Thursday, November 27, 2008

Observations from a station waiting room

My nearest station is particularly well equipped with waiting rooms, we have one for each side of the station, they form part of a charming but underappreciated piece of 1920s art deco architecture, and because of that they have deep pew benches, a solid radiator in the fireplace and good doors to keep out the chill.

It is a significant step up to most of the stations on the rest of the line where you get half a bus shelter to hide behind as the fast trains push the wind through before them.

If my train is a little bit late, or I'm a bit early (usually the former), I repair to the waiting room to grab my favourite seat near the window and knit away the waiting time.

I was first in this morning; headphones on, needles out, world zoned out and so it came as a bit of a shock to hear a banging noise on the door. I should add that the station has recently added a door handle to the doors, to stop them becoming pushed open by the breeze and getting stuck, letting all of the warmth out of the waiting room. The banging was a lady in her early forties pushing and pulling the doors to get them open. How she failed to notice the door handle I've no idea, it well within view (it is higher than normal on the door and she was short, well shorter than me) but she pushed and pulled and pushed and pulled and just when I was about to get up to open the door for her she disappeared off down the platform.

A few minutes later the lady returned with a member of station staff, no doubt complaining to them that they had locked the waiting room on a cold morning. This kind soul gently opened the door using said handle and pointed her inside.

Now this by itself was brilliant situation comedy, but what happened next made it hard to hide the smirks. No fewer than three more ladies (within 5 minutes) came up to the doors, pushed them, rattled them and looked annoyed. Our first lady strolled to the door, opened it wide and said in tones of gracious patronage:

"It helps if you use the door handle"

You couldn't make it up.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bon appetite

Remember the quinces? Whilst I did use my best endeavours to leave them languishing in a bag in the bottom of a dark cupboard, a couple of weekends ago I had time to pull them out and set about turning fruit into jelly.

The great thing about quinces is that you don't have to do any peeling or coring or anything complicated, just wash off any remaining fur and pop them in the pan. I had about 1 3/4 lb of chopped quince to which I added 1 1/2 pints of water and a tablespoon (ish) of lemon juice (shamefully the sort from the squeesy lemon not a real one because that's what I could find in the kitchen).

When I'd simmered that and strained it off through the sift I popped the pulp back into the pan with another 3/4 pint of water and gave it another 30 mins.

I had just over a pint of juice so I added enough sugar to rot your teeth and set about the stir-bubble-test-rinse and repeat dance until I thought that it was almost setting, which for me is a good sign that we've reached the illusive setting point.

Et voila:
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Quince jelly. Made by my own fair hand. It is delicious and I heartily recommend it. We had roast duck the night I made this jelly (special offer in Sainsbury's) and while I was stirring I was mopping up the test dribbles with shreds of duck which is a really excellent combination that I would not have thought of unserendipitously.

In my continual stream of parcel post (more on that another day), yesterday's post brought another foodie gem:
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This is my Christmas pudding, lovingly hand made by my mother (as she does every year), as H isn't into anything involving dried fruit. It's too cute for words, but perhaps you need some scale:
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Christmas in miniature - perfect.

In the Christmas knitting news I have three socks. None of them match. Not all of them are for Christmas. The conundrum can only be solved by more knitting - gosh what a shame!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The frozen wastelands

I have returned from a place quite north of here, a place of hills and howling breezes that pierce you to the core with their icy touch. I have worn a hat almost constantly (including being both inside and being in bed) since Friday night.

We've been in Scotland. Edinburgh to be precise, a place of

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Unexpected Christmas trees
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Lots of cake (to keep out the cold)(NB Florentines good, Black Forest Cupcake not memorable)
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Great pub signs, and even better,

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Great street names - I would love to know how this flight got its name - it isn't colour and there didn't seem to be any grass around!

We went salsa dancing
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In matching outfits and H and I rapidly alternated between quasi salsa and quasi irish jig while Lulla showed everyone how it was done.
Lulla had a fabulous party with lots of friends and improbable cocktails (and as the designated driver I coaxed the bar staff into inventing some booze-free versions of the exciting ones).
And finally, there was a little birthday present time:
I think it was a hit! Certainly it only took about 10 mins to have decided where to put it (top of the stairs so it's the first thing you see when you come in) and another 5 for H to have put it up for her:
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The parents-in-law did a great job on the framing, the two mount cards are pearlescent so the whole thing shimmers and it fits with the latest evidence of my MIL's activities:

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Ladies who eat ice-cream, or possibly candyfloss. The family suggestion is that Lulla is in the middle in green, I'm the one in orange because I love orange and Belle is in her favourite pink. Whoever they are they're a good sight warmer than we've all been this weekend, Lulla kept forgetting to turn the heating on as she's usually out during the day so we were double wrapped at all times. The dressing gown she's wearing isn't because it's morning but for warmth and if you could see me I'm wearing a t-shirt, a wool sweater, my Kauni cardigan, my Icarus shawl and an alpaca hat. And I'm shivvvvvvering!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Are you ready for this? If you have every been traumatised by DIY this might not be the post for you. Go and find someone who's doing some nice calming knitting and have a look at their pictures whilst taking deep cleansing breaths.

So, remember how I told you about the dismantling tendancies of the works from home husband; and you know a picture tells a thousand words....

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Well this picture shows most of our empty conservatory. The bit to the right that you can't see mirrors the bit to the left so you get the idea - it's a decent sized room.

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All hail the power of lino - that stuff is indestructible - what you can see on the underneath of the lino is the transfer of the mould from the floor boards but the lino itself is intact. The floorboards on the other hand were actually dripping.

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That isn't meant to look like that!

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One crowbar and one husband later - apparently the floor came up quite easily, what with it being sodden and all. Can you see the white beam in the middle of the picture? That isn't paint that's delightful mould.

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More mould - this time on the floor - yippee
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The resulting detritus.

It is now clear and cleaned; H has blocked up holes where there should not have been holes, blocked up air bricks that should have been a couple of courses of bricks higher, and caulked everything and anything he could find to caulk. We're now in the process of putting new joists in which will be more suspended and less sat on the floor, and then some floorboards on top. The current plan (which appears to be subject to ongoing discussion between H and our great friend A who is a civil engineer) is then to leave just the floorboards for a bit and see what it looks like in a couple of weeks. If all is well then we're planning on damp proof underlay - which will sit the damp proof course at the same level as the course in the rest of the house, and then a click and fit laminate floor - or so I'm told. My role in all of this is to "hold this" and say "gosh you have done a lot" encouragingly at relevant intervals.

When not "holding this" I have been Christmas knitting. Socks for someone and socks for H, both beautiful, both on Ravelry (here and here) if you fancy a peek - it's somewhere were family cannot go and as I think at least some of H's family have tracked me down, everything is staying a secret this year.

Not so my spinning:
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The top one is the second 'straw' of BFL which I finished last night. I've got one more bump of roving to start and finish and then I can try some three ply off three different bobbins - time to re-engineer the lazy ice-cream tub. It looks like there is a lot more on the second straw but weighing them in my hands they feel about the same - only time will tell whether they work out the same or similar lengthwise.

And finally, amidst all of the confusion and piles of furniture, we have now got two little oasii

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I think this is the Double Dragon

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And this should be Apple Blossom but the labels have fallen off so many times that I've given up being sure which one is which.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Ever wondered what the self-employed get up to at home during the day? I know they work hard at the business and I've even had to chivvy H away from his office when I get home but today, today was unexpected.

I arrived home and noticed that somehow our lounge was different. Different in that way that only the presence of an extra 3 piece suite, a welsh dresser and several boxes of art materials can really produce. H had emptied the contents of our conservatory into our lounge.

Hmm - I opened the door to the conservatory expecting to see the lino and not much else. We've had a few problems with the floor feeling like we'd broken a board and some damp around the door so it made sense that he's had a look at it.

Had a look!! The lino and the floorboards (which turned out to be only sheets of MDF) and the joists were all outside on the patio and were all rotten through with damp. That broken floorboard, not so broken, just squishy with damp. Our conservatory now comprises a sand and earth floor with a few bricks which were being used for goodness knows what. There was not one salveagable timber in the whole thing. The floor in the conservatory has always been lower than the main house and it seems that the cheapo skinflint previous owner with a degree in botch-jobs hasn't laid the floor properly, and the ventilation bricks seem far too low to the ground to us. The structure of the conservatory is still pretty good so we just need to work out what best to do to reline the floor and re-set it and hope for the best.

This poor little house has been abused by the atrocious DIY done by our predecessors so it really should be no surprise that when we try to do one thing, we have to go back three layers and correct whatever they did in the first place. Still I suppose that it makes sense to catch it now and sort it out, rather than wait for the inevitable day when the whole thing falls down!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

NaNo Uh Oh

Hmm - I think I may have crashed and burned on that one - that or I've had a lot of naps in the last 24 hours. There isn't really any reason for the complete failure to post anything in the last few days except that I was tired; really, really tired, and I have been asleep.

Or, if not asleep, I have been knitting very nice simple basic things, designed to keep my fingers moving and my brain unfettered by considerations such as a pattern.

The first past the post is my Mermaid Hat - from the Colinette Arboretum book. I finished the knitting on Sunday when my SIL was with us and then sewed it up on the train on Monday and Tuesday. The final touch according to the pattern was a round of double crochet along the hat edge. I've no problem in doing that but the whole hat seemed far too short and it seemed that I was stuck in limbo with a hat too long to pick up and knit a new edging because some of the existing hat would have to turn too, and too short to be really satisfactory, as it was I looked to be averaging a 1cm turn-up, which looks like I'm skimping. However, a straw pole of Tuesday night knitters decided that it would look fine with a smaller turn up if I stitched up the turn up every now and then to stop it falling into my eyes Dulux puppy-style.

Wednesday night I crocheted it and decided that it didn't look that bad, and decided to give it a little gentle block. This is the point at which I got rather carried away with playing in the stash for H's Christmas present yarn and forgot the hat having a little bath in Eucalan.

At least an hour later I remembered it with a kick to the base of my stomach.

The water was an intense shade of dark purple-grey, but the hat was at least still in one piece. Kicking myself for being 50 thousand types of fool I gently squeezed out the water, pulled it into shape and popped it on the ironing board to dry out.

It was finally dry on Friday morning (having spent a good deal of it's later drying time sat on top of the radiator), and I discovered that a miracle had happened - it had grown in exactly the right way and I now have the inch or so turn up as seen in the pattern picture:
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(Hat by Carie; Styling by H who decided that a mermaid should be on rocks near a lighthouse to distract the sailors. We live in Warwickshire so we had to improvise.)

It also seems that it hasn't suffered too much from having a bath that would turn a prune wrinkly - thank goodness for that.

Moral of the story is: if you knit this hat, and it is both lovely and easy, block it. But not for quite as long as I did!

The second of my sleepy sleepy very sleepy projects marks a reintroduction to sock knitting after the last two months of knitting for tiny people. H picked out some yarn a month or so ago when he walked past the sock yarn wall in Web of Wool and as he has been perfectly sweet in helping me out with emergency thread missions involving dashes across the countryside to get enough gold to finish the Fairy Godmother, and he has helped to prevent our home degenerating too much while I stitched in concentrated fury to meet the deadline, he deserves some socks:

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The recovery socks; off the needles at 4.31, on his feet at 4.32. A 68st sock on 2.5mm needles, with a heel flap turn and a square toe. The yarn is Regia Brasil 4ply Rio (5476). I can't say that the colour particularly says Rio to me, or Brazil for that matter, what with is being more of an English winter weather kind of colour spectrum but the socks look good and, and this is a very big AND, and a first AND; the pattern repeat is exactly the length of the heel. If you look at that photo you can only tell where the heel divide falls by knowing where it should fall, the pattern continues uninterrupted - how cool is that.

And finally,

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Something that I'm trying to grow isn't dead yet - it's amazing

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

May all your dreams come true

In a cloud of exhaustion and pricked fingers I am happy/relieved to show you Lulla's finished Fairy Godmother.

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Before I get a stern telephone call from my mother I should stress that I have not just finished, I finished last night/this morning and I'm posting during my lunch hour having just entrusted the item in question to the mercies of the Royal Mail, heavily protected by a hand towel, a sturdy envelope and RM's promise to deliver it to H in Yorkshire before 9am tomorrow. Whether the dear boy (who is widely regarded as a night owl) will be awake to receive it, is a completely different question. He is not being given an option on this one.

If you compare it to this picture (taken on 1 November as I finished the basic cross stitching)
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You can see how much it changed and why it took so long to do. I think 11 days isn't bad though, particularly with an enforced three day break in the middle. I've spent a bit too much quality time with this Fairy Godmother recently and at the moment it just speaks to me of desperate early morning stitching but H assures me that she will love it and it got a positive response from a couple of colleagues who saw it en route to the post office today. I just keep reminding myself that when I first saw it in the magazine it spoke to me and I knew that it was meant to be for Lulla. I suspect that after a week's absence and a trip to the framers I will be much more inclined to be pleased with it.

I do like the way that it is practically life size to the pattern!
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And, since I know that the true hallmark of a textile artist (in which I include all knitters, sewers etc) is that their first reaction is to turn a piece of work over and have a look at the back (and I know that this is the first thing that both my husband and mother in law will do):

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Now this is something that entertains no false modesty. I am known for keeping the back of the work very tidy and this piece is no exception. There are no random loops of thread and not too many dramatic leaps of thread from one section to another. Given that the piece contains two and a bit spools of gold thread, one and a half of silver, one of black and a good half of a 32 metre spool of blending filament, and most of a packet of four different colours of beads I consider that to be an achievement. It will also make the piece sit more nicely when framed and there should be few if any points at which the carried thread can be seen from the front of the picture. My slight tendencies towards OCD, which are not at all evident from the state of my housekeeping, rather come to the fore in cross stitch.

I started this project in August 2005 I think (on the basis that it is a September issue and magazines are strange like that). At that time I had been engaged for three and a bit months and we were living in our little halfway home while we looked for the home we have now. It sat in a bag on the corner of our green chintz armchair in the lounge and I sat and sewed throughout the heat of that summer, a few stitches every day. At the time it was intended to be Lulla's birthday present, she turned 27 that November, but then we moved house, ran a marathon and got married, and the bag stayed tucked by the side of my desk, occasionally raided for threads for other projects.

The finished piece has a stitching area of about 10" x 12.5" and while not the biggest embroidery I have ever completed, it's certainly up there for size and comes top in terms of levels of backstitch, topstich and embellishment. It seems rather appropriate that such a magnum opus should be for a very special birthday. I've done my bit and it's now in the lap of the framers to make sure that Lulla gets her fairy godmother for her 30th birthday and I'm so glad that it won't be 'just' a Christmas present. I read somewhere that cross stitch takes about an hour for a square inch (depending on pattern and whether you need to stop to read the chart). On that basis, and assuming that I've done each inch square twice, once for the stitching and once to embellish, I've spend 250 hours on this project. Whether she likes it or not, the one thing that I know is that she will recognise it for the investment of time and happy thoughts that it represents.

And now for the final, ironical, gloss on the cherry on the top of the cake. Would you please pay attention to the name of this illustrious cross stitch magazine:

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I don't think I can say anything that would be printable!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Still Delusional

Still embroidering.

Still not finished.

Still thinking it will be possible to finish in time to have it framed.


Sunday, November 09, 2008


It's that time of year again. We went to a fireworks display at the sports club on Friday night and today we attempted to fulfil our yearly tradition of trying to blow up the field next to Dan's house.

This was our contribution to the party:

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And by the time we added in the 'few bits and bobs' that Dan had acquired during the week:
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We had several hours of fireworks to look forward to. Mother Nature intervened though in the form of an 'on shore' breeze, blowing the fireworks rapidly towards the house, followed by torrential rain. We've fired off about a third and left the rest for another day to extend the fun.

To make up for it we repaired to the kitchen by the Aga to eat this:
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Bonfire cake:
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I can't claim credit for the idea - it comes from Annie Bell's Gorgeous Cakes, but the execution was delicious.

And finally, regular readers of this blog will know that visits to Dan's usually involve kittens. He has just the one this year, working title, Biggles:

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Mandy are you still sure you can hold out against the cuteness of this little one?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Oh Danny Boy

What will this season's best dressed baby of the Western Isles* be wearing?

Why, nothing less than a hand crafted top to toe outfit in shades of mountain top snow and sea loch green.

Danny's outfit has been knitted, it has been washed, it has been blocked, it has been pom-pommed and it has been entrusted to the Royal Mail. By special delivery.

Here it is in all its glory:
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That will be one toasty warm little boy when it arrives on Monday. In the interest of giving you an 'action' shot I am clearly lacking a small baby to dress up but after an exhaustive search of the toy box:

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we found a puppy with a future in modelling!

The pattern is the b13-5 from Drops (ravelry link) which uses an alpaca yarn that I've never heard of, so I substituted my old favourite, Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. It may be a little harder to get a consistent fairisle tension with such a smooth yarn but it makes up for it in being soft and luxurious and machine washable.

The original pattern knits to a gauge on the lighter end of DK using 2.5mm and 3mm needles. I knit socks with 4ply on 2.5mm needles but gave it a whirl anyway. The jacket is a couple of centimetres smaller in girth than the one in the pattern and I went up to 3mm and 3.5mm for the rest of the outfit. I still wasn't getting the gauge specified but it is plenty big enough and larger would have given a very loose fabric which isn't what you want to keep out the chill.

In terms of other mods:

Hat - I knit to the pattern on the larger needles.
Jacket - On the sleeves I made an unintentional design feature by measuring from the end of the cuff not the turn up and the sleeves were knit until I think they looked right, they are shorter than the pattern specified but I think it looks better that way given that babies bend their arms. The buttonholes are spaced as per the pattern but if I were ever to knit them again I wouldn't leave so much space before the first button.
Mittens - knit to the pattern - rather than use a new strand each time to do the colourwork in the round I used a longer piece and started round one in the middle - it saved on ends.
Bootees - knit to the pattern on 3mm needles.
Trousers - Knit on the bigger needles with all of the ribbing requested on the waist and a little less ribbing on the ankles. The braces are hiding their most cunning feature which is that they are a bit longer than you see and have another button on the end so that you can do a variety of lengths as Danny grows, first crossed at the back and then straight over the shoulder.

Here endeth the baby knitting for the moment. The next baby that required knitwear is not due until after Christmas so I have some time to breathe!

*The Western Isles is the west coast of Scotland where this little laddie is lucky enough to live.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Shattered delusions

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You were all quite correct, I didn't get it finished and finally caved in and went to bed for a few hours early this morning before Lulla arrived. I have hidden the evidence down the side of our bed and I have high hopes for sneaking in a little bit more stitching over the weekend.

We are however having a wonderful time having Lulla with us - we've just come back from fireworks at the Sports Club and I have to keep reminding myself that it's only Friday, it feels like it should have been Saturday and that means that I've got a whole day in hand - yippee

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Down to the wire

In less than 24 hours my SIL will be here and I will either have finished, or have hidden the whole kit and caboodle down the side of our bed and be desperately stitching after she's gone to bed. The latter is not a great plan and Lulla and H are both night owls.

On our current analysis:

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Whilst it may not look like it, I think I am over half way which is good news. I've also got a feeling for how it is embellished which makes it easier to work out what is going on. I was hoping to finish the dress last night but as you can see there is a sleeve missing and a few beads but I think it could be doable. Here's how:

- The dress just needs beads (v quick, easy to spot where they go by the holes left in the stitching) and outlining (also easy, follow the contours, no need to look at the pattern)
- The top and bottom borders have very little embellishment; a little back stitch, some beads in the bottom right hand corner.
-The cherubs do take a bit of time because they have six different threads used but most of one of them is covered by a wing so that should help.
- The corner markers are just beaded.
- The right hand column will take some time but the beading should be easy and it will be easier to see where the top stitch goes than the left border. Also no requirement for a flower bed of french knots.

Which leaves - the big wings and head and the gold borders and other random bits of gold. I've run out of gold and I'm almost out of silver. H has been sent to Hobbycraft today to acquire more but that is the big eeek in the plan, what if Hobbycraft have no Very Fine Braid in Gold 028.

I'm going to leave the gold until the end because that is something that I could do by hiding over the weekend because it just needs the one colour and the constant stitching.

To keep calm I have just sewn the buttons on Baby Danny's jacket and it looks perfectly sweet. 30cm of braces also appears to be shorter than I thought it was (don't question the crazy lass) so after this morning's commute I am 20ish rows off the first one and should be almost done on the second by the time I get home, at which point they need sewing on and a little gentle blocking. Maybe that can wait until tomorrow!

Anyone surprised that I keep thinking it's Christmas?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfullness

It feels like the end of the autumn and the start of winter today, a deep set damp chilly cool has arrived, pressed down by woolly grey clouds. It's odd because it seemed quite mild first thing this morning but after peeling off all the layers as I arrived in this office this morning I've been piling them back on again.

Happily, the Birmingham farmers' market comes every other Wednesday come rain or shine and most of the market was here today so a group of us went for a stroll to find some lunch.

I had a delicious 'home made meatballs with parmesan and red pepper pesto in ciabatta' that was warm and really filling and just perfect for today's weather. We contemplated Ostrich burgers but the queue was a bit on the long side so instead we have the option of Ostrich or Kangaroo burgers for supper and my friend J is going to have Ostrich Spaghetti.

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My favourite though is the pick'n'mix fruit stall with wonderful varieties of apples and pears. I went for a 'one of each' approach, although clearly not all of them made it home.

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The whole stall has a wonderful cidery smell but today as well as the apple and pear scents there was something different and coming round the corner I found the source:

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Never one to pass up on the opportunity for trying something new (see Kangaroo burgers above, currently grilling in the oven) I was clearly a willing victim to the stallholder who did me a deal for 2 lb of quinces and a recipe for jelly. The fragrance is new and wonderful and the fruit have been played with around the office as we all had a sniff and stroked away the little grey furry bits that remain.

If I get the chance then I know what I'm cooking as soon as I escape from this tangled web of threads and beads. I'm either going to end up with a teaspoon of jelly or it'll be Christmas presents for everyone.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


  • Trouser legs, two: check
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  • Buttons, 10 (six for the jacket, two each for the braces to give length options): check

    November 019
  • Sewn in ends: nope
  • Duplicate stitch: nope
  • Pom-pom: nope but a plan is underway
  • Braces, 2: nope
  • Chances of the knitting reaching Danny before he grows out of it: moderate to good.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Good enough to lick?
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I've not been abandoning the embroidery I promise - just taking a little break to stretch out arms and wrists and give into a little temptation without falling down the rabbit hole and casting on a million new projects and at least 40 quilts.

I've read somewhere that Spindle spinning is slower by the hour and faster by the week and the latter certainly seems to be true because this:

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Is approximately 1/3 of the 102g of fibre which is hopefully headed towards a 3ply pair of socks.

Whatever it is, it's my first 'bobbin', and by 'bobbin' I mean straw from KFC - a great tip from Diane though because it works really well - I just slid the yarn from the spindle to the straw, no rewinding or anything. I think I have two more straws so I'll have to rework the ice cream tub lazy kate at some point.

I think I'm spinning it fine enough to by a 4ply weight 3ply (and yes I know that sentence only makes sense in England) but those in the know please let me know what you think - is that fine enough for 3ply or should I try 2ply?