Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Surprise Surprise

Cue cheesy theme music.

What is this?
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That my friends is a sky carefully empty of any promise of anything exciting happening in the weather today. The forecast was for sleet which was exciting enough to have this little snow bunny hopping up and down (and telling everyone within reach about it).

And then, just after lunch the rain started to thicken and swirl and we moved quickly through the sleety stage to full on snow with massive flakes whipping down the alley by my window, tossing and turning on a blustery storm. I'm too high up to see the ground so we had no idea whether it was settling or not, all we could do was press our noses to the glass while it lasted and enjoy.

Coming home most of the snow has turned to slush or ice so this one was for looking not for touching, but I've never seen snow in October before and I love it - roll on the winter!

ETA -This is the same scene this morning (Wednesday)
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My second, equally wonderful surprise of the day was a little package waiting for me when I got home. My friend Caroline, who I was lucky enough to meet in person at the IKnit Day, has been following my high dive into the world of spinning with a myriad of useful tips and suggestions which has been wonderful. She sent me an e-mail a little while ago asking if I would like to borrow her Autumn copy of Spin Off. As I subscribed just after the last shipping I said yes please and today there was a little envelope containing this:

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Beautiful, soft, squishy, lustrous roving in the wonderful colours of autumn leaves, and instructions to practice Navajo plying. I feel totally spoiled and very lucky - thank you very much Caroline. I've been spinning up more of the firelight roving to try to get the spindle free to play with the new roving!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sundays are for Spinning and Spiders

To be honest, every day at the moment is embroidery day as I continue with my push to get my SIL's embroidery finished in time to be framed for her birthday at the end of November. The plan has only been slightly complicated by H inviting her to visit the weekend after next but I think that I'm on track. The current plan is to finish the basic cross stitch in the next few days which I think will take me another 8 hours of stitching time, then I need to put it on the big frame and go over the whole piece with metallic thread and the beads and then I need to go over it all again to put in the backstitch.

Lulla arrives 9am on a Friday morning, I've taken that day off work so there's a very real possibility that I will be up into the wee small hours on Thursday to get it finished. Then H is taking it to his parents to get it framed and they will drive it to Scotland for the party which avoids us having any hassle taking it up on the plane - phew, if that all works it'll be a miracle.

Anyway, Diane has decreed a Sunday Spin-In - the Ravelry Group is here and the chat site is here. It hasn't been very active today, at least, not whenever I dropped in, but I went with the inspiration and broke out a new braid of BFL which I bought at the IKnit day. Some of the Christmas knitting is going to involve handspun and I wanted to try a 3-ply before I started spinning that so I've divided the braid into three (pretty much along the lines that it was plaited on) and I'm going to spin each bump individually and then ply the three together. This is how it looked while it was still daylight
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and from the purpley-pink on the spindle I've added grey, orange, more pink and burnt brown.

I'm spinning it by breaking the roving into relatively short strips lengthways but not dividing it at all, just pre-drafting it out and out and out with the idea being that I'll get relatively long colour repeats in the finished yarn so that it barberpoles with the other two strands and doesn't just turn into muted sludge. It certainly is beautifully easy to spin and I may have to hide it away until the embroidering is all finished. On the other hand, you can play scrabble and spin and you can't say the same for embroidery.

With Halloween coming up at the end of this week I've been doing a little cake rehearsal. I have an amazing cake tin that is supposed to imprint Jack o lantern faces on the little cakes but my efforts today only produced little chocolate cakey-bites; swiftly demolished but not really what I was aiming for, so I deviated into these:

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October 234

Chocolate sponge cakes with plain icing, Milky Way Magic Stars (carefully selected for the best faces) and some black writing icing - simple but effective, particularly with the orange cases I found in my cake stash. I think we have a winner on the fairy cake front, I might try American style cookies in the baking tray and see if that helps.

The area where we live seems to have an unwritten rule that if you put a pumpkin outside then the kids are welcome to call, if not then you're off limits so we'll probably put our candle pumpkin outside early in the evening to welcome the little neighbours (who are all under 10 and very cute in fancy dress). My office is having a Halloween charity day too - £1 to be in fancy dress or £2 to wear normal clothes. As I'm going to be travelling back from a client on Friday morning I'm trying to work out a plan to concoct some sort of costume in the back of the car - I'm thinking black paper and gold sticky stars, although having said that, maybe a lawyer is scary enough without adornment.

Saturdays are for Quilting

It may not have escaped your notice that although there is plenty of patchwork contained within this pages, there has been little, well almost no, actual quilting. The last time I tried actual quilting was a cushion cover which did not respond well to being quilted with an ordinary sewing foot. There are lumps (although the final cushion is very comfy and much snuggled).

Given the amount of time which I spent on the Stars Quilt, and the time I am spending on the new quilt (temporarily paused while I wait for more fabric) I don't want to muck it up with the quilting, so I signed up for a day course run at The Quilters' Den in Warwick, 'Take One Flower', taught by Edwina Mackinnon.

We started with a little piece of flower fabric, about the size of a postcard, and we added a border and a background, and then we wove magic spells above the surface of the fabric and when we had finished it looked like this:

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OK so it wasn't magic exactly but it was the first time that I have done proper machine embroider/quilting using a hopper foot and a big fat quilt sandwich.

We did some practice flowers first on a spare quilt sandwich, now obscured by swirls and swirls of practicing, and then moved on to step 1 - the flower:

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My flower's petals were chopped off so I got to draw them back into the border to make up a whole flower again.

The rest of the fabric is filled with whatever takes your fancy - in my case flowers:

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October 213

And more flowers!

All went well to begin with but I think that my sewing machine may have been operating a little bit beyond its comfort zone because it started throwing up thread all over the back of the quilt, with no discernible difference to the front, until I turned it over and saw the delightful shagpile carpet effect! I did it once by forgetting to put the presser foot down but the rest remains a mystery. I do wonder whether it could be a dodgy bobbin because I only had problems with the green. When I pieced it all together to start with it was fine, when I was practicing with black thread it was fine and to start with on the green it was fine but when I was finishing things off last night I could not get the green to set right, no matter how many times I re-threaded. I changed over to the multicolour for the background quilting and it worked straight away. Does that sound like a possible explanation?

Whatever caused it it took over an hour to pick it out the best we could - NOT an experience which I want to repeat!

The background quilting is magic multicoloured pastel thread and the pattern I tried is an attempt at leaves on a string. In some places they look like leaves, sometimes they look like coffee beans, and some times they're just loop the loop.

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If I learned anything on the course it's that the quilting does not have to be perfect for the quilt to look really good - which has given me confidence to try to quilt some of my other projects waiting in the wings.

I'm made a deal with myself - when I've finished the embroidery and the Christmas presents I can go and buy the wadding and the backing for the Star Quilt and give it a whirl on the machine.

I've just one last picture for today - well I know that the first thing any crafty-minded person does is turn things over:

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The back of the quilt is one of my favourite flowers - it seemed only appropriate!

Friday, October 24, 2008

A diet of Fibre

Way , way back, when there was daylight, there was this:

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A teeny bump of Corridale, dyed blue and red and combed? carded? together to make the pretty mixture in the picture. After I finished spinning the strawberries and cream pink merino I started on the bits from the Socktopus class sampler that don't need any more prep work before spinning, and this was the first to hit the twist.

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It spun easily and finely (that's a penny in the picture) and I have a tiny number of yarns of two ply at the lower end of fingering weight. It sat in the handspun basket for a while until I finished some other yarn (more on that later) and I decided that I needed a break from endless cross stitch to deadline. I've always been told that you don't really 'get' handspun until you knit with it, but I need to take the time to figure out a pattern for the merino and "My First Handspun" so they're still in the basket, but the Corridale looks like this:

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Knit up over 30sts on 3.25mm needles and a gorgeous mulled wine colour that is incredible hard to photograph. The picture above is pretty accurate but that's more than can be said for many of the pictures.

This was my first swatch of the evening and I think H missed the part of my brain process that stayed silent because I was terribly keen to show it to him and wave it around and explain that it was knitting that it was only half way through the evening that he suddenly turned to me and exclaimed: "You spun this?". Penny, meet a long drop. He confessed that he thought that it was real yarn and was then terribly impressed. As he should be because it's great.

The second swatch du jour used very newly spun grey alpaca. It started life as a mini-batt:

September 079

And after some careful study of Maggie Casey's book, Start Spinning (a book I would thoroughly recommend) I tried to spin this by long draw (I think). I mean the method where the twist is between your two pinch points, rather than always to the right of both hands.

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Alpaca has a very different feel to wool as well, whether combed top or batts or roving, although how much of that was the yarn and how much was the 'grease' it's hard to tell. I know this much was in there originally:

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And the water was pretty cloudy when I rinsed the final yarn.

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From the penny shot you can see that it is much thicker than the Corridale, on the heavy end of a DK weight.

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Knitted up it has a rough, crunchy texture which I rather like. This is also 30sts, this time over 4mm needles, and as before I knit until I ran out of yarn. I'm going to try to give it a dip in Eucalan over the weekend to see what happens.

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You can see by this close up the halo on the alpaca - partly the work of the alpaca and partly the work of me :)

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Playing compare and contrast you can see that the stitch definition is much sharper in the Corridale than in the Alpaca, but not half so fuzzy, and despite the 'crunchy' feeling in the alpaca it is the softer option.

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I'm sure many of you are wondering why I, who is known for a little swatch avoidance, could take so much trouble to knit what are in essence, unusable swatches but fear not, I have a plan. It's called re designation. (Governments are very good at that sort of thing).

The Corridale, after much experimentation, has discovered a new role here:

October 189

Well you wouldn't want the tyres getting cold before an F1 race would you? Even if it is only around the Scalextric!

We tried the Alpaca against a number of small toy cars before identifying an ideal knitwear/victim combination

October 203

A Pumpkin Cozy!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


What level of has knitting obsession reached in your life? Find out with our handy one-part test.

Scenario: H's cousin has glandular fever (poor girl) and is going to be held off school for a while. Your father-in-law calls to chat and mentions that she's feeling a little down in the dumps as she has nothing to do but sit and rest, and could she perhaps acquire some funky stripy socks to cheer her up.

Do you:

(A) Make vague references to his daughter's 30th birthday present (still very WIP), the state of the Christmas knitting (not yet started), the fine weather we have enjoyed recently, and say that you will send her a card and a box of chocs and call her.

(B) Delightedly comply with his request, proceed at once to the stash cupboard, peruse all of the sock yarn (without revealing to your husband the true extent of the stash), declare that none of it is the right pink, and head off to the shops excited by the prospect of new knitting.

(C) Recall that Aunt M is a knitter herself, weigh up the chances that Cousin H has been taught to knit at some point, and realise that what is really needed is something not too taxing to occupy little H while she recuperates, something that she can do tucked up on a sofa watching bad daytime tv. In short, she needs not the socks, but the raw materials, and here in your hand you have the perfect crook to bring another lamb into the fold. You choose a selection of appropriately pink self-striping yarn and Anna's fantastic Sock Starter Kit, and send little H a card with your phone number in it.

If you answered:

(A) - you either have a LOT of Christmas knitting, or knitting is for you a pleasant hobby with useful results, a pastime that you could give up if we ran out of sheep tomorrow. The woolly fire burns not within your soul.

(B) - you have a very well insulated home. The fleece is strong with you my friend. You may also be extremely organised with the Christmas knitting/ delusional, and generous to a fault.

(C) - oh wise one! You suspect that demand creates supply and know the power of the woolly sock knitting as well as the power of the woolly sock. You also have a well insulated home.

My answer? See for yourself:

October 175

October 177

The uninvented hat

Is it determination, perseverance, stubbornness or obstinacy that meant I knit most of a baby sweater when my instincts told me that it wasn't good enough?

Having spent the weekend in careful consideration (and doing a lot of cross stitch) the edict has been issued:
October 172

Ribbit, ribbit:
October 173

No more baby stripes. It just didn't have the wow factor, and you can buy mediocre from a shop, I don't need to knit it. I am also reassuring myself that it is OK that my secretary, who works with me every day, is getting 2 jackets, and another colleague, who I am friendly with, but who works on a different floor, is just getting the one.

I just need to finish the tip-to-toe outfit for Baby K and the baby knitting will be done. Hurrah.

In feverish anticipation of being able to knit exactly what I want to knit, and not to any sort of timetable, I cast on this:
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The Silver Birch hat from Colinette's Arboretum book, which, together with the yarn, was a birthday present from H this year. It seems only appropriate to make it this season's hat (and I have enough yarn to knit a hat to match, but more on that later). It's knit with Tao (in Florentina) and Parisienne doubled up (in Blue Jay). Together they are 'Ariel the little Disney mermaid does classy hat' colour. Seriously, compare the colours of this website to the picture.

The combined fabric is warm and soft and drapey - imagine kid silk haze with a lot more silk - anyone drooling yet.

It was only as I sat knitting away tonight that I noticed that what I am in fact knitting is a very beautiful version of our mystery autumn leaves - who says there's any such thing as a new idea?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Surprised? Ten Top Tips

This one should be the 'old hat baby surprise' or 'again?! baby' but for the final finished jacket of this year's septet of BSJs we're going for 'Little Boy Blue Baby'. It seems appropriate for Colinette Cadenza in Blue Jay.

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None of the babies have arrived yet (which is good because they are not due for another six weeks) so they make a cheerful pile of miniature jumpers:

October 157

The top two are for my secretary, who knows that she is having another boy; the third one down is for a colleague who is having a surprise; and the bottom one, well who knows who that's for, the next person to have a girl probably.

So, seven jackets later, here are my top tips:

1. The Mitres (cue background scary sawing style noise!). Not as scary as they seem. The pattern starts off my working two mitred corners, one at each end so that you start to form two right angles in the knitting:

October 101

You could just count each row to the mitre, then slip, k2tog and psso but if you spread the corner out you can read the knitting and avoid the need to count:

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This picture shows the three central stitches at the corner. These are the three that will become one to form the corner. How do you find them? Look carefully, can you see that the vertical column of central stitches is 'wearing a scarf'?
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This picture shows it more clearly. The red stitch runs straight up the corner, and instead of the yellow stitch running directly underneath it, its tail flies off to the side - think of stereotypical illustrations of snowmen and you'll see why I call it a scarf. The yellow scarf will point to the red stitch, and then you have your centre point.

Slip the first stitch:

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Knit the next two together:

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And pass the first slipped stitch over the top (that is just the one stitch coming over, the yarn was a bit splitty)

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And there you go, one mitred corner:

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Just rinse and repeat until you have finished the decreases.

2. Increases: the original EZ pattern suggests increasing by a backwards loop cast on. Although several pattern notes have suggested using a raised bar increase instead I've found the backward loop to be practically invisible in garter stitch so I do as the pattern suggests. The backward loop is exactly as it sounds; make a loop as if you were going to make a slip knot and then slide the loop onto the needle, with the live end of the yarn towards the stitches already on the needle. It's harder to describe than it is to so, if in doubt, if you pick up the needle and hold it point down a backwards loop will stay put but a loop de loop will fall off.

When you start increasing out again at the mitre lines I find it easiest to place a marker before the centre stitch. Then all you need to do is m1, slip marker, k1, m1.

3. Increases after five ridges: on a right side row I work (k3, m1) until the last stitch before the mitre, k1, work the mitre, section between and the other mitre, then k1, (m1, k3).

4. Increases for back fullness: I work these on the wrong side row after I get to the correct stitch count. Knit across until you have knit the second newly made stitch then work: (k5, m1) x 5, k4, (m1, k5) x 5.

5. Work across 90 sts: the 90 stitches runs from on centre line of a mitre to the other. When you pick up stitches and start working across the whole back again, the stitches to mark are the 'corners' of the 90st back-and-forth block.

6 Buttonholes: k6, (yo, k2tog, k6) x5, k1, m1, k1, m1, knit to next mitre centre line, m1, k1, m1, k1, (k6, k2tog, yo) x 5, k6.

Even if you know what variety of baby is expected it is so easy to sew up the extra buttonholes and sew the buttons on on top, and it avoids all the hassle of trying to line everything up.

7. If the yarn which you are working with is not hugely variegated you can oversew the shoulder seams, rather than mattress stitch them, for a flat seam so that nothing could possibly rub on the baby. I oversewed the pink baby and the rainbow baby and mattress stitched the other two. You can't tell unless you look.

8. Choosing the buttons is one of my favourite parts

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9. At a rough guess, a BSJ for a newborn takes 100g of DK weight wool. In these pictures we have Colinette Cadenza, Reqia Square Colour 6 ply, Some Opal Something, Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino and some more Regia Square. They are all machine washable.

10. This pattern is beautiful, easy and magical. Go and knit one now.

On the other side of the coin we have a contender for 'Now you see it, Now you don't':

October 171

It is an attempt at the Super Natural Stripes jacket, but a combination of I have much less yarn/ it takes much more yarn than I thought has given some oddly eclectic stripes and the whole thing feels a bit meh, rather than a wonderful gift for a new baby. The waterboatmen are skeeting over the surface of the pond - does it go in or stay out?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wishful Thinking

Way way back, long long ago, when we were still pretending that it was summer, H and I went to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC, mainly to look at the awesome displays, and a little bit to see what a quilt show could offer in the way of strawberry fabric for a project that was, and is, still entirely in my mind.

What I discovered, was Jelly Rolls, bundles of 2 1/2" fabric strips in every theme under the sun. I was held powerless by their charms, and H helped to choose the one that should come home with us. Purchased purely because we both loved the fabric.

The thing with Jelly Rolls is that when you're not at the quilt show and you can't see the fabric spread our around, you can only see hints around the outside of what it could be. It's very intriguing, and so the Jelly Roll came out of the cupboard and started to sit on the corner of my desk. After a few suicide dives off the corner of the table it moved to sit on the sewing machine, and I started to do a little research into patterns and pattern books.

And that was when I saw Pat's latest quilt (incidentally she makes all sorts of amazing things), and I knew that this was what the Jelly Roll wanted to be, because that pattern says 'Stars' to me.

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A quick trip to Amazon later and I have two wonderful sources of inspiration for scrappy quilts, Jelly Roll Quilts and the source of the new quilt, Twosey-Foursey Quilts. And of course, I got to unroll the jelly:

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Cue Hugh Fraser reading 'Cat Amongst the Pigeons', to cut and sew this:October 119

Which, after hasty arrangement for photographic purposes, could look like this:

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It's by no means the final arrangement, but you can see the stars. This Jelly Roll doesn't seem to be available in the UK any more, at least not that I could find easily over the internet, but I found a great US site, The Quilted Castle, who seem to specialise in Jelly Rolls, and whose selection I can drool over quite happily! Despite everything else that I need to so and should do, I'm stalking the postman.

If you were wondering why the title to this post is Wishful Thinking, well, I think that you need to take a little closer peek at some of these stars:

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Do you spot a theme yet? Anything spring to mind in particular?

October 123

My love of a particular weather phenomenon is well documented (here and here and here and here, well you get the picture), so you see why it was hard to resist a jelly roll called, "It's snowing!"

Here's hoping.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My favourite

I have now recovered sufficiently from my cold-of-doom to rise from my sofa-of-sickness where I spent Saturday and parts of Sunday languishing in a very Edwardian way and having my fevered brow tended to by my ever-attentive husband. I should have been draped in a frilly white nightgown and hazy penoir but instead I was wearing pink flowery pyjamas and the loving husband tucked me up with a spare duvet and went to play hockey; so near and yet so far.

Anyway, it was a gorgeously sunny weekend and as you can see, the leaves are starting to turn.
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Thanks to a few autumnal blows we have a lot of leaves down already. In fact there is a substantial tide of yellowy-green washed up on our patio.
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I know I should sweep it up but (a) it's pretty; (b) a whole load more leaves are going to fall before winter and it would be more economical to do one big sweep at the end; and, (c) it's much warmer and just as fun as the real sea to go paddling in:

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And of course, if you're playing in the leaves, you might just find the prettiest ever leaf - it's rather like playing with pretty pebbles.

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Clearly all these colours outside have been influencing my cooking:

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Can you guess what it is?

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Forget co-ordinating jelly beans to socks, now I can co-ordinate ingredients to leaves! The cooking in question appears to have been consumed before photography could be attempted but then you know what I made - it says so on the tin. I add 1tsp ground ginger and the zest of half a lemon for zing and rapidity of consumption speaks for itself.

Underneath all of the leaves there are still signs of summer, this is Lillian Annetts giving a final flourish:

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And the delicate beauty of another fuchsia, Angela Dawn:

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The most recent addition, and the most striking is this:
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And I have no idea what it is. I think it came from a pack of mixed white summer bulbs but I can only go as far as "it isn't a gladioli" which was the only one in the mixture that I really recognised.

Close up it has these wonderful magenta sploshes that look as though two very tiny wheels have run through a purple puddle.

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Does anyone know what it is?

October 145

I was down at ground level, and able to see into flowers, because I have been planting out the tulips for the early spring. They have wonderful names - Queen of the Night which is the same dark magenta as that flower centre; Shirley, a creamy yellow dipped in crushed raspberries; Purissima, a classic ivory; Flaming Parrott, a frilly tulip, butter-coloured with flame red splashes; Monsella, a golden yellow with red pencilled stocking lines up the back of each petal; and Carneval de Nice, a red and white humbug.

Hopefully at least some of them will come up in the new year to lighten the darkness.

And finally, H would like me to show you this:

October 137

He informs me that this is only the third or fourth time that he has EVER got a 180 at darts. We have taken several photos to prove this achievement to future generations.