Saturday, 9 August 2008


Regard: My first woolly Ebay purchase. It gives me a real sense of acheivement. Not entirely sure what to make with them now.
This seems to be a recurring problem: namely wondering into a shop like a child in a sweetshop, picking up nice fat balls of wool I like the look of, vaguely thinking, "oh yes, that WILL be useful, better get two, or three." then arranging them prettily on a shelf at home and never turning them in to something else.
Worst Offenders:
This very exciting all natural, all heritage wool from a tourist shop improbably placed halfway up a hill in the Scottish Highlands.
(Naturally bought three as I wouldn't be coming back. Too scratchy to wear, maybe it will become a nice beret?)
This unidentifiable but so pretty haul from the bargain bin in Shoreham...I'm frightened it won't be as beautiful if I were to unwind it and knit it.
This Rowan wool aran, which I couldn't resist in a sale. I wanted to make myself a little hat, or gloves but have gone off the colour after looking at it everyday for six months.
These two prized treasures carried off triumphantly from Venice because they reminded me of radicchio. And then realising how thick it is, and worrying, as usual, that I won't like it so much knitted. Maybe they'll be too much white? These two especially induce guilt.

I'm hoping that all these problems and more can be solved by Ravelry. I admit it, I was sceptical at first, but but but, you can just stick the yarn in and find out what everyone else has been doing with the same...brilliant.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Woolly thoughts in Wales

Went on a little holiday to Wales last weekend.
We were coming back from Ireland on the ferry, and drove from Holyhead, through Snowdonia and then stayed overnight on a farm in the Brecon Beacons.
Wales is beautiful, and I felt so lucky to be able to see such different landscapes in one day. Although I did nearly cause a car crash when I got over excited about seeing a big pig leaning out of what I thought was an abandoned cottage window.
We had lunch by a waterfall in Snowdonia (although managed not to take any pictures sadly) and tea in a village near the sea.
I couldn't believe my good fortune when we stopped there and had a nose around, only to find the most enormous sack of wool outside a charity shop for five pounds. I snapped it up and discovered an unfinished knitted patchwork blanket hiding inside.
Now most likely this is the unfinished work of a lovely old Welsh lady who died and left her family at a loss of what to do with her knitting, so I have promised to finish her lovely blanket for her. Watch this space.
We also saw an awful lot of happy woolly sheep, just growing their hair to turn into lovely knitted objects. The Colonel didn't like them much, but all I could see were dozens of tea cosies/socks/jumpers wondering around.
It made me want very badly to upsticks, move to the Brecon Beacons and start my own wool farm/knitting pattern/cookery school/B and B there.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Little Miracles

Miracle of miracles- the butternut squash seeds have germinated! I am so happy, especially after everyone laughed at me for planting them.
And as I was tending to my geraniums, I found a propeller seed (I'm not sure what their real names are: are they a specific tree or do lots of seeds disperse like this?) had also taken root in its pot. It was incredible to think that in all the places it could have landed in London's concrete jungle, it somehow found its way to my geranium pot and managed to come to life. It is such an inspiring and special though.
I'm going to try and leave it alone, as all of my seed interferences have so far led to disaster.

My gardening week

On Tuesday, another lovely leaf day, I had the day off and vowed to accomplish great things on the balcony.
I replanted some parsley and sage seeds, the last set having given up the ghost. I had a little funeral for them as I put them in the rubbish, felt very sad and vowed to try harder. I think I am too impatient. I also abandoned the egg box scheme, and bought peat pots. The cardboard kept going mouldy and it was so hard to pot the seedlings on without damaging their little roots.
I put the garden centre buys into their jolly pots and spent some considerable time admiring the colour clash they effected.

And I did what I should have done last year and staked my sweetpeas. I'm staggered that they managed to survive the whole winter outside in the cold, and decided to show my gratitude by thinning them, and tying them on stout little poles. I hope I didn't disturb their roots too much, and they will repay me with beautiful flowers in a few months time.

An Easter Simnel Cake and some lovely eggs

Being a traditional sort, I jump at the opportunity to bake something festive at Christmas and Easter, and this year I decided to make an Easter Simnel Cake, having missed the chance on Mother's Day.
I love the idea that you can recreate something that has been baked over hundreds of years, and bring an old recipe to life again. The same feeling of resurrection and renewal of an old way of life hits me when I knit something from an old pattern, such as the new tea cosy I'm knitting from an old magazine I bought on ebay.
I always felt very sorry for Judas when I sat in church as a little girl, and always thought he was rather unfairly vilified, so I decided to give him a little break and reinstate him as the 12th Apostle on the top of my cake. However, my mother objected and I ended up eating him instead. Poor Judas.
I made the cake using eggs from my cousin's French hens that he gave us as an Easter present. They came covered in mud, and they yolks were a really custardy yellow, and I think they gave the cake an extra deliciousness.

Easter Simnel Cake (loosely based on the old 1982 Crank's recipe book)
8oz butter
8oz sugar
4 eggs
10oz plain flour
pinch of salt
16oz mixed dried fruit
1tsp dried cinnamon
1tsp mixed spice
splash of milk

For the marzipan
4oog icing sugar
250g ground almonds
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons orange juice
5-6 drops of almond essence

First make up the marzipan and set to one side. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl, and stir in the ground almonds. Beat the egg yolk and add slowly, followed by the orange juice and almond essence. Stir hard, until a sticky paste has formed. Add more icing sugar and beat, so the mixture can be handled without sticking too much to hands.

Then cream together the butter and the sugar.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour, salt and spices together, then stir in the fruit. Add the beaten eggs to the sugar and butter, and then pour the lot into the flour and fruit mixture. Beat well with a wooden spoon and add enough milk to make a dropping consistency.

Grease and line a 24cm round cake tin, and add half of the cake mixture. Divide the marzipan in two, with one bigger than the other (this is to make the apostles for the top). Roll out the smaller half to just under 1/2cm thick, and cut into a 24cm circle. Put this on top of the cake mixture (roll out onto a piece of clingfilm if it is still sticky, so you can transfer it easily) and then pour the remainder of the cake mixture on top.
Bake in an oven preheated to 160 C for 1- 1 1/2 hours.

Remove and cool.
When completely cool, roll out a second circle of marzipan and place on top. Make 11 small balls for the apostles and place on top. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and toast under a moderate grill until the top has browned. Browned, not burned.
Remove and accept admiring glances.

Blissed out

After the long term mitten project, I wanted to make something simple, but useful and so settled on this large spot cushion from the Debbie Bliss 'Home' book.
I spent some time trawling various shops, real and online, to find some bargainous Debbie Bliss Merino wool, but, after another fruitless search I was forced to acknowledge the following:
1) Debbie Bliss does not knit for the more improverished among us
2) I am knitting a cushion. To sit on. My bottom does not need merino wool
3) I have some pretty fushia and pink acrylics just sitting in a box in my house

And so with a sigh, I abandoned my financially ruinous hankering of a scattering of pure wool cushions, and settled for the acrylics. To be fair, it doesn't knit all that nicely, gets stuck on the needles, squeaks at bizarre intervals and gives me clammy hands, but at £1.50 a throw, I'm not going to complain.
I even prefer my clashing pink-on-pink colour combination. It reminds me of fushia flowers bursting in on the garden, with their cavalier disregard for genteel tastes. The first bud has formed on mine and I'm looking forward to a spectatularly trashy display. I hope they will make it through in time to clash with the last of pink tulips.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

A walk in the woods

Went for an enjoyable autumnal walk in the woods today. In spite of all the stirrings of Spring and the various pleasantries of tulips, daffodils and primroses making themselves known again, I do enjoy a good tramp through the rain and mud to admire the effect on the trees. Rain in the city, I acknowledge is considerably less fun.

I was particularly happy to go on this walk because I wanted to work out a colour scheme for the dog jumper I'm planning. The dog seemed to take particular care to pause (paws?) and pose in front of especially becoming colour schemes: russet red, moss green and rich dark brown. I am thinking of knitting him something from the Rowan or Debbie Bliss tweed ranges.

I'm a little worried about the whole dog jumper idea though. I don't want to make something that will make him look cutesy or stupid, or humilate him in anyway, and I especially don't want to make something that expends huge amounts of money and time, for the dog to turn his nose up at it.
But I DO want to challenge myself, and make something a little more complex, and in the absence of any babies to make a jacket for, the dog will have to be the beneficiary of my efforts. I think I could always wash it, unravel it and make him a blanket if he turns out not to be a jumpery type of hound.
I was so absorbed in these thoughts that I slipped in the mud, slide some way down a hill and covered myself in mud.