Saturday, October 31, 2009


Happy Halloween!

I've been baking today (because clearly nothing is scarier than cake) in preparation for any of our neighbour's little monsters that might cross our path later, and I seem to be overrun with spiders.
October 488

Actually I think we were overrun with slightly more genuine spiders before I started cooking - I've been trying to convince H that my lack of dusting is for atmospheric decor but I loose that excuse tomorrow - time to find the dusters.

These spiders are much more cute and delicious than the other sort.
October 492

The base is a chocolate fairy cake, topped with plain white icing and then I've simply repeated last year's moment of inspiration with the Milky Way Magic Stars and a tube of black icing.

October 470
You do have to be a little bit careful with the Magic Stars because not all of them have the face in the right orientation to give a head point, and then the 'arms and legs', so I did have the onerous task of sitting down with a dish of Magic Stars and 'disposing' of the ones that don't work - how we creative types suffer for our art!

I love the stars that look surprised so they turn up in abundance.
October 491

The fairy cake cases came from Lakeland in Exeter; the nicest sort I saw in the UK.

I did however, have a little help from a friend ....

October 481

L went to Las Vegas on holiday a little while back and as she loves cooking as much as I do, she asked whether there was anything that I wanted - I asked for Halloween cup cases, which she brought me in abundance, together with a Haunted House decorating kit.

I made the muffin-sized cupcake (lemon sponge), and covered it with green buttercream, and the kit had the wrought iron fence 'wrapper', and the little houses and moons on toothpicks.

I have a haunted village.

October 482

The spiders are for any trick or treaters, the houses are entirely for us!

October 483
If you're into any kind of cake decorating, L and I discovered the Squires Kitchen website recently (to add to our obsession with Lakeland and De Cuisine) and they have butterfly cake wrappers. I'm seriously thinking about 30 butterfly cupcakes for my next birthday - maybe H could have matching trains or dinosaurs?

Now then, to important things. I've finished my Snowbird mittens (currently blocking on the ironing board) and this means that, shockingly, my needles are mitten-free. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue so I have lined up the next pattern, the Twilight Mittens from Interweave. My quandary is this; for the main colour, I have gorgeous black Regia Wool Silk left over from H's socks, but for the contrast colour should I go for

(a) Dream in Colour Smooshy in Pansy Golightly

October 461

Very close to the pattern colours, a nice plump yarn which will help because I need to go up a few needle sizes (who has a 6" hand circumference anyway?), but possibly better paired with navy or charcoal grey; or

(b) Noro Kureyon Sock

October 464

Reminiscent of the sunset in the Lake District in September, definitely set off well by the black, but a thick thin yarn, and possibly a little too different in texture to the wool silk.

Which one would you choose?

In the meantime, have a cake.

October 496

Friday, October 30, 2009

Edge Hill

On Sunday 23 October 1642, the English Civil War kicked off in style with the first major battle, the Battle of Edge Hill, not too far away from our now quiet corner of Warwickshire. As battles go no-one really knows who won this one, there were lots of skirmishes and both Parliamentarians and Royalists claimed victory.

The local old wives tale is that a month after the battle, local farmers and townsfolk heard noises coming from Edgehill and saw and heard what they thought was another battle being fought on the hill. However, as they edged closer to investigate, both armies completely vanished. If you believe what you read, officials were sent to the site to interview witnesses and they also saw the ghostly visions, including colleagues and friends who had died.

It is said that sightings of two phantom armies fighting it our with each other are more visible and occur more often toward Halloween; the clinking of armour, volleys of musket fire and the galloping of hooves can still be heard at Edgehill.

Myth and legend? Or ..... the truth? We went to Edgehill last weekend and look what we found:
October 413
Parliamentarians approaching the Royalist camp through the trees.
October 418A
The first volleys were fired (that flash is the gunpowder firing)
October 260
Roused from their unearthly slumber, the Royalists came out to defend their camp and their King:
October 425October 293

But the Parliamentarians were not to be defeated, and left forth another salvo.

October 268
And steadily started to advance in formation
October 333
Towards the intrepid defenders
October 331
Who lined up all hands ready for the fight
October 342
The battle waged on, with casualties on both sides in the fierce hand to hand fighting
October 320
October 438
October 311
Until finally, as it seemed that all might be lost, and the Roundheads neared the camp boundary..
October 451
They were successfully put to flight by the ladies of the camp wielding a jug of water and the cooking spoon
October 346

Girl power, 17th century style.

So was it all a dream, was it really the ghostly re-incarnation of long dead foot soldiers, or were the Sealed Knot doing a civil war re-enactment at Upton House - who knows?

Monday, October 26, 2009


Obsess - verb - to haunt, fill the mind (Collins Dictionary)
October 250

Is it part of the make-up of every serious crafter, that ability to focus single-mindedly on one specific that resonates within them, calling out to their inner crafty soul until the need is sated (usually by casting on)? What else could explain casting-on-itis, or those black holes where you pick up the knitting on your newest and best ever project one sunny lunchtime, and suddenly it's dark, voices are mewling for their supper, and you aren't quite sure where the afternoon went, but you do have four inches of a jumper back that was a soft fluffy ball of yarn that morning.

For better or worse, I have this kind of compulsive focus in spades. The last time I spent a day quilting, H went out for a boys night supper and I entirely forgot about supper, and am still not sure whether I had lunch. I also have a mental list of books that I cannot start reading if I (a) need to go to sleep within the next hour or so or (b) have somewhere to go within a timescale that will not encompass the end of the novel. Robert Goddard's In Pale Battalions (a book I love and cannot recommend highly enough) is one that I know I cannot stop reading, even though I've read it time and time again. I daren't start reading it on the train to work, because I know I'd spend all day resisting the temptation to sneak a quick peak under the desk.

It's always been the same, and I bet I'm not the only one; if I see a film I like I have to check whether there's a book and read the book, and don't get me started on books in series - when I was at uni I once ended up with a substantial selection of teen-lit from one particular series just because the first book was given away on the cover of a magazine I bought to read on the train and I needed to find out what happened to all the characters - literary soap opera at its best!

And so it came to pass that I watched the Twilight film. And then downloaded the audio book with my Audible credit at the end of September. And then bought the audio books for New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn in fairly quick succession. That's 64 and three quarter hours of audio in rapid succession that I finished a week ago (and then started listening to the whole thing all over again).

But that's not all. I found the Twilight fan group on Ravelry, and there was a pair of mittens, a really pretty pair of chunky mittens, named for Bella and 'sight-knit' from a pair worn in the film. And then I remembered two balls of Rowan Cocoon in the stash, and that the gauge was about the same as the pattern, and well ....

I fell down a hole and became a Twilight fan-girl:

October 400

And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

These are Bella's Mittens, knit on 5mm DPNs from a ball and a third (ish) of Rowan Cocoon in Frost (which seemed rather appropriate). On most people these would be close to elbow length, on me they come to the middle of my forearm. They are soft and warm and just the thing you would need if you lived in one of the wettest and chilliest places around (which looking out of the window today would seem to be where I live).

I finished these mittens last week and spent ages trying to take a good picture with the timer on my camera - the biggest problem being that the auto focus locks down on the background before I can run round the camera to get in the frame - so these pictures were taken on the auto timer with the camera hung just under my chin.
October 257
I was trying to do the traditional fan girl shot (the cover from the Twilight novel) but if I flip the perspective it just looks really weird so this will have to do.

I also seem to be developing a side line obsession in mittens - in the last month or so I've made pair for Dolly, a pair that are now mine, a pair for Mum, the Bella mittens and on Saturday I spent much of the day turning this:
October 237

Into this:

October 402 October 404

(please ignore the fact that it desperately needs blocking!)

Is this the future? Has my sock drawer finally rebelled and started messing with my mind while I'm asleep? Are mittens the new socks? Answers on a postcard!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Perhaps I should re-title this post "it was a dark dark night" and save it for Halloween. I took these pictures in actual proper daylight but despite my best efforts they appear to have taken on an 'all pervading cloud of doom' style of lighting. Nevermind, I suspect they are foreshadowing the current weather. When it starts properly raining the outside noises fade away as the water wraps the buildings in a protective film, and half a glance out the window usually confirms any suspicions. It's only when you can hear the hypnotic patter of hundreds of drops, and the resultant squeeks of people caught out in the open that we know that the heavens have truly opened. It is bucketing it down at the moment, a low thrum drowning out even my computer's decibel-accurate helicopter impersonation. I'm really glad I'm inside.

Anyway, enough confirming national stereotypes for the day. Way back when it was pretending to be summer, at the quilt show in August, I picked up a few 'play' packs - including a charm pack of Amy Butler's Midwest Modern range. I've had the squares floating around on my desk for a while, playing with different ideas and colour combinations and thinking about what I could make with 30 4 1/2 inch squares.

The finished quilts that I saw on my internet travels that I liked the best were the ones that took the charm pack and turned it into half square triangles; it's very easy, you match up your pair, draw a line down the diagonal on the back of one square, and sew a 1/4 inch seam either side of the line. Cut down the middle and hey presto, triangles made into squares.

In the end, simplicity won over anything too fancy, and this is what I unvented:

October 206

A little lap quilt, with the charm pack in the middle and deep turquoise borders using the batik fabric I bought for the Sparkling Orange Mint Choc Chip quilt and found to be too discordant. Here it's a perfect match, and brings a large table mat sized quilt into the lap quilt scale.
October 193

For the backing and the border I picked two of my favourite prints from the Midwest Modern series to tie it all together. The pink binding is the same print as the backing, just in pink obviously.

It isn't perfect (I'm going for characterful - that's my story and I'm sticking to it), and matching points on 8 triangles was always going to be optimistic, but I can see that I'm getting better with the practice, and that's what it's all about.

October 202
For the quilting this time I branched out from the swirly spirals and embraced the girly feel of the quilt so we have swirls and little hearts, in pink, all over the centre part of the quilt;
October 200
And then two rows of wiggles and hearts in the borders:
October 195

With the quilt production line that's running around here I'm beginning to think that I need to move to somewhere cooler, where curling up on the sofa requires a lap quilt on top of two big quilts and two knitted blankets - maybe an igloo!
October 197

PS - is it crazy that I choose the label, not by the necessary washing instructions, but by which one best colour co-ordinates with the quilt?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm a good girl, I am

I'm not so heartless as to steal my mother's mittens and leave her un-woolied for any great length of time. As promised I cast on on Monday night and finished her new pair on the train on Tuesday:
October 233

Another pair of Maine Morning Mittens to the standard pattern, this time in Fleece Artist Kid Aran in Woodland - fluffy, soft and incredibly warm.

I promised mittens and I have delivered. Or at least, as of this lunchtime I have entrusted a small squishy envelope to the post box and may the Royal Mail have mercy on its fibres.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Saturday lunchtime, as I waved H off for another afternoon of queuing on golf tees, I had a phone call. My mother, frozen to the bone after a morning of organ practice in an unheated church, petitioning for the early arrival of a requested Christmas present - a pair of fingerless mittens that would keep her hands warm but allow her to fully stretch to play the notes.

Always keen to chalk up a few points in the 'my daughter is angelic' column (rather than the 'my daughter is ferociously independent and this worries me' column occupied during my teens and early twenties), I fished out the remainder of the Manos wool silk used for Dolly's Mittens, and cast on another pair of slightly altered Maine Morning Mittens.

I knit while we visited a friend's new flat on Saturday, and settled down on Sunday afternoon with the Dr Who omnibus on the tv, the new quilt, and this snuggliest of yarns.

October 218
To make sure that they were extra stretchy at the top for full range of movement I used the 'new' extra-stretchy cast off from the latest Knitty which looks great and does exactly what it says on the tin - I'm definitely using it again the next time I do toe up socks.

This is a wonderfully simple pattern, and a great quick knit, especially when you aren't adding buttonholes and so I zoomed around and around for several contented hours until it was dark, and I had a pair of finished mittens.

October 225
Then this morning as we headed out the door to work I grabbed an envelope and the mittens with the full intention of posting them at lunchtime.

And here is where I must confess.

Outside at the moment (according to the BBC) it is about 12C and sunny (I can verify the sunny). That's about normal for this time of year, it's a nice day. In my office, our slightly dubious thermometer, filched from the wall on one of the other floors, suggests that it's somewhere around 18C.

Our building heating runs at two settings; off and on; and after a week of 'on' left many people gasping for fresh air and verging on heatstroke, the decision was made that we would be 'off' until the end of October. It's a perfectly logical decision because every floor apart from my one little section has a built in air con unit that can also provide heat.

Me, well I arrived wearing a cardigan, a shawl and my jacket and I'm still wearing them, and as my fingers cooled and chilled as the sedentary nature of my work took effect, I thought of the mittens in my bag and my own winter mittens, which currently look like this:
October 220

If you look on Ravelry I christened the pink mittens 'Frozen Organist Mittens'. I'm going to have to change them to 'Frozen Lawyer Mittens'.

Started on Saturday.
Sewn up on Sunday.
Misappropriated on Monday.

Sorry Mum.

On the plus side I have remembered some yarn in the stash that may be your perfect combination of chocolate, lime and blue, and I know you weren't desperately keen on brilliant fushcia ...
October 217
... I know, I know, I'll be casting on as soon as I get home, I promise. Just take a hottie bottle to organ practice in the meantime OK?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sparkling Orange Mint Choc Chip

Well I didn't quite manage to find the glorious sunshine I was dreaming about from my office window on Friday afternoon, but I did find some daylight to do some justice to my latest magnum opus. Are you ready? Here it is in all its glory:
October 186
My sparkling orange mint choc chip quilt.

The name comes from both the pattern and the fabric. The pattern is from the book Jelly Roll Quilts by Pam and Nicky Lintott and was originally called Sparkling Gemstones.

October 179
The fabric (is it worrying that I keep accidentally calling it yarn?) is mostly a Bali Pop (equivalent to a Jelly Roll) of Hoffman Batik fabrics with the colourway Mint Choc Chip that came from the Kaleidoscope Fabrics stand at the quilt show in August.
October 174

I chose the orange for the borders at the same time and although I thought at the time that it might just be a step too far along the crazyometer of colour, I'm really pleased with how it turned out - it's one of my favourite colours and it's a great contrast colour to all the blues and greens in the bali pop.
October 171

At one stage we contemplated a soft blue green for the borders which would have given a completely different feel to the quilt - more deciduous woodland whereas mine is blazing autumn glory.
October 165

We had originally picked a bright contrast turquoise semi-solid for the borders but in the event it turned out to be too bright so a little trip up to Cotton Patch in Hall Green last weekend found the fabric for the border, which I also used as the fabric for the backing.

I spent last weekend attaching the borders and then free motion machine quilting the entire thing. My previous quilt has, shall we say minimal quilting - I'd spent so long on it and was so worried about messing it up, combined with a really tiny desk space to manipulate clouds of starry quilt that I confined myself to outlining each star and a few diagonal lines. This time I bit the bullet and went for stippling, or rather, my version of stippling which is basically rippling lines quilted haphazardly over the entire surface.

I'm clearly no expert, and there are a few good puckers on the back of the quilt but for a first attempt and properly quilting a quilt I'm pretty happy with it. The puckers only show if you (a) look at the back and (b) hold it out to look for them; I'm just hoping that with practice and all the tips I can glean from the internet I might one day finish a full size quilt without puckers - I'm not averse to the practice though.

I did branch out a little to quilt the borders, adding a quasi leaf pattern to my wiggly lines, to work with the autumnal theme.

This last week has been spent in one of my favourite stages of quilt making - hand sewing the binding. I machine sewed one side last Sunday, and spent the next few days working my way around the edging.

I know for some quilters, sewing the binding is akin to sewing up for knitters but I find there's something essentially cozy about being wrapped up in an almost finished quilt with my feet tucked up underneath me, needle in hand - a test drive of the quilt perhaps?

And then all that was left was the final touch:

October 176
Made by me!

And now the quilt (and matching cushion) have pride of place on the sofa - perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

October 212

Friday, October 16, 2009

A sneak peak

My lovely autumnal orange and green and blue and brown quilt is finished. I sewed the label on last night so it's definitely finished, regardless of whether or not I come across any more tiny little loose threads roaming across the fabric.

I thought about photographing it last night but I've spent too long on it to pass it off with a quick night-time photo shoot, and truth be told I got a little more involved in a Barefoot Contessa recipe for French Apple Tart using ready made puff pastry, and ran out of time to do more than enjoy the inaugural cozying up under a new quilt. The apple tart was fantastic and the quilt is warm and soft and now bears the tiniest traces of flaky pastry.

Today has turned out to be perfect, sunny and clear and an ideal day for taking photographs apart from the slight hitch of a job and an office a significant distance from my home.

All is not lost however, because in the middle of last pyjama-weekend I came up with the oh so very cunning plan of turning the leftover blocks into a cushion cover in a similar pattern to the quilt. And here it is:
October 149
I made the front by piecing together the leftover blocks from the front of the quilt, and the back used some offcuts of the backing fabric sewn together in strips, together with more of the main blocks set on their side, and a little bit of leftover edging.
October 161
It's a pillowcase style cover with no zips or anything fiddly, just two overlapping backs and it's currently stuffed with one of our sofa cushions because I've run out of spare cushion pads of the right size.

Secretly I like the patchwork cushion better than the real sofa cushions (blue, cream and gold stripes of the sort that come with sofas) so maybe I should just gradually cover all of the rest of the cushions and see how that goes down with the master of the house!

Wherever it ends up you can never have too many cushions or quilts for that matter if you want to end up living in a giant fluffy warm nest!

October 155