her retirement in Abbott's Ladies Homes in Halifax, she did leave some money to her nieces and nephew when she died, some of which my mum generously passed on to me a few weeks ago.

While I was visiting my folks recently, my mum and I went through some of the papers and photographs that were left by my Auntie Mary. It was a fascinating collection of family history and ephemera - birth and death certificates, wills from several generations back - old birthday cards, school reports, shorthand and book-keeping certificates, several albums of photographs, and even things such as travel documents from the 1930s and onwards.

The collection of her 21st birthday cards offers a fascinating glimpse of 1930s greeting card style, and the box of papers also included the 'Party ticket' that took her on the boat to Ostend in 1938 (an early booze cruise?!), the details of her flight to Jersey in the 1950s, and newspaper clippings reporting my grandma and grandad's wedding.

I always wondered why my Auntie Mary had not married, and looking through these albums and documents underlined the mystery further. She was a very handsome woman in her youth, and I know from my memories of her that she was vivacious and friendly, always laughing and joking.

But the old cliche 'always the bridesmaid, never the bride' is played out quite painfully in her photograph albums and her mementos. She had a large collection of the tiny gift cards that used to be sent with slices of wedding cake after the event, and even in the single photo album I kept, there are several photos of her in bridesmaid's attire at various weddings. Until I got chance to look through this photo album, I never knew whether she was just not interested in men, whether she was never asked (which seemed VERY unlikely) or whether there was indeed more to the story.

Now this might just be the incurable romantic in me, finding its way to the surface for once, but I think I found the answer in the photo album. This is my Auntie with her sweetheart. He is on lots of the photographs in 1939 and 1940, many of them with Auntie Mary, often sitting next to each other in groups, and in one or two pictures she is on his knee.

And then he is gone. There are no more pictures of him. At first I didn't realise the photographs were of a military funeral, I thought they were just soldiers marching in country lanes. I don't think I realised the significance, because I wasn't really sure of the name of my Auntie's sweetheart. But looking through the album, and with a bit of internet research, I found details of RAF pilot Dick Hartnell, who died in training and was buried in the Isle of Man in 1940. I feel sure this was him, and now I wish I knew more about my Aunty Mary's life. I have only this album and a few cards, but it's enough to keep her memory here for me.

Monday, February 4

Lax blogger

Life and work have intervened between me and my blog in the last few weeks, and for that I apologise. I realised how lax I have been after Natalie mentioned that she 'drops in' every day, and I thought how disappointed she must be to see the same post at the top for days on end!

I have a couple of deadlines coming up next week, so hopefully you will notice an improvement in due course; not only do I find it difficult to find time to blog, I also don't have anything to show, nor do I feel like sitting in front of the computer when I'm at home in the evening after a whole day of staring at it!

The Curse and I have been spending quite a lot of time apart; he's been round at his mum's house cooking her tea and looking after her, so when we do get time together, it has been nice to relax in each other's company and go out while we have the chance.

The weekend was productive; we chose a carpet for the bedroom after quite a bit of debate. The debate was whether we should choose something neutral so it wouldn't put people off when/if we wanted to sell the flat, or go for what the hell we liked, sod them all! We chose the latter (aubergine. just like it sounds!) After all, we bought the flat with a lime green carpet, pink woodwork and purple walls in the spare room!! We also identified the bed we're going to get (ooh, it's lovely! Head and shoulders above anything else we saw!). Can't wait to order it!!!

So that was my weekend; the Sunday was taken up with DIY, trying to fix the bedroom floor before the carpet turns up (we eventually managed, only two trips to the DIY store required), and petting our part-time cat, who's heavily pregnant and turned up on the doorstep Sunday morning, gracing us with her presence for 24 hours and thankfully not dropping the kittens in our built-in wardrobe!

I leave you with this picture from archives (Christmas hols, I believe). My second and third attempts at spinning and plying. I have a lesson this weekend coming, which I'm really looking forward to, so watch out for future improvements, hopefully!