Friday, July 31, 2009

The end of an era

I don't often post about matters legal, much prefering to stop writing serious things at the end of the working day but today I need to make an exception.

The House of Lords has been the highest appellate court in England and Wales since around 1400 (when the House of Commons got bored of hearing cases and kicked them upstairs), although it didn't take on a regular judicial function until the last couple of centuries or so. Safe to say, it's been around for a while and is generally regarded with equal measures of fondness and exasperation by the legal fraternity depending on whether the latest judgment goes for or against the point you're trying to make.

Today that ended.

Today was the last day of the Trinity term (meaning that the judges are now on their summer holidays) and when they return on 1 October the Supreme Court Act 2005 will have come into force and the judicial functions of the House of Lords will have been passed to the new 'Supreme Court'. The Law Lords will be 'Justices of the Supreme Court' and the whole shebang will have been moved across the road to a new building in Parliament Square.

It is truly the end of hundreds of years of judicial tradition and you know lawyers don't like change. However, the passing has not marked unnoticed by the court staff of the House of Lords. Every day the House of Lords' Judicial Office record an answerphone message which gives details of the cases being heard in the Lords and the judgments which are to be handed down.

Today, if you telephoned 0207 219 3111 you would hear that message relayed over the smoky tones of Frank Sinatra singing "My way".

As the message ends, Frank leaves off and the amassed staff of the court office sing bravely together:

"the record shows, we took the blows, and did it our way."

The House of Lords - Hail and Farewell!

[PS News travels fast - I suspect that telephone number may have been called by more lawyers this afternoon than at any point in the previous 600 years.]

Monday, July 27, 2009

A house of flowers

When we were travelling recently, we visited a National Trust garden filled with gorgeous leggy yellow blooms that we couldn't recall ever seeing before.

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The gardener working in the neighbouring veg patch told us that they were evening primrose - beloved of cosmetic companies but possibly overlooked in the grander scheme of garden flowers.

Evening primrose, as the name implies, flowers in the evening, but more than that, this variety of evening primrose practically explodes into bloom every day. They seem to build up some sort of pressure in the petals before popping out each day; with sufficient speed that you can see them doing it.

When I see really beautiful gardens and hear stories of plants that do the most amazing things (and don't get me started on how incredibly cunning Venus fly-traps are) I really wish I was more green fingered and had more space to have a cutting garden of my own. I love having flowers in the house, it brings it alive, but sadly they aren't cheap so my flowers are few and far between, and just occasionally homegrown.

This week though the house has been swirling with scent; H bought me sunflowers, gladioli and orange honey coloured roses to keep me company while he went away on a training course, and while he was away the people organising the training course sent me (and all the other left behind wives) an enormous bouquet of flowers. They arrived last Tuesday and they're still going strong.

And when I say enormous I mean huge, the sort of floral display that requires digging in the bottom of the cupboard for more vases. The arrangement eventually split into two:

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Scented stocks, gladioli and a bit of spiky fern

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And the other half
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Chrysanthemums, pink carnations and the blush pink love flowers of a poppy and a rose whose name I really should remember - can anyone help me out?
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This one looks like a quilt star

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Pink carnations - the ultimate in girly and frilly - and because of a daft university tradition, forever associated with finals.

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I love the way this bud has furled
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And this one is hiding from plain sight.

Since I've finished one 'set' of sock club socks I got cracking on the latest set from Socktopus. This is what you would call deceptively simple. It's a toe up sock and from the top it looks like this:
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See nice, straightforward, pretty colour red.

But the sole ....
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How about that for a twist - I love it, it's a stst sock with interesting bits and from the reviews from other club members who've already finished, this is a knit it, knit it and knit it again kind of sock - I'm hoping it works for me too!

Oh and if anyone has any top tips on how to photograph red knitting well - please chip in. I played around with about a gazillion different settings on the camera and this is the best I could get and it frustrates me!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Candy girl

In your mind's eye can you remember a childhood summer where it poured with rain? I can't (except for spectacular thunderstorms), and yet I know it must have been went plenty of times. In my memory, summer smells of sandy Soltan on hot skin, feels of the tightness of salt drying across your shoulders, and tastes of ice-cream.

This week I appear to have been trying to conjure up summer by knitting to match the sun-drenched (and probably largely inaccurate) memories of my childhood. Et voila:
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The Sweet Tart Anklets. This was a bonus pattern from the 4th instalment of last year's Rockin Sock Club in STR Lightweight Goody Goody. I ran out of yarn to finish the main pattern (the gum drops socks) so I ordered another skein and what I didn't use to finish the first pair of socks, has turned into these little anklets.

The pattern is quite wonderfully simple and I can't wait to try it out in full size sock mode on any number of multicoloured yarns in the stash. I made the largest size which fits my size 7.5 feet perfectly and I was about to say that I hadn't made any modifications to the pattern, until I remembered that I made one - I did a provisional cast on to make the picot edge rather than picking up stitches from the cast on edge at the appropriate moment.

All of this means that I have finished knitting all of the socks from the 2008 Rockin Sock Club!
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These are the originals and the best:
Cleopatra's Stockings
Cloning Anemone Rib

And now the wheel of wonder looks like this:
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Or if you like them better folded up and ready for the sock drawer:

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I started 2008 having never knit with STR but deeply curious (hence joining the sock club). I've finished up 18 months later with (a) a great collection of socks (b) a heavily increased stash and (c) a deep and abiding love for this yarn and the beautiful colours it comes in. All I need now is for the dollar/pound balance to go back to how it was 18 months ago and the world/yarn would be my oyster/bursting out of my cupboards.

I've just had a terrible thought. It is true that my sock yarn stash is becoming a little all engulfing of the stash cupboards (especially since I started spinning sock yarn as well) and to be honest, more STR would present me with an issue when it comes to closing the cupboards. Perhaps (in the way that knitting for babies can postpone/advance their birth) my full cupboard has inadvertently caused the devalue of the pound against the dollar!! Or worse, could sock knitting have caused the entire economic crisis?! It's a good job I've already cast on another pair.

I could leave it there, but really, if you were me, and you'd knit a pair of socks called Sweet Tart, out of yarn called Goody Goody, would you? would you really be able to resist doing this:
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Wa heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Sweeties!

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I can report that Rainbow Drops (despite a more to escape artificial colours) remain resolutely vibrant and still taste like hallucinogenic ricicles leaving you with the niggling doubt that you aren't actually eating sweeties, just breakfast cereal.
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Love hearts were a disappointment though - there was only one pink one in the packet, the rest were white, cream or green, and the messages included "no way", "dream on" and "just say no".

Teen romance is dead - clearly somethings should be left in your childhood!

Yesterday being a gloriously sunny day I had the camera out while I was knitting in the garden and I was mucking around with the different settings to get some shots to play with in photoshop. I've been working through a few tutorials in photography magazines and so I turned this one:

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Into something that looks like it should be the front cover to a murder mystery:
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"Death at the Heel Turn" perhaps - the story of a knitter so deeply frustrated by the lack of peace and quite in her chosen knitting location leading her to continually miscount the stitches for the short rows that she stabs everyone with the needles and then sits quietly by, knitting the foot of the sock while the police search for the murder weapon (borrowing from the Roald Dahl short story 'Lamb to the Slaughter')

This second effort was even more fun - this is the original picture
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And here it is overlayed with the texture of an aertex shirt, a linen tablecloth and our back fence.
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It looks like a picture painted onto driftwood and left to weather for a bit and I love it.

I hope you all had a good weekend!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

North Berwick and Tantallon

It's raining again so we're in reflective mood today; thinking back to a holiday so recently passed that already seems like it was a lifetime ago.

Having originally planned to go to west Wales, only to be thwarted by either the weather forecast or H's inability to distinguish north from south (depending on who you believe!), we struck out for the one remaining patch of country showing on the weather map - Edinburgh.

We have family in Scotland and we've been to Edinburgh a fair few times so this time we were determined to strike out and go somewhere new.

Along the Forth of Firth to the east is a stretch of coastline littered with my favourite holiday destinations; castles and beaches so it seemed an obvious choice for our first day of exploring.

North Berwick itself is a little town with great personality and atmosphere; the main street has lots of little independent shops and very few big brands, and the sky and the sea give it that relaxed feeling of all seaside towns. In fact, being built of granite and full of little streets of painted cottages it isn't a million miles from south Devon (although H will hotly contest this!), it's just a bit flatter.

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Almost on top of this beach at North Berwick (where we ate Vension pasties and H drank the first Irn Bru of the trip) is the Scottish Seabird Centre. It looks like a grockle shop and cafe from the outside but the lower floor is something rather special.

In among a good amount of child-friendly displays on the different seabirds are 6 big projection screens, each streaming a live feed from a camera located on one of the numerous islands just off the coastline. The genius part is that in from of each screen is a joystick; the camera has full rotation and an incredibly zoom focus. We saw cormorants fishing and mucking about at the water's edge, gannets on the Bass Rock, puffin after puffin after puffin, and most memorably, a pair of Perigrine Falcons sat on the railings of the lighthouse on the Bass Rock eating a pigeon which one imagines was newly lifted from the streets of Edinburgh.

You can see the Bass Rock from a different angle here - the little white rectangle is the lighthouse.
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The white that covers the entire top of the rock - that isn't lichen, or barnacles, or even what is euphemistically referred to as guano. No, that white, that would be birds. A complete, live, rippling, blanket of gannets.

They come to nest on the rock and bring up their little fluffy grey chicks on this island barely touched by man. The birds themselves are beautiful (thank you to the cameras that let you get close up) with cream bodies and yellow heads. They dive for fish and have a clever internal mechanism that means that they can take a deep breath and somehow inflate the area around their heads to cushion the blow as they hit the water - it's the ingenious engineering of mother nature at its best.

If you fancy keeping an eye on any of the birds, the camera feeds are streamed onto the internet (as controlled by the visitors to the centre) and they can be found here.

When you go down to the shoreline at Berwick you can see why the birds might just like it - the rocks are covered with limpets and a carpet of little whelks on every pool.
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Further along the coast stands what remains of Tantallon Castle.

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It's rather unusual in its set up, from this angle you would think that you were looking at the front of a square keep, or possibly the outer curtain wall of a bigger castle within. In fact this is one of the few curtain wall castles in that part of Scotland, taking advantage of a prominent headland.
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This pretty much is the castle, on the other three sides there is a hall and small walls to prevent the residents toppling over the cliff edge into the sea after too much revelry; no defences are needed when it would be nye on impossible for anyone to scale the cliffs in any force to take the castle from the sea.

And so the keep looks out onto a broad green lawn where once upon a time there would have been stables and other wooden buildings, and where now there is just springy turf and a view to the sea beyond.
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The curtain wall itself has remained in relatively good repair, despite numerous attacks and a siege that resulted in a gatehouse extension being hastily popped on the front in soft green stone taken from the cliffs around. Apparently its softness was an advantage in 'bouncing' the incoming shot!

I can't say I'd have wanted to be up on the walls watching the attacking army streaming across the fields, it's not exactly unsteady, but to be on a curtain wall like that feels a little like one of those enormous towers of lego bricks we used to make - if it isn't supported by cross bracing it would just push over wouldn't it?
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It has stood on the cliff in all weathers for 660 years or so, and that's no mean feat, so perhaps the lego comparison isn't very fair!

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Well no armies were attacking the day we visited so the only thing that we could watch approaching across the fields was the weather.

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When we arrived, the view from the castle window was of blue skies and calm seas, but as we came down from the walls, a low grey mass of thunder was marching steadily towards us.

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It might have looked atmospheric and somehow suitable Scottish while the rain was trickling down the beaches of Berwick, but as the drops hit, and the picturesque viewpoints turned into necessary hidyholes as the rain lashed in through every crevase, you begin to have a little more respect for the people who made this fortress their home.

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In the minute or so it took us to desperately sprint back to the information point and our car we were soaked to the skin, although on the plus side it gave us ample opportunity to reinforce the British stereotype for eccentricity for the American tourists who saw us drying off in the car with the only thing to hand - a pair of H's (fortunately clean) hockey socks!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The obsession continues ...

As the weather turned to pouring rain as I headed into work this morning I realised that I also own a strawberry umbrella - sad but true!

I have collected up a few fat quarters of fabric over the years and I decided recently that I was finally brave enough to actually use them for something (rather than the more natural policy of saving them for looking at, petting and just in case of a first aid style emergency requiring rolls of strawberry bandaging).

My DPNs have for several years now lived in the upturned lid of the little wicker box which is supposed to contain my 'lounge' knitting (yes, you and I both know how much of the knitting in the lounge actually fits into the box!). The problem is that as the number and sizes of DPNs and circulars get added to the mix, the more difficult it is to find a complete set of anything in even vaguely the right size. Something had to be done.

My straight needles live (along with some of H's paintbrushes and a green and white whirlygig) in a blue and cream jug on the bookcase and along side them are the two Cath Kidston needlecases that A has given me for Christmas and birthdays. On closer examination they appeared to be nothing more than a strip of fabric with a pocket at the bottom and a flap at the top to keep the needles in. So with more enthusiasm than plan and more courage than anything else useful I sallied forth. And here is the result:

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A little bundle of Strawberry goodness, which when you open it out reveals:

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All of the DPNs that I could find and some spaces for the ones that are in socks of that I know to exist but cannot currently locate (2.75mms I'm talking to you).

It's neat, it's tidy, I can find them all, and I got to bin all the empty wrappers and cardboard sleeves that cascade from my knitting like confetti every time I search out a different sized set of needles - yippee.

I did at one stage intend to take photos of the construction process but I got so wrapped up in the sewing (and the cricket) that I completely forgot to take any photos whatsoever - so you'll just have to trust me for this one.

There are probably a million better tutorials on how to do this on the web but if your brain works in the same way as my brain writes, and you have impressive powers of visualisation, you might like it.

I took one fat quarter and folded it in half and seamed it around almost all of the three sides with right sides facing. Then I turned it inside out through the hole and sewed up the final gap to give a completely reversible piece of fabric. Depending on your size of DPNs and fabric you can fold the fat quarter either way - but try to aim for a finished piece that is at least 10 inches tall, the width is largely irrelevant. I folded my fat quarter short sides together, and even then had more than enough space for all the DPNs.

From a contrasting fat quarter I cut a strip a little longer than my double-sided piece and five inches deep. I sewed a turned hem on one long edge (turn under and sew, turn under and sew again) and then ironed a quarter inch fold around the rest of the strip, clipping the corners to make them turn neatly.

Then I pinned the pocket fabric to the backing fabric, cut off any excess and folded, ironed and pinned the other short side to fit the backing fabric. Once I'd sewn around all three sides I had one giant pocket.

To make the individual pockets I collected up the DPNs and did a bit of measuring. For anything up to 3.5mm, a 2.5cm pocket worked well, then I added a few at 3cm, a couple at 3.5, one at 4cm and one at 5cm. If you measure between the two seam lines at the edges of your giant pocket you'll know how much you have to play with - just fiddle with the maths until you have something that suits your DPN collection and the width of your giant pocket.

Then mark up each of your seam lines with a pencil or a water soluble marker, or whatever suits you best. I would suggest starting from the wide end because it's much easier to squeeze 2mm DPNs into a pocket that's a smidge too small than 7mm so it gives you a bit more flexibility for human error!

Sew each of the pocket seams along the lines you have just drawn - I started each seam a little way down from the top of the pocket, reverse stitched up to the edge and then sewed all the way to the bottom before reverse stitching again to finish off. You can see the start of the pockets here:

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To make the flap, simply pop your longest DPNs in their relevant pockets and work out how much fabric you have left over to play with. Then mark a line all the way across the holder at that point (mine is about 2.5 inches from the top) and sew a seam straight across to help the fold.

The final touch is the tie (more strawberry fabric I know). I cut an inch strip from a fat quarter, sewed it right sides together and turned it right side out to finish off sewing up each end. The middle of the tie is attached to the left hand side because on my holder that houses the smaller DPNs and they're the ones I use most frequently.

As the Meercats say - "Simples!"

Seriously, this can't have taken me more than an hour or so with the sewing machine and it is so much better than the previous arrangement and it's all strawberry - and I may have mentioned a slight enchantment with all things red berry.

Strawberry Fields

When I was a little girl my Mum had to spend a summer doing Jury Service, and as Dad was away sailing and they wouldn't let her out of it on the grounds of having two little girls to look after we went to spend two sunny weeks with a favourite aunt on her farm in Worcestershire.

It may have only been two weeks (I think), and it's now almost 20 years ago but there are parts of that time that are imprinted in my memory bank and stay vivid and clear to this day (that and the photos still exist and were in evidence in both Zee and my weddings - thank you Auntie!). Zee and I playing pretend farmers on the old tractor parked in the shade of the big hedge; going to see Treasure Island at the cinema; the intense concentration of welding our initials into old plow shares; and the dry dusty smell of the potatoes in the big barn and the potato rattler.

Zee loved to help in the farm shop and quickly became adept at working the till as only a small blond cute 7 year old can, assisted by several crates to bring her up to the appropriate level; and me, well I loved being out in the strawberry fields and would go and help pick the punnets for the farm shop with just a few going sideways and upwards away from the punnet. There is a very particular odour in strawberry fields; the dirt smell is there but also hot tickly straw between the beds and the too-sweet scent of dropped berries mashed under foot.

Don't get me wrong, berry picking is hard work (particularly as you grow taller and taller and the ground gets further and further away) but the rewards are worth every little red jewel you collect.

Whenever and wherever it started, my love of strawberries has been long lasting and constant; I have a strawberry apron, strawberry tea towels and even a special strawberry jam pot.
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But all of this can only go some way to explain my latest knitting project. We popped into K1 yarns and I fell in love with a kit, a kit for a strawberry tea cozy.

The kit is made by Laughing Hens and comprises the pattern, the yarn, Rooster Almerino Aran, and the required set of needles. The needles were great and the yarn is divine - this stuff is so wonderfully soft that I think I need a jumper in it at some point and although the pattern isn't particularly well written, it does the job. This was one of those projects that I never wanted to finish because I was having so much fun knitting the yarn but, as all good things must, it came to an end and I can therefore present to you:
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My strawberry tea cozy.

There's just one tiny hitch, one minuscule reason why the acquisition of a kit for a tea cozy was so totally frivolous it could only have happened on holiday. But perhaps you can guess from the picture and the way the tea cozy is sitting ....

The problem with my tea cozy is that while I own a full tea service, .... I don't actually own a teapot.

I'm passing the entire buck to H who assured both the girl in K1 and me that he was convinced that we really did own a teapot and he was certain he could put his hands on it the minute we got home. It turns out he may have been thinking of my teapot substitute:
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A cream jug!

My mission for tomorrow lunchtime therefore is to go forth and search for a teapot to fit this tea cozy - is it normal to do things that way round?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In Search of Sunshine

We have returned (at last) from a slightly longer than planned dash around the UK looking for the sunshine. It is raining here. This explains why we were away for a little longer than we planned.

We have seen castles and mountains and gardens and lakes and beaches and the sea; And the Cumbrian Pencil Museum. Finally we are at home.

I have lots of wonderful pictures and stories to tell of our expeditions but for now, shall we cut to the good stuff - the crafting!

All the travelling means two things: (a) H drives and (b) I knit and read the map, which has an end product of a fair amount of knitting time.

My main knitting project this week was (another) little elephant. You must know by now that I show my appreciation for a really good pattern by knitting it at least three times (think Alphabet Blankets and Baby Surprise Jackets). This is the final little Ysolda Elephant for a while, and happily she gets to live with us for a couple of weeks before heading off to befriend a very special little girl.
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I cast on as we set off for Scotland on Sunday, and put the finishing touches in place in the car on the way back from the Lake District. She has been to castles, to beaches, and most importantly, to Hill Top, and for that, her name is Beatrix:

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Peggy, who will be her new best friend, is about to turn three and it struck me that a three-year old might rather enjoy dressing Beatrix so she needed some clothes.

As she is named for Peter Rabbit's creator, it seemed right to give her a Peter Rabbit blue jacket (using the same pattern as for Arthur), and some leftover stripy fabric from my Swallows and Amazons cushions turned into a pretty skirt.

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For more informal days, a pinafore dress is de rigeur for a little elephant - this one is knitted to the dress pattern for Poppy from Whimsical Little Knits in Baby Cashmerino left over from Peggy's own dress (which very probably no longer fits her - the matching Baaa the sheep is at least one size fits all!)

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Beatrix has settled in very well to our little family of elephants; she is casting covetous glances towards H's painting and drawing stash so I think he might have to keep a weather eye open. She has also developed a decided taste for lettuce!

Before we went to the Lakes we chased the summer up as far as Edinburgh and spent a few days staying with H's sister who has fallen down a beading and jewellery making rabbit hole.

Never one to pass up on the opportunity to acquire another stash, I mean skill, I asked for lessons and we took a wonderful trip to the Little Bead Shop in Edinburgh for supplies. And here are the fruits of my labour:

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A bracelet of flowers which matches my crazy stripy skirt;

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And a set of earrings to match!
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My favourite part is the fish hidden among the flowers - totally random and yet it seems perfectly right somehow! It also gives me the chance to tease H - we were walking along a country lane while I was wearing the bracelet and he spent some considerable time looking at the hedge to work out what sort of cricket or other bug was lurking there before he realised it was the soft rattle of glass flowers.

I have a spare bracelet base and a good collection of beads so I suspect that this will not be my last bracelet by some way!

And in all of these things new and old there must be a constant, and here it is:

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The sum total of my sock knitting in the last two weeks!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wild Cat Island Ahoy!

The sun has finally made an appearance this morning (albeit briefly) so I have enlisted the help of my chief (and only) photographer's assistant to show you the finished, and now blocked, Ishbel:

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This is the larger size of the Ishbel and it gives me a perfect wingspan shawl in this lovely Aegean blue.

The blocking wires have proved their worth too - all of my points are nice and neat and even - achieved without spending hours curled into a fetal position on the sewing room floor, fussing over each and every one of them.
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The great beauty of this shawl is that it really shows off the beauty of the yarn as much as the pattern.

Handmaiden Camelspin is subtly variegated - I think it must be kettle dyed like Dream in Colour - and it has both a sheen and a halo and is so incredibly soft that this rockets right to the top of my list of favourite yarns to knit with and to wear.
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I am going to feel totally cossetted and cozied wrapped up in this shawl in the winter, and for the summer it makes a nice little shoulder wrap.

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The project that has occupied me for the last couple of days has not been knitting (gasp! horror! ring the bell for smelling salts!).

This, or rather, these, are the end result of an idea I had while I was swimming on Monday. The idea started out life as a plan for a quilt - and may well end up as such - but I thought I would trial run with a couple of cushions.

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To fellow aficionados of Arthur Ransome these need no introductionJuly 279
'The Swallows set sail'
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'The Amazon Pirates head out to battle'

I used cheat applique for both of them and I love the stuff - it's the fabric equivalent of sticky-backed plastic and it's brilliant - and quick.

I said I hadn't been knitting though - and I've just remembered that that's a fib - I did knit the Amazon's woolly hats - it was the one bit of authenticity that I couldn't let lie; that and the flags!
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For the backing I went for a pillow tuck (because I didn't have any zips and couldn't be bothered to face town on a Saturday), so I used strips from all the fabrics used in the pictures to make stripy reverses.

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I'm really quite pleased with how they all turned out and H seemed to like them - at least, when I woke him up to show them to him he reached out, grabbed one, tucked it under his chin and went back to sleep which I take to be a sign of approval!

Swallows and Amazons Forever!