October

I seem to be another year older since I last blogged. I had brief thoughts of doing 49 things before the next birthday but let’s be realistic, could I think of that many? I’m mainly content with my little lot. I have no burning desire to jump out of a plane, go white water rafting or anything like that. My thoughts are mainly wool related these days, along with simplifying things so that we have less stress in our future.

There is an overwhelming amount of house maintenance on my mind at the moment. I’ve mentioned that cycle before. We have something that needs urgent attention and M insists on seeing to it himself but then works all hours but refuses to pay someone to do it quicker (and better). At least we tackled the all important workshop this summer and several torrential downpours have proven it to be watertight at last. My own workshop also has an extra layer of felt on the roof too but neither have their trims back in place, that may well be another year.

We had plans to pop over to France for a brief holiday but cases that are assigned six weeks have a nasty habit of lasting ten weeks. I have been sorely tempted to book a shepherds hut or barn or something and just get away on my own. I am terrible at routine monotony and this is probably the most extreme case of it for a very long time. I pretty much do the weekly shop every Sunday, for Jake and I. He knows what he likes and inevitably some of the same things end up in the trolley, he loves M&S pancakes/crepes and whilst I feel guilty buying them ready made I too have succumbed to the simple lunch or breakfast of pancakes with a tiny bit of sugar and lemon. It’s the closest we’ll get to anything genuinely French at the moment.

Our weekdays jog along nicely with football training on a Tuesday which involves him driving, for practice and me dashing home for all of 50 minutes before going back to get him. Driving with a learner is even more fun in the dark, everyone should try it. Apart from brief chats about football, driving and studies we are like ships passing in the night. He still manages to walk past the bin on bin day. I look forward to the day when all this responsibility is his and his alone, he will have to wake up a little. I think it was the second week Ella was away at university when I received a message saying, ‘I don’t think I want to be grown up anymore’. Of course she’s doing it extremely well now. We are down to only one crisis per week.

There was a lovely brief autumn kind of month and then all of a sudden it feels a lot like winter. It’s absolutely freezing today and I’ve been wearing the same old aran cardigan every day. The house is plenty warm enough but if I sit for a little while I soon begin to feel the draughty spots. This particular aran cardigan was a vintage find and it’s perfect in a lot of ways, I like the fact the sleeves are quite narrow, this is ideal for crocheting without anything getting in the way! It’s also a good length. It looks stupid buttoned up to be honest but I think that was last an acceptable look back in the seventies. It’s this last point that made me wonder about a crocheted aran jumper. I’ve got two old books that have hideously complicated crochet aran sweaters in them. I think one is American which doesn’t help either but both are just so darn vague! One of them even says, ‘pattern the next section’ without giving any pattern! I’ve studied and studied them and I think the only way I’d ever make a garment with these books is by just winging it from the picture!

I eventually found a modern pattern online called the Meara Fisherman Sweater, it’s in U.S. terms and written very clearly. I still had doubts about tackling it but unlike other things in life I jumped straight in and was relieved to find it was actually quite simple. I had a blip with gauge even after doing an entire gauge square but that’s forgotten now and I finally have a front and a back loosely tacked together and thrown over Hilda just to see how it’s coming along. I’ve made it nice and roomy with dog walks in mind, it just needs sleeves, hem and neckline and it’ll be put to the test out there on those freezing cold muddy walks.

Although I’d already started the leaf stitch cowl before the jumper it has taken a bit of a back seat whilst I crack on with something I know I’ll be wearing a lot. The burnt orange cowl yarn is part alpaca and is incredibly soft. I bought four lovely wooden buttons for it but when E made a visit home I ended up sewing them on to her mustard cardigan. She will probably never button it up but we both agreed it was a nice finishing touch!

As of last month I am now the proud owner of one of the most expensive crochet hooks you can buy! Mum and I had a few funny text message conversations that started out with ‘I want to buy you something you’d never treat yourself to and wondered…’ Then me worrying that it might cost all that money and be terrible, and then finally throwing caution to the wind and ending up relieved that it is actually a beautifully crafted piece of kit! It’s called a Furls Odyssey and it absolutely glides through yarn and feels beautifully weighted and comfortable in the hand. I had some problems after making socks with a 2.5mm hook and it made me release that my crochet does have limitations, though not as much as knitting. 4mm is my most used hook size but typically I didn’t have a 4mm project on the go so I’ve started a textured hat for E and I made a purple pom pom keyhole scarf for little E. The latter used yarn I’ve had in my stash for a very long time, it was originally purchased for wrist warmers when Ella was ten! Yikes. I’m just glad it finally got used up! A little leftover ball has been added to the pure wool scraps bowl, she might even get a striped hat at some stage, before she too goes to university!

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Socks

Social media does get a bad press sometimes but I do believe that anyone with common sense can take it or leave it. I never really got on with Facebook but I’m finding that Instagram is nudging me in directions that are good for creativity. October is Socktober over there and at first I didn’t think I’d bother joining in. My sock history involved several pairs of hard wearing aran wool trainer socks made for both M and myself to pad around the house or caravan on chillier nights. They’ve been excellent but they are fairly crude, worked up from the toe in the round, then back and forth on about half of the stitches and seemed at the back of the heel, then finally as many rows in the round to finish off, I hate wearing socks so I left those at trainer sock height.

The last photo above shows (on the left) the first attempt at a proper crochet sock but I really didn’t fancy a fitted pair made with a 3mm hook so I sized it up and used a 4mm which worked out as intended, a sort of bed sock fit. Thanks to the nudge I finally finished the second sock and I’ve even worn them a few times.

The sock on the right, with Riley who just can’t bear to miss out on anything, is my finished Beruna Sock. Without seeing any of the patterns in the book apart from the cover photo I took a gamble and ordered it. It’s called ‘Everyday Wearables’ and it’s by The Crochet Project. I’ve made quite a few things from their patterns and really appreciate the way they do things. Clear and well set out patterns make a huge difference to the pleasure of making something. They are particularly good at sizing which is also something that is not always tackled with much care.

I’ve since finished the Beruna pair and I’ve started a purple pair for E. This time I decided to make two cuffs, then work both down to the ankle and so on… to beat that second sock ugh feeling. Only this time I hadn’t anticipated how much strain the first pair had been on my wrists. I’m usually absolutely fine with crochet despite carpal tunnel. I wear wrists supports at night and that usually means no issues the next day. A 2.5mm hook is obviously my lower limit. I’m going to have to ration out the work on those purple socks to get them done.

Whilst having a break from tiddly hooks I decided to make the Brenn hat from the same book. I wanted a very soft brim so I used my special merino by The Uncommon Thread purchased in Loop earlier this year. I don’t have a lot of merino in dk so I paired it with some grey yarn I bought in Barcelona a couple of years ago. The combination has worked nicely in the squishy stakes, its obviously far too warm to wear at all right now but it’ll be serious insulation when it is!

It’s been like the middle of summer here lately. I don’t think I’ve bothered with a jumper for our daily dog walks for weeks. I even dug the shorts out again this week and it felt very strange walking miles with shorts on and yet autumn leaves on the ground.

Despite the unseasonably warm weather I have been trying to cosy up indoors. Crochet blankets are draped (or thrown) on the furniture ready for chilly evenings. We aren’t tight with our heating at all but it’s always a challenge to keep the conservatory warm over winter which is where our main tv happens to be. It’s a shame we can’t easily relocate it to our comfy and roasting warm bedroom. We had plans to install a wood burner this year but true to form (ie. not doing anything we decide within a five year timeframe) we haven’t got round to it. M is a bit reluctant to make a hole through the conservatory roof. I’m not reluctant at all. It’ll happen, just not anytime soon.

We’ve agreed that I should stop trying to find a style of woolly hat that will suit M’s head shape. If truth be told we call him pineapple head and he won’t thank me for sharing that. I think if I force him to wear a daft looking crochet beanie all winter in our draughty conservatory it might just bring the wood burner plans to the front of his mind. Cunning eh? Not a chance in hell of it working though.

At least there are still some good candidates for woolly hats this Christmas even though they all have a few from previous years. In my defence though I’m getting a bit better at making them. Getting the right size always used to bother me greatly but since I found a chart which gives all sorts of useful measurements I don’t worry so much.

It’s gone a bit stormy here with rain and strong wind and it is quite a challenge to write a blog post with a fully grown Springer Spaniel on my lap. This breed has many attributes, being brave is not one of them!

Autumn

God I love Autumn! I blame my lovely village primary school in part at least. Summer holidays were great but getting back to school was also pretty good. The Autumn term meant wellies in the cloakroom and a nature table in the classroom, which in turn meant getting out of the classroom to tramp around woodlands collecting pocketfuls of glorious treasure. Conkers were of course the most highly treasured finds. Thankfully not so much health and safety when it came to conkers back then. Apparently they give off a chemical whilst drying that repels moths which is why I have bowls of them everywhere at the moment. I’m not sure if it’s working but where there’s wool, there’s conkers. I just have to make sure they are above dog height. They keep expressing an interest and I don’t want to find out what happens if dogs eat conkers. I’m sure it wouldn’t be good.

I couldn’t resist choosing an autumnal shade from Baa Ram Ewe in Leeds when we dropped Ella back at university. She was supposed to be doing a workshop that very day but there was a mix up with email addresses and she didn’t get the cancellation email. It was a good excuse to try out a skein of their new Winterburn range. This particular shade is called Viking and has pretty swiftly become a hat! I really enjoy working with pure wool and the slight sheepy smell.

The hat pattern is by The Crochet Project, available in one of their book collections. It was also printed in issue 100 of Inside Crochet Magazine. I really love their designs and have one of the books of shawls but I must remember to add another to my Christmas list. The hat is called the Sitka Spruce hat which is not to be confused with a knitted hat pattern with the same name. This one is most definitely crochet! I made one of these back in April in an undyed yarn and I’ve been wearing it out on dog walks recently. The post trebles make a good thickness of fabric whilst being nice and stretchy too. I’ve got another on the hook for Ella, you’ll never guess what colour? Yep, yellow.

The mustard cardigan turned out ok after a dodgy start. We wanted an oversized comfy one and I found a free pattern that went up to the measurements we were looking for, did a gauge swatch and made a start. It turned out that the gauge was a pointless exercise. When I did the maths it was only ever going to make a chest measurement of 40″ for the 2XL which they described as a 50″ chest. Pretty frustrating. I decided I had enough experience to wing it but without any fancy construction methods. I just made the pieces traditionally and sewed it up. For the sleeves I measured Ella’s arms and looked up a sensible arm hole depth (I was surprised to find charts for these on the internet!) then took the cuff size and the armhole depth, worked out how many stitches I needed to increase based on my swatch which happened to be roughly double. It worked out that I needed to increase very other row which was easy to remember, especially whilst watching a good series on Netflix called Ozark! I’m going to add wooden buttons when I’ve found the right ones. I have a Jacob’s Cream Cracker tin full of buttons and none of them are right!

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll fit the way E wanted it to. We’ll be visiting soon, along with a few things she left behind by mistake and a few of her houseplants. It’s a slightly mad itinerary for M. He will return home from London on Friday, have one night in his own bed, drive to Leeds and back on Saturday and then return to London on Sunday afternoon. Crazy. I wish I could at least drive to Leeds but I’ve been having trouble with double vision. At least he will have company when he returns to London and also only for a short week. J will be travelling with him and sitting in the public gallery for two days by way of some ‘work experience’ so that he can see how the courts operate. I think the first day will be exciting for him at least. Two days might be a bit dull.

We’ve had a few days in a row of glorious heat and sunshine. The dogs have cooled down in the various streams we walk next to. I’ve thoroughly aired the house by throwing all the windows open. It’s been very mood enhancing, I’m kind of dreading winter with all its grey, cold and wet weather. For now though Autumn is fantastic!

September

I seem to have chosen a record number of images for this post and that’s most likely to do with being a bit behind on the blogging front. Lots seems to have happened. Whether or not I can recall everything is another matter.

We took Ella back to university yesterday. She’s a funny blend of intelligent, confident, witty, funny, talented and then bam, just emotional about leaving the comfort and protection of home. Although she’s been working hard as a Barista all summer to pay for her student lodgings she’s only been over there a handful of times. A couple of weeks ago she went over by train and stayed for a few days and was paid a visit by a policewoman who was doing the rounds of student houses to encourage them to be more vigilant with locking doors and shutting windows when they are out. Far from reassuring E that they are patrolling and there if needed I think it only served to worry her more. She wants to enjoy all that cities have to offer but she’s happier in the countryside.

We had a very ‘Lincolnshire’ day as we later described it, one day this week. I think I’d made a plea for a quiet day at home after so much activity and so many tasks completed. It wasn’t to be. E woke up with a throbbing hand having managed to get a shard of glass in it two days prior when an espresso glass was broken at work and not cleared away properly. I swear A&E departments display signs telling you that your GP can handle minor injuries and GP’s tell you they can’t, but we at least tried and then spent nearly four hours at the hospital waiting, having an x Ray, waiting some more.. all got sorted, antibiotics were given, the waiting room was highly entertaining. We’ve never seen a patient come in whilst handcuffed to a prison guard before despite the prison being opposite the hospital. E watches all the prison series she can find on Netflix so she was particularly amazed that his injuries seemed to be consistent with your average American prison goings on. ie. he’d been ‘shanked’.

Anyway, that really wasn’t the reason it turned out to be a Lincolnshire kind of day. Cows running up a busy main road and being chased by two farmers, now that’s a scene we have witnessed a few times before round here! Not only that but much later, on the way home a whole truck load of sheep being transported had broken down on one of the busiest roundabouts at rush hour. I say rush hour but we really don’t have much of one. Nevertheless there were police at either side of the vehicle and a huge tailback and quite frankly, this is proper news in this county.

One of E’s uni friends hasn’t ventured out of his home city much by the sounds of things. When she once described getting stuck behind a tractor on a road (every day of the week) he was amazed that tractors actually used roads at all, he thought they just drove across fields. I know! This is either staggeringly stupid or just tragic. I’ve heard of city schools being taken to city farms but I think it should be compulsory to take kids out of cities to see how the country gets its milk and meat and where crops actually grow!

We had one finally purge on the pruning side of things. The apples and plums seemed to be well over so we took some dead or wildly out of control boughs off both of these trees. Without a huge ladder the work is low sided and will probably stay like that but there is another massive bonfire to burn and two more piles the same size waiting to be fed on to the main bonfire. We’ve had a fair bit of rain recently so we’re waiting for a week of crisp dry autumn days before we light it. Harvey really understands bonfires and takes branches up the garden and deposits them near to the bonfire then follows me back for some more. At all other times he would never ever dream of giving up a stick without expecting it to be thrown for him. We didn’t specifically train him to do this but we did have an awful lot of bonfires when he was a younger dog so he seems to have just observed this is what you do. It’s pretty handy because I drop a lot of smaller pieces on the way and he tidies them all up for me. Riley is not so keen on the whole bonfire area in general and is wary even when it’s not alight. When it is lit he goes indoors, whereas Harvey still carries on supplying branches for the fire.

Crochet has been happening, in varying degrees of skill and happiness. I started the History of Trees shawl at the beginning of September and fell slightly out of love with the whole thing when there were gauge issues. Sticking to what met the gauge has been the right decision for me because I didn’t want to order more yarn. I’m seeing plenty on the Facebook group who didn’t understand this concept wondering why they’ve run out. If you look closely at my trees you’ll see that there’s an extra branch on one of them. Did I rip back five rows and fix it? I did not. The yarn is hairy and a nightmare to frog. Trees have random branches in real life. So do my crocheted trees. Get over it. One Facebook member said they would always fix errors so as not to make any future ones. Well good luck with that. I’m ok with imperfection on this occasion.

I tested a simple pattern for a child’s crochet top. It attracted my attention because it struck me as a nice basic top that could be made in any yarn and any colour combination. This one is cotton and came up a bit large so I’ll be putting it by for my niece until next Spring at least.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about making it up as I go, when it comes to crochet I’ve always preferred the safety net of a pattern but it gets a bit tedious counting stitches after a while. I used one of my crochet stitch books and some leftover rubbish oatmeal yarn and started doing a sampler of stitches. Some are only subtly different from each other but there are eight different ones including fur stitch which I’d never tried before, popular in the seventies! I ended up looping it on a piece of pruned Cherry tree and it now hangs in a window which shows the stitches up much better. It was an accidental project and now I’d like to do a more planned version.

I tagged along with M to Newmarket recently and the pottery mug was my most exciting purchase! It perfectly matches a blue enamel coffee pot I already had which we use for camping. The mug isn’t enamel but the blue is as vibrant. It’s been ideal for a small bed time tea which has been our routine since we got married. The rule is that M has to make the last tea of the day, otherwise its divorce lawyers. He’s away for two weeks so I’m thinking ‘irretrievable breakdown’ quite frankly!

I’ve just finished a basic cardigan for E using a gorgeous mustard tweed yarn, it was totally made up as I went along stuff and it worked! Photos next time. I’ve also purchased a pure wool skein in an autumnal shade with a hat in mind. We’ve just had two days of warm, over twenty degree heat so by the time I’ve finished the hat I’m hoping for a slight nip in the air at least!

Seasons

I seem to remember, way back in Spring, looking forward to leisurely summer days on the deck with my crochet and just keeping the laundry ticking over and the dogs and myself exercised but not much else. That just hasn’t happened!

Once the mammoth task of stripping the rotten workshop roof was done and three huge bonfires later it was burnt, M fitted a new roof and felted it. I thought he’d enjoy the task of moving his benches around and dusting off all his machinery and tools and restocking the space… and he did but so slowly he’d have been there until 2025 dusting off individual screws and pencils if I hadn’t intervened. It’s always a race against time with British weather and we had two huge piles of workshop contents on the grass under tarpaulins. I was keen not kill it off any longer not to mention the eyesore of such a thing.

I ‘project managed’ a day of putting stuff back including feng shui on the layout. Originally the main work bench was in the darkest corner, it’s now under the long window. Machinery he uses a lot are now in much easier to get to places. Tools he will never use are now on top shelves. The lack of protest and moaning suggest he was quite grateful for female logic for once. My motive is twofold, one is having my own shed back and two, I have a long list of things for M to make and I know he will enjoy making them. First up is a reclaimed wood fence panel for the side of our deck and between us and the new ‘lake’. We saw an idea in an outdoor seating area in a Brighton cafe and we both liked it. It should work well next to our outside cable drum table.

The rest of our time has been spent reclaiming garden from all the wildly out of control hedges and trees. We invested in some new tools, a pruning saw and some long loppers. The latter is absolutely brilliant and we’ve been able to completely clear all the overhanging branches above our conservatory. Having sunlight coming over that roof and onto our new table on the deck was a very nice discovery the next morning! We’ve done our best with the two fruit trees which have produced very poor fruit this year. Now we are stuck with all the bits we can’t reach so we may still need professional help.

Whilst hacking back an overgrown laurel hedge down one side I found a fallen pigeon nest and two dead baby pigeons. It was a bit grim. I really dislike pigeons and gave up hanging washing on a line a long time ago, I have to use an airer and keep it close to where we sit in order not to get my washing splattered with stuff! Even so, I still don’t like to see dead animals. Thankfully not as many now that we no longer have a cat.

I tagged along on a couple of business trips recently. Not overnight ones but a nice day out nonetheless. Ipswich was nice, it was a warm day and to be honest it’s mainly good for charity shops. I bought the soap nuts in a fair trade shop and have been trying them out with cricket kit to see if they are up to the job. So far so good, though it’s fair to say that as a seventeen year old J doesn’t seem to be sliding along grass to stop fast moving balls as much as he did when he was ten! He is still plagued with back problems despite several consultations with a private physio and mainly keeping up with the exercises he’s been given. It’s partly sport related but I’m sure that growing at the speed of knots and reaching 6’4 is also to blame.

Yesterday I accompanied M on a trip to Newmarket. We both thought it would be a lovely little town and it probably once was. It’s the heart of horse racing country and the Jockey Club is right in the centre of town. I’m not sure what the odds of seeing a famous jockey are but I did see Bob Champion who seemed to be a very friendly sort, saying hello to everyone. I must confess I would not have known who he was but for watching The Real Marigold Hotel just recently. I’ve never been a fan of horse racing.

I found a couple of pieces of pottery; a hand thrown mug for my collection and a small bowl which I might use for a plant or perhaps just for nuts. I also found a lovely leather dice cup, such a random purchase but proves the rule that you can find anything if you look long enough. M and I often play backgammon when we stay in a hotel or shepherds hut. We aren’t very good at it and I need reminding of the rules every time we play but last time we got our board out we both agreed that a leather dice cup would be good. When we found them new we didn’t think it was worth paying silly sums for one (they were £20 and up!) so I was pleased to find one yesterday for just £2 including six dice! I used to love Yahtzee when I was a child so we might revisit that too.

I’ve started a new ‘crochet along’. This time with A Spoonful of Yarn and it’s another shawl. It’s called The History of Trees Shawl and is inspired by the book Barkskins by Annie Proulx. I’m not loving the book, it’s ok and it’s readable but the story doesn’t seem to pull you along. I quite like the historical context but it’s laborious in places. The crochet itself has lost a bit of appeal too. There’s a Facebook group and it was quickly apparent that the gauge was a bit off and most were having to go down a hook size or two to achieve the gauge. On this occasion it has produced a much denser fabric and I did agonise over this to start with, knowing that to use a bigger hook would mean needing more yarn. Since I couldn’t get extra yarn from the same batch number and seeing how batches vary hugely from Facebook photo’s I decided to go with the denser fabric. Not knowing whether this will work as a garment is killing the enjoyment somewhat.

At least the shawl is reminding me of autumnal colours. I’ve chosen the brown because I wear my Fly boots all winter and they happen to be brown. I have a feeling that E might just borrow this shawl when it’s done and accidentally keep it. This happens from time to time! Hazards of having a daughter I guess. I’ve just finished making her a set of crochet bunting exactly the same as the set I made for our bedroom. She has a hygge, boho, neutrals vibe going on in her uni room this year, I’ve also made her a crochet sampler wall hanging and although it wasn’t the greatest piece of work it has sparked a few ideas for rather more planned versions.

I know I’m not alone in looking forward to the school rhythm now that August is over. J goes back 5th and E goes back to uni about 13th, although she is going back to Leeds for a few days from 5th so the latter half of this week will be ‘back to normal’ for me. Normal meaning housework, laundry, dog walking, diy, probably more gardening of the hacking back variety and then finally a bit of quiet crochet before the annoying tall kid arrives home and needs feeding.

I’m already noticing all the changes of the seasons on our dog walks. There are big fat sloe berries in the hedgerows and crab apples to be found if you know where to look (slightly off the footpath!) we haven’t made crab apple jelly jam for years and M is keen to make it again so next time I walk that way I’ll be swinging a deep round egg basket on my arm and the dogs will be ‘helping’ (eating anything that drops). They eat cooking apples from our garden every year and I’m amazed that it doesn’t make them ill.

M and I are looking at dates for a short break somewhere. He’s pretty booked up with work until Christmas and he’s doing training some weekends but fingers crossed. We always start with a wish list of places we’d like to go but it doesn’t always work out if time is short and we don’t want to lose a day either end just travelling. so who knows where we will go, just the thought of being able to go somewhere new is exciting enough, even if we don’t leave the U.K.

I’m still working on the camper van plan. I think M is struggling with the idea of swapping a luxury caravan for more primitive accommodation. I’m hopeful something will prove to be a good happy medium. With all the music festivals the kids have attended I do wish we’d bought an old banger of a van some years ago so they could at least have camped in relative style! E had such bad weather to contend with one year that we had to drive for two hours at nearly midnight and rescue them from torrential downpours and mud up to their knees. They’d done their absolute best to see it through but that night was extreme and they were among hundreds getting rescued by parents with black sacks across their back seats! J was luckier with his first festival although just an ordinary shower of rain proved too much for his cheap tent and he ended up sending a few nights in a damp sleeping bag. He came home with a raging temperature and no voice which hasn’t put him off doing the same next year, unfortunately. Hopefully M will have more free time next Spring and be able to finish the teardrop trailer. It’s so close now, just cladding and doors.

It’s cooler and overcast here today. I’ve spent an hour sorting all my projects out, putting books away, clearing the clutter. I’m getting ready for a calmer second half to my week. I need a quiet afternoon to start the trees on my shawl cal, they’ll be done using raised trebles on a background of two colour stripes so I don’t want any requests for baked croissants or clean socks while I’m concentrating! My hands and arms are scratched from brambles, lumpy with stinging nettle stings and brown from the sun, I’d say that was a very productive summer wouldn’t you? I’m so ready for Autumn!

Finished

I seem to have lost all cohesive thinking what with the heat and the hectic schedule we’ve been keeping. I love spontaneous and loathe routine and repetition but at the moment there’s so much spontaneous I’m not getting a day in between to recharge!

I suddenly realised that I hadn’t posted my finished projects and this is mainly because they are all over on Instagram. I try not to post too many words over there and it is sometimes difficult. I love a good waffle. Does anyone remember having to do lots of summaries in English lessons? I loved those exercises; you get given 1000 words and have to reduce it to 250 or something like that. It’s strange I know but those were a highlight of English lessons with a teacher who was just bloody horrible.

The shawl was part of a mystery crochet along, mcal for short. The designer is Joanne Scrace, one half of The Crochet Project. I really love their designs and bought one of the print books when I was in Brighton, these come with a code to download the pdf version which is handy for travel because it means I can take along lots of patterns on my iPad and look up yarn requirements if I happen upon a good yarn store.

This cal was spread over five weeks and I must admit that by week three life was considerably busier than at the start. We were packing up E’s halls room at uni and moving her to a shared house, bringing another portion home for the summer holidays and then decorating her room here. I fell behind but then managed to catch up in between stripping the old shed roof. I shouldn’t moan but man, those ends. Ugh. The merino sock yarn has magnificent drape and when it comes to ends in that stuff I wasn’t entirely convinced they’d behave but they are sewn in and seem to be staying put for now.

The shawl yarn was purchased in haste at the Leeds Wool Festival. In haste because it was so hot and so crowded. We’d seen quite a bit of merino sock by this time and when I saw the off white with denim speckles hank I knew this dyer was for me. Luckily there were mini skeins in the other four shades that seemed to go with the main yarn. I really didn’t ponder for too long and this is probably how I should choose yarn in the future. I’m a shocker for taking hours and then not being entirely happy!

The crochet dress edging has been a bigger success than I thought it would. I’ve not done anything like it before and my sewing skills are minimal. I wish I’d ironed the relevant part before I took the photograph but oh well. I’d only worn the dress twice before I added the trim and now I wear it much more. It just wasn’t the right length for me and now it has a bit of added interest too. I still only wear it with Birkenstocks but quite frankly it’s a miracle I own any dresses at all. I decided I didn’t like pink, frills or dresses from a very early age and that hasn’t really changed much, but shapeless linen dresses are quite close to dungarees and just as comfortable now that I no longer feel the need to climb trees!

Just for the record. I made the trim separately from the dress and attached it but I did wonder whether it might have been better to have started the piece attached to the dress in the first place. This would obviously require an edging done in rounds horizontally and you could stop when you reach the required depth. With my trim I specifically chose a sideways design that meant I needed to stop at the required length. Either way should work. It’s tempting to edge some plain t shirts but that might be an experiment for next summer.

We’ve gone all environmentally aware here lately. I’ve been doing my bit since I was E’s age I think it must have been. I went to a big exhibition in London that showcased amazing art, sculpture and practical furniture all made using upcycled materials. It blew my mind and I can remember most of it quite clearly all these years on. I still have a four page magazine article about it somewhere. With the kids it’s a struggle to get them to use our two compartment bin correctly but it seems when there are cool bottles and stainless steel straws to be had they are up for it.

String bags seemed like the next step to employ crochet in a useful way. We’ve already got the hang of taking extra bags with us wherever we go but I liked the idea of string bags because I was always quite fascinated by one owned by my Nan. It scrunched up so small and yet held so much. It also amused me that on our walk back through her lovely village across the green where we’d often stop to talk to a random aunt also on her daily grocery shop, that all of our purchases could be seen. Not only that but it would be remarked upon! ‘Oh I see you’re having tinned apricots for tea Alice?’ I’d be lurking behind Nan’s skirt making faces because I really hate apricots. Somewhere in amongst the shopping would be a paper bag with my macaroon in it. I absolutely love macaroons (not to be confused with the tiddly macarons!) It was only with my Grandparents that I ever went into a bakery and chose my own cake. It still feels like a huge treat to do so.

I made a rookie error with my string bag and translated the category four, worsted yarn into aran weight. At least I thought it was a mistake, some comments on Instagram lead me to believe that aran is often in this category. On this occasion though the Lionbrand 24/7 cotton comes up as DK on a yarn substitute website and that is what I should have used. Anyway, the bag is extra strong in aran and worked up just fine so I’m happy with it. I’ve since started a dk version and it remains to be seen whether I can chuck in as much as I have been with my denim blue version.

Jake has started driving lessons with a driving school and we finally had to address the issue of not having a suitable small car for him to practice in. We are now a four car family and with a large caravan and half finished teardrop trailer we’ve got a bit of a driveway issue. J and I worked hard to clear some of M’s toolboxes and scrap wood, earth from our front garden grassing over project and a huge tub with a shrub in it. We have gained five feet of drive and that’s enough to squeeze E’s little Fiat into but obviously it’s been one long game of moving cars every time someone wants to go somewhere. Oh well, come September and the logistics all change again. I’m still working on persuading M to change the large caravan for a small campervan but each has pros and cons and we’ve been too busy to think about it.

It’s not been a peaceful summer at all. The pink sunset above is the view from the end of our garden. To the side we had a similar field and half of that was sold off to a developer who is now building 31 houses on it. I feel pretty annoyed with the farmers in this village because this isn’t the only farm land being developed. It could be worse, at least a very large pond/lake has been made first and mature trees will be planted along its edge. This will be between us and the houses so it should provide some screening in a few years time when the trees mature further. The dogs have never shown any interest in this side field, preferring to hop over our end fence and have a quick sniff around the edges of the top field. Now that there’s a body of water there it might suddenly become more attractive to them. I really hope not. If we suddenly need dog proof fencing we might need a second mortgage to pay for it! In the meantime it’s incredibly noisy and invasive to have large diggers with drivers who can see right into our garden.

It’s been cooler these last two days and although I’m sure the hot weather hasn’t entirely come to an end I found myself craving a chunky jumper project yesterday! I’ve been following the hashtag #summerofbasics on Instagram and I’m not entirely sure what the rules are but it seems to tap into my desire to have a minimalist wardrobe of clothing that I’ve made. It’s mainly sewn but with knitted and crocheted pieces too so it’s given me some food for thought for winter. I’ve got a little stash of Jacob’s undyed in DK and although not soft enough for some, I have found I can wear this next to my skin so I’m thinking of doing some trials in any old yarn before making up a final jumper in it.

For now though it’s back to my little pile of dishcloth cotton. I really will have to compile a post purely on things I’ve made with this stuff, it’s so versatile. I have yet to make bunting the same as before, for E’s new room in Leeds. I’m half way through making her string bag in this cotton and we might dip dye hers if we ever get round to having the tie dye session we have t shirts, dye and buckets on stand by for!

Crochet Cotton Face Pads

A couple of factors prompted me to finally get round to making some of these cotton face pads. One was clearing out E’s various drawers and boxes and finding no less than five half used packets of cotton face wipe pads, decanting them into one storage basket and throwing away five plastic bags. The second was a tip from a helpful girl at Lush who said that it’s better to spray your toner straight onto your face and then gently wipe it off, that way you get more of the product on your face and less of it on the cotton pad. I’ve been doing it the other way round all these years!

So I grabbed my favourite unbleached dishcloth cotton and made some of these reusable pads, and since it generated a bit of interest on Instagram I thought I’d share how I did it here. There’s not much to it really and you could easily just make a dc circle which would end up thinner and use less cotton, it might even work better but we like the puff stitch version for now.

You will need: one ball of dk weight unbleached dishcloth cotton

6mm hook

Wool needle for sewing in ends

In U.K. terms…

[Special instructions: puff stitches (yarn round hook and pull up a loop) three times. Pull yarn through all seven loops on the hook. Secure with one dc stitch.]

Start here: Make a magic circle and dc once, work 8 puff stitches into the circle and join with a slip stitch to the top of the first puff stitch made. Pull your magic circle tightly closed and sew end in later.

Slip stitch into the next space, dc once and work pairs of puff stitches into each space. (Secure puff stitches with a dc stitch as before but no extra dc’s are needed as you move from one space to the next). (8 pairs of puff stitches)

Join with a slip stitch to the top of the first puff stitch, slip stitch into the next space and work one dc into each dc around, slip stitch to finish. Break yarn and weave in ends.

Making this final one for the photo’s above bought the tally to 14 from one 100g ball. They use about 6 or 7g each. I’d suggest popping them in a small laundry mesh bag for the washing machine to prevent them getting stuck in the door seal or somewhere unhelpful!

Next on my list are simple crochet sleeves for our stainless steel straws. I’m just pleased the family are finally adopting more environmentally aware ways. They really didn’t appreciate me replacing kitchen roll a few years back with squares of cut up old shirts, despite the fact that it’s absolutely no bother at all and there’s always plenty of them to hand. Light use rags get washed and anything else (lets be honest here, the dogs will insist on puking grass up from time to time!) gets thrown away.

Summer

What an excellent summer so far! It rained so much last year we hardly got any garden jobs done at all and the workshop roof deteriorated badly despite covering it with a patchwork of tarpaulins. With weeks of dry weather it was finally a safe bet that we’d get this job done and dusted.

We have spent three whole days on it so far just ripping out rotten timber, piling it high to burn and filling my car boot with rubbish for the tip. Some of it water damaged goods but mostly just junk M had accumulated over a long period of time. There’s a substantial amount of work to do yet but he’s looking forward to getting it all ship shape and having a workspace again. He enjoys woodwork and we always manage to find things for him to make. E has dropped hints for a stepladder plant stand type thing. I could do with another wooden tool trug (after giving my last one away). I’ve always had a set of tools, a hammer, pliers, the basic stuff and having my own tool box means I never have to go searching amongst tonnes of other tools.

It’s back breaking work hauling wood and furniture and scrap metal and all sorts but the bonus will be that I can reclaim my own workshop which currently houses all the equipment we salvaged when daylight first started appearing in M’s workshop roof (and precisely when he should have got up there with a few rolls of felt). My workshop has had several reincarnations in the last twelve years. At first I hoped it would be a pottery studio and it still does have my potter’s wheel in it. I may have to consider parting with that because I can’t really imagine ever finding the time to devote to a second hobby. Now that I’m pretty sure yarn is my thing it makes sense to use the space for natural dyeing, or at least mainly storing all the equipment for it.

We aren’t precious about gardening at all, although we have done quite well with pots and tubs and a few new plants this year. It looks like we’ve finally got something to ‘take’ to the conditions at the front of the house by way of a climber. I think it might have helped that Mum chose and planted it. We had three previous attempts that all died so you can imagine how I’ve been tending this new wisteria, willing it to live! In the back garden however, the lawn will never be lush with so much tree cover so I’m thinking of creating a raised bed using railway sleepers we already have and growing something useful for dyeing. Woad comes to mind, but I’m sure there are others. These are plans that may have to wait until next year.

Before the big workshop renovation started we did a big makeover in E’s room. It was long overdue like all DIY around here! It was a team effort, E and I emptied the room. I painted the two yellow walls, M painted the ceiling. Mum came for a whole day and wallpapered the white brick effect wall and finished the white wall painting. The magic took place when we started moving the furniture around and playing with the layout. It seemed daft to have nice wallpaper and then cover it up with two large bookcases so Mum came up with the idea of having them back to back as a room divider. It really worked and created a lovely private end to the room where she can relax and read. Today M has put up white floating shelves and cube shelves too.

My gooseberry bush has produced a bumper crop this year. This week they passed the taste test and we decided to pick them and turn them into jam. M likes to do all the kitchen stuff round here so I duly let him loose on my precious crop and told him to be careful, not to burn them. I sometimes wonder if I stopped speaking altogether and only communicated in sign language whether information would actually be conveyed make reliably. I did offer to stand and stir but I was shooed away. The jam is edible but not that lovely green colour I was expecting.

Well I fell a little behind finishing this post, time seems to be moving very fast these last few weeks. It’s chaotic but I can live with that. I fully subscribe to the view that everything will get done eventually. Ironically I think M has taught me that. He has no inkling that slow living is actually a thing, he’s been that way for years. I come from a family that get things done and fast, work hard, play hard. I’m learning to slow down. I don’t look too far ahead but I am definitely shelving anything that I think might be best undertaken in the winter months. Now is the time to soak up all the sun, or perhaps just stay in the shade and relax!

Nature

We are in the middle of a mini heatwave here in the U.K. Despite our bedroom blackout blinds the small chinks of sunlight that peep round the sides are bright enough to wake me up far too early most mornings. I’ve never been an early riser but there’s something nice about staggering into the kitchen in the early hours and making a lazy coffee machine coffee and seeing if there’s anyone out and about walking dogs round the village or cycling to work.

Our stream has run dry and I know this must have an impact on our duck population. There are numerous duck families all over the village but because I tend not to walk H and R on leads locally I don’t know where they’ve relocated to or found less dried out parts.

The weather has been absolutely perfect for dog walking. We’ve been to our usual places and we’ve been back to our favourite lake. I made occasional visits and kept finding that it was too thick with weeds for the dogs to swim safely but at the moment the edges are clearer. Luckily they both know what, ‘this way’ means so when they head towards the weedy parts I just tell them, this way, and they come back towards me. I know how Riley’s mind works though and he’s determined to swim to the island and check out the nesting birds. He’s just curious but not to worry, I won’t be letting him anywhere near them.

A few days ago Harvey completely overdid things by scrambling down steep banks and hurling himself into the river. There are a few video clips of him doing this on Instagram in the smaller rivers. The day after he was a sorry sight and hobbled about all day, still getting excited at the prospect of another walk despite being barely able to move about. I had to be cruel to be kind and snuck out with only Riley that afternoon. The day after his enforced rest he seemed so much better so it’s not clear what exactly is wrong except perhaps old age.

There are so many wild flowers out in bloom on our walks at the moment. I keep meaning to dig out one of my small guide books and take it with me. Strangely I haven’t seen the resident heron for quite a while and the usual birds of prey seem thin on the ground too. Each time I go I seem to spot yet more varieties of butterfly or damselfly. At our main swimming spot by a small concrete farm bridge there are hundreds of damselflies. I had to look them up and these particular ones are called Beautiful Demoiselles. When the dogs launch themselves into the water they all fly up from their resting places in the reeds which creates quite a sight but sadly doesn’t show up on my attempts to photograph them with just my phone.

I’ve got several crochet projects on the go at the moment but I’ve also managed to finish a few. The nice thing about Instagram now that I’ve found some nice crochet accounts to follow is that it is finally the place for ideas that I had imagined it would be when I started using it a year ago. The cotton hair bands were made from a free pattern I spotted one morning whilst having a quick browse. I made one for myself first using a denim effect yarn that was left over from making the catherine wheel stitch bag last year. It’s a generous dk and very soft with a fair amount of give. I’ve tried fixed bands before but they never seem to fit well and through use they stretch a bit more until they end up pretty useless. So this knotted version is a much better design (on the makeandocrew website). I can’t stand hair blowing in my face in the garden crocheting or on dog walks so mine has been in almost constant use since I made it.

I adjusted the stitch counts and length to make a smaller version for my niece who is three. I used a child head size chart as a rough guide. A day or two after I posted my brother messaged a photo and I was really chuffed that it fitted and looked lovely too. I remember my two were polar opposites with headwear. E refused to wear hats for years even in cold weather and she liked the idea of but in practice didn’t keep hair bands on for long either. J wouldn’t go anywhere without a fireman’s helmet for three whole years. He only stopped wearing it when his head grew too big for it.

I started making the Spun Gold Shawl by Kat Goldin when we arrived in Wales. I carefully packed half a dozen projects so that I’d be set for whatever I was in the mood for and ironically it was this caked ball of a random dye lot 4 ply purchased at the Leeds Wool Festival that I threw in at the last minute that ended up being the chosen one! M gets quite involved in crochet discussions mainly because I don’t have anyone else to talk to about such things, at least not in person. I wondered aloud what colour this yarn could be called if it wasn’t called ‘Sun of Jupiter’ and that started the great moss versus lichen debate. In the end I found an amazing photograph of lichen that matched the yarn almost perfectly. I probably could have found a moss one too but I always associate moss with a much darker green.

The yarn was really enjoyable to work with, I know it sounds completely bonkers but there’s something quite special about sitting in amongst fields of sheep, working with pure wool on your hook and marvelling at how amazing these creatures and their coats are. I wished I’d packed my sheep breed book because there were some strange looking sheep with short legs, a very short neck and quite a large head. I still haven’t found out what they might be.

I kept well out of the sun on the day I worked the final half of the spun gold shawl in the garden. I just had a feeling the dye, being natural, would fade easily. I pinned it out on my foam mats, sprayed it lightly with Febreze and left it overnight. The next morning when I unpinned it I could see straight away that the top was much lighter than it had been but the underside was the same. I can only assume it didn’t like Febreze or just moisture. I’m not too worried because I chose this particular yarn rather than a very bright sunny yellow that I had in 4 ply too because I like the faded rustic look. Obviously it has been folded carefully and packed away in a dark cotton bag until the weather turns cooler.

Turmeric

The weeks are certainly whizzing by again. M has been away this week and as usual something to do with the house went wrong. Sometimes it’s the boiler, sometimes it’s a major appliance and this time it was the internet hub. It’s frustrating not being able to make phone calls myself at times like these but eventually J made the call to BT and fully confessed he was not the house owner. I was surprised they even spoke to him, we’ve had years of phone calls for various reasons and they go something like…

I’d like to renew my wife’s car insurance please.

We need to speak to your wife then.

You can’t, she’s deaf.

She’s dead, oh I’m so sorry to hear that.

No she’s not dead, she’s deaf, and she would like her car to be insured.

Well can she speak?

Yes she can.

Well can we speak to her?

No you can’t because she can’t hear you.

This is a very familiar scenario and unbelievably demeaning when M has to pass the phone over and I have to say that yes, I am alive and no I can’t hear you, but yes I give permission for my husband to arrange my car insurance. Things have improved but only in the sense that I do most things online these days. The stuff that can’t be dealt with online causes friction because M gets quite cross at blatant discrimination, while I would just rather get the matter over and done with.

I once needed to cancel a car insurance policy, I can’t remember why. M made the phone call and there was a refund due. He did the usual explanation for why I couldn’t take the call and a few days later we received a cheque made out to ‘the estate of…’ There’s a man at my local bank that still finds it funny to say, oh you’re the dead one! Come to think of it there’s a poor chap who works for a call centre in India who thinks I’m dead too. He was most upset at the time when he spoke to my Mother.

J handled the BT call extremely well and a new hub arrived today. It hasn’t fixed the problem totally but we have managed to get a stable connection at the main socket which is unfortunately in the kitchen. Cables will need to be examined. That’ll have to be a man job. I’m otherwise engaged as a landscape gardener.

Our garden is still a shambles but today I hacked back the wild and encroaching honeysuckle and ivy that had grown completely over our side path. In a nutshell you had to be two foot high to be able to walk under it. I pushed the mower through it all the day before and vowed that the honeysuckle would be next for the chop. I know it seems criminal to cut something back that is in flower and smells wonderful but believe me there is a very long six foot high wall of it left. I put a few stems in water in the kitchen and it was quite overpowering.

It’s such a novelty walking down that path now without being attacked by climbers. I wonder what the dogs think too because on wet mornings they got quite wet just walking down this path on their way to the garden. Not to mention that underneath it all I found a discarded watering can, a pickaxe (don’t even ask) and a completely unwound and tangled hosepipe. I don’t know who was responsible for all of that but I could hazard a guess.

Before M went away on Sunday he gave me a hand with the turmeric dyeing. I think he thought, kitchen, saucepans, Juanita, not a good combination. Anyway, it was helpful because two heads are usually better than one. I had two balls of white cotton in my supplies, neither had a ball band. I made them into hanks and tied them with acrylic yarn. For the first one we just dipped one half in and simmered for ten minutes, then left it to soak for a further half an hour but with the heat off. I’d read that turmeric has a sort of reverse psychology in that the longer you leave it the paler your result. This didn’t happen with the second hank. We dipped a third as before and then a third with five minutes simmering and five minutes soaking with the heat off. The latter third produced a slightly paler yellow but not hugely different.

Rinsing took a while. I got them to the run clear stage, let them hang over the sink, went for a dog walk and came back and rinsed then again, yet more yellow come out. I rinsed a third and final time and then I was able to hang them outside.

As soon as they were dry I made the granny cluster plant hanger pictured. I wasn’t sure this showed off the pattern in the yarn well enough so I started to make circular placemats but the first one morphed into a bowl because I like bowls. It’s fairly stiff but I could have gone down a hook size to make it stiffer. I’m not sure what it will house yet but it’s a cheerful thing to see on my seventies sideboard for now. When I messaged M a photo to show him how the turmeric cotton worked up he asked me if I was going to weave all the ends in and he wasn’t joking! At least he knew enough about crochet to know that it was a possibility! I said it was a design thing. It took bloody ages!

I’ve really been enjoying my dog walks lately. Dogs have this wonderful ability to cheer you up just by bouncing through long grass and looking so grateful to be alive. We even went out quite late one evening when the sun was so warm it would have been a waste not to. It was pretty quiet and remote but too good to pass up. When the sun has been hot all day and lasts well into the evening you get the most amazing smell of the countryside. I may not be a good wine taster (most of it tastes ok to me) but I can really pick out individual contributors to that warm meadow smell. I think I’ve said before that I used to cycle a lot growing up in Sussex and I’d always end up lying on my back in a quiet field or meadow with my bike chucked down in the hedge, watching clouds roll by or reading a good book. That warm meadow smell takes me right back to those days.

Other crochet projects have been happening too. Plenty in fact. A mystery crochet along (mcal) started this week and I’m having to get to grips with Facebook which I’ve always disliked. Thankfully there are a lot of participants on Instagram too and it’s been fascinating seeing all the colour choices and mistakes too. I certainly couldn’t have taken part a couple of years ago. There’s an awful lot of small tips that you need to know. This is the useful thing about it being a cal, anyone who needs help is getting it. I may well need help too but part one has gone smoothly so far. I don’t make very much in four ply if I can help it but lately I’ve made the fern shawl for Mum, I have the Spun Gold shawl on the go with four ply and now this cal shawl. I must say, I’m finally understanding what all the fuss is about and why the wool festival was so full of sock yarn. A hank goes a long way and for crochet items it’s excellent for drape. My cal yarn is merino sock yarn and it’s extremely nice to work with.

I think my weekend may well bring more of the same mixture of dog walking, garden taming, crochet and getting away with as little cooking as possible. Rather out of the blue one day this week J offered to cook dinner. Eventually it became clear that he’d been thinking about university (over a year away yet) and didn’t want to look like an idiot who couldn’t boil an egg. Well the egg lesson hasn’t happened yet but the pasta lesson has. We were a bit low on tasty supplies on this particular day so I thought it best to teach him about store cupboard ingredients, isn’t that what Nigella calls them? Only for us, and students, it’s much more basic. Store cupboard pasta and sauces and how to pad them out a bit; basically he chopped up his first green pepper and extra tomatoes and we softened them in a separate pan while the pasta was simmering before adding the sauce. A bit of grated cheese and Bob’s your uncle. It tasted pretty good. If I remember rightly he’s already way ahead of the level of chef I was at his age!