Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Birthday Socks: the pair

H and my combined families are notorious for combination and grouped birthdays so it should have surprised no-one that his sister-in-law joined the ongoing party of June birthdays, one week after ours.

We popped up north last weekend for her birthday celebrations and, purely in the interests of keeping her sock collection on a par with her husband's, we took a little soft squishy package:

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Which matches nicely with the pink hydrangea just coming into bloom and the purple lavender escaping out of the corner of the frame (photography was rather hurried as it was first thing in the morning and we should have left 10 minutes ago).

The yarn is Regia Crazy 5404, called Bonbon - I suppose you could find a good selection of Quality Street to match the colours so perhaps it isn't that far out!

Started on 21 June and finished on 24 June (she has smaller feet than me - hurray!) - these are a standard 60st sock - perfect for quick and mindless knitting.

The birthday girl said that she loved them, and she is known for being a pink fanatic so I think we're on safe ground - time will tell if we ever see them actually being worn.

So, here endeth the birthday sock knitting - how long is it until Christmas?! Actually I have a couple of little somethings to whip up for some small people but that won't take very long and should be lots of fun.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Birthday Socks

So, how many times do you repeat something before it becomes a habit or a tradition? H's good fortune, in allying himself to a perpetual provider of knitwear is that he now increases his 'fluffy sock' collection by at least three pairs a year - a pair for his birthday, a pair for Christmas from me and a pair from Father Christmas in his socking (St Nick being a distinct fan of extremely bad puns).

He now has a collection to rival a centipede with a fondness for extraordinarily bright footwear and as his loving wife, I wouldn't want to disappoint. I realised that the sock giving was now firmly established as a tradition a couple of weeks before our birthday when he asked, not whether he was getting socks, but which yarn I was knitting up!

And here they are:

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The yarn is Indigo Moon Sock in Carnival which came from Socktopus last autumn and the pattern is a freebie - the Circle Socks by Anne Campbell - an ingenious design that provides a little interest to the knitting and isn't totally overwhelmed by the colours of the sock yarn.

I did amend the pattern a little, by adding an extra repeat - I used 72 sts - and adding an extra half repeat lengthwise on the leg. Technically there isn't really yarn to do this and the toes are leftovers from H's Fibonacci socks but it's the same yarn base and very similar colours. If you were knitting these for lesser feet you would be fine.

In the interests of equality - I also polished off a pair of birthday socks for myself:
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The Cloning Anemone Rib socks from last year's Rockin Sock Club - I love the colours and the pattern is very comfy and has just the right balance between interest, and a bit of mindless stocking stitch for film knitting and standing up on the train. I knit a large and still had a fair amount of yarn leftover so it's success all round.

Two birthdays; two pairs of socks:

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Thank you for all the compliments about the cake - it tastes wonderful and is now firmly embedded in my mind as the most fun that I've had with icing sugar!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Birthday Daze

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It's official, as of Sunday afternoon and Sunday morning respectively, H and I are another year older. 29 is a curious age; I am more consciously aware now that I'm in the last year of my 20s, that this will not come again, that I'm not in the youngest group of colleagues at work anymore, and that they are not just a couple of years below me - these are the peeps who were in junior school when I left school.

All this is not to say that I'm old, or even feeling old, far from it - perhaps just a little more consciously aware of the passing of time on one brief, occasionally sunny, solitary Sunday in June.

Saturday however, went past in a blur of baking and icing - we had a couple of friends over on Sunday and I was determined that I was not going to spend my birthday running round like a mad thing so it was all done in advance and H cleared it all up on Monday. The piece de resistance was our birthday cake (and I defy anyone to call me grown up having seen it!).
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There's a story behind this though - H hurt his finger in a hockey match a little while ago and after he got fed up with explaining the true reason why he was all bandaged up, he told anyone who asked that he had been bitten by a very tiny shark.

A few weeks later, while browsing the cook shop (what? don't you all do that in your lunchtimes) I found a little shark shaped biscuit cutter of about the right size to have inflicted a finger bite - and gave it to H for giggles.

A colleague suggested that if we had a shark then really we needed a pirate ship for it to swim around, and then we discovered a pirate ship cake tin for half price in Lakeland and .....

well the rest, as they say, is cake:

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Let me take you on a tour around the good ship Cariemay and the Isle de H.

From the bow we see that the ship has unfortunately become distracted by the natural beauty of the Isle de H and has beached itself upon the shore. The Bonny figurehead will no more cleave the wide wide ocean.
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The anchor is still stowed safely aboard as the pirates disregard all useful maritime practices in favour of counting the treasure piled high on the foredeck.
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Amidships, the hold overflows with precious jewels, glinting in the tropical sunlight.
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On the quarterdeck, a parasol keeps away the heat of the solstice sun, to allow the steersman to protect the wheel. Woe betide anyone who attacks the Cariemay, she is armed to the gunwales with cannon and shot!
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Here we have Bigheart Jelly Baby being made to walk the plank (a pink wafer biscuit secured with a cocktail stick), and the treacherous seas and sharks below
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And in the water, Jelly Baby Boofuls has already become the sharks' first victim (and impressively is still managing to cry despite having lost his legs to the shark - it is for this that my father says my imagination is gruesome)
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Jaws makes off with the Jelly feet mid munch.
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At the ships's stern, prawns frolic in the breakers.

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While on the island itself, a gentle breeze ruffles the fronds of the palm trees.

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There are treasure chests, brimming with silver doubloons, precious pearls and flowers of the orient. And in the sand, a hazy shimmer shows that X marks this spot.
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The pirates have clearly been enjoying a brief sojourn as landlubbers, but brought their essentially with them; barrels of grog and rum and bananas!
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And here she is in all her glory - fully rigged and with a swinging main boom.

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We did however dispose of the rigging to add 29 candles!

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The only question I have is this - what on earth am I going to make next year!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Growing Gardens

WARNING: This blog post may contain actual knitting content!

Yes, I know, it's been a bit of a while since this knitting blog mentioned actual knitting. Part of the problem is that some projects are just not that photogenic. Lace is notoriously unphotogenic, and when you're making lace with Basil green 2ply, it does look like I let a kitten loose with the garden twine.

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This particular amorphous blob is half of the Hidcote Shawl by Miriam Felton. It is, or rather it will be, absolutely beautiful when it's finished, and the parts of the pattern that I can see starting to form have the promise of things to come.

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I'm now part way through the second section, representing the formal flower beds of Hidcote, and I've got about another half chart before I start the lavender patterning. I'm actually desperately hoping that this is half the shawl because I've just started the second ball of yarn. According to the shawl progress calculator (here) I'm 49.9% complete - I'm hoping for a miracle or for a smidge more yardage in the second ball - we'll have to wait and see which (if either) I get.

My chief photography assistant (reassigned that crucial position now that his finger is getting better) decided that my shawl in progress looks like a fishing keep net:
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So he found me some shrimp

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Of the very pinkest, entirely artificial type - well we are a long way from the sea!

And while one garden grows, the other one hasn't been doing too badly either. We had a little garden centre splurge the other week and bought a new hebe (now covered in flowers) and a blue hydrangea (my favourites) that is just starting to turn lilac at the edges.

Garden June 2009

The rest of the flowers have survived our slightly haphazard approach to gardening and are thriving despite rather than because of our green thumbs - I love them equally but I think I'm better at shawls than plants!

Fair Ladies

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Ev'ry duke and earl and peer is here
Ev'ryone who should be here is here.
What a smashing, positively dashing
Spectacle: the Ascot Ladies day.

At the gate are all the horses
Waiting for the cue to fly away.
What a gripping, absolutely ripping
Moment at the Ascot Ladies day.

Pulses rushing!
Faces flushing!
Heartbeats speed up!
I have never been so keyed up!

Any second now They'll begin to run.
Hark! A bell is ringing, They are springing
Forward Look!It has begun...!

What a frenzied moment that was!
Didn't they maintain an exhausting pace?
'Twas a thrilling, absolutely chilling
Running of the Ascot Ladies race.

(My Fair Lady - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5Sq1Pax7h8)

Whenever I see My Fair Lady, the scene that sticks in my mind is the wonderful Ascot Gavotte, and yesterday I got to see what all the fuss was about. Yes, my friends, yesterday my job was to got to Ascot Ladies Day (it's a hard life I know!!).

We took a large group of ladies that we work with regularly and I'd like to say that it was a tough, formal, networking, hard working kind of event - but then I'd be fibbing. The ladies were wonderful company, the sun shone some of the time, and a good time was had by all.

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According to Google, the Gold Cup day because colloquially known as Ladies Day because as the most important race in the meet it historically attracted the wealthiest clientele, and the ladies came to check out each other's fashions and to keep up to date. Nowadays it's all about the hats; and the whole gamut were there, from the stunningly beautiful, to the astonishingly weird, and all the feathers in the rainbow in between.

My job doesn't stretch as far as the Royal Enclosure, but a few of us went to peek over the barrier to see if we could spot any of the rich and famous.
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Our conclusion was that the rich and famous have more benches and a little more space but apart from spying a few name badges for Viscountess so and so and the Marchioness of here and there, we didn't spot anyone to name drop.

Well, there was one lady ...
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Look above and to the left of the crest and you'll see a tiny dot of turquoise - that's her, resplendent in cream and turquoise.

The problem with hat spotting is that it's very hard to subtly take pictures, but I did manage to stalk a favourite (and this picture originally included half the grandstand before cropping!)

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I love the colour, the butterflies and the flowers, but what really did it for me was that the umbrella matched!

In all of this hat watching we did spend a little time eyeing up some horses. My horse for the day was this fellow:
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Yates, at speed before the start of the race in which he became the only horse to win the Ascot Gold Cup for the fourth time in the row. We were right on the rails, cheering him on to the finish, and all the way to the bookies to collect my little flutter winnings!

Someone described Ascot to me as a giant wedding with a few horse races and that does nail the atmosphere - everyone dressed up in their best and having a wonderful time - it also explains the pink champagne and strawberries

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Well you have to have afternoon tea - it's all that walking that does it!

The finale is something so bizarre it could only happen in England...

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Behind the tree is the bandstand, manned by the Band of the Irish Guards, and after the final race, everyone gathers round, little song books and flags are handed out, and we all sing; from the old favourites, to the Beatles, some songs more frequently heard at football matches, through to the classics, Rule Britannia, Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory (several times) and the National Anthem - it's the last night of the proms with a few more inhibitions removed (pink champagne et al) and increased sartorial elegance - it's a wonderful way to round off the day.

And because I know my Mum will want to see (if no-one else) - here is my hat:
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It's part hat, part fascinator - the whole thing is attached to an alice band, so that the twinkly beige hat part covers the right hand side of my head at an angle, and the flower pops out from underneath.
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I'm not usually the biggest hat fan but I love this - and now I've found yet another crafty thing I want to try - I might just need to wait until it becomes fashionable to wear a hat daily before I start making lots and lots of pretty hats.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Buttons and Jam

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a knitter, or any crafter really, will find craft supplies in the unlikeliest of places, whatever the event or opportunity.

It really should surprise no one therefore to learn that I went to see a grand house and magnificent gardens, and rather than buying a picture postcard as a memento ...

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I found buttons! Ceramic buttons to be precise. The big spotty one is about the size of a tuppence and is irresistible in its spottyness - I suspect I'll use it on a cushion or a one button cardigan some day. The hearts are the palest cream with blue and green dots (to match the fairy cakes!) and would be perfect as the buttons on a little baby jacket, for someone not afraid to handwash!

H is as much a fan of whimsy as I am so it seemed only right that he had his own parcel to unwrap at the end of the day. We passed through Bicester Village on the way home and swung in for an end-of-the-day stroll (the only circumstances in which Bicester Village is palatable - usually it's heaving at the weekend) and went to visit the Le Creuset discount shop.

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Please tell me how I ever managed to exist without a strawberry strawberry-jam pot before, because compared to this, the humble jam jar pales into obscurity.

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It appears I may have a bit of a thing for strawberry patterns - who would have thought!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Expedition

While my working week involves commutes to work, commutes to places associated with work, and generally crazy amounts of time spent on the train, the lovely H works from home and has a commute of 16 stairs (12 down, 4 up, it's that kind of house).

The net result is that I finish Friday longing to lounge around in my PJs for 48 hours, and he is equally keen to go exploring. We seem to have reached a happy compromise whereby I got to spent an unseemly amount of time in the bath yesterday morning (three ferocious su doku puzzles and a top up of hot water), and today after church we packed up the cool bag and headed out.

H's choice - Waddesdon Manor. It's a house built by the Rothschild family, essentially to house their collection of nice things.
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It's a stunning building, created to replicate a French chateau in style, and has even more than usual ornate gilt embellishments everywhere you look. The Sevres collection is just staggeringly huge, there's almost so much of it that it devalues itself; when there are twenty plates, beautifully hand painted with little birds, suddenly that first plate that caught your eye doesn't seem so special.
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I think that really sums up my view of Waddesdon; it's a grand house, filled with beautiful things, but it isn't a home, there was no ambiance, no feeling that each of these things was a treasured possession, loved and used, just valuable pieces acquired for the sake of acquisition.

It has to be the aim of all visitors to the big houses to imagine themselves back in time (whatever time that may be), staying or living in this house, but here you couldn't do that - the house was dead.

And this doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy seeing the pretty things and the enormous rooms - perhaps it's just a reminder to myself that the soul of a home matters more than the fabric - at least that's what I'll tell H when he wonders why I haven't hoovered yet!
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The surrounding grounds are similarly vast and the (relatively small) formal gardens were truly lovely.

We ate lunch sat within scent of the rose garden, which while a little past its peak, still had plenty of perfect blooms.
Went to the aviary to visit the birds, and found sculptures:

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And discovered what happens when you accidentally water the birds with miracle-grow as well as the plants!
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The Rothschild family were obviously very keen on their horses and we found them all around, a shire horse by the aviary:
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A flower horse (you really needed to be in the house to see this properly but all the windows have blinds to protect the contents):
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And a water horse:
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Please note the duck!

H had a final physio session earlier in the week so he is now back to driving which means that (sound trumpets and give forth loud hurrahs please) ... I'm back knitting in the car - which to my mind is far more fun than driving:
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This is the start of the Blue Moon Fiber Arts Sock Club kit from last September (I think) - the colour is called Tide Pooling and the pattern is Cloning Anemone Rib. The cloning, anemones and ribbing will be more obvious when I'm wearing them/ when they're on sock blockers.

And to round off a perfect summer's day, would you like a fairy cake?
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Vanilla sponge cakes with lemon icing and just the touch of Wilton's food colouring (lemon yellow, kelly green and a smidge of lemon yellow, pink, and a whisper of teal) and pretty pastel sugar drops.

It seems a very English picnic to have ham or corned beef sandwiches, strawberries and fairy cakes on a blanket by a rose garden - and it was good!